I have a weird life.

Last Monday I chaired a Bishop's Staff Meeting in Leeds before getting the train to London to record BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage (Christmas special) with Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox. I got the first train back to Leeds for the formal opening of our new diocesan office on Tuesday morning. Wednesday saw me back on the train to London for the House of Lords (also on Thursday) covering a number of issues facing the country and the world. Thursday evening I was on a panel at City University, London, on the ethics of migration – with some excellent panellists that made me want to do more academic work again. Friday morning I did Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 (always a privilege) before having coaching and then doing a shed load of emails and other work. Saturday and Sunday were spent at Limehouse with my cell group, and Monday I spent in bed feeling like death. Today was the House of Bishops at Lambeth Palace, followed by a meeting with the government's Lord Bourne on faith issues'. Now I am back on the train to Leeds.

Me and Nick Baines

Why do I tell you that? Well, few people get an idea of what a bishop does – or the range of stuff that he/she is expected to cover. Simply illustrative. Back in Leeds, I start at 8am tomorrow and have meetings all day in the Diocese. Never boring.

But, while all this is going on the world bleeds.

One of the recurring conversations at the moment is whether democracy works. Well, of course it does. It delivers what people vote for. However, it is not necessarily truthful, intelligent or wise. It does not necessarily deliver what people thought they were voting for. Nothing new there. But, one of the glaringly bizarre questions emerging from both Brexit and Trump is why people didn't question the language used by the elite who led the campaigns. For example, who exactly is “the establishment” if it isn't the very people who were slagging off the establishment? How is “the elite”, if it isn't hugely privileged and economically comfortable people who will not suffer one iota from the consequences of what they persuaded people to vote for!

How many billionaires are there in the Trump administration? Why is President Putin so happy?

And all this finds focus in the cries of the children of Aleppo. While the blood flows today in the final brutality of war, the rest of us are confronted with an unpalatable challenge: we tell our government not to apply military power in Syria … only to complain that the Russian/Assad violence on our screens has been exercised without opposition. The West doesn't know what it believes. No wonder Sergei Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) was quoted on Twitter this afternoon as saying: ” We are fed up with the constant whining of our American colleagues.”

We will see what happens. In the meantime, Christians will find a vocabulary in the Psalms for the conflicted cries of “how long?” and “why do the poor suffer?” and “why are we so rubbish at getting things right for the sake of the weak and vulnerable?” (which,I admit, is a rough translation).

As I mentioned in a debate in the House of Lords some weeks ago (on the admission to the UK of unaccompanied Syrian refugee children from Calais), the generation of children who suffer from our inactivity will not forget what we did not do for them. The seeds of the next three or four generations' violence are being sown now.

And we cannot pretend ignorance.

 

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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.

Tomorrow evening I will be chairing the 2015 Sandford St Martin Awards ceremony at Lambeth Palace. These annual awards are prestigious and pull in some amazing examples of excellent programming.

The re-shaped Trust has this year attracted an enormous number of entries in three categories: television, radio and – for the first time – children. Our short listers did a brilliant job, and the winners will be announced tomorrow evening. (The list is too long, so go here to see the full set.)

The first prize of the evening will go, as always, for the Radio Times Readers Award – the only one voted for by the public.

It has also been announced this week that this year's Trustees Award will go to the BBC's wonderful Chief International Correspondent, Lyse Doucet – an award that will be presented to her by James Harding, head of News at the BBC.

Exciting, or what?

Anyway, before then I will be doing Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 and then rushing off to the House of Lords for the State a Opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech (and other meetings). More anon, if I get time to think and write.

 

Monday saw the annual Sandford St Martin awards ceremony for religious broadcasting. Lambeth Palace is a wonderful venue for this prestigious event and a large audience of programme makers, commissioners, presenters and others saw the best in religious broadcasting recognised.

The term 'religious' is a difficult one – and one that produces in some people a blanking reflex. Yet, as I have argued before, broadcast media need to take religion seriously – not for propaganda or naive evangelistic reasons, but because religion is a phenomenon that needs to be understood, explored, interpreted and explained if we are to defy mutual incomprehension and comprehend why people live as they do. Like it or not, religion shapes and motivates individuals, communities and societies.

So, this year's awards – the judging panels were chaired by art critic Brian Sewell and (ordained) veteran radio presenter Cindy Kent – dug deep into what makes for excellent programme making that does the above. The Trust also gave a personal award to retiring Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and a new Trustees Award to Frank Cottrell Boyce, writer of the London Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Full details can be found here. The Guardian reported here, the Independent here, the Tablet here and Ariel here.

 

The annual Sandford St Martin Awards (for excellence in religious broadcasting) will be presented at Lambeth Palace on Monday 3 June 2013. The shortlisting was not easy this year and the quality of submitted radio and television programmes was very high. A nice problem to have. Here's the list:

TELEVISON NOMINEES

ANGELIC VOICES: The Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral (Wingspan Productions for BBC FOUR)

This film follows Salisbury Cathedral's choristers as they go about their daily lives, discovering their history and singing some of the most loved music under the direction of choir master David Halls.

ARENA: SISTER WENDY AND THE ART OF THE GOSPEL (CTVC for BBC 2)

Sister Wendy Beckett became a star when she travelled the world telling us the story of Christian art, but revealed little of her own extraordinary story. This programme seeks out the 'real' Wendy, who, at 82, talks frankly, humorously, and profoundly about her life and spirituality for the first time.

DAVID SUCHET: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ST PAUL (CTVC and Jerusalem Trust (Episode 1) for BBC ONE)

St Paul transformed the fledgling Jesus movement into a new global faith. In this programme, David Suchet takes a very personal journey to uncover how an obscure Jewish sect from the edge of the Roman Empire became the dominant force in Western civilisation.

GOODBYE TO CANTERBURY (BBC Factual Arts for BBC TWO)

This film makes public Archbishop Rowan’s reflections as he leaves office and says a public last farewell to the cathedral that was his HQ and home for the past 10 years. Beginning with the saving of the cathedral from German bombs in 1942 he delves back in time to reflect upon the historical and spiritual influence of this “mother church of England”.

ISLAM: THE UNTOLD STORY (Maya Vision for CHANNEL FOUR)

Historian Tom Holland explored the origins of Islam. His journey led him to an exploration of a very contemporary fault-line: the one that runs between science and religion, history and faith.

THE HIDDEN ART OF ISLAM (Quicksilver Media / BBC Religion & Ethics for BBC FOUR)

At the British Museum a collection of artefacts from the Muslim world includes an art form not usually associated with Islam: portraits, depictions of human figures and tableaux showing pilgrims performing the most important pillar of the Muslim faith. Rageh Omaar sets out to find if human depiction is the source of controversy, which forms of art are acceptable for a Muslim and why this artistic tradition has thrived.

THE PRESTON PASSION (BBC Religion and Ethics / BBC Drama for BBC ONE)

Fern Britton presents this ambitious project involving 3,500 residents of the Lancashire town creating a Passion play with a difference. All intercut with three pre- recorded dramas — Pilate, Mary and Jesus — based on in Preston past and present.

STRICTLY KOSHER (ITV Studios for ITV 1)

Chris Malone’s affectionate portrait of Jews living in Manchester – hailed by critics and audiences alike. It explores life in Manchester's Jewish community featuring family, food and festivals. From footballing rabbis to Holocaust survivors, rag trade entrepreneurs to Jewish mothers, this series stitched together a tapestry of experiences to create a picture of life today for Britain’s observant — and not so observant — Jews.

WESTMINSTER ABBEY (BBC Religion & Ethics for BBC TWO (Episode 1))

This programme took a behind-the-scenes look at one of Britain’s most historic institutions. Each episode explored the inner workings of the Abbey, following clergy, choirboys and lay people including a plumber, librarian and Press Office “tweeter.

4thought.tv 2nd series Anti Semitism (Waddell Media for CHANNEL FOUR)

This series seeks to reflect upon and address matters of faith seriously and each of the speakers was a passionate believer. A powerful insight into issues of anti- semitism.

RADIO NOMINEES

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED – GET ME TO GETHSEMANE (BBC Radio Wales)

Focusing on one woman’s journey, this programme tells how Gauri Taylor-Nayar’s dying husband urged her to lead Cathays Community Methodist Choir as a focus after his death. “Get me to Gethsemane” tells the story of the choir’s preparations for a performance, Gauri’s bereavement, music and faith, and the moment she realised what Gethsemane had to teach about the Resurrection.

BLASPHEMY AND THE GOVERNOR OF THE PUNJAB (Goldhawk for BBC Radio 4)

Following the case of Asia Bibi, a Punjabi Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, Goldhawk discovered that being accused in Pakistan is enough to put you in prison, and many face death threats despite no trial. They wanted Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab and blasphemy law campaigner, to front the programme, until he was gunned down in a parking lot. This programme tells the story.

EASTER AND CHRISTMAS DIARIES (BBC Radio Four Extra)

An innovative real-time telling of the passion story in bite-sized dramas across the preceding week, told by well-known characters and those on the edge of the story. From the disciples talking about trouble in the Temple, to Mary, mother of Jesus, describing the crucifixion, the passion story is made real.

ECHOES OF EASTER (West Sound Radio)

Fifteen different episodes “from our reporter on the spot in Jerusalem” interviewing the many characters caught up in the drama of the Crucifixion.

ERIC LIDDELL; THE SPIRIT LIVES ON (BBC Radio Scotland)

Eric Liddell, famous Scot, Olympic hero who would not run the Olympics on a Sunday because of his faith but went on to win gold. This programme hears from those few remaining who knew Eric in Weihsien and whose faith has been influenced by his memory.

THE ESSAY; THE CASE FOR DOUBT (CTVC for BBC Radio 3)

Five contributors make a case for doubt, political, religious, scientific and self-doubt. This programme focuses on religious doubt, by scientist and author Madeline Bunting.

HEARING RAGAS (BBC Bristol for Radio 4)

Hearing Ragas is about the near death experience, altered perceptions of the Divine through suffering, and the power of music to reach us in inexplicable ways. It is violinist Prof Paul Robertson’s remarkable story of the India ragas he heard from within a coma, and the healing effect Sir John Tavener’s music had in his recovery.

HEART & SOUL : CANADA REAL (A & M North for BBC World Service)

Canada Real is a dirty, drug-infested shanty town just 30 miles from Madrid. But deep inside the Canada, just off the dusty road where dealers conduct their business through car windows, is a church, home to Padre Augustin, parish priest of the Canada. John Laurenson meets him and sees how he offers hope to the people.

HEART AND SOUL; JAPAN, HOPE AMID THE CHAOS (CTVC for BBC WORLD SERVICE)

As the first anniversary of Japan’s devastating tsunami approaches, Reporter Gerry Northam tells how the Shinto faith of the bereaved and homeless has been tested, and how they are stoic in the face of such terrible circumstances.

THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER (BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio Drama, London)

Testament stories revisited and set in present day pre-Christmas London, introduced by Rev Dr Giles Fraser. Tom Wells sets the Parable of the Sower in a Secondary School lunchtime science club, where Ellie D is inspired to test the parable using cress.

THE PULSE PASSION (The Pulse, Whistling Frog Productions)

A series of short drop-ins made for the Pulse of West Yorkshire using personal testimonies based on five major themes from the passion story

On Remembrance Sunday Anna Magnusson hears from those who experienced the Arctic Convoys and the people who witnessed the drama off Scotland’s shores: stories that seek to capture the enormity of the sacrifices made and express the heartbreaking tenderness the shared humanity of compassion and loss.

 

This evening saw the 2012 Sandford St Martin Trust awards ceremony at Lambeth Palace. It was a good gig, but air conditioning might have helped cool the place down. Yet, there is something really powerful about all the great portraits of dead Archbishops of Canterbury staring down unamused by the hi-tech stuff going on in the Guard Room. Why powerful? Because it gives a sense of perspective to the immediate when the continuity of the past keeps looking at you.


Anyway, these annual awards, attended by programme makers, independent production companies and broadcast executives from around the UK, highlight the cream of mainstream religious broadcasting in the UK over the preceding 12 months. They attract entries from all the major broadcast channels as well as BBC and commercial local stations, and – more recentlynew media productions. Prizes are awarded in radio and television categories.


This year’s top prizes went to a BBC TWO production – “The Life of Muhammad” made by the independent company “Crescent Films” – and a BBC Radio Scotland production Resurrection Storiespresented by Anna Magnusson, reflecting on her experience of loss and hope after the death of her brother, Sigi.

The editor of the Radio Times, Ben Preston, announced the winner of the Radio Times Readers Award taken from a poll to choose the readers’ favourite religious production of the year. Their award went to Songs of Praise 50th Anniversary a trilogy of programmes, culminating in a spectacular show from Alexandra Palace featuring singers Catherine Jenkins, Beverley Knight and Leanne Rimes.


Announcing the TV winner, the Journalist and Catholic commentator Paul Donovan praised the way “The Life of Muhammad” had tackled a very difficult subject with great sensitivity.


The Radio Prize winner – Anna Magnusson (daughter of the late Magnus, and sister to Sally Magnusson) based much of her winning programme on reflections around the death of her brother Sigi when she was just 13. Now 38 years on, faced with questions raised by the description of Jesus’ resurrection – she explored how contemporary Christians could respond to the Gospel account.


In awarding the prize to Anna and her BBC Scotland producer Mo McCullogh, the chair of the radio judges Priscilla Chadwick – said “This was a most impressive programme…a very reflective, highly personal and deeply theological exploration of the issues which allowed space for ‘questioning hopefully’ that one day Anna would be reunited with her much loved brother.


As Chairman of the Sandford St Martin Trust, I chaired the event and presented the awards. I was able to praise the imaginative programming that had been entered for the awards. I also noted that religion is no longer a niche commission, even appearing on entertainment channels such as Sky Atlantic who’ve just ordered a 6 part series featuring a gang of Jewish bikers from North London who will be talking about their beliefs and how faith affects them.


My comment was simple: “Religion is not primarily about mere ideas; it is about people, communities and the stuff of human existence. It is rich, ripe and fertile soil for stories that expand and enrich our understanding of life and its biggest questions.”


2012 Television winners

Premier Award:

The Life of Muhammad: Ep 1 – The Seeker

(Crescent Films for BBC2)

Runner Up:

The King James Bible: The Book that Changed the World

(BBC Religion for BBC2)

Merit Award 1:

Ian Hislop: When Bankers Were Good

(Wingspan productions for BBC2)

Merit Award 2:

Wonderland: A Hasidic Guide to Love, Marriage and Finding a Bride

(BBC Factual for BBC2)

2012 Radio Winners

Premier Prize:

Resurrection Stories

BBC Radio Scotland

Runner Up:

Faith and 9/11

TBI media for BBC Radio2

Merit Award 1:

Something Understood: Abraham

Unique: the Production Company for BBC Radio 4

Merit Award 2:

Good Friday Reflection

Central FM


 

lbrethertonI spent most of today at Lambeth Palace for a meeting of bishops involved in inter-faith matters. At the end of the afternoon I managed to squeeze in a meeting about Zimbabwe before returning for the superb 2009 Lambeth Inter-Faith Lecture. This year the lecturer was Dr Luke Bretherton, Senior Lecturer in Theology and Politics at King’s College, London, and his theme was A Post-secular Politics? Inter-faith Relations as a Civic Practice.

His wide-ranging lecture addressed some of the most pressing and pertinent themes of today’s British society and he tackled his task with intellectual rigour, generous articulacy and a penetrating analysis of the role of faith communities in contemporary Britain.

Beginning with a cogent description of the emerging shape of church-state relations (referring to the dawning realisation by government that ‘good governance is not the sole responsibility of the State’), Bretherton observed that there is an urgent need for greater religious literacy on the part of government. Government needs to understand how religion works and that there is no flat ground on which ‘religion’ might be said to occupy a small area; rather, society is multi-layered and religion cannot simply be co-opted or commodified in order to (a) keep society free of social tension or (b) deliver services as a client of the State on terms set by the State.

Bretherton went on to propose inter-faith relations as ‘hospitable politics’ – a way of creating the space in which the stranger can be encountered and in which the concept of ‘neutral ground’ is rejected as a fantasy. Inter-faith relations are integral to the common good because they create the space in which people within communities can relate and find the common ground on which they re-negotiate what counts as ‘home’. He went on to propose ‘three civic practices central to a politics of the common good: (a) cultivating practices of listening; (b) fostering a commitment to place; and (c) building strong institutions.

The thrust of this was to suggest that the totalising tendencies of the State and the Market need to be tempered or inhibited and this is only possible when communities of ‘local’ people take responsibility for themselves and the promotion of their community’s interests. Such action demonstrates to the State that politics and the market need limits – that ‘politics and economics do not have to bear the full weight of human meaning’.

The lecture (to which my summary cannot do justice – but his forthcoming book will amplify these themes) was followed by discussion which then took my mind off in new directions.

II me Congrs inter-religieux AstanaInter-faith events or conversations are often characterised by a burning desire to pretend that all religions are the same or that all religions are basically peaceful. Bretherton would have none of this. He responded to a statement from a Muslim member of the audience by referring to the fact that every religion had its ‘mad aunt in the cupboard‘ who should not be let out. There are extremists in all faiths and this fact should not be ducked in an effort to impose some sort of superficial or escapist niceness. It is only this degree of honesty that allows for genuine relationships to develop.

However, my own mind went off at this point into a bit of speculation. Remarking that the Dawkins/Hitchens phenomenon should really be seen as evidence that there is no neutral space and that the New Atheists are admitting by their frenetic activity that they do not command the space  – that their views are merely one among many – and that we now live in a moment of ferment at every level, Bretherton led my mind back to a conversation about church schools.

Church schools and so-called ‘faith schools’ are often derided in the British media. Any defence of them is seen as partisan approval of indoctrination and social divisiveness. But, last week a friend of mine asked me why we don’t encourage the New Atheists to set up their own schools. We would be interested to know on what basis they would be set up. What value system would underpin the school ethos and from where would this system of values be derived? Or would they merely be assumed? Other questions follow naturally on…

Christians need to be more confident about the ground on which we stand and the space which we create in a society that is feeling rather fragile right now. Rather than counter the arguments of the secularists, perhaps we ought to encourage them to set up their own schools and see how things develop. What ‘space’ would they create and how would they differ from state schools or ‘faith schools’?

I might return to this anon, but for tonight I need to think further about Bretherton’s stimulating presentation and the questions he has raised in my mind about the nature of government in Britain and the role of religion/faith communities in the contemporary polity.