This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 with Sara Cox (and after a nice chat with Strictly dancers Ian Waite and Natalie Lowe):

Guess whose birthday it is today?

OK, yeah, Paris Hilton and swimmer Rebecca Adlington … and probably a few thousand people listening to the programme now – in which case, happy birthday to you.

But, the one I am thinking about is Ed Sheeran. 26 today. How do I know? Well, someone told me he originally comes from Hebden Bridge in my patch of West Yorkshire, and I thought I’d check it out. They’re right … and I noticed that it’s his birthday today.

So, open your ears: I’m going to pause for a thought (which means thinking out loud) about one of his best-known songs – recently nominated for a Grammy. Love yourself is a great command … or invitation. After all, there are plenty of people who don’t love themselves – or don’t believe themselves to be lovable – and who sometimes then find it difficult to love others.

There is a link here that Jesus got in one when he asked his followers to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Actually, he was picking up on a maxim that had already been around for a thousand years or more, but he gave it a new twist – and it goes a bit like this:

Loving yourself can turn you into a narcissist who sees everyone and everything through a lens shaped only like yourself. (Apparently, even leaders of countries are not exempt from this.) This makes me the centre of the world – even other people’s worlds. It isn’t attractive, and it can produce dreadful selfishness.

So, this is why Jesus gets the order right: loving God turns your attention away from needing to justify your own worthiness and focuses on something much more fundamental. I matter because I am made in the image of God. Therefore, I see myself through God’s eyes: infinitely valuable and eternally loved. So, what do I do with this? Well, it turns me outwards to love other people whose value is to be found in the same way. I am loved, therefore I love.

So, Ed has got it right: love yourself, but only once you know you are loved. And then pass it on.

So, happy birthday Ed Sheeran. Have a good one, and may it be filled with love.

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show in the company of Robbie Williams, Anne Robinson, Mark Strong, Michael Pena and The Shires:

This might mark me down as a sad man, but one of my favourite film scenes is Bill Murray doing karaoke in Tokyo in Lost In Translation. The song he gets is the Elvis Costello version of What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding? which he belts out with a tunefulness guaranteed to close down any hope of a music contract. It's brilliant, even if it's not heavy entertainment. Certainly better than declaring war on everyone.

But, to answer his question: there's actually nothing funny about peace, love and understanding – it's just funny that they sound like a good idea.

Peace, love and understanding. Where on earth do we go with that?

Well, we've just opened a new office in Leeds and everywhere you look you see three words: Loving. Living. Learning. A bit like peace, love and understanding, they sum up how we want to be.

For Christians like me it means loving God, the world and one another.

It also means getting stuck into the world as it is, but fired by a vision of what it could be. So, we work hard at enabling individuals and communities to flourish and thrive. That's living.

But, all this loving and living is done with the acknowledgement that we keep making an almighty mess of it and can't seem to help getting it wrong. We are all learning together and from one another. In other words, we need a huge dose of humility in our attempts to love and live.

To twist the words of a well-known album, we need to sing when we're losing as well as when we are winning. Or, as I discovered again this week while driving down a no-entry road in Cambridge, I learn better from my mistakes than from my successes.

So, loving, living and learning shape a lens through which we can look at what we do, why we do it, where our priorities are, working out what and who really matters. Not three words that imprison us, but words that open up the possibility of living differently in a complicated and messy world.

Perhaps, if we did a bit more loving, living and learning, we might end up with a bit more peace, love and understanding. And it wouldn't seem funny at all.

 

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show with Sara Cox and guests: Gabby Logan, Josh Gad and Lianne LaHavas. (There are ten of Liane's song titles and a reference to the work of Josh Gad and Gabby Logan for good measure.)

Well, I might as well announce it to the nation: my daughter has just had a baby. He's called Joseph and he's tiny and I love him. He's got a head of dark hair and he left me tongue-tied.

I nearly cried when I held him. I did get teary when I saw my daughter and son-in-law in the hospital and felt the unstoppable love that gets behind the emotional defences that often protect us from hurt. No room for doubt here: love can be elusive, but it's impossible to forget and you can never get enough of it.

Which bears thinking about when you watch the news and feel the misery. Yet, in the midnight of pain it's the daylight of wonderful love that keeps breaking through, catching us unawares and reminding us of our fragility and challenging our selfishness.

There are people who think that love is something merely romantic or soppy. I mean, it is great when it is romantic; but, love is much more than that. I would give my life for my kids and grandchildren (Joseph completes the hat-trick) because love goes deeper than anything else. When I did my daughter's wedding in Croydon some years ago, I remember looking at the gifts wrapped in paper covered in love hearts. I asked if this is really the best we can do as an icon of love. The icon of love I turn to is a man with his arms stretched out on a cross, embracing a world that couldn't handle him and demonstrating that love is never cheap. Christian faith is born of blood – costly love … as, of course, is the love that leads to a painful labour and childbirth.

I guess my question to myself this morning is this: Is your love big enough? Or do I settle for an imitation that costs less or is more convenient? Anyone who has loved will also bear the scars – because love can sometimes hurt.

Anyway, with a nod to the Beatles, “you can't buy me love”; but, with a nod to Josh Gad, our hearts do not need to be frozen. And that, Gabby, is the final score.

 

Another year, another decade. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, it’s freezing cold and it might just be the beginning of Liverpool’s long post-Christmas unbeaten run to fourth place in the Premier League. (Well, I can dream…)

I was thinking yesterday about the past and the year to come and my mind turned to Dostoyevsky. This doesn’t happen often. I once told the Archbishop of Canterbury that I found Dostoyevsky boring and long-winded, only for Rowan to tell me that he was about to write a  book about the great writer. I decided that I should be a bit more intelligent next time we spoke about Russian literature and began to read all Dostoyevsky’s books. I am now on the The Brothers Karamazov – then I will read Rowan’s book on Dostoyevsky…

Near the beginning of The Brothers Karamazov there is an encounter in a monastery between the Elder (Starets) and a woman. The woman bewails her lack of faith and, in response, the Elder tells her of an intelligent and elderly man who once said the following to him:

I love mankind, … but I marvel at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons. In my dreams I would often arrive at fervent plans of devotion to mankind and might very possibly have gone to the Cross for human beings, had that been suddenly required of me, and yet I am unable to spend two days in the same room with someone else, and this I know from experience. No sooner is that someone else close to me than his personality crushes my self-esteem and hampers my freedom. In the space of a day and a night I am capable of coming to hate even the best of human beings… To compensate for this, however, it has always happened that the more I have hated human beings in particular, the more ardent has become my love for mankind in general.

Human history tells us that the old man was not alone. It is always easier to love in general and to hate in categories than to work these out with individuals. Read the Gospels, however, and Jesus seems to bring these together: loving humanity in general whilst making that love real for individuals. (That love also brought hard challenge for the haters and he paid the price for exercising a strong love.)

As I look to the year ahead – with all its uncertainties and unknowns, its threats and its promises – I think I want to work at bringing the general and the particular closer together: both personally and in the life of the Church. I am conscious of a million failures (often evident in this rather fallible blog), but the challenge is there for me and the Church.

Perhaps in the Church we can stop speaking of people in categories (‘gays’ are the obvious example) and have our easy generalities subjected to the sometimes embarrassing particularities that challenge our prejudices and self-defences.

A happy new year for me will be one in which I make some progress along the general-particular spectrum – one in which other people come to be judged less by my own imbalances and more by grace.

Today we went to a wedding in a small Hampshire village. The groom’s mother conducted the service in the beautiful ancient church and the weather responded well to the glorious attire of many guests. I didn’t manage to get any pictures, though. Which, being translated, means: I forgot to take any.

As at many weddings the second Bible Reading was from chapter 13 of Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth – the one about love. It was the last verse that got me thinking while we were waiting to leave the church for the reception. It reads:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I once heard the Charismatic translation of this:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is tongues.

And this memory got me to thinking about how many other words might illustrate our Christian preoccupations. For example:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is … sex.

Or ‘money’. Or ‘being more right about things than my neighbour’. Or ‘liturgy’. You probably get the idea.

So, any bright suggestions to fill a moment of vague curiosity? This could be interesting, revealing… or just a little bit worrying.

love