Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

I was doing Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show this morning and arrived while some fun was being had at the expense of ITV. I caught the last half an hour or so of the Brits last night and was astonished when Queen Adele was interrupted so James Corden could introduce Blur for their epic finale.


When a sports event over-runs, or the Eurovision Song Contest drags on a while, they simply re-align the schedule and cope with it. So, what was the thinking behind cutting Adele (who deserves every second of her glory) and not just adding a few minutes to the programme? I am not a media expert, but my jaw dropped at that disaster.

Anyway, that wasn’t my business – I just came into the studio on the back of it. I was there to talk about Lent. Just before I went in I was asked whether Lent actually includes the Sundays, or if we can have Sundays off and still do the forty days. The good Christian answer is that we can choose. Forty consecutive days from Ash Wednesday (today, of course) takes us to Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week which runs up to Easter. If you take out the Sundays, you can count Holy Week in. Wonderful flexibility. But, I did remark to Chris that taking Sundays for celebration is a recourse for wimps – and that his intention to start next Monday is a bit sad. (At least he’s starting, though!)

I began my script with a reference to my eighteen-month old grandson, Ben, who vomited all over me a couple of weeks ago. He was with us again last weekend. We live in a big house in Bradford and he loves to charge around the space that was just made for little kids to charge around. He is learning how to be naughty – a natural reflex – and has that look in his eye that says: “You’re not going to like this, but I’ll do it anyway and see how far I can push you.” I think it’s written into his job description. He is pushing the boundaries and unwittingly working out what he is about and how far he can go. (It should end when he is about 30…)

And this is where Lent comes in. The forty days of mirrors follow Jesus mirroring Israel centuries before and spending forty days and nights in the desert wondering what life was all about really. What happened to Jesus was that, stripped of all the distractions that even an Internet-free first century Palestine offered, he had to face himself, what really drove him, how far he would really go in taking seriously the vocation he believed was his. OK, he’s tired, cold and hungry. Then the voice in his head says: “So, you’re really not interested in the short cut to glory and fame? Really? Why go through all the suffering when you don’t need to?” It actually is really hard: “You – of all people – don’t need to go hungry! Just turn this stone into bread and get fed. Put your own material needs first. Come on – don’t be so hard on yourself!

I think Jesus knew this wasn’t the sort of stuff to prepare him for a cross.

But the connection here between him and us and Lent is simply that if we take the time and make the space to drill down deep into our own choices and motivations, we might find it both uncomfortably challenging… and extremely profitable.

Lent isn’t magic and it isn’t primarily about giving up chocolate as some form of narcissistic aecetism. It simply offers the space in which we can take the time to reflect more seriously and deeply on what is really going on deep within us – especially those bits that we are usually too busy to examine.

Which is a theme I treat from a different angle in the BBC Radio 4 Lent address going out at 2045 on Wednesday 29 February and at 0545 and 1445 on Sunday 4 March.



Lent is often associated with giving up and being miserable. So, I was amused to read that one of my clergy has found a typically positive and creative way to use this reflective time of year.

City Centre Priest, the Revd Chris Howson, who is committed to seeing the city of Bradford thrive again, attended a ‘Positive Bradford’ event in the Midland Hotel. He was so impressed by the hard work going on behind the scenes by different organisations in the city that he decided to make it his Lenten theme in the run up to Easter.

He said: “So, over the next 40 days and nights I will: 1) support Bradford businesses by shopping locally 2) always challenge those who are negative about the city, and remind them why Bradford has so much going for it 3) do something positive, like a street clean or make something beautiful for others to enjoy 4) celebrate the city’s rich cultural and faith heritage by visiting places of worship, local museums, restaurants and beauty spots 5) give to local Bradford Charities that are really making a difference to people lives, such as Hope Housing, BEACON (Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern) and Bradford Nightstop.”

Bradford is a great place, but gets lots of knocks – from inside as well as outside. But a creative future demands a recovery of focus on the great resources and assets here already. As Chris Howson went on to say: “This is a great city, and we’ve a lot to be thankful for. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that. When we know there are problems, our duty is to challenge them and change them – not to just moan and talk our city down. Over the next 40 days, whether we have a faith or not, we can all do something to enjoy our city and make new friends from other cultures along the way.”

Given that C4 is about to run a two-part series called Making Bradford British, some positivity might be needed. It is widely assumed that this series will be negative and compound the negative image of the city. However, we haven’t yet seen it, so we don’t know and can’t know whether the story it ultimately tells is interesting, accurate, helpful, good or bad. What I do know is that we are looking at creative and engaging ways of using it to take a look at the issues we already know are here. But, apart from the crass title (Bradford is British already…), the use of provocative words like ‘segregation’ without further explanation or illustration is a bit wild and reckless.

Anyway, we’ll see what it throws up. A confident community is able to take the hits and turn them into something useful – something I will be interested to help with when the programmes go out in March. And if they present a travesty of reality, we will entertainingly tackle the programme makers. Watch this space.

PS. Another Lent idea comes from a great initiative with children in a tough area of Bradford: here’s the link to Kidz Klub.