This is the text of my article in the Yorkshire Post today to mark the seventy fifth anniversary of VJ Day.

The 75th anniversary of VJ Day is not just a day for celebrating the end of a cataclysmic global conflict. It is also a stimulus for reflection, humility and courageous self-reflection. For, in the famous words at the end of Bertolt Brecht’s play ‘The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui’, pointing to Hitler, “The bitch that bore him is in heat again.” Not elegant, but inescapably powerful. The sort of idolatries and dehumanising perversities that led to two world wars have not gone away, and there is great danger in thinking that we have since then just “moved on”.

One of the most remarkable things about what followed VJ Day in 1945 was the ability of so many victims of Japanese military brutality to face the horrors they had endured and still forgive. Not everyone, clearly. And no one can point a finger at those whose suffering took them into silence, withdrawal or, even, hatred. Yet, many did recognise the complex nature of human identity, allegiance and obedience. (One of the best illustrations of this can be seen in the film ‘The Railway Man’ in which Colin Firth plays ex-POW Eric Lomax as he confronts the tortures he had endured during the war.)

This is not easy stuff. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, hanged on Hitler’s orders a month before the Nazi surrender, addressed this when he rejected any notion of what he called “cheap grace”. You can’t just “forgive and forget” as a way of dealing with appalling cruelty or suffering; but, the beginning of any healing is to be found in facing the offence with courage and clarity.

A Japanese theologian called Kosuke Koyama did just that in 1984. Soaked in Japanese tradition and culture (though by then teaching in New York City), he wrote what he called a “pilgrimage in theology’ in which he went from Mount Fuji to Mount Sinai – from the heart of Japanese emperor worship back to the formative place of encounter in the Judeo-Christian narrative with God. What this meant for Koyama was not just some interesting historical study from which he could maintain academic distance, but an open facing up to personal challenge and failure. In a nutshell: how did he find himself seduced by a cultural worldview that led to unimaginable cruelty (as an exercise of power) while at the same time claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ?

I mention Koyama because his account is not one that should be restricted to Japanese or Germans in the wake of a world war. It was a failure to recognise early enough the perversity of idolatry (of Hitler, the Reich, the Emperor) or the consequences of a thinking that dehumanises people that led to fifty million corpses across the planet in 1945.

An uncritical obedience to the Emperor cult led not only to extreme violence, but also to Hiroshima and Nagasaki where national identity and racial personality were reduced to ashes beneath the mushroom clouds of technological progress. Worship idols of national identity or racial supremacy and it will end in violence. Do we never learn from history?

Koyama came to the conclusion that Japan’s collusion with emperor worship was a form of idolatry – giving ultimate worth to a dehumanising ideology. He pleads that every culture is prone to similar idolatries and that these are easily colluded with. The challenge for us, learning from his experience, is how to critique the values of our own culture … in order to avoid unthinkingly slipping down a slope that leads inexorably to violence.

Self-criticism is not something that most of us find easy. Especially when we are asked to expose to external critique something as fundamental as our worldview: that is, our assumptions about the world, its people and what ultimately matters. It takes courage to look through the lens of others at the essence and drift of what we hold to be essential about our own collective values. The moral questions that lead us to condemn war crimes are the same as those we bring to bear on current challenges such as illegal immigration: what is a human being worth? And why?

I can’t go with Koyama from Mount Fuji back to Mount Sinai where the Judeo-Christian ethical tradition is rooted (the Ten Commandments and the shaping of a just society), but I can at least see in Sinai some fundamental encouragements and warnings: to love God and neighbour; to avoid coveting and killing; to avoid idolatry and build justice; to tell the truth.

VJ Day celebrates the end of a particular dehumanising brutality and the cost of resisting it. The values that led the world to oppose tyranny must be the ones we hold onto as they come under pressure in every generation.

This is the text of an article published in the excellent and impressive Yorkshire Post today.

There are some memories I try to forget. Anything involving Liverpool losing to a Manchester club, for example. But, there are others.

Years ago, when our children were young, we used to lead summer venture holidays for teenagers. We did this for years at a variety of locations in England. The final three years we took over a school near Alton Towers in the Midlands. Inevitably, we spent a day each time at the famous entertainment park, trying not to get too wet too early on the water rides. Then there was Oblivion. You got in a carriage and it very slowly climbed a very steep rail until it levelled out at the top. Then it stopped. You waited, trying not to look down several hundred feet. Then, it shunted forward and sent you plummeting almost vertically towards the ground.

I wouldn’t dare do it now.

It feels a bit like that in England in these strange times. Outside my window everything is quiet: no planes in the sky, no cars on the road, no children playing in the park. It feels like we are waiting for something to happen – for the promised escalation in deaths and casualties from the invisible virus that is sweeping the globe. It feels very uncomfortable. Waiting always does, especially when we know we have no control over what might happen next.

Well, this experience might seem strange to us; but, it is how most of the world’s population live every day. The difference is that we in the West have taken a rare sense of continuity and security for granted, and have been seduced into thinking that we can control our lives and destiny.

There are many reasons for this, but they are for another time and another medium. For now, we can simply recognise that what we are currently enduring will, if we’ll let it, strip away some of the false securities and illusions we have grown to assume. The current lockdown has removed some of our freedoms – of movement and association, for example – but it might also remove some of our fantasies of individual self-sufficiency. Enforced isolation will prove extremely challenging for many people as we seek to use technology and other creative measures for maintaining – indeed, building – social connection at a time of threat and fear.

For Christians this dual experience of both waiting and self-examining is (or ought to be) normal. We are now heading towards the end of Lent, a period of withdrawal, contemplation, fasting and prayer. At this time each year we strip back the ‘stuff’ that fills our life. We re-read the story of Jesus as he walks with his friends towards what turned out to be a cross. We try to live in the moment, not jumping ahead to Easter’s resurrection before we have lived with the uncertainty and not-knowing of the journey itself. We place ourselves alongside these people-like-us as they struggle with not knowing where they were headed. And, as we go, we dig beneath the veneers of our own self-sufficiency, rediscovering what is too quickly forgotten: that we are mortal; that we are interdependent; that we are not masters of the universe; that an acceptance of our mortality is the beginning of freedom.

Now, this might sound a bit ‘niche’. But, the forgotten disciplines of the Christian Church through more than two thousand years might actually offer us a perspective and a resource as we navigate our current uncharted waters. Identifying our propensity for selfishness might push us towards greater patience and generosity with others. Learning to wait for whatever is to come … might just help people gain some acceptance of not being in control of life. Learning to create order where the daily routine feels a bit loose … might just offer a better form of self-control.

This isn’t about mere piety for the sake of it. What I am suggesting is that the space in which we now find ourselves – unwanted, uninvited, unwelcome – is where we are. We either embrace and explore it, or we just hunker down resentfully and hope it passes.

Someone once said: when you are in the desert, don’t look for the flowers that grow in the fertile areas; look for the flowers that grow only in the desert. For, if you spend your energies looking for roses, you will be very upset and frustrated. There are some flowers that grow only in the desert – try re-focusing and look for them.

On a similar theme is a meditation by an Asian theologian called Kosuke Koyama who once wrote a book called ‘Three Mile-an-Hour God’. When we enter a desert, says Koyama, our first instinct is to get out as quickly as we can. But, we need to resist the temptation, learning instead how to live in the present moment and face the slowed-down truth about ourselves and the world. That is what Lent invites us to do.

It is clearly a truism to say that we live in strange times. We face an unprecedented challenge. Yet, we also have unprecedented means of building our communities and strengthening our bonds. Social media, foodbanks and support of NHS staff. Constant connection with isolated and vulnerable people – even those down our own street or in our own block whom we would normally pass in the street and hardly recognise. Our antennae can now be raised, our sensitivities sharpened.

Now is the time to turn fear into faith and hope into action.

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

News, by definition, is unpredictable. But, I guess one thing none of us saw coming even a couple of weeks ago was the prospect of North and South Korea competing in the Winter Olympics under one flag. We seemed to have moved with astonishing speed from mutual nuking to cooperative skiing. So, what’s that all about?

I think it’s hard to read. Is this a case of two opponents pushed together by the erratic behaviour of the USA, leading erstwhile enemies to find in each other a greater security than in their apparent allies? Or is it merely a short-term expedient aimed at distracting energy, attention and resources from more dangerous political and military challenges and provoking a collective sigh of relief that might yet prove to be premature?

It’s hard to read. The new film about Winston Churchill, ‘Darkest Hour’, illustrates brilliantly the rather obvious fact that we always make decisions with little or no idea of their likely consequences … given that none of us actually knows the future. In Churchill’s case, do we keep the peace or go to war? Or will keeping the peace now simply make a later war even worse? Do we avoid the conflict or go through it?

Of course, it’s always easy with hindsight to spot the miscalculations and errors, where powerful desire for one thing blinds us to the reality before us. Prophets are not in plentiful supply, after all, are they?

Well, I guess that depends on what you think a prophet is. When the prophets of the Old Testament warned their people against entering short-term military and political alliances with the overbearing powerful empires of their day, they didn’t just dream up nightmare scenarios aimed at creating fear; rather, they studied and thought and wrestled with their imagination – that is, asking hard questions about the potential consequences of different choices. Being prophets, of course, they were ignored, and the short-term security they bought led later to longer-term subjugation and exile.

I think this applies not only at a national or political level, but also for us as individuals. When we feel insecure we reach for those solutions that offer fast relief, however romantic. Driven by fear, feeling that I am in a desert of uncertainty or insecurity, the temptation is to look for the quick way out. Against this reflex, however, Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama urges (in his book ‘Three Mile an Hour God’), that the thing to do in the desert is not to run away, but to slow down. Slowing down in our judgements means we become slower to make false connections or to attribute causality where it doesn’t belong. Ask any immigrant what it feels like to be blamed for all the supposed ills of the world.

I’ll be watching North and South Korea with intrigue – waiting to see what the flags of the future might tell us about the choices of today.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show:

What day is it today? Wednesday? Just ‘Wednesday’? It can’t be – I thought every day now has to have a tag: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Buy-more-stuff Saturday, and so on. So, surely, today can’t be just ‘Wednesday’, can it?

Well, I just had a quick look online to see if today is significant for any other reason in history, and this is what I found: in 1775 Sir James Jay invented invisible ink. (Not that anyone noticed as they couldn’t read the press release …)

See what I mean? Not a great day – ever – in history. The sooner we get through to St Andrew’s Day tomorrow, at least the Scots will be happy.

Or have I got this wrong? I think we try to bring order and significance to dates, looking for patterns and sequences, but the truth is that one day follows the next and most days are very similar to the days that have gone before them. In other words, most days are ordinary – the everyday is what matters, not the rare dramatic excitements.

I once published a book of scripts and called it ‘Speedbumps and Potholes: Looking for Signs of God in the Everyday’. I bent the title from an Asian thinker called Kosuke Koyama who wrote a book called ‘Water Buffalo Theology’ in which he says that westerners do their theology (that is, thinking about God, the world and us) sitting in a university library reading dead German theologians … whereas in the East they start by looking at the world around them … and everywhere you look there are water buffalo.

Well, I was living in Streatham in South London. There were no water buffalo to be seen anywhere; but, life was shaped by dodging speedbumps and potholes in the roads where we lived.

The point is simple. Most days are routine – sometimes boring – but I reckon the knack is to take the everyday as a gift and look for signs of God in the ordinary … for example, where there is healing, or where people hear for the first time that they are loved and infinitely valuable, where injustice is confronted and truth told.

Today might turn out to be wholly unremarkable – just like any other day. Yet, it can be shot through with light and hope and grace and generosity. It’s our choice.

Happy Nothing Wednesday!