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.

Are you tired of sleeping alone, Admin?

Do you ever wish we could turn back the clock to a simpler time when technology didn’t dictate our lives? It’s fairly predictable to hear people of my age (a still foolish 43) pine for those endless summer days when we ran free from the tyranny of the overflowing inbox. “We didn’t need Facebook when we had real friends”, we cry, “and don’t get us started on the needy, involuntary status sharing of the digital natives. What do they know about real life?!”

Well, it seems to me that they know what we have taught them. Or rather, they don’t know, because we have not taught them.

plugholeI was emptying my spam folder last week. It’s not so different from clearing the shower plug hole really. You take a deep breath to quell the rising nausea, grab a handful of muck and throw it in the bin with a grateful shudder. Cleanliness restored. Amongst the predictable flow of detritus was a subject line that caught my eye.

Are you tired of sleeping alone, Admin?

Like all foolish truth it made me laugh and then brought me up short. That one question seems to encapsulate the contemporary human condition in 38 characters (and before you try and tweet it, let’s just pull it apart for a minute).

The question strikes at the heart of contemporary isolation, offering the false hope of superficial self-improvement, and confirming our suspicion that we are not truly known. Tired of sleeping alone, or just tired of how your life has turned out? Tired of the lost dream of the happy ever after and the false promises of consumerism? Want to do something about it? Just click here and you’ll feel better…for a bit. Want to change your life? Just try harder. Who do you think you are? You’re just “Admin”. We don’t really care about you or know anything about your heart, your mind, your inner being. See what I mean? 38 characters that say an awful lot more.

I’m not a Luddite. Technological innovation has opened up amazing opportunities and has changed how we communicate and think forever. And there’s no going back, however we might wish to in our rosiest-tinted moments. But the truth is that the dissatisfaction we feel about how life has turned out simply points out the fact that we are created to experience a fullness of life that cannot be bought, worked for or furtively found in the dark places of our most self-centred fantasies. Rather, it’s a gift. A grace-infused, unearned restoration of meaning and purpose that comes from the one who knows us, really knows us, by name, by heart, by soul.

Michael Frost uses the word “excarnation” to describe the way many of us in the West are choosing to live. In an interview with Christianity Today last year, he stated:

My concern is that many people don’t think hard enough about whether they like the way technology is shaping them, and in particular how it is shaping interpersonal relationships. We need to live a fully embodied existence, in community, and in place. Of course, having global connections is a wonderful aspect of 21st Century life, but if technology wrenches us out of a meaningful sense of embodiment, away from connection with neighbors, and out of the place in which we live, we lose something precious and important.

So my foolish challenge this week is to live incarnationally. To speak to people face to face. To spend time away from the screen. To breathe deeply and live fully. To allow myself to be truly known. To be more than Admin.