This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 with Sara Cox (and after a nice chat with Strictly dancers Ian Waite and Natalie Lowe):

Guess whose birthday it is today?

OK, yeah, Paris Hilton and swimmer Rebecca Adlington … and probably a few thousand people listening to the programme now – in which case, happy birthday to you.

But, the one I am thinking about is Ed Sheeran. 26 today. How do I know? Well, someone told me he originally comes from Hebden Bridge in my patch of West Yorkshire, and I thought I’d check it out. They’re right … and I noticed that it’s his birthday today.

So, open your ears: I’m going to pause for a thought (which means thinking out loud) about one of his best-known songs – recently nominated for a Grammy. Love yourself is a great command … or invitation. After all, there are plenty of people who don’t love themselves – or don’t believe themselves to be lovable – and who sometimes then find it difficult to love others.

There is a link here that Jesus got in one when he asked his followers to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Actually, he was picking up on a maxim that had already been around for a thousand years or more, but he gave it a new twist – and it goes a bit like this:

Loving yourself can turn you into a narcissist who sees everyone and everything through a lens shaped only like yourself. (Apparently, even leaders of countries are not exempt from this.) This makes me the centre of the world – even other people’s worlds. It isn’t attractive, and it can produce dreadful selfishness.

So, this is why Jesus gets the order right: loving God turns your attention away from needing to justify your own worthiness and focuses on something much more fundamental. I matter because I am made in the image of God. Therefore, I see myself through God’s eyes: infinitely valuable and eternally loved. So, what do I do with this? Well, it turns me outwards to love other people whose value is to be found in the same way. I am loved, therefore I love.

So, Ed has got it right: love yourself, but only once you know you are loved. And then pass it on.

So, happy birthday Ed Sheeran. Have a good one, and may it be filled with love.

I have a weird life.

Last Monday I chaired a Bishop's Staff Meeting in Leeds before getting the train to London to record BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage (Christmas special) with Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox. I got the first train back to Leeds for the formal opening of our new diocesan office on Tuesday morning. Wednesday saw me back on the train to London for the House of Lords (also on Thursday) covering a number of issues facing the country and the world. Thursday evening I was on a panel at City University, London, on the ethics of migration – with some excellent panellists that made me want to do more academic work again. Friday morning I did Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 (always a privilege) before having coaching and then doing a shed load of emails and other work. Saturday and Sunday were spent at Limehouse with my cell group, and Monday I spent in bed feeling like death. Today was the House of Bishops at Lambeth Palace, followed by a meeting with the government's Lord Bourne on faith issues'. Now I am back on the train to Leeds.

Me and Nick Baines

Why do I tell you that? Well, few people get an idea of what a bishop does – or the range of stuff that he/she is expected to cover. Simply illustrative. Back in Leeds, I start at 8am tomorrow and have meetings all day in the Diocese. Never boring.

But, while all this is going on the world bleeds.

One of the recurring conversations at the moment is whether democracy works. Well, of course it does. It delivers what people vote for. However, it is not necessarily truthful, intelligent or wise. It does not necessarily deliver what people thought they were voting for. Nothing new there. But, one of the glaringly bizarre questions emerging from both Brexit and Trump is why people didn't question the language used by the elite who led the campaigns. For example, who exactly is “the establishment” if it isn't the very people who were slagging off the establishment? How is “the elite”, if it isn't hugely privileged and economically comfortable people who will not suffer one iota from the consequences of what they persuaded people to vote for!

How many billionaires are there in the Trump administration? Why is President Putin so happy?

And all this finds focus in the cries of the children of Aleppo. While the blood flows today in the final brutality of war, the rest of us are confronted with an unpalatable challenge: we tell our government not to apply military power in Syria … only to complain that the Russian/Assad violence on our screens has been exercised without opposition. The West doesn't know what it believes. No wonder Sergei Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) was quoted on Twitter this afternoon as saying: ” We are fed up with the constant whining of our American colleagues.”

We will see what happens. In the meantime, Christians will find a vocabulary in the Psalms for the conflicted cries of “how long?” and “why do the poor suffer?” and “why are we so rubbish at getting things right for the sake of the weak and vulnerable?” (which,I admit, is a rough translation).

As I mentioned in a debate in the House of Lords some weeks ago (on the admission to the UK of unaccompanied Syrian refugee children from Calais), the generation of children who suffer from our inactivity will not forget what we did not do for them. The seeds of the next three or four generations' violence are being sown now.

And we cannot pretend ignorance.

 

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show in the company of the Kaiser Chiefs, actors Michael Fassbender and Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli:

What I am about to tell you is seriously unlikely to change your life, and I don't predict a riot.

90 years ago today – 9 December 1926 – the United States Golf Association legalised the use of steel-shaft golf clubs. I assume that before then only wood was used. Or maybe papier maché? My source wasn't clear on the matter.

Now, the reason I mention this world changing event is simply because it illustrates how difficult it is to change. Apparently, there was considerable resistance in some quarters to any move to change the material used in golf clubs. But, before you wag your head in disbelief, just consider how difficult it is for most of us to get out of what has become known as our “comfort zone”. For example, what are the chances of me, a red Scouser, responding well to the suggestion that I should in future support Chelsea?

Most of us find it hard to change our mind, let alone our behaviour. Yet, the clearest invitation we get in Advent – we don't get to Christmas for another couple of weeks – is to do precisely this. The word used by John the Baptist and Jesus in some of their first recorded words is 'repent' – and it means simply that: change your mind in order to change your ways.

Easy to say, but hard to do. It's easier to see where other people ought to change than to spot our own need. Didn't someone once say something about taking the plank out of your own eye before focusing on the speck in someone else's?

OK, Jesus also told a story about someone who was mugged and who was not helped by the people you would expect to be generous, but in the end was aided by the Samaritan – the outsider who nobody trusts. In other words, we should be open to surprise and to changing the way we look and see and think and live.

So, we have a couple of weeks left to consider how, strictly speaking, we might open our mind to be surprised by Christmas – by the sight of a God who doesn't look like we might have expected. If I was a bit more trendy, I might even look into a manger and go: “Oh my God”!

 

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show in the company of Robbie Williams, Anne Robinson, Mark Strong, Michael Pena and The Shires:

This might mark me down as a sad man, but one of my favourite film scenes is Bill Murray doing karaoke in Tokyo in Lost In Translation. The song he gets is the Elvis Costello version of What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding? which he belts out with a tunefulness guaranteed to close down any hope of a music contract. It's brilliant, even if it's not heavy entertainment. Certainly better than declaring war on everyone.

But, to answer his question: there's actually nothing funny about peace, love and understanding – it's just funny that they sound like a good idea.

Peace, love and understanding. Where on earth do we go with that?

Well, we've just opened a new office in Leeds and everywhere you look you see three words: Loving. Living. Learning. A bit like peace, love and understanding, they sum up how we want to be.

For Christians like me it means loving God, the world and one another.

It also means getting stuck into the world as it is, but fired by a vision of what it could be. So, we work hard at enabling individuals and communities to flourish and thrive. That's living.

But, all this loving and living is done with the acknowledgement that we keep making an almighty mess of it and can't seem to help getting it wrong. We are all learning together and from one another. In other words, we need a huge dose of humility in our attempts to love and live.

To twist the words of a well-known album, we need to sing when we're losing as well as when we are winning. Or, as I discovered again this week while driving down a no-entry road in Cambridge, I learn better from my mistakes than from my successes.

So, loving, living and learning shape a lens through which we can look at what we do, why we do it, where our priorities are, working out what and who really matters. Not three words that imprison us, but words that open up the possibility of living differently in a complicated and messy world.

Perhaps, if we did a bit more loving, living and learning, we might end up with a bit more peace, love and understanding. And it wouldn't seem funny at all.

 

This is the script fo this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show in the company of Mo Farah, Tamsin Greig, Robert Winston and Jamie Lawson:

I have a theory about children's books. It's not original: children's books are mainly read by adults. By adults, for adults. Remember when Harry Potter was just starting out on literary life and the publisher had to use two covers: one for kids and a different one for grown-ups … just so the latter wouldn't get embarrassed on a train?

I think part of the reason for this might be that loads of adults are learning that imagination is not just for the little ones, and words open up new worlds of wonder.

I remember being accused of using simple language in one of my books. Accused, I think, because the reviewer thought I should posh up a bit and be more academic. But, the genius of good communication is to make the complex simple, not the simple complex.

I am no stranger to this. Every time I open the gospels I am confronted by stories and images. This stuff isn't meant to hit you with some solid truth, but to get your imagination working – sneaking round the back of your mind when you're not expecting it, and scratching away at your memory. “Where God is,” says Jesus, “is like a mustard seed.”

What?! What's that supposed to mean? Use your imagination! Something tiny grows in unlikely places into a whacking big tree in whose branches the birds make their nests – and the tree doesn't get to choose which birds. Get it? God is to be found where there is hiddenness, outrageous growth, unlikely generosity, hospitality. You get the idea?

A couple of days ago I was in a primary school at Low Moor in Bradford. I was giving certificates to young leaders who, together, had made a difference to their local community in a variety of ways. They had learned to look for what others didn't see – like litter and the absence of birds – and did a rubbish collection and built bird boxes. They learned to be surprised by the difference they could make. Leading meant taking responsibility instead of waiting for others to do it for them. Brilliant.

And they were full of imagination at a world they are still discovering.

So, keep the books coming. Keep the stories rolling. Keep the imagination fired up – and try growing up into a child.

 

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show in the presence of David Walliams, Jack Whitehall, Jodie Foster and Richard Ashcroft:

I think I'm the only bishop to have been arrested for busking on the Paris Metro. OK, I was only nineteen or twenty and I was living and working near the Eiffel Tower for a few months as part of my degree. Fantastic job – paid by a telecommunications company for a full week, but only working two days and spending the rest of the week busking my way around the city. I loved it.

But, just to be clear, I didn't get stopped by the police because I was rubbish – or that my singing offended French sensibilities. It was just that the King of Denmark (I think) had arrived in the Elysee Palace above us, and I was the only busker who didn't know he was coming. It was a security thing.

When they stopped me I'd done a couple of Beatles songs and was half way through a John Lennon song that went deep at the time. On his 'Imagine' album there was a song called 'Crippled Inside' which basically says that you can put on all the appearances you like – “shine your shoes and wear a suit” -that sort of thing – but one thing you can't hide is when you're crippled inside.

A bit miserable, maybe. But, John Lennon was what I call an honest hypocrite – in other words, he never pretended not to be one. Writing “imagine no possessions” on a Bechstein grand piano took some nerve, didn't it? But, he had a knack of going to the heart of being human. In a culture that too often appears to value only success, beauty and appearances, my fellow Scouser stripped off the veneer of respectability and owned up to the pain of being a mess underneath it all.

For a Christian like me this should come as no surprise. We're all a mess really. The first question in the Bible has God walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day asking the hiding Adam: “Where on earth are you?”

In other words, stop hiding, come on out from behind the bushes, don't worry about being seen through, or being a mess. We can all see it anyway. Perhaps freedom is to be found in facing the reality deep within us and not trying to hide it away, pretending to be what we are not.

Imagine that.

 

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show with Eric Bana, Rick Astley, Cyndi Lauper, Daisy Waterstone and Callum Woodhouse:

I realise this might come as a bit of a shock, but I need to tell you: I don't have a tattoo. I'm beginning to think this makes me a bit weird, but so far the only needles to have got under my skin have been medicinal ones.

But … (a question put to me last week) if I was going to have one, what would it be: image or words? Now, that got me thinking. If I had just one thing to be my identifying feature (as it were) – the thing that really gets under my skin -, what would I want the world to see? Now, that's hard, isn't it?

OK. I wouldn't want something merely aspirational or something exotic in Sanskrit that I am told means 'romantic hero' but actually means 'idiot'. And I wouldn't want an image that might stretch or shrink with age and end up looking like something it shouldn't. I think I'd want something real. Something that showed my true colours.

One of my heroes – not the Hulk exactly – is a guy who thought he was a big man – leader of the pack – only to find he melted when the heat was on. His illusions about himself led to him promising his best friend that he would never give him up to the authorities and would never let him down, but caved in remarkably quickly. His name was Peter and his mate was Jesus of Nazareth. And his failure set him free never again to have to pretend to be what he was not – the failure wasn't the end of the world, after all.

So, maybe my tattoo ought to just portray a face – eyes that are open and unafraid, knowing from experience that we don't have to be trapped by our reputation or the illusions about ourselves that we too often try so hard to protect.

Or, maybe I ought just to relax, and have the words of Psalm 139 etched into my epidermis: “Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me” … because that freedom sets me free to be loved and, thus, to love, never to give up.

But, maybe I don't need body art to tell me that, after all.