Here's the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2. The guests on the show today were Chas n Dave, Keane's Tom Chaplin and Darcey Bussell. Rather cheaply I called the script 'Mustn't grumble' – an early song title by the Rockney duo – and I smuggled in a title by Keane. Not very adventurous, I know, but I ran out of inspiration.

A couple of weeks ago we had the Bishop of Khartoum in Sudan staying with us. On my day off I agreed to take him – Ezekiel – to Liverpool for the day because he wanted to see Anfield. No, really, he did. So, when we got there I took a photo of him standing next to the statue of the great Bill Shankly. On the plinth beneath Bill it says: “He made the people happy.” Ezekiel said to me: “He obviously wasn't a bishop, then!”

Ha! Well, he was right, wasn't he? The job of a bishop is not primarily to keep people happy and being happy isn't always the best thing to aim for, either. Especially if my happiness is achieved at the expense of someone else's misery. Ezekiel had left behind him tens of thousands of people whose homes in Khartoum had been washed away when the Nile flooded recently – and most of these people had fled from violence in Darfur and elsewhere in the first place. He needed to know that they aren't forgotten by those who live in safety elsewhere – like being “silenced by the night”.

People suffering this week from violence in Syria, Pakistan and Kenya need the assurance that their plight is not being ignored by an apathetic world that cares only about its own satisfaction.

But, happiness need not be simply selfish or self-indulgent. What if it is about opening people's eyes to joy, awakening curiosity and teasing the imagination, offering hope of a new start and forgiveness and reconciliation and love… and helping people hear – amid the cacophony of the present – the music of the future? What if making people happy has to do with enabling them to know that they are infinitely valuable and eternally loved – that whatever the world throws at them, they matter? Or, that however dark life gets, the light cannot be extinguished? That they are loved to death and beyond?

Well, they'll never put up a statue to me – in Liverpool or Bradford or anywhere else. But, I think there are worse epitaphs than Bill Shankly's: “He made the people happy.”

 

There are times when being a news editor must be the worst job.

What ought to lead the news today? What should be the order of priority? Which is most important in its implications for the world?

  • The continuing brutality in Syria and the dangers of a wrong move leading to a regional or global conflict?
  • The apparently uncontrollable brutality meted out in Nairobi, with Muslims being separated out for life and non-Muslims for execution in a shopping centre?
  • The suicide bombings in Pakistan aimed specifically at Christians? (Oops, this one has already fallen off the front pages, so no link.)
  • Ongoing violence in Egypt and violence against Christians there?
  • The latest warnings by scientists about global warming and the debate about human causes of this?
  • Potential rapprochement between the USA and Iran?
  • The re-election of Angela Merkel as Federal Chancellor of Germany and the most powerful political leader in Europe?
  • The continuing oppression and slaughter in Darfur, Sudan? (Oh dear, not on any page – old news.)

The disappearance of Christian communities from Asia and the Middle East might not seem to everyone in liberal Britain to be the most important phenomenon in the world – especially to those who think religion is just a slightly embarrassing matter of mere individual private opinion. Not only is it a scandal, however, but it might turn out to bring a really significant change to the balance of world politics – and human co-existence in parts of the globe where diverse cultures have lived alongside each other for centuries.

The loudest news isn't necessarily the most important.

 

The Diocese of Bradford is currently hosting the Bishop of Khartoum, Sudan, as we celebrate 30 years of a diocesan link. Talking with the bishop over the last few days about the situation facing Christians in Sudan, I keep asking myself the question why a red line has been drawn in Syria, but not in Darfur? President Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, yet the West has not threatened to carry out surgical strikes against those Sudanese military installations that continue to commit murder on a massive scale.

Why not? What is the moral difference between Syria and Darfur/Sudan?

These questions arose not just from conversations with the Bishop of Khartoum, but also from a service in a Bradford parish church this morning.

Church – particularly the Church of England – frequently gets a bad press, yet where else can you find a community of people who consciously belong together, deliberately question their own way of life, dig deep into the stuff of their souls, wrestle with how personal commitment (discipleship of Jesus) connects with (or leads to or derives from) stuff like Syria, Darfur, and so on? Where else do you get this corporate soul-searching in a context of music, silence and attentive listening? What other group brings together (by choice) people of different social strata in one place where attention is paid to looking at the self and beyond the self, encouraging commitment and perseverance, challenging complacency and hypocrisy?

I think we easily overlook just how remarkable this phenomenon is. A congregation thinks of today's routines in the light of the eternal and the global. It hangs on and lives with uncertainty and unresolved questions. Yet, it does so with hope – not wishful thinking, but the hope that derives from “hearing amid the cacophanies of the present the music of the future”.

Anyway, the point I was musing on with the congregation this morning was that when Jesus invited people to follow him, he insisted that they did so with their eyes open. This journey would be no walk in the park, but would throw them together with people they wouldn't choose and might not like – but by following him they would deny themselves the option of choosing company that was convenient to them. Pulling together a passage from Jeremiah (18:1-11) and Luke (14:25-33), we noted that Christians are to be people who, having received the generosity of God, are bound to live generously. However, they must also live out the habit of recognising failure and choosing to change – personally and by feeding the hungry, caring for the destitute, and so on.

And when it seems that, in Jeremiah's language, the potter's clay gets messed up and has to be broken and re-thrown, this is not the end of the story. According to the biblical narrative, (and in the words of Amercian Fransiscan, Richard Rohr) “everything belongs”. Nothing of our life is wasted. The broken bits get collected up and re-worked into something both beautiful and useful. Yet, this should not be easily romanticised: it is painful and hard, and impacts on the emotions, the psyche, lifestyle and self-esteem.

This is what church does. It creates a space in which deep examination and questioning can go on – both of the self and of the world we live in. And it opens up the possibility of motivating a community of people who seek to see the world changed, but starting with themselves. This is the humility of repentance.

And it compels us not to lose hold on the hard questions about self and Syria, the local and the global, the temporal and the eternal.

It is also hugely enjoyable.