On Randomness and Powerlessness

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This morning’s Thought for the Day drew inspiration from a quote I read at the weekend. It’s from a book entitled The Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams, author and member of the Inklings literary circle, and is quoted in Eugene Petersen’s helpful commentary on Jeremiah, Run With The Horses. The full quote refers to the Church, but I felt there was a relevance to the broader culture in these times of uncertainty and fear.

You can listen again to the Thought here by scrolling to 01:23:06 or you can read the text below:

Charles Williams, literary contemporary of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, once wrote that:

“At the moment when it is remotely possible that a whole generation might have learned something both of theory and practice, the learners and their learning are removed by death…The whole labour of regenerating mankind has to begin again every thirty years or so.”

Thirty years is no time at all. It seems that, just as one generation gets to grips with the world, everything shifts, the wisdom we have accrued is lost and we need to begin all over again.

My generation grew up during the Cold War. The seeping fear of nuclear threat permeated our understanding of politics and the future, yet the threat of monolithic global conflict seemed both remote and impersonal. This week, as parliament debated the rights and wrongs of maintaining a nuclear deterrent, violence and conflict seem closer to home, more individually driven, more likely to erupt at the end of my street. The sense of powerlessness and uncertainty is as overwhelming as thirty years ago.

In Baton Rouge, Nice or Istanbul, we observe the apparent randomness of events, and the deep-seated anger that drives individuals to behave violently towards others. How can peace ever be won by human endeavour when anger lurks in all of us? Not the righteous anger that rails against injustice, but an anger rooted in the hatred of others, acting in rebellion against peace.

Out of powerlessness, I find myself responding in the words of the psalm that asks the question. “Why. Why, Lord, do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” And the more I contemplate the random nature of violence in our times, the more drawn I am to the words that follow:

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.”

Perhaps we must learn again to look beyond ourselves to find the deep-rooted peace we are craving for the next generation, and for our own.

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Final Foolish Thought of 2015

IMG_8286This morning the Creative Fool was alive, awake, alert and relatively enthusiastic about the fact that she was on Thought for the Day at 7.22am on BBC Radio Scotland. Today was slightly different from usual as, having moved to Glasgow at the beginning of December, I was able to do my thinking in the studio with the presenters rather than patched in from a broom cupboard in Edinburgh. The text of what I said is printed below, and you can listen again by following the link and scrolling to 01:21:25.

Good morning.

I’ve just moved house and am in the middle of unpacking boxes and learning how things work in the new place. For the first time ever, I know exactly where my Christmas decorations are stored. The annual ritual of hanging favourite tree baubles, coupled with the practical business of settling in, has made me reflect on the importance of meaningful objects and the experience of being a stranger in town.

The British Museum, which houses around 8 million meaningful objects has recently been given the Lampedusa cross, a simple wooden artefact made from a ship that sank off the Italian island in 2013. Onboard were over 500 refugees, many of whom had fled persecution. Only 151 people survived and a local carpenter decided to give each one a cross as a symbol of hope. The cross now on display in the museum is not ornate. Made from peeling yellow and blue driftwood its origins as part of the ill-fated boat are evident and yet, with its rough wood and worn paintwork it carries a beauty by dint of its meaning.lampalusa

Explaining his final choice for the museum, the outgoing Director, Neil MacGregor, said, “We have acquired many wonderful objects, from the grand to the humble, but all have sought to shine a light on the needs and hopes that all human beings share.”

The Lampedusa cross is a meaningful symbol of our time, and, as we near the end of a year that has seen unprecedented levels of human migration across the globe, it is good to be reminded that hope is the fuel for human endeavour.

Christmas is the story of God coming to earth as a human being. The hope of grace born in the frail yet solid form of a refugee baby. And as I’ve tried to work out how to live in a new place, I’ve been struck forcibly by the enormity of Jesus’ incarnation. The riskiness of laying aside the glory of heaven to be born in a stable to a teenage mother and the sacrifice of becoming subject to poverty speak of the lavishness of God’s love for us. Like the Lampedusa cross, the incarnation is not ornate. The reality of God being born into suffering, and ultimately his death on another cross, means that Christmas is a meaningful symbol of hope for all. That’s good news in the midst of the baubles and the boxes wherever you live.

That’s me done thinking for 2015, but I look forward to doing more foolish thinking in 2016!

Early Radio Times

COR5YDvWsAAZZVU.jpg-largeThought for the Day is variously perceived as an archaic throwback to Reithian values, a direct affront to the liberal values of secular Britain or an opportunity to boil the kettle before the news.  You don’t meet many people who are big fans of the two minutes of religious or philosophical insight that appear on the radio each morning.

So, what I’m about to say might shock and surprise you.

I like Thought for the Day.

I’d even say that I’m a fan. Yes, it can be twee. Yes, the presenters sometimes ramble on. Yes, I often find myself shouting  at the radio because I don’t agree with what’s being said. But it makes me think. And I like the idea that people of faith have the opportunity to share something with the nation amongst the news stories.

So, whether it’s the erudite pontification of the Today programme 7.50am slot or the jolly banter of the 9.20am Chris Evans’ breakfast show version, I enjoy figuring out how natural or otherwise the presenters sound as they read their carefully prepared script. I admire the people who can tell a story well and draw out a profound thought in 120 seconds (Rhidian Brook is the king of this, in my humble opinion). And if it makes me think for the rest of the day then so much the better. CO7Gb_lWIAAZdm9.jpg-large

Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to become a regular presenter of TFTD on BBC Radio Scotland. The thought is broadcast live but written the previous day on a current affairs topic. It has to be short, it has to fit with BBC editorial guidelines and it has to be presented at 7.20am. Some may object to the idea of being edited, complaining that the gospel is being watered down but I relish the prospect of choosing words carefully so that everyone is included. I enjoy finding a way of saying something that might help, encourage or challenge someone as they drive to work or eat their cornflakes (hopefully not at the same time). And it seems to fall neatly within the remit of the fool.

And it’s interesting how many random people seem to tune in at 7.20am.

Nobody wants to assault someone else’s ears, mind and heart, especially when they’re just waking up, but what an opportunity to speak truth and grace to lots of people. It’s a privilege that I don’t treat lightly.

I was on this morning. So, in case you were still sleeping, here’s the text of what I said. I hope you it makes you think a little.

 

I once had a colleague who lived in a tiny studio flat and was the proud owner of a very sophisticated robotic vacuum cleaner. His rationale for owning it, despite having very little carpet to clean, was that, growing up in the 1970s, he believed that by the time he was an adult, robots would be everywhere. The vacuum cleaner was the closest he could get to realising his childhood dream. If reports this week are to be believed, many of us may find our jobs being done by robots in the next few years. While some will be excited by that prospect, others will find it frightening.Technological advance is amazing but, like Pete’s hoover, the reality isn’t always all that we dream.

If we had known even 10 years ago the impact of social media and smart technology we’d have been astonished. It is amazing to consider how connected we are. We have libraries, maps, news and entertainment at our fingertips, and all delivered at an increasingly high speed. We have all the knowledge of the world, but I wonder, are we any the wiser?

A study presented last week about teenagers’ social media habits concluded that sleep quality, anxiety and emotional wellbeing were all affected by its use. While the study was concerned with the psychological impact on adolescents, there’s no doubt in my mind that constant exposure to a stream of information and visual stimulation has an impact on my wellbeing, and that of people around me. Far from making life easier, technology leaves us more stressed and lacking peace.

We’re all searching for peace in a noisy world, and I think many of us recognise that we thirst for something deeper. The psalms in the bible are helpful here. They talk of delighting in God and meditating on his word and of having our souls restored as we walk by quiet waters. ‘Be still and know that I am God’, says the psalmist. There is peace to be found, but we need to choose to seek it, to force ourselves to be still. Maybe it means switching off a device or two for a little while, confident that rather than missing out, we might get a better night’s sleep and maybe even rediscover who we are.