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.

How things have changed.
It is a week ago that I headed off to Stuttgart for the Kirchentag – the amazing conference put on across a German city every two years. I have been going for a while and it gets ever better. In 2013 in Hamburg I was invited to preach at the closing service: a congregation of 130,000 and televised nationally. This time I was asked (among other events) to take part in a conversation with Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the United Nations) and the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The theme of the two-hour discussion: ‘The world is spinning out of control’.

Actually, I was not really needed in this discussion. Like the audience of ten thousand in the huge arena, I really wanted to listen to the two stars discussing what is going on in the world – in the hope of learning something. I did learn, and they deserved the standing ovation at the end. (I was also uncomfortable, though, because I went straight off to hospital after the event to be told I had an “atypical pneumonia” (chest and throat infection) and had to stop. No wonder I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.)

Introduced by the excellent moderator, television journalist Arnd Henze, Steinmeier began with the sort of intelligent paper to be expected from a serious German politician. One of his basic points was that Germany’s behaviour in the twentieth century had caused the world to spin out of control and that Germany now had to take responsibility in the world – not standing back where there is need. He was realistic about the demands and expectations of solutions. Both principled and pragmatic, he passionately articulated the moral obligation to be engaged in the seemingly intractable conflicts and troubles of a changing world.

Having quoted the former Chancellor Willy Brandt, he asserted:

Heute, 32 Jahre nach Willy Brandts Rede ist diese Welt keineswegs friedlicher geworden. So lange ich denken kann, kann ich mich an keine Zeit erinnern, in der internationale Krisen in so großer Zahl an so vielen Orten gleichzeitig auf uns eingestürmt wären wie heute. (Today, 32 years after Willy Brandt’s speech, the world has not become at all more peaceful. As long as I can remember, I cannot think of any time when so many international crises in so many places have simultaneously piled in upon us.)

In his paper later, Kofi Annan wanted to put this into perspective, claiming that the world is a safer and better place today than it was in the past. Urging everybody – particularly the younger generations – to take their responsibility in leading peaceful change in the world (starting small and local), he demonstrated the patient pragmatism that made him able to lead the United Nations through previous crises. In the later discussion I tried to put this into perspective: only 75 years ago nearly 80 million people died in a global conflict – every generation faces its own crises and every generation fears it might be the last

Steinmeier, however, summed up the approach when he said:

Vieles hat sich verändert in diesen Jahren – die Aufgabe nicht. Die Aufgabe von Außenpolitik ist geblieben – wie Willy Brandt ohne jedes Pathos beschrieben hat, nämlich: dass illusionsfreie Bemühen, zur Lösung von Konflikten beizutragen. In einer streitbefangenen Welt voller Krisen und Konflikte, voller Missgunst und Hass, dem Frieden auf die Sprünge zu helfen. Und Frieden lässt sich nicht herbeiwünschen. Er entsteht nicht durch öffentliche Erklärungen; nicht einmal durch Resolutionen der UNO. Selbst die Frage, ob ich Recht habe ist unerheblich. Frieden will erarbeitet werden, meistens dann wenn das was man braucht zum Friedensschluss: Vertrauen, schon restlos ruiniert ist. Deshalb, wenn die Konfliktparteien nicht mehr zu einander kommen, dann kommt es auf Dritte an.

(Much has changed during these years – but the task has not. The task of foreign policy remains the same – as Willy Brandt described without any pathos: the illusion-free commitment to contribute to the resolution of conflicts; in a world of disputation, full of crises and conflicts, filled with resentment and hatred, to lend a hand to peace. And peace doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t come from public statements; not even from UN resolutions. Even the question whether I am right or not is irrelevant. Peace must be worked at, particularly when what is needed for a peaceful conclusion – trust – has already been totally destroyed. Therefore, when the conflicted parties cannot approach each other, that is the time when the Third Party comes onto the stage.)

My contribution was miniscule. But, despite the limitations of such a format, it was a privilege to be invited to take part in this discussion with people who are so deeply engaged in a world that I (and the churches) touch on mainly because of our deep international partnerships and links across the continents.

I began with a statement about how things have changed. This pertains mainly to the fact that I have blogged my way through previous Kirchentags – in order to give wider access to the riches experienced and heard there. These days there is little time for writing this blog – something I regret and hope one day to recover.