I know I bang on a bit about the linguistic incompetence of the English, but toady I read something on the train to London that pushed all my prejudice buttons.

In today’s Guardian Jonathan Freedland has a good go at the (usually untested) arguments for the massive pay differentials in some of our businesses. The usual rationale has something to do with the assumption that our ‘best’ talent would go abroad if we brought what the boss of Barclays called the ‘compensation’ levels down to something that resembled ‘earnings’. In other words, we would be left with second-division executives who lack the ambition or the hunger to up sticks and emigrate.

He responds to this by recognising that rare skills can legitimately demand rare salaries – but also that the skills of those who earn huge amounts are not exactly rare.

?… Our objection to telephone-number salaries goes deeper. What it comes down to is desert – a notion so deeply ingrained that, yes, even a seven-year-old can grasp it: the belief that people should deserve the rewards they get.

… Most people have long accepted that there will be a differential in pay that, in the hoary example, the brain surgeon will earn more than the dustman. People understand that some skills are rare and therefore command a greater premium. They even accept that this can result in extreme outcomes, with the likes of Wayne Rooney trousering £250,000 a week. But none of that logic applies to the current state of corporate pay.

Rooney is truly a one in a hundred million talent; there might be just two dozen people in the world who could match his skills. But with all due respect to Bob Stack, that is not true of him. Nor can it possibly be true of the 2,800 staff in 27 UK-based banks who, according to the Financial Services Authority, received more than £1m each in 2009. Whatever these people are able to do, it’s clearly not rare.

Ah, comes the reply, but these are the cream of the international crop, among the very best bankers in the world. The commission report blows a hole in that tired argument, revealing there’s hardly any cross-border poaching of corporate talent. Not many of our monolingual high earners could work abroad and even fewer would want to. They like it here and do not have to be paid lottery jackpot money to stay.

Notice the (almost) aside? ‘Monolingual’ high earners? We consistently underestimate the economic cost of our linguistic incompetence – to say nothing of the cultural and experiential deficit.

So, those are the buttons Freedland pressed for me: critique of the absurd and unjustifiable differentials, a sideswipe at our linguistic incompetence, and some myth-busting about the ‘market’.

And beneath all the fun a serious question about how we value people, what they do, why it matters, and how we need to recover some connection between work and reward.

Being a disciple means – put simply – imitating someone else. I guess there must be disciples of Wayne Rooney. – in the sense that they look to him as some sort of a role model and justify their own behaviour according to his. Which is an interesting notion the morning after he was sent off against Montenegro for a pointless attack on a player.

Being a disciple of Jesus means imitating the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. The only measure the church has for its own faithfulness to its vocation is whether or not it looks like an imitation of the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. Not a hard idea, is it?

I have been thinking about this while preparing for and being present at the Bradford Diocesan Day – over 400 people of all ages and from all sorts of places coming together to think about ‘discipleship’ for a whole wet Saturday in Bradford. I did the keynote address (video here) this morning and this was followed by seminars and workshops aimed at exploring what it means to be a follower/imitator of Jesus in everyday life.

In my address, after an introductory ramble through the Bible, I tried to say that the usual (discipleship) suspects are not always helpful to us. The giants who find their halo-ed faces in stained-glass windows are often the exception rather than the rule. What I mean by this is that people like Peter or Paul or Dietrich Bonhoeffer are examples of discipleship in extremis – but not always easy to relate to for ordinary Christians in our ordinary world.

Which is why I commended Zebedee as my icon of discipleship. Zebedee (not the one who goes ‘boing’ in The Magic Roundabout) was the father of James and John, the so-called ‘Sons of Thunder’ in the Gospels. When Jesus invited his sons to go walkabout with him, they could not have left without their father’s permission. Zebedee would also have had to replace them with extra hired workers in the family fishing business. In other words, the special discipleship of James and John was only possible because Zebedee paid the price and kept the ordinary graft of everyday routine going.

More of us are like Zebedee than his offspring.

OK, there is clearly more to it than that, and we can learn from the lot of them. I went on to describe discipleship in terms of (sorry for this) (a) Curiosity, (b) Commitment and (c) Company. Christians need, like the first disciples, to be curious enough to follow Jesus and see where the journey takes us. We need to commit ourselves – body, mind and spirit – to the one we follow/imitate. We don’t do it alone, but we also don’t get to choose who goes with us.

According to this simple way of putting it, the Christian Church should be characterised by people who are curious enough to leave the comfort zones, committed enough to re-shape the way they see God, the world and us, and brave enough to be thrown together with a company of people they wouldn’t necessarily normally choose for themselves.

Actually, that is what the church on the ground is doing all the time. This gets forgotten when the ‘high level’ arguments are dominating the headline agenda. The reality is that Christians are imitating Jesus every day in the ordinary spaces and places of life – even when the ‘noise’ suggests otherwise.

And that is the best bit of being a bishop in the Church of England: you get to see where God is at work, where Christians are imitating Jesus, and where the miracle of company is being exercised in the strangest places.

Imitating Wayne Rooney might well get us into trouble. Imitating Jesus has a habit of definitely getting us into trouble. But it’s never boring.

The problem with being away is that you get out of touch with some of the news that is important at home… and completely ignorable beyond Calais.

Wayne Rooney has had a hair transplant apparently. Why? When I caught a glimpse of his new look (complete with bloody weals), I thought he was trying to look like me. But mine’s disappearing fast and I couldn’t be happier. OK, I’m thirty years older than Wayne and had a much longer innings on the hair front. But, I love the fact that my lack of hair means:

  • cheap haircuts (£3-6 in Bradford area)
  • very low maintenance
  • no worry about bits sticking up
  • no danger of the comb-over blowing in the wind.

I remember Tony Campolo (balder than a totally hairless coot – whatever that is) quoting research that demonstrated the link between virility and hair loss. He observed: ” If you guys want to use your hormones to grow hair, that’s up to you!”

Er… yes… exactly.

The World Cup has finally begun… with two exciting … er … draws.

Some people have had a humour bypass already. The Telegraph phoned the other day because they were doing a light piece on Wayne Rooney’s temper. I offered two quotes and the Telegraph ran them together. Helpfully noting that I am a Liverpool fan, the quote then ran in the paper as:

You might say anyone who has played for Everton and Manchester United is bound to have a bad temper. But perhaps Wayne should take some time out and read the series of World Cup prayers I have written especially for the tournament.

Some people seem to think this was a serious comment and a serious dissing of Everton and Manchester United. Or perhaps they think that bishops only ever make serious comments devoid of irony or humour. Tough. Life’s too short to worry.

The best joke I have heard during the World Cup (apart from the variations on: “Penile erectile dysfunction is common amongst men. Sufferers are asked to express their solidarity by displaying white flagswith a red cross on their cars…”) came on BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz from Sandi Toksvig. Miraculously relating the Labour leadership campaign to the World Cup, she referred to:

Ed Balls – sounds like Wayne Rooney’s job description.

Just funny.