This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning after England beat Denmark in the Euros semi-final at Wembley.

“Stressful. Very, very stressful”. That’s what the commentator said during the England match last night. But, I wondered who he was referring to. The players looked OK – hard-working, disciplined and determined, but my heart was racing, my stomach felt rubbish, and (a bit like some recent dental treatment I had) I just wanted it to end. It isn’t easy being a spectator at times like this.

Powerful emotions all around the country as the seconds ticked away. But, isn’t it funny how those tense nervous headaches, the knots in the stomach, the sheer fear explodes so suddenly into joy and celebration and relief? All the angst gets forgotten in an instant. The pain evaporates in a blast of adrenalin. It’s just brilliant.

I remember the manager Gareth Southgate once saying: “We always have to believe in what is possible in life and not be hindered by history or expectations.” And, after 55 years of disappointment, his team managed both to ignore a history most of them can’t remember and not be over-awed by the expectations of a hungry nation. The key, he says, is character – character forged by absorbing all that’s thrown at them, but not being defeated by it. It’s quite an achievement – and we haven’t even won anything yet.

Yet, Gareth Southgate’s observation – and isn’t he the model of a confident humility? – triggered in my own mind a line uttered by an elderly German theologian who, referring to another crowd of hopeful, often-disappointed dreamers, said that “prophets don’t foresee realities; they anticipate possibilities.” In other words, there are no guarantees about the future, but it’s all there for the taking. To use two other words heard a lot last night, you can only approach the uncertain future with resilience and creativity. We absorb the wounds of past experience, but we don’t have to be defined by them.

I don’t know if football really is coming home – we have to wait until Sunday night and the Italians to know that. But, if football is about passion, love, hope, longing, struggling – physical and mental fight – then it’s already home. Because that’s what this week and last night have proved as the emotional rollercoaster has been ridden to breaking point. And there’s more to come.

I don’t know how I’m going to manage the final on Sunday. Probably with a copy of the Psalms on my knee – that wonderful collection of poems in which everything is given expression … from the depths of misery to the heights of promise.

On the other hand, I might just use the opportunity to learn to pray better.

It is clear that the government is working assiduously to create some shape out of the decision in the June referendum to leave the European Union. It is also clear that a huge number of questions that should have been tested out prior to the referendum itself have not been. Now it is a case of catch-up – a not inconsiderable task. It also demands that some proactive shape is made of the process, and not just a complaint about about the outcome. I remain pessimistic about many aspects of Brexit, but the debate must be engaged with.

So, following a question in the House of Lords this afternoon about the economic impact of the UK departure – which in turn was followed by a debate on the Children and Social Work Bill – there was a short debate on the implications of Brexit for peace and stability in Europe and beyond. My speech follows:

To ask HM Government what assessment they have made of the potential effect on peace and stability in Europe and around the world of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

My Lords, recognising that this debate and that to come on Thursday belong together, I offer this statement by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann in a book I have just finished reading: “A free society is not an accumulation of independent individuals; it is a community of persons in solidarity.”

I quote this because the same might equally be applied to nations. It bears repetition that the language and discourse of the referendum – shamelessly fuelled by misrepresentations and misleading promises, now apparently acceptable in a so-called 'post-factual' world – paid little or no attention to the needs or securities of our international neighbours, but focused purely on the national interests of Britain. As if we can live in isolation or that we can be secure without ensuring the security of our neighbours. I invoke the poet John Donne: in a globalised world Britain cannot simply see itself as an island. Although the referendum campaign was dominated by immigration and the domestic economy (with wild promises that should always have used the language of “might” rather than “will”), questions about foreign relations and the security implications of a decision to remain or leave the EU were too often dismissed as if an impertinent intervention by an embarrassing relation.

So, the decision to leave the EU now raises questions that should have been identified and fleshed out before the referendum – questions that assume our place as a nation interdependent on a community of nations. If Europe has been focused for a generation or more on integration, it is surely now coloured by a hint of disintegration. But, to return to the questions…

For example: Brexit will be hugely demanding of energy and resources. What will be the impact of this on other areas of government? We hear bold promises that Britain will not retreat in on itself; but if revenues are reduced, costs increase, the pound continues to fall, and the focus of resource is on Brexit, what will happen to work with the UN Security Council, NATO, G7, G20 and the Commonwealth? Furthermore, is it not inconceivable that this diversion of energy, focus and resource might just create the space for mischief-making by those who are not our best friends?

Peace and stability cannot be achieved by an approach that is rooted in us simply looking to our own best interests. As we see around the world, particularly in the Middle East, security, peace and stability must be mutual. To seek the security of neighbours is costly.

But, I have further questions. The last Strategic Defence and Security Review was published in November 2015. Yet, the brave new post-Brexit world will look different from the one assumed a year ago. It is likely, for instance, that increased and enhanced EU Defence cooperation – potentially intensified outside of NATO – will impact both on the UK and NATO. In turn, if we invest more in NATO, this will have an impact on our relationship with and towards Russia, and this will impact on our response to threats to Poland and the Baltic states. Or, to put it differently, how might greater EU Defence cooperation impact on the government's stated SDSR ambition to “intensify our security and defence relationship with Germany” and to “further strengthen the U.K.-France defence and security relationship”?

It would beggar belief that such questions have not been thought through in detail before now. Or, to put it less charitably, where were the experts when we needed them?

To change tack a little, we recognise that the UK is one of the biggest contributors to the European Development Fund, currently contributing £409 million (which makes 14.8% of total contributions to the Fund). Has the Government yet assessed the impact of Brexit on the EDF? Will Brexit lead to a narrower disbursement of UK aid to a narrower geographical reach than currently channeled through the EDF? And can the Government give an assurance that the UK's Overseas Development Aid will continue to be spent on genuine ODA purposes and not be used as sweeteners for trade deals – given that trade deals have been represented as the highest social good – a questionable anthropological priority at best?

My Lords, peace and security are not merely notional aspirations, but demand a broader and deeper vision of what a human society actually is, and for whom it is to be ordered. Peace and stability cannot be empty or utilitarian words to be thrown around carelessly in a post-factual world. They demand the prioritising of mutual international relationships and detailed costings – not merely financial or economic, but human, social and structural.

Etched onto my memory is the line by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, cited during a lecture in Cambridge several years ago:

God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.

Hope needs wide space in which to expand and thrive.

I am reading Glaubensrepublik Deutschland: Reisen durch ein religiöses Land by journalists Matthias Drobinski and Claudia Keller. Bestehen als Minderheit: die Hoffnungsgemeinde (p.61) begins with a simple mention of hope:

Hope is the gift of hearing amid the cacophanies of the present the music of the future.

That's it. The haunting melody of the future – with the resurrection shining back into the present – echoes faintly in the subconscious of a world deafened by the noise of violence, hopelessness and power.

Christians are to be those who, unable to escape this haunting melody, dare to sing it – even when it sounds absurd or frail or unreal.

 

Talk about mixed feelings. I was back in Liverpool for my mum’s 80th birthday great-big-family bash on Friday and listened on the car radio to the harrowing accounts of Anders Behring Breivik‘s cold-blooded murdering of 77 people in Norway last year. I know our minds do weird things sometimes, but while this was happening I had the Beatles going through my head. Norwegian Wood. But for those (mostly) young people on the Norwegian island, the woods were no place of sanctuary, but of agony.

It has been interesting listening to the commentaries and reading the commentariat on this appalling massacre – which cannot be easily attended to while the killer is given so much air time to describe his activities. Some commentators seem to think that he must be insane to have done these things – that a normal, rational person could not have done them, let alone contemplated them. This, of course, is nonsense. Breivik had a perfectly rational construction to his ideology – but to speak in terms of ‘moral evil’ is too inconvenient for some world views.

Fifteen years ago I half-wrote a book on the pastoral care of people bereaved through suicide. One of the things I found interesting (before I ditched the project) was the response of too many people: that anyone who commits suicide must be (literally) out of their mind. Perish the thought that this might be an act consistent with a particular world view that sees life as painful and pointless.

This is also on my mind because yesterday I returned to the parish where I became vicar twenty years ago. We moved to Rothley, Leicestershire, in April 1992 and left in April 2000 when I became Archdeacon of Lambeth in the Diocese of Southwark. It had been (for us, at least) a wonderful eight years, and I wept when it came to the leaving. I was asked to preach this morning on the parish’s text for 2012, taken from Jeremiah 29:11, and all about ‘a hope and a future’.

My problem in preparing to preach was twofold: (a) the text is neither bland nor obvious; (b) I know too many of the people listening to it – I have buried their husbands, walked with them through their traumas, celebrated their triumphs and wept through their griefs. So, I didn’t know if I could ask the obvious question provoked by the text: what do you do when your world falls apart? To cut a long story short, I managed to overcome the emotional poignancy and say what I think needed to be said from that text.

Jeremiah 29 sees the people exiled to Babylon being offered hope instead of ear-pleasing fantasy. Another prophet has told them what they want to hear; but, Jeremiah – never a populist – tells them the truth. Sitting on the banks of the Evil Empire’s rivers and being mocked as defeated fantasists, how do we keep ‘singing the Lord’s song’ – when all the evidence of our eyes and experience tell us a different story? Jeremiah simply tells the truth. Which is?

  • No one is exempted from all that the world can throw at us – especially not those who claim to see through God’s eyes and try to live his way. As we see in Jesus, God opts in to the stuff – the muck and bullets – of the world and does not exempt himself from it. His people should learn from this.
  • Hope has always to be vested in the person of God and not in any formula for ‘making everything better’. And why trust God? Think ‘resurrection’…
  • God will not be rushed (as Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama constantly reminds us). We live in time, and time takes time. We need to learn to wait and be faithful during the waiting. (We also need to be honest with God and one another and scream when we need to; there is no place for pretence with God. Look at the searing honesty of the Psalms.)

Underlying all this is the simple stuff: God’s grasp of us is more important than our grasp of God. So, relax and take the pressure off. A future with hope is not the same as a hope for a particular future. As Timothy Keller has written: “Christianity is not advice, but news.” Christians should never be embarrassed to announce the news that God has not abandoned us – learn to wait and be faithful, even if you will be long dead before the deliverance comes. And God’s not abandoning us must compel us to demonstrate this by us not abandoning anyone else – which goes well beyond the Christian community itself and into the wider world.

I recall Jürgen Moltmann’s great lines: “God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.”

Life is sometimes total rubbish and we cannot simply escape it. Indeed, being Christian might actually be the cause of it sometimes. But, we can learn to help each other by creating the space in which the suffering can be lived with and not rushed. And the church can learn to provide its people in worship with a vocabulary for those times of complaint, lament, argument, questioning and pleading… as well as for those times of resolution, praise and celebration.

I miss being part of a community like Rothley.

(And I have come home to Liverpool’s latest home defeat. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…)

I cannot read the haunting lament of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas without hearing his voice from an old recording:

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A gorgeous, warm, bright spring day brought out the tourists in droves yesterday – baring substantial amounts of unsunned flesh. Driving through the Dales, it looked and felt like summer was on its way (so, it’ll probably snow next week). The beauty and the nascent new life bursting from trees, flowers and hedgerows seemed incongruous, however, with what I was going on to do later in the afternoon.

The excellent and wonderful Marie Curie Cancer Care trust has moved its annual bereavement service in Bradford from October to March. At least this aligns the appearance of real daffodils with the symbol of the Marie Curie charity. Everyone in the congregation of a couple of hundred had two things in common: (a) they were bereaved in the last eighteen months and (b) they are mortal. The service creates space and a vocabulary for loss and grieving and thinking about our mortality – in a place that gently reminds us of it anyway. For over 700 years people have worshipped, lived and died in this place. On the way in to begin the service I noticed a memorial plaque on the cathedral wall which poignantly recorded the deaths of the three infant children of a bereft couple in the early nineteenth century. This cathedral has witnessed the living, suffering, celebrating and dying of generations of people like us.

Cutting through the potential verbiage to the heart of the matter, I tried to account for Christian hope in a way anyone could understand it. Based on Revelation 21 three things seemed pertinent:

1. Christian hope is rooted in the God who comes to us. We talk about us ‘going to heaven’, but it is the other way round. In the Genesis 3 narrative it is God who goes walking in the garden in the cool of the day asking ‘Adam, where are you?’ – the same searching question that confronts every human being. Adam and Eve do not seek him out; he seeks them out. God makes the first move. In the Incarnation it is the same – God comes among us. And the imagery of Revelation 21 tells the same story: the heavenly city comes down from heaven to earth, not vice versa.

2. The resurrection is key to Christian hope. Jesus did not spontaneously come back to life in some great act of resuscitation: as Paul notes, ‘God raised Christ from the dead’. And this points to…

3. … Christian hope is not located in a scenario or a formula or schedule of what happens when the body closes down. Christian hope is rooted in the person of God. That’s all. I turst and hope in God, not heaven or some expectation of what happens after death. I trust in the God who raised Christ from the dead – and the rest is detail that doesn’t need to bother us very much.

The old Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, put it like this:

God is. God is as he is in Jesus. So there is hope.

The great German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, put it like this:

God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.

Which, of course, is the beginning of a conversation and not the final word.

This evening we had a reception for those being ordained as Deacons and Priests in the Diocese of Southwark next Sunday, 4 June. They are a mixed bunch of people – evidence that God doesn’t call clones and honours the flawed humanity we bring to the party. As I left I wondered what the future will hold for these people who have given up much in order to respond the call of God on their lives. Where will they be (and what will they be like) in ten or twenty years from now?

No idea. Not a clue. I have given up trying to imagine people’s future trajectories – experience has taught me to be open to surprise. But it has also taught me to be open to hope. I was reminded of Jürgen Moltmann‘s wisdom:

God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.

These people soon to be ordained will need to discover (if they haven’t done already) the need for hope to be a wide space and not narrowed down by their own prejudices or theological/ideological straitjackets. Experience (as well as our reading of the Bible) tells us that God will not be pinned down to suit our own comforts; we must beware of trying to shape God in our own image.

Tomorrow I will be leading a Quiet Day for clergy at Worth Abbey and will be basing my addresses on the story of Jonah from the Old Testament. Many people think it is a kiddy’s story about a weird bloke being sicked out of a whale’s stomach; it isn’t. It is about a man discovering (but not very well or willingly) that God’s love and mercy cannot be limited by our own limitations or desire for God only to behave well to the people of whom we happen to approve. God has a habit of never sticking to our moral formulae – which can sometimes be embarrassing.

I recently read the book about Anglicanism and the future, called The Hope of Things to Come. Like most edited books, it is a mixed bag. The first two chapters by Dr Charlotte Methuen are very interesting, but spoiled by lack of proofreading by an editor: there are loads of typos and words transposed. But, these chapters and the book as a whole repay careful consideration as they address a generally Christian and specifically Anglican approach to tradition and change in both world and church. Charlotte Methuen quotes Sir Thomas More (1478-1535):

Tradition is not holding onto the ashes but passing on the flame.

However, the flame of hope – indeed, of confidence – can only be passed on if it has first been received and held. And that confidence has to be rooted not in a particular tradition, but in the person of the God whose character and activity the tradition is supposed to be about.

My own hope for these ordinands is that their experience of the church will blow oxygen onto the flame and make it dance… and not let the flame die out in order to preserve and honour the wick. I hope they will play like Brazil against Chile (full of flair, creativity, enjoyment and imagination) and not like England against Germany (er… you know what I mean…).

The job of the bishop is to fan the flames, keep the fire burning, feed the embers when they are in danger of dying. In the words of the great Bruce Cockburn song/prayer (sort of):

Love that fires the sun keep them burning.

The weather in Munich is terrible. So, all those who think I have come on a jolly will have to think again. I spent today meeting people and getting cold. But I was determined to hang around the enormous Messestadt (Trade Fair Centre) waiting for a unique opportunity to hear two old men have a conversation in the evening.

Hans Küng (82) and Jürgen Moltmann (84) are two giants of late-2oth century German theology. The former is a Roman Catholic who had his permission to teach in the Catholic Faculty of Theology at the University of Tübingen withdrawn by the Pope; the latter is a Protestant whose Theology of Hope breathed new life into german theology and inspired a generation of theologians and preachers. Both have never got stuck, but have developed and applied their theology to the realities of a changing world as they have aged.

This evening was remarkable. Thousands arrived early to ensure a place in the auditorium – I got there for 6.30pm thinking it began at 7pm only to find it was scheduled to start at 7.30pm and didn’t in fact get going until 8pm. More people were locked out than could get in. The excluded crowds chanted ‘Wir wollen rein’ (‘We want to come in’) to listen to these two elderly men talk together about church.

Can you imagine that ever happening in Britain? Most of the excluded were young people eager to garner the wisdom of these two theologians. Why? Because their theology is neither dry nor ‘merely academic’, but engages with the real world of economics, politics and culture. They bring to their subject the intellectual rigour that is associated with German philosophical thinking. Yet, they speak with simplicity, clarity and passion – eschewing theological cleverness in order to communicate accessibly with all-comers: they are remarkable men who show no sign of being ego-driven.

A critical but appreciative audience heard them address five questions:

1. Who are the laity?

2. Who are priests and pastors?

3. Who is the Church?

4. What is ‘ecumenism’ and where is it at today?

5. What does it mean to have fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ?

What ensued was a fascinating and impassioned plea for the Church to get real (in the light of the realities of the world in which we live) and recover its vocation (to be found in the Scriptures we have always had with us). This emerged from introductory statements which had Küng calling for a new Reformation in the Roman Catholic Church – one which unites the Church rather than splitting it further. Moltmann pointed out that the Kirchentag is a lay conference in which the role of bishops is to listen to the laity. I took this to heart…

It is impossible to summarise the contributions of the two men in a way that does justice to their contributions. Küng wants the Roman Catholic Church to change, embracing women priests, abolishing imposed celibacy and uniting the Christian churches in mission and sacramental ministry. For his part, Moltmann sees the future of churches in lay people taking responsibility for their own faith and organising the church in house groups that come together sacramentally. Christians are not ‘customers’, there to ‘visit’ the church, but members who take responsibility for the life of the church. As Küng put it:

A church for the people needs to become a church of the people.

Moltmann wants Christians to maintain a critical solidarity with the church whilst Küng sees exit from the Church as irresponsible (if understandable in the light of the current abuse scandal). Both think all churches need to be reformed in the light of the Gospel. Küng even went so far as to claim that the Pope’s title ‘Servant of the servants of God’ has become in practice ‘the Lord of the lords’ (Herr der Herren).

Both believe that there should be eucharistic hospitality between the churches – Moltmann claiming that generous hospitality is the hallmark of a real church, regardless of the role of the priest/pastor.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the conversation was their agreement that Christians belong together whether they like it or not. “What belongs together grows together” – as Moltmann put it. Jesus’ prayer for the unity (in love) of his people is being answered; the church needs to recognise this and make it visible. Baptism is the fundamental element in our common belonging.

Experience of interreligious dialogue has taught us that Christians need to speak with a single voice in a complicated world – a speaking that must follow on from and not precede genuine humble listening. Both agreed that there is no theological or doctrinal reason for continuing the lack of mutual eucharistic hospitality and both called for an end to the nonsense of ‘excommunication’. Moltmann spoke of the absurdity of mixed-confessional marriages in which at shared services eahc partner goes to a different priest to receive Communion:

What God has joined together let not man divide…

Küng very pointedly criticised the Pope for his recent ‘offer’ to Anglicans and noted that the younger Josef Ratzinger had taken part in eucharistic practices that are inconsistent with the line he now appears to follow. (They were academic and priestly colleagues for many years and still maintian contact.) Moltmann took the view that Christians should be like human beings: eat and drink together first, then discuss theology afterwards. It is a nonsense to do it the other way round…

Both made concluding statements of generosity towards the other’s church. But what will remain in my mind is Moltmann’s contention (not opposed by Küng) to the effect that Protestant should welcome ‘communion with Rome’, but not ‘communion under Rome’. Renewal and a new Reformation are needed as ever.

At the end the two elderly men stood on the stage looking bemused as people like me took photographs. We may never see their like again.

brucedart2I have been out in parishes morning, afternoon and evening every day for the last couple of weeks and love it. But I was driving home slowly this evening from licensing a new priest in a Surrey parish and was feeling reflective. I had a Bruce Cockburn CD on and the haunting Bone in my ear filled the space while I drove:

There’s a bone in my ear
Keeps singing your name
Sometimes it’s like pleasure
Sometimes it’s like pain
It’s a small voice and quiet
But I hear it plain
There’s a bone in my ear
Keeps singing your name
MoltmannIt’s actually a love song. But those first lines hint at the experience of loving the God who loves us: haunting, longing, sometimes painful, often searching or feeble. It reminds me of the words of Juergen Moltmann, the great German theologian:
God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.

BremenIn 1908 a group of German Christians saw the clouds of conflict coming over Europe and dreaded the horror of Christians killing Christians as enemies in a war. They formed an ecumenical peace delegation and 131 of them travelled to London and Cambridge in an effort to strengthen the relationships between German and English Christians in the face of the threat. This group of Protestants, Roman Catholics and Free Church delegates met in the Bremer Ratskeller before boarding the ship bound for England. And that is where I was at lunchtime today.

The visit was notable for the journey that began it. German Protestants and Catholics did not know each other – they travelled on different trains to Bremen. But they had to board the same boat. The boat set sail, but hit a sandbank where it sat waiting for the tide to lift it off. You’ll get no marks for spotting the parabolic significance of that one…

Last year a group of Germans visited London and Cambridge in commemoration of the 1908 visit. This allowed for some serious engagement between the Germans and English, including a one-day conference in Cambridge with Juergen Moltmann and Richard Bauckham giving excellent theological papers.

In 1909 the Brits did a return visit – 109 delegates included Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers. Under the slogan ‘Peace through encounter’, they visited Hamburg, Berlin, Eisenach, Bethel and Bremen. In Bremen 3000 people joined together in the Cathedral at the end of the visit to say farewell and ensure that the relationships would survive whatever events would later lead the countries to war against each other.

The reception today took place in the place where the two groups met 100 years ago and was moving. It could be argued that European ecumenism began in Bremen 100 years ago. The challenges faced today are different, but it remains the case that the relationships will outlive the paperwork. Ecumenism is changing – representative bureaucracy is giving way to a dynamic approach to developing relationships and coalitions in order that Christian churches can be more effective in their engagement with the world (rather than obsessed with details of relations between churches).

On Sunday I lead a delegation to Paderborn to commemorate the 1909 visit.

129So, back to the Kirchentag and what makes it work. Matt Wardman has made some interesting observations in a response to my earlier post. He wrote:

1 – It cannot be on a showground in the middle of nowhere. That is an institutional acceptance of privatisation and a type of sectarianism before you even start – as you say. Perhaps I should recognise that there is definitely place for “resource events” – provided that the resources end up going somewhere.

2 – It must be cross-cutting – denominationally and to transcend any sacred/secular divides.

3 – I’m tempted to suggest that, like the Kirchentag, it should be a lay movement.

How would it work here?

I’d throw out 2 thoughts.

Firstly that the setting must be urban to ensure an “in society” setting, with a full mixture of venues to ensure that it is not religious people talking to each other behind closed doors.

Secondly that one set of organisations with the inherent clout to draw really high profile speakers, and the breadth of projects/networks to pull something together, are the cathedrals – headlined by the Anglicans and the RCs. Then many other venues and organisations could follow that spearhead.

That leaves me with the idea of a varied festival rotating between centres with cathedrals in urban settings every 2 years.

Interesting. The Kirchentag is lay-led and that clearly makes a massive difference. There are no barriers between church, media, politics, culture, etc as everything is regarded as open to discussion and argument. This presupposes a confidence in both the faith and the institution of the church that sponsors (and pays) for it. The Kirchentag takes over an entire city – which obviously brings a huge economic boost to that place. But it makes the point that setting such an event in a ‘holy’ (set aside) place would be hopeless.

As we saw today with Huber, Merkel and Garton Ash, church cannot be protected from the wider world. Nor can the wider world be protected from a church which refuses to be ghettoised into a place of private interest.

borough-market-3One of the best places to visit in London is the utterly wonderful and ridiculously expensive Borough Market. You can find it under the railway next to Southwark Cathedral, close to London Bridge. It is full of colour and smell and foods I never knew existed. My wife has the knack of wandering around confidently tasting stuff and deciding what to buy. But I wander around loving the place, but incapable of choosing anything at all. Too much choice, it seems, paralyses me.

Above the stalls there are banners hanging and two of them caught my attention today. We were with Patrick and Naemi, young Austrian friends who are staying with us, and we spent some time there before heading off to St Paul’s Cathedral via Southwark Cathedral.

borough-market-1The first banner quoted Benjamin Franklin: ‘Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.’ The photo is wobbly, but I hadn’t touched a drop.

borough-market-2The second proclaimed: ‘There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic.’ And I loved them both. Why?

I have just been reading thousands of earnest words about the General Synod, the state of the economy and the theology of Juergen Moltmann. All important and necessary and interesting in their own unique ways. But, apart from the writings of the wonderful Moltmann, there was no humour, no sideways glance at the subject, none of the light shone on it that makes you laugh and look afresh at what you thought was either obvious or self-evidently true.

This ties in a little with what has become clearer to many people over the last few years: that the Church needs more poets than lawyers. The lawyers are vital, but it is the poets who keep the song and language of home alive in our hearts when we feel exiled. It is the people who use language in such a way as to make us laugh or think afresh who tease away in our imagination and awaken our curiosity. Read the prophets and you see what I mean. Read the Gospels and ask why Jesus, in teaching about the Kingdom of God, took the massive risk of using images and stories that could so easily be distorted or misused or misunderstood.

None of this takes us much closer towards a theology of beer or garlic, but maybe I’ll come back to it later. All suggestions welcome…