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

Earlier this morning India launched a rocket to deliver a satellite to join a constellation of seven satellites which will take high-resolution full colour video of the earth from space. Which means that it won’t be long before we get to see some remarkable film of the tiny globe on which we live.

I well remember staring at the first photographs of the earth taken from the moon. I was a child and hadn’t fully registered the fact that human beings had never before been able to look at the whole globe from a distance and see it against the backdrop of the universe.

The initial pictures were stunning and had a long-lasting impact on those who saw them. Having seen ourselves as the centre of the universe and had our perspectives shaped by the intimate dramas of our particular habitat, it came as a shock to see the beautiful, tiny, fragile orb spinning almost insignificantly in the vast ocean of star-studded blackness. Are we really that small?

Well, the sense of mystery that these photographs evoked was not unique. Nearly three millennia ago a peasant looked up at a Middle Eastern sky and wrote: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” OK, the poet wasn’t looking back on earth, but from earth looking up – and this had the effect of causing him to wonder what life is all about and why we matter anyway.

And it is this perspective that puts in context both the global and local struggles that consume human energy, aspiration and fear – from the future of the NHS to North Korean nuclear missiles and a post-Brexit UK.

Science explores the shape and mechanics of the universe, sparking the imagination and causing us to face reality based on observable facts. What science can’t do, however, is attribute to what is seen any inherent meaning, however inspiring the observation itself might be. What is seen has to be mediated, interpreted or apprehended, but it cannot of itself impute particular meaning other than to say that it is what it is.

But, this is where science and faith can be seen to play on the same field. The old so-called ‘conflict metaphor’ – in my view – needs to be consigned to the intellectual bin. George Lemaitre was a Belgian priest and professor of physics in the last century. It was he who proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe in what became known as Hubble’s Law. Praised by Albert Einstein in 1933, Lemaitre went on to say: ”There are two paths to truth; and I decided to follow both of them.”

So, science and faith are not enemies in the search for truth.

Or, as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


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

Today has been designated 'Buy Nothing Day' in over sixty five countries. By now, of course, it might have spread even further afield.

I like the idea of 'Buy Nothing Day', not because I'm one of those miserable people who damn consumerism in a script written on an iPad while sitting in a warm room on comfortable furniture with music playing on the stereo and my smart phone buzzing. Every time I hear John Lennon's 'Imagine' – usually being highlighted for its encouragement to imagine no religion – I wonder how he ever got away with “imagine no possessions” written on a grand piano in an exclusive Central Park apartment.

Well, 'Buy Nothing Friday' is a reaction to what has become known as 'Black Friday' – a day of mass consumerism rooted in encouragement to greed as opposed to 'Good Friday' which roots us in self-denial and loss rather than self-fulfilment at all costs. Black Friday is a transatlantic import that many people hoped would die the death of British good taste and a sense of proportion; but, it seems to have taken hold in a culture whose consumerist monster can never be over-fed.

Well, apart from the obvious observation that for many of our poorest people Black Friday will come and go like Thirsty Thursday or Sad Sunday, we do seem to fall prey all too easily to the advertisers' siren seduction – that more stuff will make our lives more complete. We are more than the stuff we have. Shopping doesn't make us more human.

But, if I was going to indulge today, there's only one thing I would go for: Adele's long-awaited new album 25. I admire her for not allowing it to be dribbled out on music apps, and insisting on holding to the integrity of the album in the mode of its release.

But, the real reason is that her music doesn't just entertain – it stirs the soul and evokes some very human experiences.

Her last album gave a voice to the strangled emotions of love and loss and regret and wounding. She not only experienced “losing in love”, but lived with the pain of it. No cheap resolutions, no easy pretence that being dumped puts an end to love. And in her poetry she reminded me of the Psalmists of old: owning up to the agonies and fragilities of human experience – not something you necessarily get from buying a bigger telly or more clothes.

Like those Psalmists, we have to learn to live with what is actually happening in us and to us, and not simply try to wish it (or buy it) away. I guess whether we indulge in Black Friday or abstain on Buy Nothing Friday, there's something about Adele's lingering expressions of grief and joy that could still make it quite a good Friday.


If you have a problem, why broadcast it to over ten million people? Good question.

I was back in the Chris Evans studio at BBC Radio 2 to do Pause for Thought this morning after a six month break while I settled in to Bradford. I’ve missed it – not because I’m a groupie, but because (a) it is unfailingly enjoyable and (b) it’s an interesting challenge to write and deliver scripts that work in that environment. Chris and his team were very friendly and welcoming despite the pressures of running an auction for Children in Need.

In this morning’s script I wanted to connect to today’s ‘Dine and Disco’ theme. Basically, I can do the ‘dine’ bit, but the ‘disco’ gives me the wobblies. Some people can dance, some can’t. I try, but I’m hopeless. Unfortunately, at the end of the slot Chris asked me to show him how I dance. He stopped me pretty quickly. Now he knows… (Radio is always better than telly for activities such as this.)

I referred back to the two gigs I got to last week: Imelda May at York and Jools Holland in Bradford. Both were fantastic, but you can’t sit still to either of them. Rockabilly, rhythm and blues, boogie woogie – even I had to get up and … er … dance … sort of. Fortunately, it was dark…

But, one of my favourite Imelda May songs ( which she did in York) is Proud and Humble. I think it’s really a prayer in which, with her extraordinary voice and cracking band, she wrestles with the attempt to live right while also trying to make life happen for herself. Addressing herself to God, she recognises where she fouls it all up, but pleads that at least she’s trying to get the most out of the life God has given her in the world which he created and loves.

And my point in this morning’s script is that I think this hits the button. We all need to own up to our failures, but not fail to celebrate the good stuff. We need both.

I think this is why the two gigs last weekend were full of joy. (I tried to find a less cheesy word than joy, but I couldn’t.) Even songs about loss and longing made the audiences dance – perhaps because somewhere in us there is a deep recognition that, as Bruce Cockburn once sang, ‘joy will find a way’. It comes when we know we’ve got nothing to fear – because the God who made us still knows us, beckons us, loves us, still holds open the possibility of a new start.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: music hits the soul and demands a response. I concluded my script with the following profound observation: Several thousand years ago a Psalmist wrote: “You turned my grieving into dancing.” Many of us know the feeling. Even though, I fear, my dancing would have made him grieve.

And that’s when Chris asked me to demonstrate. And then played Genesis’ I can’t dance. Very funny. And very accurate. How sad is that?

(Chris also clearly knows Bradford and bigged it up. Good to hear such positive stuff about the place.)


cockburn-lscn-coverI was listening to the last Bruce Cockburn CD, Life Short Call Now, in the car this morning. Stuck in a miserable traffic jam, I heard afresh the deceptively simple song Mystery and the poetry hit me again.

‘You can’t tell me there is no mystery… It’s everywhere I turn.’

But it was the fourth verse that I had to play again and again: ‘Infinity always gives me vertigo… And fills me up with grace.’ Isn’t this precisely what the Psalmist was on about when he contemplated the vastness of the heavens and wondered aloud about the place and value of himself as a small human being? That’s the mystery that has to be lived with; when you think you’ve got that one nailed, you’ve almost certainly lost the plot.

Cockburn ends with the invitation: ‘So all you stumblers who believe love rules… Stand up and let it shine.’

cockburn_slice_o_life_cover(The new CD is released on 31 March 2009 and is called Slice o Life – a compilation of  live solo recordings.)