This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The Power of Words

“Actions speak louder than words”. I hear that quite a lot; but, although I know what is meant, I think it is wrong. To speak is to act. Language is performative – it does something, changes something. For example, it is the speaking of the vows in a wedding that makes the marriage.

The story goes that St Francis of Assisi told his friars to “Go out and preach the Gospel; use words, if you have to.” Well… if he did actually say it, was he right? We use words all the time to think and speak and make sense of the world; so, language matters – words matter. They do something. The fourth Gospel begins with: “In the beginning was the word…”. Go back to Genesis and the word is: “Let there be.”

A few weeks ago I convened an online conference led by scientists for a couple of hundred clergy about the current pandemic. We started off asking why we use particular metaphors as a lens through which to see or think about what is happening. In brief, why is it that in the UK we use language of conflict and combat – fighting, struggling, defeating, cowering, bravery, and so on – whereas in Germany, for example, they seem to have used imagery of “damming a flood” – particularly pertinent at the moment? An enemy is personalised, a flood isn’t.

We normally just accept the language presented as the frame through which we then interpret what is going on. But, like cancer and serious illness, words of combat and fight might not be the best. If your loved one dies, have they been defeated? Were they not up to it? You see what I mean? Words are never neutral and always carry consequences – think of the impact of blessing or cursing. They also have limits.

One of the metaphors I take from my reading of the Bible is that of “running the race that is before you” – and not just because the Olympics are on in Japan. This image insists on agency, seeing value in how I live and behave in whatever circumstances I find myself. Yet, racing conjures up different notions: a sprint is pure competition; a relay involves both competitiveness and cooperation.

At the heart of all this is an appreciation that we cannot control – or win – everything. Coming full circle, words matter because they unconsciously shape how we see and look and think and act. The question I am left with is: do I pay enough attention to the words and metaphors I use – and the way they shape the world?

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning after England beat Denmark in the Euros semi-final at Wembley.

“Stressful. Very, very stressful”. That’s what the commentator said during the England match last night. But, I wondered who he was referring to. The players looked OK – hard-working, disciplined and determined, but my heart was racing, my stomach felt rubbish, and (a bit like some recent dental treatment I had) I just wanted it to end. It isn’t easy being a spectator at times like this.

Powerful emotions all around the country as the seconds ticked away. But, isn’t it funny how those tense nervous headaches, the knots in the stomach, the sheer fear explodes so suddenly into joy and celebration and relief? All the angst gets forgotten in an instant. The pain evaporates in a blast of adrenalin. It’s just brilliant.

I remember the manager Gareth Southgate once saying: “We always have to believe in what is possible in life and not be hindered by history or expectations.” And, after 55 years of disappointment, his team managed both to ignore a history most of them can’t remember and not be over-awed by the expectations of a hungry nation. The key, he says, is character – character forged by absorbing all that’s thrown at them, but not being defeated by it. It’s quite an achievement – and we haven’t even won anything yet.

Yet, Gareth Southgate’s observation – and isn’t he the model of a confident humility? – triggered in my own mind a line uttered by an elderly German theologian who, referring to another crowd of hopeful, often-disappointed dreamers, said that “prophets don’t foresee realities; they anticipate possibilities.” In other words, there are no guarantees about the future, but it’s all there for the taking. To use two other words heard a lot last night, you can only approach the uncertain future with resilience and creativity. We absorb the wounds of past experience, but we don’t have to be defined by them.

I don’t know if football really is coming home – we have to wait until Sunday night and the Italians to know that. But, if football is about passion, love, hope, longing, struggling – physical and mental fight – then it’s already home. Because that’s what this week and last night have proved as the emotional rollercoaster has been ridden to breaking point. And there’s more to come.

I don’t know how I’m going to manage the final on Sunday. Probably with a copy of the Psalms on my knee – that wonderful collection of poems in which everything is given expression … from the depths of misery to the heights of promise.

On the other hand, I might just use the opportunity to learn to pray better.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that if you make a film about a place, loads of people then want to go there to see with their own eyes. ‘The Dig’ is a case in point. I watched the film the day it came out and was captivated. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon burial ground at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in 1939, and the movie – with Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes – explores how it nearly didn’t happen at all.

Visitor numbers have shot up since the film was launched – so, I do understand the draw to see the place. When I was a vicar in Leicestershire we had the shaft of a Saxon cross in the churchyard, dating back to the mid-800s. I baptised in a Norman font that had been there for a thousand years (Norman was the period, not its name). We drank wine out of an Elizabethan chalice. People through the ages in that village had seen and touched these objects as the world changed around them.

I guess there is something powerful about a physical connection with people in the past that makes us realise that Now is transient, and one day we will all be someone else’s past.

Next Saturday I’ll be ordaining 23 new clergy at Ripon Cathedral. I have encouraged them all to go down into the Saxon crypt, reputed to be the oldest stone-built place of Christian worship in England. The people who brought Christianity to these islands were brave and radical, giving up their lives for the sake of love and rejecting the brutal plays for power through violence that characterised much of life then. And they were here.

The past might be a foreign country in many ways, but we need physical things that connect us, that remind us of where we have come from, of who we are and what has shaped us. This should not come as a surprise to me: Christian faith is rooted in the conviction that God once took flesh, opting into the material world of stuff.

So, what is spiritual always needs a touching place.

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod this morning.

I am doing a run of Pause for Thoughts on Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 breakfast show at the moment. The first was last Tuesday. What happens with this slot is that I agree a theme with the editor the morning before, do the script, take on board any comments, then finalise before it gets “complied”. Sometimes I go rogue and write  two or three on different themes, so he has a choice – it all depends how fertile my imagination is on the day and how much headspace I have.

Last week I wrote a quick script about the Viking invasion of England and it’s impact on Whitby. Exactly! No surprise, then, when the editor texted me with words to the effect of: not a classic Baines script, not Radio 2 and could you try something else? One moral of this story is: never ever write for public media if you aren’t prepared to hear criticism, bin it and start again. Not bad advice for preaching, either, I think.

Anyway, what I had hoped to muse on in relation to Whitby and the Vikings was this. When we visited Whitby again a couple of months ago we spent some time in the ruins of the abbey. There is a plaque there that (rather blithely) says that the Vikings paid a visit in the late eighth century, after which there wasn’t a Christian community there until one returned two hundred years later. The Vikings sacked Lindisfarne in 793 and Whitby wasn’t far behind as the Scandinavians launched their first package tour to Britain.

Did you notice that timeframe? Two hundred years. Two centuries. Now, doesn’t that provide a bit of perspective on whatever is happening in the immediate present? (I was speaking – the same day as the Zoe Ball gig – with Imam Qari Asim at an online Common Purpose event for senior leaders in the north, and was asked about resilience in leaders. I responded with my own perspective-calibrator for when I hit major problems or challenges: in the context of the entire history of the known universe, will we survive this? The answer is usually ‘yes’.)

Now, I know I bang on about time and perspective a lot, but I make no apology for this. We cannot read the Scriptures unless we have a proper sense of how long time takes. The Exodus followed four hundred years of exile and growing oppression in Egypt – fine if you lived at the beginning or towards the end and, therefore, have a memory of ‘home’ to hold onto or some hope of resolution to inspire you; but, what if you were born two hundred years in and none of your preceding or succeeding three or four generations had known anything other than captivity? Following liberation from, the people spent a generation in the desert having to either die off or sort themselves out for what they had been freed for. Only then could they enter the land of promise and even begin to establish a different sort of society in which justice and mercy were the dominant contours of their common life.

So, we too easily read a plaque about two hundred years of defeated vacancy in Whitby and breeze over to the next bit of ‘interesting information’ without attempting to live into that experience and how it might have shaped our Christian ancestors in Yorkshire.

Why am I talking about this today? Well, I want to encourage us in this final Synod of the extended triennium to keep a sense of perspective as we look back at an extraordinary couple of years and look ahead to what the world – and the church – might look like in the next few years. We know in our heads that the only constant in this world is ‘change’, but we find it equally hard to navigate change (a) proactively and (b) where it is thrust upon us. Change is always changing: we either shape our future or we complain about being victims of other people’s decisions and choices. The former is healthier for both individuals and communities.

So, today I want to thank all of you who have given your time, attention, wisdom and gifts to the life of the Diocese of Leeds through its Diocesan Synod since 2017. Remember that in 2017 we were only three years old – a toddler Diocese in the grand scheme of things. We had begun to turn our synodical attention away from basic matters of constitutional detail onto a strategy for growth and development. I remember encouraging members of the synod to bring from deaneries the wider concerns of the Christian Church in a challenging society – not least in the wake of the extremely divisive Brexit referendum in 2016 and all that followed (and continues). Then the pandemic hit and we all entered uncharted territory, having to hold our ministry and mission in tension with government instruction, all with total uncertainty of how long this would last, what damage it might do, and what we might look like once we emerged at some point in the future.

So, my gratitude is neither superficial nor trivial. As the Bishop, I am so proud of the maturity, transparency and vision with which the Diocese and synod have navigated this strange land to this point. I hope many of you will stand again for the synod as we shape our future at a point when we cannot know what shape we are in (in terms of finances, congregations, demography, patterns of church life, and so on). Yes, we have learned a lot about how things can be done differently in a hybrid world, but we need all our collective energies, wisdom and discernment – to say nothing of courage and commitment – as we emerge into a new world.

I also hope you will encourage younger people to join us and get stuck in as, together in synod, we seek to be what Walter Brueggemann called “freshly faithful” in the next three years and beyond. We need to be a diocese of all the talents, so to speak.

But,speaking of talent, we also say farewell today to two of our number who have been integral to our development as a diocese. Canon Sam Corley, chair of the House of Clergy, is leaving us to go west of the Pennines (where the rain is wetter) to be the next Bishop of Stockport in the Diocese of Chester. I know he will be greatly missed across the diocese in so many respects: vocations, synod, civic and business communities in Bradford and Leeds, and so on. Sam, you go with our love, gratitude and prayers as you begin episcopal ministry in a part of the world where the football is simply lamentable.

We also say good bye to Jerry Lepine, Dean of Bradford for the last seven years. Jerry came with no illusions about the size of the task, but has been positively integral to the essentially trinitarian innovation of working three cathedrals (and three deans) in one diocese. Jerry is notable for always being cheerful, whatever the challenge, and has brought a new shape and confidence to Bradford Cathedral. Civic representatives have expressed to me their misery that Jerry is to retire at the end of July. Jerry and Christine will be moving to Derby in retirement and they, too, go with our love and gratitude and prayers. (The process for identifying the next Dean has begun and final interviews are expected to take place in November, suggesting that we will have someone in place in the spring.)

Nothing stands still. Archdeacon Anne Dawtry has announced her retirement from 31 October, but this will not be her final synod; so, we won’t say farewell to her today.

Today we do have to attend to serious business. It is no secret that our Diocesan finances have been hit hard by the pandemic and its consequences. I am hugely grateful to Irving Warnett and the Finance, Assets and Investment Committee who work so hard on our behalf to ensure that our financial decision-making is strategic and not simply reactive. Geoff Park and Jonathan Wood are doing excellent work to manage money and other resources to best effect in extremely challenging circumstances. This synod will today hear more about this and how our Cost Review might develop further.

What is clear is that we will have serious decisions to make in the years ahead. We won’t always know whether we are making the right ones – life isn’t like that, and we don’t have the gift of knowing everything the future might hold that, had we known it, might have led to different decisions in the past. But, we honour the integrity of all involved as we wrestle with these hard questions about how to reduce cost and increase income across the board. Please pray for all involved.

Yet, as we know all too well, the world doesn’t stop while a pandemic runs its course. Today we will look at the Living in Love and Faith process as the Church of England – uniquely, I think – tries to navigate a course through questions of sexuality, gender and identity which are the subject of massive struggle and debate across society at the moment. Some people have assumed that LLF is aimed at smuggling in a decision to change the church’s teaching or to simply bolster the status quo. In fact, LLF is about bringing together Christians of different experience, conviction and perspective in order to place argument or discussion within relationship. It might be that no one changes their mind on these issues; but, it is hoped that their mind, attitude and thinking might at the very least be shaped by new relationships that allow honesty, integrity and faithful belief to be heard, witnessed and appreciated for what it is.

To this end, I am called back to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi when he urges this divided community of young Christians to “have the same mind” – not, as you might think, the same opinion or view – which he goes on to say is “the mind of Christ” who laid aside his rights and claims, stepped down from a place of invulnerability, and opened himself to the complexities of a mucky world and complicated humanity. The focus here is on relationship and humility, not on uniformity. (I’ll resist the temptation to do another Bible study here.)

And all this is going on while we face the climate crisis and our responsibilities in it. The wider church is addressing governance, simplicity, emergence and effectiveness of our structures and processes. Some of us are involved deeply in some of these groups, and we need your prayers as well as your sympathy!

So, let me conclude. Earlier I quoted Walter Brueggemann when he speaks of us being “freshly faithful” as we emerge from the pandemic into an uncertain and different world and church. In another context he urges what he calls a “tenacious solidarity”. This tenacity is, of course, rooted in what the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka called a “solidarity of the broken”. We belong together and we are in this together. We need no reminder of our brokenness, for Christian faith starts with our brokenness as a reality (but moves on to redemption and renewal and resurrection). But, when I see the failure, blindness or weakness of my neighbour, I see through it to my own. Grace, generosity, mercy and love are what characterise Christians doing their business in and through the church, but always for the sake of the world we are called to serve in humility and confidence and with fragile faithfulness.

We turn to our business in this spirit. Even if the Vikings or a coronavirus do their damage, they do not have the final word. God does. And he who has called us is faithful.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball.

This has been a great last month for me with a new album by Imelda May and Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday (which doesn’t seem to have cheered him up at all). Then, this week one of my best bands, Crowded House, released ‘Dreamers are Waiting’. The problem with this album is that it makes me want to listen to the whole back catalogue stretching into the mid-1980s.

The title itself is evocative. Every generation needs dreamers – people who can see beyond the immediate challenges and imagine a different world in the future; people who  don’t agree that we just have to accept the way the world is now, but envisages something better. And, as the album title suggests, dreamers have to have the patience to wait and work for that future, not just stamp their feet when they don’t get immediate satisfaction.

One of the songs on the album goes even deeper. ‘Love isn’t hard at all’ is a beautiful song, but – and maybe this was the intention – the sentiment struck me as wrong. Love is hard. To love someone means to put them and their interests first. The Beatles knew that “you can’t buy me love” – it’s a relationship to be struck, not a commodity to be acquired.

Actually, the song goes on to get it right. “It feels like love isn’t hard at all” – I get that. When all is well or romance is high, loving feels easy. But, love demands more than sentiment or casual ease … as anyone who has ever loved another person knows all too well. Love is costly; love, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in a letter often read at weddings, “is patient, love is kind, … is not envious or boastful or arrogant, … it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

So, to go full circle, love lies at the heart of patient dreaming, too. Love draws us into a place of openness and vulnerability, a place where others might ridicule us or call us naive for our longing for mercy.

In other words, love hurts, but is worth the cost. So, I’m going to dream on and learn to wait.

This is the text of a speech in the House of Lords today in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, focusing on foreign policy and defence.

My Lords, I am grateful to follow the Noble Lord Campbell and for the Noble Lady the Minister’s comprehensive and ambitious speech introducing this debate. I welcomed the Government’s Integrated Review as a necessary attempt to hold together the diverse interests, challenges and opportunities facing the UK in the future.

One of the things I learned in my early career as a linguist at GCHQ was that words and assumptions need to be interrogated as they can be used to obscure reality. For example, in our context, an increased “cap” on nuclear weapons tells us nothing about numbers that might actually be intended or the rationale for them.

So, I think it was remarkable that reference in the Review to the European Union was almost completely missing. Now, this had been widely predicted as it seems that, for the Government, any such reference might be heard as an ideological Remainer capitulation. Yet, the rationale for a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific only makes sense to a point: it is not just what we are “tilting towards” that matters, but also what we are “tilting away from” that has to be considered.

Put the fractious and loaded politics of Brexit to one side for a moment: we are still going to need a strong common alliance with our European neighbours if, for example, China and Russia are to be rightly understood and handled by the democratic West. Pretending we can simply ignore the EU like a bad smell is ridiculous, and this ideological tilting at windmills needs to be challenged. To argue that we will engage with the EU by way of its member states – the Review singles out three: Germany, France and Ireland – is to impose our own understanding of how we think our European allies should organise themselves politically rather than engaging with them on their own terms. In so doing, we overlook the point that the EU is more than the sum of its parts and has agency in and of itself. To ignore this agency is to shrink the diplomatic networks that the Government has access to in support of its stated diplomatic objectives.

However, my Lords, as cuts to the Overseas Aid budget – and Yemen in particular – demonstrate, there is a potentially serious discrepancy between our rhetoric and our observed behaviour. We assert that we want to be a world leader in upholding the rule of law … having a number of times threatened in the last couple of years to abrogate our responsibilities under international law – not least in the recent Internal Market Bill and the Overseas Operations Bill. We might think we can simply move on, but that doesn’t mean that our damaged reputation and the obvious (to everyone else, that is) gap between our rhetoric and behaviour go unnoticed both internally and externally. It also reduces our credibility when we seek to hold other countries to the rule of law – and that impacts inevitably on global security in the longer term.

Ethical assumptions lie at the heart of our political and economic choices. Ethics matter.

My Lords, I come back to Russia. Chatham House published an immensely helpful paper this month addressing a number of myths and misconceptions about Russia. I commend it to the House. Basically, it urges a deep questioning of the assumptions that lie behind how we see, understand and strategise in relation to Russia. As we noted to our cost during the last five years negotiating our exit from the EU, any party to a relationship – especially a changing one – needs to develop an expertise in looking through the eyes of the other party, listening through their ears, hearing their language, and interpreting it in order to know where to begin in offering a language of proposition or proposal. Failure to learn the language of the other is both stupid and costly.

The Church has to do this work every day, not least because we have partnerships in parts of the world where the world looks very different and our behaviour is read very differently from our intention or expectation.

My Lords, my work as a Soviet specialist developed during the Cold War – for my children and grandchildren as remote as the English Civil War. But, for most of us here it has shaped our world and the way we see it. I am not convinced that the Integrated Review will lead us to a deeper understanding of why Russians see the world the way they do. Building back better demands looking more seriously at the foundations of history.

My Lords, the UK needs to see how we are seen and why. Can the Noble Lady the Minister assure us that the work of translation, interpretation and realism will be at the heart of implementation?

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

One personal casualty of current travel restrictions is a long-planned trip to Germany in May where I was booked to preach in Eisenach in the church where Johann Sebastian Bach was baptised and where Martin Luther preached. Looming on the hill above the town is the Wartburg – the castle where Luther was held for his own protection.

Today is the 500th anniversary of the event that led him there. He was summoned to the city of Worms where the Emperor, accompanied by the princes, listened to Luther’s defence against accusations of heresy. The Diet of Worms was not, as many children assume, a bad food day; rather, it was more of an inquisitorial court which had the power to condemn a man completely.

The story goes that Luther concluded his defence against the charges with the bold statement: “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Even though there is no evidence that he did actually say this, it sums up his position well and justifies the pair of socks I was given in His home town of Wittenberg that has it imprinted on the sole.

What I find interesting about this episode is that it was Luther’s courage that gave credibility to his position as a reformer rather than purely the content of his theology. People so admired the personal bravery of a man who was willing to deliver himself into the hands of the authorities that they then paid attention to what he was saying.

In other words, character was as important as content when it came to the credibility of his case – what we today call virtue ethics. Luther would not recognise the term, but he exemplified it. He was a complex man who demonstrated the resilience and determination to stand up for the truth (as he saw it in the Bible), but he was also rude, obstinate and difficult. While he was being protected in the Wartburg – and translating the New Testament into German, a work of historical and cultural significance – his colleague Andreas Karlstadt took up the Reformation mantle; but, when Luther emerged a year later, he reversed many of the changes Karlstadt had made.

Luther is recognisable as, fundamentally, a disciple of Jesus. I wonder if, when he was translating the gospels in the Wartburg, he saw in the first followers of Jesus a similar complexity to his own. For the early apostles and Saints were just as complicated, obdurate and contradictory as he was.

Luther stood before the emperor on this day in 1521 not knowing if he would see tomorrow. What his courage demonstrates is that nothing is inevitable in history – that the world is changed by people who embody integrity today – who love truth, even when they have their own limited relationship to it.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Show:

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh last week at the age of 99 puts into sharp relief some of the cultural changes we have seen in the world during his lifetime. Much is being said and shown about his long life and some of its ups and downs. For a younger generation, especially one that goes to Netflix’s The Crown for its history lessons, his choices might cause some discussion.

Prince Philip was a husband and father as well as consort to a monarch. But, the questions raised by these roles – how they co-exist and which should have priority when – demonstrate the personal cost of public service for him. Put simply, would he live to fulfil his own potential, or would he put his own interests at the service of his wife, the Monarch?

These are not trivial choices. Prince Philip decided to serve his country and the Commonwealth by serving – not always comfortably – the Queen and not himself.

I only met him a few times, but found him astute, combative, curious and very funny. He lived through so many social, cultural and political changes that his ability to keep abreast of it all seems even more remarkable. Indeed, his establishment of St George’s House in Windsor, a place for conferences, debates and learning, was one outcome of his commitment to enabling real development of people, not just flashy events.

Yet, perhaps he earned the respect of many people around the world precisely because his wrestling with a changing world was not always hidden. Noted for his frank talking and acute – sometimes un-PC – observations, he always ran the risk of saying more than intended and opening a crack into which the light of realism might shine. In other words, he was a real human being who strove to fulfil his duties and work out his choices within the constraints of the particular times and mores in which he lived.

He also was clear about questions of faith. Having preached at Sandringham one Sunday morning, he took me to task over the content of my sermon. It made for an interesting and feisty dinner. But, he avoided indifference and, wanting to press the matter, pushed me on content and sources. Now, this might sound odd, but this is how Christian life should be lived: arguing and wrestling with the Bible and with faith – not merely nodding as if it really didn’t matter what was said, thought or believed.

My prayers are with the Queen and their family as they grieve their personal loss. This is not diminished by fame. Prince Philip has lived long and well. The country and the Commonwealth owe him a huge debt. May he rest in peace … and rise in glory.

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

Back in 2010 in Munich I attended a remarkable public conversation about the nature of the Church between two elderly academic theologians from Tübingen: the Protestant Jürgen Moltmann and Roman Catholic priest Hans Küng.

Küng died a few days ago at the age of 93, leaving behind him a long legacy of intellectual and spiritual enquiry. He wrote prolifically, always unafraid of truth and undaunted by the opposition he engendered within the Church hierarchy. His approach is probably best summed up when he realised as a child that he could swim “because the water’s supporting me”. What he called “the venture of faith” could not be proved theoretically by doing a course on dry land. In other words, commending or deriding the exercise of faith could not be done from any place of security, distant or removed from the experience of actually living it.

And this is where Küng found his courage and clarity. He not only dug deeply into theological themes, but also pursued, in conjunction with the world faiths, what a “global ethic” for the religions might look like. In 1993 he famously declared that there could be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.

This is where Küng was remarkable. He refused to separate intellectual curiosity from the search for truth – both rooted in his passionate commitment to Jesus Christ. Although his persistent challenges led to his licence to teach in the Roman Catholic faculty in Tübingen being removed, he continued in academia and in exercising his ministry as a priest. He once remarked to an interviewer that “I do not have many prejudices before starting, as I do not fear the outcome.”

This was evident in the conversation in Munich. Apart from teasing each other about things they had said in the past, they also agreed that Christians should be like human beings: eat and drink together first, then discuss theology afterwards. It is a nonsense to do it the other way round, they said.

And it is this that goes to the heart of Küng’s often controversial views. Mutual hospitality creates the context in which committed, curious, honest and intelligent conversation can emerge. Our common humanity is the starting point, rather than the evident points of difference.

Some people assume that religious people must live in two worlds: what their ‘church’ tells them to believe, and what they actually believe. Küng took Jesus seriously in denying the split. In 2009 he published ‘What I Believe’, demonstrating that nobody need fear the outcome of such rigorous and honest exploration. But, believing meant commitment, not just intellectual assent to a set of ideas.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 with Matt Lucas.

I went for a walk the other day.

You’re supposed to be impressed! Most days for the last year or so I’ve been stuck in my house behind a screen, talking to people or ‘enjoying’ meetings. I know we’re supposed to get exercise, but it hasn’t always worked out.  And that app on my phone that tells me how many steps I haven’t done each day – well, it’s an embarrassment.

Thirty years ago we lived in the Lake District and one of the great pleasures – when it wasn’t raining – was to get out into the fells. I’m not good at walking on my own, but loved doing it with family or friends. I actually discovered that you have a different sort of conversation when you’re walking than when you’re sat in a room.

This is why I am taken with the story at Easter of the couple walking home the few miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, deep in conversation about how to make sense of what had been going on at the weekend. They couldn’t work out how Jesus, in whom they’d invested so much hope, had got himself nailed to a cross and killed. It didn’t compute. Nor did the stories of him now being seen again by his friends.

While walking and talking, a stranger joined the couple and asked what they were discussing. They were surprised he didn’t know the gossip about the dead man walking, so they told him anyway. And it was only when they’d finished trying to explain it all that the stranger offered to re-tell the story in a way that did make sense. But, it meant they had to risk seeing God, the world and themselves differently. Not easy.

One element of this is simply that walking and talking is good for us. Given the last year in which many people have felt trapped or stuck between four walls and a screen, the spring opens up the space to walk and talk. To express what has been going on. And possibly, by talking about it, to draw some of the sting of loss. And share the hard questions of what it all means.