1. The Prime Minister has summoned her ministers to Chequers to discuss Brexit today. What are they discussing? Wouldn't I love to be a fly on the wall. At what point will it be recognised publicly that the EU countries with whom we will be negotiating do not have “our best interests” at heart, but will be looking to maximise their own interests? At some point those who have promised much will have to account for why much has not been given. Won't they?

2. Why isn't Rory Butler better known? Just listen to the guitar playing, the voice, the maturity of the lyric and the humour. Unique. He is appearing in Leeds soon, but I will be abroad and can't go. Tour dates are here.

3. Why do I feel sorry for Joe Hart?

4. What will the Germans be saying to us about Brexit when we meet in Munich from next Thursday for the Meissen Commission annual conference? We'll also be discussing the European refugee situation with state politicians.

5. Why do bad things make some people lose their faith when that faith is in a God who opts into the realities of this world and doesn't exempt himself from them?

Now we are into the autumn and the almost-three-year transition (from three dioceses) into a single, functioning and coherent diocese is coming to its conclusion (by the end of 2016), I hope to start blogging more frequently again. Which I realise will be of interest to some and a cause of misery to others. Oh well. We'll see.

 

The Home Secretary's statement following the Hillsborough verdicts was read in the House of Lords yesterday. The former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who chaired the Independent Panel, was seated in the gallery.

The whole exchange can be read here. My question, towards the end of the debate, was as follows:

My Lords, I declare an interest because I come from Liverpool and most of my family still live there. My grandmother lived on Anfield Road at the time of the tragedy—no one in Liverpool was so remote that they did not know someone who was affected by it. People who have not been recognised in the comments so far are those such as Steven Gerrard and Rafa Benitez, who gave huge amounts of money to support families and did so without expectation of gratitude or publicity. A lot of individuals, like them, showed enormous generosity at a time when the cause was not popular. Can the Minister assure us that the independent panel sets a model for how such investigations ought to be continued in the future in similar circumstances, with objective scrutiny of documentation? Also, does he think that current levels of press regulation under IPSO—before we get to Leveson stage 2—would be in any way stronger in preventing the sort of press abuse that continued until only three years ago?

Lord Ahmad's response was as follows:

I thank the right reverend Prelate for those questions. We have learned lessons from every element of the inquiry, and from the panel in particular. We will take forward all the issues, particularly good governance. We have set up an ongoing relationship with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool on the issue of press regulation. As I ​have said already, we are waiting until the Government can look at the second part of the Leveson report to ensure that a comprehensive response can be given. On press regulation and review, we live in a very different world now from that of 27 years ago—indeed, of 10 years ago—and the press, along with everyone else, need to reflect on their responsibilities, particularly when reporting such tragedies as Hillsborough.

The second stage of Leveson will investigate the links between the police and the media. If this stage is ever reached. In the meantime, we have a press that is self-regulated, despite the 'independent' in IPSO.

Would current regulation make it any less possible for the Sun to do what it did 27 years ago? I doubt it. And it took the Sun 23 years to even begin to address its behaviour.

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

Call me biased, but this season has to be the best for football fans everywhere. I lived in Leicester for nine years in the 1990s, so am really pleased to see the Premier League tables looking a little bit upside-down. And I say that as a convinced Kloppite.

There is no shortage of aphorisms about sport in general and football in particular. But, and I feel this might be almost blasphemous, Bill Shankly was wrong when he claimed that football was more important than matters of life and death. Of course, in his day sport wasn't quite the big business it is today.

And perhaps that is where the challenge lies.

In the last few months we have seen a crisis in world athletics over doping. The high-earning tennis player Maria Sharapova has had to step back and has now lost a number of lucrative sponsorship deals. And now we see allegations – albeit strongly denied – about further doping in major sports, including Premiership football.

It seems to me that there are two problems here. The doping is one thing, but the real issue is the duping. I don't think anyone would disagree with the notion that to win by cheating – whatever form that cheating takes – is always a failure. Yet, the real problem is not what the Bible calls “the prospering of the wicked”, but, rather, the wickedness of those who prosper. It is the duping rather than the doping that causes the ultimate offence.

We teach our children not to lie or deceive – as moral goods in themselves – and that is surely right. But, then we and they end up watching their role models, particularly on the football pitch, diving and dying on the grass. So, we should surely be more concerned about character and integrity than lost sponsorship deals, and see sportsmen and women more embarrassed about shame than about illicit points gained or deals lost.

Now, I realise that there are other dimensions to this whole business. Sport is never simply about winning or losing. And I have a certain sympathy for those who take allowable drugs one day, only to find that what was legal then is now deemed illicit today. Again, if the moral complaint has to do only with inequity on the part of those competing, then what do we do about those imbalances and unfairnesses inherent to sport anyway? For example, leaving drugs aside, those individuals or teams with the most money at their disposal will always have the best support and resourcing – the rich are inevitably advantaged over those who are more poorly funded.

Well, one American sportsman once said that “sports do not build character; they reveal it.” No surprise then that in theological circles character ethics are de rigeur these days. Sport might want to take a look at some very old ethics for a not-so-new world? Character matters more than charisma or a cabinet of medals.

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

It doesn't seem that long since we were doing this last year: looking back at the old and wondering what the new year will hold. Many people in my part of the world will be hoping for better weather and, if that fails, at least better flood defences. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was surely right when he said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Well, looking forwards tells me that in Europe 2016 won’t be boring. Among other things, we’ll commemorate the centenary of the Somme – where a whole generation of young men (vast numbers from northern towns and cities) was sacrificed on the altar of violence. Then there’s the likely referendum on membership of the European Union which should remind us of where the drive for union began a century ago. And let's not forget the European football Championships in the summer – where we can only hope the goals go in the right direction.

Tomorrow is always an unknown country. This month the Primates of the Anglican Communion will meet in London and make decisions about how to belong together in the future. The divisions are no secret. The outcome is, obviously, unknown. What is certain, however, is that the future might not look exactly like the past.

Now, that’s a bit of a truism. But, every human community has to comprehend difference of opinion and competing priorities. Yes, we can walk away from the discomfort of conflict; or, we can face reality and harness it for honest conversation. Difference matters.

Later this month I will be visiting Anglicans in Tanzania where our diocesan partnership links are strong. We have equally strong links with Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sweden and the United States. What these relationships do is compel Christians in very different contexts and with vastly different histories and cultures to look through the eyes of the other and feel through the skin of the other. What we take for granted when we talk about God, the world and us gets challenged by looking through the eyes of a very different people. This also means exposing our own prejudices and discovering just how much of our theology turns out actually to be cultural assumption.

So, difference is integral to all human life. We either face it hopefully … or we simply wish it away. Hope is not the same as wishful thinking; hope refuses to let go in the face of even fierce discomfort.

Writing about the prophets, one Old Testament theologian titled a book 'Texts that linger, words that explode'. Well, maybe relationships sometimes explode, but words have a habit of hanging around – the conversation always has further to go. The texts that linger form a conversation that can’t be silenced.

A hopeful 2016 is one that faces reality and keeps talking.

I have not had time to post on all the myriad of things going on in the world. I am writing this on the train back from London before heading off to lecture and preach at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena tomorrow (after a 3.30am wake up).

But, these are the questions I would ask anyway:

1. Why do newspaper editors want everyone else in the world to be regulated, scrutinised and accountable to outside agencies, but scream when it is proposed that they should be regulated, scrutinised and accountable? When did regulation become a synonym for censorship? How do you spell 'special pleading'?

2. What do members of the English Defence League think they achieved by coming to Bradford last Saturday and shouting to themsleves for an hour before going home again? Genuine question. Nobody was listening. It just seemed like a waste of time and money – to say nothing of the cost to Bradford and the police.

3. Are Manchester United fans not just the teeniest little bit embarrassed about bleating like babies after a couple of games where they didn't win? After laughing at everyone else for twenty five years?

4. Where was all this new Madeleine McCann stuff hiding before the UK police got going on it?

5. We already owned the Royal Mail; so, why were we asked to buy it?

6. Who decides whether Edward Snowden did the world a favour or played into the hands of the bad guys?

7. When is the Pakistani government going to start protecting all its citizens, particularly Christians who are being targeted with violence?

8. Which Americans are proud of their political system when it inhibits the working of government?

9. How do we get the balance between protection (intelligence agencies) and oppression (intelligence agencies)? And who decides what is appropriate secret service?

10. Are we nearly there yet?

 

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.”

 

I am about to depart for a break. The timing is terrible. The new Premier League season begins on 17 August, my fantasy league squad is ready, and… er… I won’t be here.

So, in order to distract me from Luis Suarez’s shameful behaviour at a club that has nurtured and defended him despite at least 18 games missed by ‘bad behaviour’ bans, here is a video I have only come across (courtesy of a friend in the USA) after everybody else.