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”!

 

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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.

 

This is the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2. In the studio were Dawn French, Henry Winkler and Gregory Porter. The text contains various song and book titles…

About twenty years ago I did an interview with a radio station in the Midlands about a book I'd recently published. I'd just explained that I'd written the book for a woman whose husband had died in very tragic circumstances when the DJ put on the next song: “Don't worry, be happy.” Now, if I'd known it was that easy, I wouldn't have bothered writing the book.

You can't just switch it on, can you? You can't demand happy days as if they are a right.

It's like when you're leaving someone and you say goodbye and then they say, “Be good.” And I always think, well I hadn't thought about not being until you mentioned it. But, that's what we are like, isn't it? My kids were like that, my grandchildren are like that, and… er… I think I'm like that. Tell me to do something and I immediately think of the alternatives.

A mate of mine once said to me: “You can't legislate for goodness.” And he was right. You can tell people how to be and what to do – and you can even make laws to try to keep them on the straight and narrow. But, you can't make them good.

In one sense, this shouldn't need saying. After all, we do know ourselves – and all of us know that, if we are honest, there's something tempting about ditching the good stuff from time to time and having a go at the dark side. Feeling good isn't actually enough – and experience tells us that we all love the odd illusion that let's us off the moral hook.

What I'm getting at is that we really need to go beyond an imitation of life – playing at being good – and learn to do the right thing. Doing right – being good – gradually changes us so that we become better at it. Or, at least, at being honest about the mess we usually make. It's about forming a character, not just ticking a moral box.

Or, as someone once sang, when love was king the rest followed on. Isn't that just a tiny bit marvellous?

 

This is the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show:

You know what it's like when you keep telling people some story about when you were younger, but after a while you begin to wonder if it every really happened? I have to admit that as I get older this does happen a bit.

One of my abiding memories of secondary school – a big comprehensive in Liverpool – was an English teacher called Mr Burrows passing a school exercise book around the class one day when I was about fourteen or fifteen. We just glanced at it, flipped the pages and passed it on. Old Mr Burrows kept telling us to keep scribbling, keep writing things down, keep doodling, keep being creative. I think we were just bored teenagers.

The reason it has stuck in my memory is that the book he passed round had belonged to John Lennon and was full of his scribblings. Mr Burrows had taught him English.

Now, I think I started to doubt whether this ever happened simply because nobody really believed me. But, then I read an epic biography of John Lennon and there it was in black and white. All true.

Of course, now I wish I'd paid more attention. Or, at least, nicked the book. But, Mr Burrows' point was well made and I never forgot it. Being creative is something some of us have to practise – it sort of doesn't come naturally.

And yet, we are born to be creative. This is partly what is meant way back in the book of Genesis in the Bible when, in that great poetic account of what made human beings be human, it says that we are “made in the image of God” – who can't help creating and to loving what is created.

This actually lies at the heart of a Christian response to things like the disappearance of the Malaysian aircraft and the human tragedy of it all. Every person matters because they are made this way and loved infinitely for no other reason.

So, I am with John Lennon and Mr Burrows. Keep on doodling. We're made for it.

 

This is the basic text of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show. Search blog for 'Sudan' to read posts.

I guess most of us have at some time in our life entertained some romantic ideas about exotic places we dream of visiting one day. I remember reading Antony and Cleopatra – Shakespeare, not the Carry On version – when I was at school in Liverpool and imagining the River Nile. Plagued with queen-biting asps, obviously.

Well, a few weeks ago I actually went to the Nile. In fact, I went to both Niles: the Blue and the White. We were visiting Bradford's link diocese in Sudan and every day drove over the bridge in Khartoum where the two rivers converge before heading north to Egypt and so on. I'm not colour-blind, but I tell you: both the Blue and the White Niles look brown to me.

Life is tough for many of the people we were visiting there in Sudan. Outsiders and foreigners are being told to leave, and southerners are being sent… er… south. Now, the reasons for all this are complicated and the politics somewhat controversial; but, what we saw was the human cost of other people's privilege. Put simply, when life gets tough between different peoples, the easiest thing to do is separate… grow apart deliberately.

But, the solving of one problem doesn't bring peace – it simply creates more problems and causes lots of misery for the ordinary people who have to pay the price of powerful people's greed and vanity. But, we in Bradford are bound up with our friends in Sudan and, whatever happens, we will stick by them.

An hour after we left our guesthouse for the airport at one in the morning, the house was raided, guests taken in for questioning, and the place confiscated by the security services. It might be a world away from Bradford and the Yorkshire Dales, but, like the Blue and the White Niles, we have converged and cannot be separated as we travel into the future together.

Disappointingly, I saw no queen-biting asps.

 

Here is my script from this morning’s Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2. I met Michael Buble in the studio – which was nice – and then did my stuff as follows. But, I had to drop the second line of the song quote, so will add it at the end!

I’ve been on the road recently and you know what it’s like when you spend hours on trains – you can only read so much and then your mind begins to wander. Randomly sometimes. Well, I was coming back from Germany last Sunday and was reading a pile of stuff, all of which sort of suggested that the world was about to end. And then, somewhere in the murky depths of my memory, the line of a song poked up:

The world won’t end in darkness, it’ll end in family fun…*

It was the Beautiful South some years ago in a snarly little song called ‘One God’. But, you can understand the sentiment – the world’s turned plastic!

At some point every generation thinks it might be the last. Relatively minor issues take on ultimate importance and we can’t conceive of life continuing differently. Well, maybe it’s time for a bit of perspective. For example, when I was younger, and getting very excited about some issues, I learned to ask myself this question: in the context of the entire history of the entire universe, does this matter? Clearly, not everything did. When I was a vicar in Leicestershire I used to baptise in a Norman font – which had been used for a thousand years – and we would drink Communion wine from a chalice that had been used for nearly 500 years. Through wars and Reformation and disasters and all the stuff of the world and so on.

And guess what? Life carried on.

I am in London because the General Synod votes today on whether or not to allow women to be bishops. Some are saying that it will be a disaster if we do… and a disaster if we don’t. But, whichever way it goes, it won’t be the end of the world – whatever people say as they raise the emotional stakes. Wednesday will surely come; the sun will rise; we will still be here; life will carry on; and, hopefully, one day, the Beautiful South will cheer up and re-form to prove it.

[*”The world won’t end in darkness, it’ll end in family fun / with Coca Cola clouds behind a Big Mac sun.”]

Not much time for blogging during a full London week. The General Synod kept me occupied during the day, other meetings (usually over a meal) in the evenings. The one morning I thought I could get some space I discovered I had agreed a breakfast meeting.

Leaving aside the fact that some media reporting of the women bishops business was bizarre (making the point that the Synod had ‘postponed’ making a decision until July – implying that the Synod was indecisive, procrastinating and deliberately spineless – when it was stated time and again in speech after speech that this debate would simply advise the House of Bishops prior to the bringing of the main debate in July), there wasn’t a huge amount to stimulate the imagination or fire the journalist’s critical faculties. We are against assisted dying, concerned about planned reform of he House of Lords, for the NHS and conflicted over fee levels for weddings and funerals – none of which evidences a shocking volte face.

So, the two things that are swimming around my own imagination as I ride the train back up north are tangential to the Synod’s preoccupations, but pertinent to what is going on elsewhere in the wider world.

First, reading coverage of Times editor James Harding‘s evidence at his second appearance before the Leveson Inquiry recalled to mind a conversation I had with a journalist recently. Discussing the impact of the phone hacking scandal on the nature and quality of journalism in the UK, the journalist expressed huge relief that at last the editors are in the firing line, unable to hide behind the frontline reporters. We have had a generation of newspaper editors demanding more and more – clearly sometimes exploiting both unjustifiably intrusive and actually criminal means of getting a story – from journalists who owed their jobs and future career to these tyrants. But, now it is the ‘generals’ in the dock and not just the troops in the trenches.

I hadn’t really thought about it in these terms – that many frontline reporters would be glad to see the exposure before Leveson of practices that are immoral and indefensible and that bring their profession into disrepute. The hope, as expressed to me, was that good, committed, intelligent and moral journalists would in future be able to work better and less fearfully for editors who now know they are likely to be held accountable. It might actually make journalism a better job and enable journalists to do better journalism.

The second thing on my mind comes from somewhere completely different, but involves another recent conversation. I was walking back from the BBC (where I had just done Pause for Thought on the excellent and never boring Chris Evans Show) to Church House, Westminster, and thinking about the Church’s apparent discomfort with popular culture (“We are more Radio 4 than Radio 2, bishop…”).

It occurred to me that Jesus went straight for popular culture in the villages and towns of Galilee. So, what do I think about the recently publicised ‘search for Jesus’, as in Andrew Lloyd-Webber‘s hunt for a singer to lead a stadium tour of Jesus Christ Superstar?

This has been called ‘tacky’ by some and ‘inappropriate’ by others. Inevitably it has led to screams of protest by the usual suspects (who have a loud voice, but little credibility) for whom any reference to Jesus has to be holy and disincarnate. But, I think the whole thing is pregnant with possibility.

Jesus used story and image to get into people’s imagination and tease them with a vision of how things could be in his ‘kingdom’. Like what the Germans call an ear-worm (Ohrwurm), these stories work their way into our head, re-shaping the lens behind our eyes through which we see God, the world and us. Far stronger than issuing statements with which we either agree or disagree.

In fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury picked up on a similar notion in a speech last night in London when he called for both the Church and the City to recover a moral imagination as we strive to reconnect finance and business with the moral ends to which they are the means (the common good). Imagination is not fantasy – imagination involves the power to conceive of something that isn’t yet apparent, but which might be gradually shaped.

Anyway, the ‘search for Jesus’, rather than being tacky or inappropriate, raises all sorts of really interesting questions. For example, the point of the gospels is that the reader is supposed to be shocked and surprised by (a) who Jesus is – and isn’t, and (b) who it was who received – or couldn’t receive – his invitation to look and see and think and live differently – discovering that grace is about God’s generosity and not our merit. So:

  • what sort of Jesus will be sought for this show?
  • will he be like the Mark Wallinger statue on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, simply human and vulnerable to what the world can throw at him, or a macho man? A wimp in a white nightie or an insensitive male chauvinist? A political revolutionary or a hapless victim?
  • how do you portray the sheer charisma that gets a bizarre collection of twelve people (with loads of other followers) to live a dream followed by a nightmare followed by a fraught life of new living that leads them all to an early death… and to change the world for ever?

I am intrigued to see how we make the connection between the stage Jesus of the musical and the one we read about in the gospels and experience in our life and worship. After all, ‘popular culture’ involves ‘people where they are’. Call me common, but I am curious about what this latest search for a star might hold in terms of potential for conversation, debate, imagination, questioning and exploration – all in a medium that will engage more people than sit in all our churches put together each week.

En route we might even take a sideways look at how Jesus has been portrayed in film and theatre: Pasolini’s The Gospel of St Matthew, Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal, Monty Python’s Life of Brian (which, as the title suggests, is primarily about Brian and not Jesus…), Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.

Count me in. My imagination has been awoken.