This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2.

I’m off on holiday soon – with my eldest son and his wife and their two young kids. I can’t wait. But, before I go I’ve got to do the job I dread every summer: sort out my office, sift the books, and decide what I want to read on the beach. (Although I suspect I might get buried in sand more times than I’ll get books read.)

So, what would you choose, if you were me? A bit of heavy theology or philosophy to keep my brain in gear? The epic book on history I have just been sent, but haven’t had the time to get stuck into? Or the poetry books I have had sitting on my table waiting for “the right moment”? Or the biography of Eric Clapton and the two books about Bob Dylan  I’ve been waiting to read for months?

You know what? I’ll probably take a few novels and give brain-strain a rest. Something that has a good plot and makes my imagination run riot without the interruptions of work and the phone and Twitter.

Because it’s the imagination that too easily gets squeezed out in my line of business. And yet it’s the imagination that fires the soul and keeps curiosity alive.

This matters to me because, as a Christian, I follow someone who kept prodding behind the mundane and the routines of everyday life and framed questions that went beyond mere ideas about God, the world and us.

For example, Jesus never defined where God is to be found in statements that had to be agreed with or denied. He kept saying: “The kingdom of God is like…” and then told a story or tried out an image. The idea was to subvert those who wanted to use argument about God and the world and get behind the words to the imagination. So, he grabbed their attention, awoke their curiosity, teased their imagination, and left them with questions. They had to work it out for themselves. No wonder people wanted to come out of town to hear him.

So, saying all this has helped me to decide. One history book, four poetry books and a pile of novels. It’s my imagination that’s going to get a work out on the beach this time.

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

Recently I was in Stuttgart and took part in a two-hour discussion with the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. The theme of the event – which took place before more than ten thousand people – focused on a question: is the world spinning out of control?

It's a good question, isn't it? Austerity at home and protests on the streets; financial and economic brinksmanship in Greece – with the implications for the rest of Europe of a Grexit; the continuing brutality of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; Ukraine and the confidence of a re-energised Russia; political instability and the threat of climate change. And that's just a sample from today's headlines.

The German Foreign Minister began by saying that the world has never been in such a dangerous place. Kofi Annan claimed that, actually, the world has never been safer. But, both went on to remind the audience of how the world was in the first half of the twentieth century, and only then compare with today.

I listened to this exchange and concluded that they were both right. It depends on your perspective. Only seventy years ago the world buried tens of millions of people who had died as the result of world war. Of course, this had been the second of these: we hadn't actually learned from the so-called 'war to end all wars' just a couple of decades before. I remember, as a small child, the Cuba missile crisis and the pervasive mood of fear. The Cold War itself, with the threat of nuclear annihilation, has also been quickly forgotten.

It seems to me that every generation thinks it might be the last. That the crises and challenges of today are the ultimate ones. That things have never been so bad. A bit like crime statistics: even if the figures go down, people for some reason still feel the fear. There are, of course, other examples.

Well, if you look at what fills the headlines and our screens, the world is in a pretty bad way. And it isn't hard to fuel the fear. But, hope has always defied this sort of thing. The Jews in exile in the eighth and sixth centuries BC faced the horrors of dislocation and alienation, but their poets fired their imaginations, helping them see beyond their immediate experience to what could one day come to be. Christian hope is rooted not in a simple reaction to the present challenges, but in being grasped by a vision of a different way – and then committing oneself to making it happen. The Christian vision of the Kingdom of God involves neither naïveté nor fantasy, but committed hope.

Perhaps what we need today is fewer analysts and commentators, and more poets: holding out a vision that fires the imagination and won't let us go.

In his book Schöne Aussichten, Prof Fulbert Steffensky writes a meditation called (literally) On the Freedom of a Guilty Plea (Von der Freiheit eines Schuldbekenntnisses). Based on the Old Testament prophet Micah 4:3, he explores the need to ‘read ourselves in’ not only to the promises of God, but also to the judgements of God. Several times he remarks that to pray – as Jesus invited us to do – “Your kingdom come” is to repent of the kingdom (‘das Reich’) we currently tolerate and perpetuate… one that does not measure up to the nature of God’s kingdom. He then says something that made me look twice in order to make sure I had read it right:

Kingdoms that do not match God’s kingdom become the Third Reich. (Die Reiche, die nicht am Reich Gottes gemessen werden, werden zum Dritten Reich.)

At first sight this seems like an extraordinary thing to say. But, then he writes: “We have experienced it!”

German theology is still heavily coloured by the experience of totalitarianism and war. Guilt still pervades the memory from which lessons are drawn, forming the backdrop to thinking about God, humanity, morality and the earth. Even where not articulated, it haunts the texts in ways that an English mind finds strange. Theology is, as Steffensky repeatedly states, shaped by experience – both individual and collective.

Whatever we might think about the particular claim regarding an easy descent into the Third Reich, the interesting point is how memory is a powerful motivator and shaper of theological perception.

I remember Denis Healey writing in his autobiography The Time of my Life (1989) about his fears for a generation of politicians that has not experienced the reality of war. Noting that he was of the remnant of that generation that fought on the beaches of Europe in the early 1940s, he suggests that politicians who have not lived with the reality of conflict will be more ready to commit (other) people to conflict. When, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once put it, “memory becomes history”, we become distanced from unromanticised reality.

It seems to me that it is all too easy to dismiss the fears of one culture on the grounds that their memory is not ours. But, perhaps those of us who cannot forget tyranny – because we have never suffered under it – need to pay attention to the expression of those who have. By looking through their eyes we might be enabled to think differently about our own values and priorities.

Conspiracy theories abound. We are told every day that the world is getting worse and tyranny is just around the corner. And although it can get irritating to constantly have to listen to such shrill warnings, it is still worth measuring the ‘kingdoms we tolerate’ against the kingdom of God (that is, as seen though the eyes of the prophets who cry out in the name of God for justice… and as seen in the person and priorities of Jesus of Nazareth). Only then can we be honest, reading ourselves into the judgement of God and not simply appropriating the promises that make us feel justified, satisfied or content.