Yesterday my dad was 86 years old. Today at least 22 families will wake up to a world in which their own children will have found their life ended young. The loss can only be indescribable. Life will never be the same again; the sense of injustice will not be comprehended.

The cowardice of the perpetrator is striking. Isn’t it brave and principled to target unwitting children and young people?

The emergency services, along with ordinary people who responded heroically, represent the best of a society that refuses to regard such events as ‘normal’. It is shocking, a crime and a sin beyond words.

The words that haunt me come from a poem written three thousand years ago:

How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? (Psalm 13:2)

The depths of human perversion are evident. My prayer is that those whose lives have been torn apart by this atrocity will be drawn by a profound hope and not devastated by fear.

May the crucified and risen One shine light into this darkness and bring some peace.

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.

Nelson Mandela is dead.

Words are inadequate to celebrate such a man.

He is being quoted extensively across the Twittersphere.

If only those who admire, revere and quote him could emulate him. It is easier to admire him than it is to live like him – justice with mercy, hope with realism, generosity with responsibility. He liberated his oppressors by forgiving them – if we really take him seriously, we must ask how we can liberate our 'oppressors' or opponents? Easy to admire, hard to do.

I wrote and recorded an obituary for the great man several years ago. I will post it in a day or two (once I know if it has been used by the BBC.

Oh dear. Tens of millions of pounds lost to the taxpayer by firms overcharging for privatised services. Good on the Justice Minister for referring the whole mess to the Serious Fraud Office.

What now, then? Will the whole system of privatised services be questioned in the same way as is the welfare system? Will business owners be pursued because of their moral failings as well as their bureaucratic or financial ‘weaknesses’ (or are ‘scroungers and skivers’ more morally culpable than those who steal money in other ways)?

Just asking (during a spare minute at the desk).

This morning I preached at the Civic Service in Bradford Cathedral to mark the end on the Lord Mayor’s year in office. This enabled the Lord Mayor, Naveeda Ikram – the first Muslim woman Lord Mayor in the country – to reflect publicly on her year. It was a long service…

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank those who take up public office in any way and recognise the human cost of doing so (for some, at least). Here are the main bits, based on Matthew 5 and minus the jibes at Chelsea and questions arising from David Beckham’s haircut…):

The so-called Sermon on the Mount is often misheard and misinterpreted. It looks and sounds so simple, but is fraught with challenge and demand. In Matthew’s Gospel – which was not written in a moment of boredom as a twee way of telling stories about nice Jesus – this ‘sermon’ comes at the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry and serves as a summary of his teaching. In one sense, the rest of the Gospel puts flesh and blood onto what he says here. And it is gripping stuff that allows the comfort-seeker only one recourse: that is, to ignore it and walk away.

In this passage Jesus is not offering lots of self-help advice for people who want to live a fulfilled life. He is not suggesting ways of improving your happiness quota. He is saying very clearly that if you want to take God seriously – which means taking other people, wider society and the world seriously… and taking responsibility in and for them – there will be a cost. A cost to your prejudices (the meek will inherit the earth, not the powermongers after all), to your values (the hungry will be filled) and your expectations of comfort or satisfaction (people may revile and persecute you).

But, this passage does give us windows on the nature of public service which lies at the heart of this service and today’s celebrations. Let’s look at a few of them before we return to the point.

‘When Jesus saw the crowds’ he went away from them. He didn’t run after popularity or populism. There are dangers in seeking approval all the time. Yet, those who wish – for whatever reason – to serve on local councils must seek a popular mandate and canvas the votes of those who have the power to entrust it to you. In reality, whatever the benefits of public engagement, you get a pile of public exposure in which your personality, motives, dress sense, values, priorities and appearance will all be subject to popular critique – which is a nice way of saying that you open yourself up to being taken apart by people who carry no responsibility other than to pillory people who do. So, you can understand why Jesus didn’t run towards the crowds, but went up a mountain to do some serious thinking about what really matters when you come down again and can’t avoid the crowds or their demands.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit…’: yet many people can go though life avoiding contact with the poor, the humble and the publicly insignificant. One of the things that mayors – Lords or otherwise – often remark on is that until they began their demanding schedule of visits, they had no idea just how much amazing and self-sacrificial work and service was going on in their area. Naveeda has been to places she probably never knew existed and met people who, without any hope of reward, serve those in a variety of places of need. That is to be ‘poor in spirit’ – often unnoticed and unrewarded – serving those who are poor in spirit and just about every other way, too. Public service exposes you to things you might otherwise not see or encounter. (Which is why Anglican clergy live on the job – part of the community they serve and never being able to worship God without that worship being rooted in the realities of the community life around them.)

‘Blessed are those who hunger and search for righteousness’: Righteousness is not a pious notion… something to do with being a goody-goody. Righteousness has to do with being passionate about social justice, about recognising the inherent dignity and humanity of every person (made in the image of God, as Genesis puts it), and about committing oneself in body, mind and spirit to furthering the goals of that passion. At whatever personal cost.

And the personal cost can be great. Ask the family of those who serve voluntarily or in public service as councillors. ‘Blessed are the merciful’, says Jesus, but mercy is not something you will always find at the hands of a media seeking the sensational or the conflictual. Mercy is for the feeble and the sentimental in a society that speaks all the time of ‘fighting’ for causes. But, as Jesus says and we find so hard to believe or work out, ‘it is the merciful who will find mercy.

Can you imagine what it might look like to give our public servants the space to be merciful and to receive mercy for those they seek to serve?

(As an aside, I was listening to the Archbishop of York preaching at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Service here in this cathedral last Sunday afternoon and thinking about how we take for granted the culture and polity we enjoy in this country. For sixty years – whatever your particular views on monarchy itself as a feature of the polity – the Queen has presided over remarkable stability… and, as she reminded us in a speech last month, over a country whose democracy developed over a thousand years, rooted in a Christian theology and world view that is all-too-frequently disregarded or derided today. Our judicial system was not invented from thin air. The freedoms we take for granted did not just happen. These and other features of our assumed common life arose from an understanding of who we are as human beings, what matters in human living, why morality matters and where moral values derive from, how society should be shaped and on what moral and spiritual foundations it should be built. We take it all for granted as if ‘common goodness’ were a given in any human society. And we are in danger of giving some of this away without a moment’s thought about why we think what we think matters in human living and dying.)

Yet, as Her Majesty pointed out, we need to recall that our society has been shaped by a theology that enjoins self-giving, service, humility, justice exercised with mercy, a passion for ‘righteousness’. These things are written into the fabric of English life and law and into our assumptions about public service.

For this reason, then, I want, on your behalf, to thank those who serve our Metropolitan District of Bradford: those who stand for election and are rejected by the voters; those who, once elected, have to do the hard work of shaping the common good with the limited resources available to them – setting priorities that will always be deemed to be wrong by someone -, and giving their time to serve our wider community; those who are paid to make the whole thing work – the Chief Executive and all those who work at City Hall, carrying public responsibility and often seeing themselves kicked around in the public discourse.

In this context I think it right to note the service of the former Leader of Bradford Council, Ian Greenwood, who served this place for seventeen years and lost his seat at the last election. Many may disagree with his politics, but we would do well to recognise his service along with that of others who have been rejected by the electorate.

As we thank Naveeda and look to pray for the incoming Lord Mayor, Councillor Dale Smith, we conclude by remembering those demanding words of Jesus to his friends on the mountain when he went away from the crowds. Here he pulls us back to check the integrity of our own motivations and the focus of our own priorities and behaviours. Who, we might ask ourselves and each other, will be blessed by our particular form of public service? Who will find earth to inherit, who will be comforted, who will receive mercy, who will be filled, who will discover the freedom of the kingdom of God, who will ‘see God’ in and through us? And, the hardest question of all: when judgement is reached by future generations on our stewardship of our community, will we be seen to have been a blessing or a curse?

May God bless all those who serve in public office, in building civic society, and for the common good.

This service was followed two hours later by a Service of Thanksgiving for the Church Urban Fund. in the last 25 years the CUF has invested about £2 million through 159 grants to projects in the Diocese of Bradford. From January 2007 to December 2011 CUF provided 51 grants totalling £305,554.11 ( and that 11p matters!). The CUF-sponsored Near Neighbours scheme has provided 50 grants totalling £166,887.95 to the Bradford district – £243,390.85 in 71 grants across West Yorkshire. Churches in the metropolitan district run more than 125 community projects, supported by around 3,000 volunteers. According to the figures, the churches now support more youth workers than the statutory services do. Projects include work with some of the most vulnerable people and communities: asylum seekers, refugees, street workers, people who are homeless, single parents, elderly, disabled, unemployed, youth and children, parents and toddlers, parenting classes, education, sport and community relations, environmental and English language (ESOL) learning.

Impressive or what?

I have just been to speak to representatives of many faiths who are all involved in education in Bradford. I was offered two themes to choose from, but addressed both of them (fairly superficially) ahead of a discussion time. The first theme related to ‘religious pluralism in the lives of young people in Bradford’, the second to ‘the role of faith schools in promoting a cohesive and just society’. The following is a bit of a nit-picky skeleton of the matters we addressed, but I began with the observation that some interfaith work at international level resembles a BT commercial: ‘It’s good to talk.’ Of course, what we mean is that it is good to talk (phenomenon) as long as we don’t talk about anything (content). Fear of ‘division’ drives an agenda of ‘least potential disagreement’. However, if there is no real discussion of difference, there can be no honest relationship anyway and the whole thing is really either a farce or a fraud.

First things first: ‘religious pluralism’ simply describes a fact, a reality, a phenomenon. It is not a virtue – something to be honoured and revered and never questioned. Different people live alongside and with each other, seeing the world and living in it in different ways. ‘Pluralism’ is the word that describes this. It is essentially neutral.

Therefore, we need to go on to distinguish between two sorts of questions: (a) those about truth and how claims for any world view of way of living actually stand up, and (b) given the acknowledged differences, how we then should live together in a single society or on a single planet. In relation to our children this means we need to grow a generation that experiences life within a particular understanding of its meaning, is informed about its own (and others’) world view and how it can be lived in and with, and is acquainted with the world view, lived experience and practices of others. This assumes that we give our children an informed reference point from which to look at the world and those who see it and live in it differently.

The problem here is that our children – I really mean those who do not belong to a strong faith community – are too often assumed to know Christianity and know where they stand as a base line from which to look outwards. They are more likely to be shaped by (a) the myth of neutrality – the assumption by many in the media and academia that a secular humanist world view is neutral (and therefore privileged in public discourse) while a religious one is a bit loony (and should be kept private); (b) a pride in ignorance or scepticism – see Richard Dawkins’ pride in never having read any theology (or philosophy?); (c) an assumption that materialism is a given and that salvation comes by having stuff; (d) an assumption that we can live in the ‘now’ and take no account of a future arising from the past that has shaped the present – because there is no inherent meaning to life anyway. See the studies of last year’s rioters and how some of them see the world.

This brought us to the role of faith schools in promoting a cohesive and just society. (I refer to a piece I wrote for the Guardian in July 2011 in whcih I draw a sharp distinction between ‘faith’ schools and ‘church’ schools as the Church of England understands them.) My main point here is that (a) ‘cohesion’ is one of those words that too often describes a lowest common denominator ‘absence of tension’ in a community – a bit like ‘peace being the absence of war’ or ‘a good football season being one in which Manchester United gets relegated; and (b) justice is inadequate as a goal for human beings in society.

Now, this latter point might well be contentious if misunderstood. Experience (and history) tells us that justice by itself can easily become just ice. Fragmentation and conflict in the Balkans came about precisely because communities could not let go of historic injustices – but they saw justice for themselves as the priority over against justice for their neighbour. I maintain that we need to teach our children (with a massive dose of actual hypocrisy) that justice needs to be transcended by mercy. Mercy goes further and is much harder than justice; it recognises the injustice and the pain and refuses to be consumed by them. Too often the demand for justice simply creates a vicious circle of just ice.

That’s a brief and unillustrated summary of my address which was aimed at stimulating discussion and debate in a particular context. However, it also falls in a context of wider concern: events in Sudan.

The Diocese of Bradford is linked with the Anglican dioceses of Sudan where communal violence is flaring up – not as an intellectual notion, but in the burning of Christian buildings, the destruction of books and Bibles, and attacks on people. Here’s a link to this week’s events and here is a statement by the World Council of Churches that goes to the heart of the matter.

Words spoken by politicians and, sometimes, religious leaders are taken up by those more inclined to violence as sanction for action. When such words burn in the wrong people’s hearts and minds, the burning of buildings, books and people follows. Some politicians and Muslim leaders in Sudan have expressed anger at the recent attacks; we need to hear this echoed not only in Sudan, but also by religious leaders around the world – and especially by those who sit around the table at conferences saying how good it is to talk.

The G8 Religious Leaders Summit began this morning, but with three introductory addresses.

Dr Lloyd Axworthy runs the University of Winnipeg, but is a former Foreign Minister of Canada. He spoke about the need for religious leaders to have a common witness in matters of human concern (I think).

Justice Murray Sinclair has been chairing the recent Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission which wrestled with the historic abuse and injustices instigated against the indigenous (aboriginal) communities of Canada. He rooted our thinking in the more local (Canadian) experience of (a) state legal oppression of indigenous people and (b) the loss of credibility of churches for most indigenous people. Interestingly (and contentiously, given the language involved), he observed that the greatest oppressors of the indigenous communities are now what he called ‘fundamentalist aborigines’ – those who ‘converted’ away from their indigenous roots and now evangelise their fellows.

However, the third speaker was the most powerful and arresting. Senator Lt. General Romeo Dallaire (Retd) is famous for having been given command of UN forces in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. In a serious, passionate and informed presentation, he questioned whether politicians are now offering leadership in the world or merely reacting to crises. He stated that leadership by crisis management does not offer leadership in shaping the future.

He cited George Bush’s ‘New World Order’ and changed it to a ‘New World Disorder’ in which the sheer complexity of a world undergoing technological (and other) revolution is being reacted to by politicians who are overwhelmed by panic and finding it difficult to live with ambiguity. For example, he wanted to know what were the criteria for deciding to send 400 UN troops to Rwanda in 1994 while allocating 67,000 to the former Yugoslavia: who set the priorities and according to which criteria?

The lack of an answer to that question represents the most serious challenge to the ability of politicians to lead: which world view (rooted in which assumptions and according to which moral base?) will be thought through and owned by those making decisions to shape the future rather than simply keep reacting to events/crises? Dallaire thinks that our political masters are waiting for citizens to give them the authority to lead.

This raises the most fundamental questions facing us all. It is not enough to make policy without doing the hard work of working through and owning the philosophical (or theological) assumptions/world view that will subsequently and consequently direct and shape specific policies that take a long-term view of the future and are not simply shaped to ensure electoral success in the short term.

Dallaire put it bluntly: are all human beings human or are others more human than others?

This was a very humane articulation of Justice Murray Sinclair’s conclusion that four fundamental questions need to be addressed by all peoples and communities:

  1. Where have we come from?
  2. Where do we go after here (that is, after death)?
  3. Why are we here (ethics)?
  4. Who am I / are we? (identity)

The implication offered here is that religious leaders might have to drive this sort of thinking in order to hold political leaders to a more informed account in a complex world that allows those political leaders little time for thinking, learning or reflecting before either reacting … or shaping the future.

These speakers were followed by Dr Andre Karamaga (General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches) – who asked for Africa to be partners in alleviation of poverty rather than simply recipients of others’ aid:

Don’t speak of doing it for us, but with us.

He was followed by Jim Wallis from Washington who stressed the need for a vision to drive politics and the rest of us. He noted that our faith traditions began not as institutions, but as movements – and that the difference is in the capacity of the latter for sacrifice. He called for religious leaders to “announce the impossible and then work to make it happen”.

And here lies the fundamental problem for conferences such as this one: despite the challenges by Dallaire and Wallis, responses from the delegates resorted to “telling the politicians that poverty is unacceptable”. I will be arguing later that statements like that need to be read through the eyes of those who will receive them – and I can’t see any politician responding with anything constructive. It is like being told that we must support human beings in staying alive: no one will disagree with the sentiment, but it doesn’t help the decision-makers to know any more clearly how this should be done in a complex world of competing priorities and expectations.

Sitting here, it is hard not to hear successive contributions as worthy recitations of what we all already know (for example, about environmental disasters, the power of capital and the global problems of blind materialism). If we are to make any impact, we will have to be sharper and more savvy than this about the intended audience and the language of our discourse.