This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show with Eric Bana, Rick Astley, Cyndi Lauper, Daisy Waterstone and Callum Woodhouse:

I realise this might come as a bit of a shock, but I need to tell you: I don't have a tattoo. I'm beginning to think this makes me a bit weird, but so far the only needles to have got under my skin have been medicinal ones.

But … (a question put to me last week) if I was going to have one, what would it be: image or words? Now, that got me thinking. If I had just one thing to be my identifying feature (as it were) – the thing that really gets under my skin -, what would I want the world to see? Now, that's hard, isn't it?

OK. I wouldn't want something merely aspirational or something exotic in Sanskrit that I am told means 'romantic hero' but actually means 'idiot'. And I wouldn't want an image that might stretch or shrink with age and end up looking like something it shouldn't. I think I'd want something real. Something that showed my true colours.

One of my heroes – not the Hulk exactly – is a guy who thought he was a big man – leader of the pack – only to find he melted when the heat was on. His illusions about himself led to him promising his best friend that he would never give him up to the authorities and would never let him down, but caved in remarkably quickly. His name was Peter and his mate was Jesus of Nazareth. And his failure set him free never again to have to pretend to be what he was not – the failure wasn't the end of the world, after all.

So, maybe my tattoo ought to just portray a face – eyes that are open and unafraid, knowing from experience that we don't have to be trapped by our reputation or the illusions about ourselves that we too often try so hard to protect.

Or, maybe I ought just to relax, and have the words of Psalm 139 etched into my epidermis: “Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me” … because that freedom sets me free to be loved and, thus, to love, never to give up.

But, maybe I don't need body art to tell me that, after all.

 

This is the text of the morning's Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2:

I think I'm probably not alone in having from time to time a song going round my head that I can't shake off. Not that I want to, particularly, but it can sometimes be a distraction when you're supposed to be concentrating on something else and the song keeps interrupting.

The one that's buzzing through my consciousness this week sounds a bit twee, but it isn't really. It's a Bruce Cockburn song called 'Don't forget about delight'. Basically, it recognises that the world we live in is complicated, that the news crowding in on us from all sides is usually bad, that the world can often look a bit bleak. But, says the poet, don't forget about delight.

It seems to me that this is a necessary reminder, a timely prompt. To use a different metaphor, the darkest night can be illuminated by the faintest light. Or, as someone else put it, don't just curse the darkness – light a flame.

I picked up a book recently called Hope without Optimism. It's written by Terry Eagleton and makes an important distinction. Optimism is, in one sense, wishful thinking – a belief that things will get better. Hope goes deeper and is more realistic. Hope doesn't depend on a set of circumstances working out, but keeps us constant whatever the circumstances life throws at us. That's why Christian hope is rooted in the character and person of God, not in a formula for a successful life.

So, I go along with both Bruce Cockburn and Terry Eagleton – the poet and the professor. When the darkness crowds in I need to remember not to forget about delight. When the news is dominated by fear and cruelty, I must spot where love and light burn through and refuse to be extinguished. When horizons begin to narrow, I can open my eyes to the rich possibilities that lie ahead – even if hidden at the moment.

So, hopeful rather than optimistic. And, whatever else happens, never forgetting about delight. And I am quite happy for such a song to haunt my memory and imagination, making me restless for the light.

This is the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show. Guests in the studio were Tom Odell, Len Goodman, Alex Jones, Paul Hollywood and Bear Grylls… and the Sally Army Band.

Call me immature, but ever since I became a vicar I had a competition with myself at Christmas. It was to get a Bruce Cockburn quote into every Christmas sermon. I have now managed to quote the Canadian songwriter for twenty seven years.

Why? Well, sometimes the poetry of someone else shines new light into what has become familiar – like … er … Christmas. So, instead of banging on in prose, I drop in this bit of lyric: “Like a stone on the surface of a still river, driving the ripples on for ever, redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.”

Brilliant, isn't it? In a world dominated by power, bigness, violence and competitiveness, it is the cry of a tiny babe that penetrates the fog and defies the misery. Or, as someone once put it, there's no point just shouting at the darkness; light a candle! A small light can dispel a lot of murkiness.

I think this is how love works – real love. Not some superficial romance, but the committed love that gets stuck into the world as it is and doesn't just wait for it to be as we would like it to be. Real love pours itself out and, as I have put it elsewhere, is drawn by hope, not driven by fear.

It seems to me that this is what Christmas is about, really. That God doesn't wait until we have sorted ourselves out, but comes into the world as one of us – in a way that we can recognise. This, I think, is what real love is about: God committing himself to all the vulnerabilities of human living in a complicated place.

This isn't just the icing on the top of the Christmas cake; it's the sherry-soaked fruit in the heart of it. It's not the peripheral dad-dancing I do to embarrass my kids; it's the strictly committed tango that real dancers do. It isn't some namby-pamby camping 'experience', but the full-blooded live-off-your-wits survival stuff in the jungle.

Christmas is God getting down and dirty – where we are. Isn't that brilliant? Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.

Happy Christmas!

 

 

Yesterday the Guardian published a short blog post on religious broadcasting, so I guess I should post this.

This is the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on the excellent BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Show. I thought of doing something on the agonising banality of Eurovision, but just couldn't muster the enthusiasm. (I like Bonnie Tyler, but the song is a disaster…)

This is a terrible thing for a Liverpool fan to admit (and I do so though gritted teeth), but I admired Sir Alex Ferguson's speech last Sunday. He had just finished his last home game as manager of Manchester United and was thanking the crowd for their support. I actually heard it in the car and found it quite moving. The speech, that is, not the car.

The bit that got me was when he said that in future he would be able to watch the team instead of suffering with them. Bang on, Sir Alex.

When you identify closely with people in whom you have invested yourself, you can't help but experience what they experience. You laugh with them and you suffer with them. What they feel, you feel with them. The usual word for this stuff is 'compassion' – which literally means 'to suffer with'.

It's brilliant, isn't it, that we have the capacity to do this – to go through what someone else is going through with them. Even if you can only watch from the sidelines. Like seeing the care poured out on a dying friend by family and those around her who can't save her for her children, but can love her through the ending.

This is also how I think prayer works, believe it or not. It isn't about getting things or twisting God's arm; no, it's about being drawn in to the experience of those for whom we pray so that we see through their eyes and hear through their ears. Which is why prayer seems to be mostly about changing the person who does the praying.

Anyway, compassion amounts to more than the the cost-free “I really feel for you…” Real compassion draws you in and you get wounded.

Well, cheer up! Saturday's coming and we'll all be suffering together: all the nul points at the Eurovision Song Contest, watching Man United swagger, and – for those wonderful fans of Bradford City – agonising for promotion at Wembley.

Feel for me, please.

 

During an address to nearly 500 people a couple of weeks ago I spoke about curiosity as a key to the Kingdom of God. What I meant by this is that Christian discipleship (it seems to me) has to be driven by curiosity about Jesus and where he might be leading us. There are lots of reasons why I think this, but they are not the point of this post.

As an example of this I used the challenge of writing and presenting scripts on the radio, making particular reference to the stuff I have done on BBC Radio 2 for more than a decade and now, particularly, on the Chris Evans Show. Before giving this address (which is why this example came to mind during it) someone asked how you find something useful to say in the ‘fluff of the programme’. So, when I referred to it I described it something like this:

You have to grab the attention of the potential listeners ( so they don’t go to the loo or put the kettle on), tease their imagination with story or image, say something, then give a pay off back into the ‘fluff’.

You get around 320 words to do it with.

The further challenge is that you have no idea if or how Chris will pick up on what you have said or the basic theme. Of course, there is no reason why he should pick up on it at all. But, the great thing about doing his show is that Chris is bright, interested, creative and excellent at engaging. When writing a script, you have to be conscious of stimulating the curiosity or imagination of the host and his team as well as the audience. It means speaking a language that is interesting and comprehensible to this diverse range of humanity.

And that’s why it is good to do. It is also excellent discipline for people like me who can talk for England, preach for hours, and range wildly from subject to subject.

It is also why I like Twitter and text messaging. These force you to be concise, to express an idea with very few words, to communicate effectively in brief. It demands the skill that is exemplified by comedian Milton Jones in his wonderful new book of ‘10 Second Sermons‘.

In a former life I used to encourage preachers to write a radio script of 400 words. I remember one person complaining that you can’t actually say something in such a short space. I responded that if you can’t say something in brief, you don’t know what you are trying to say… and you shouldn’t dare to say it for 20-30 minutes. I still think that.

The enjoyable thing about doing the stuff with Chris Evans is that he will often respond in ways you didn’t expect. Always interesting, sometimes challenging, never boring. And always a privilege not to be taken for granted.

Now I’m off to a communications conference…