In 2000, I was asked to do Thought For The Day. Not being a professional 'faith leader' I was something of an anomaly on the slot, but I have been a regular contributor since. Most Thoughts can be accessed through the BBC website (link) but I have put a selection of my own favourites here.
Thought For The Day(On National Poetry Day)
It’s time for Thought
And there’s two minutes forty
To put some glory
In the morning’s story,
To make something meaningful
Of what is topical.
To see the spiritual
In all this material.
Time to get the words right
To set the world straight
To give a different take
And shed a different light
To kick against the pricks
Of the daily grind.
To grab a truth worth hearing
To have a quiet word
Amidst the cut and thrust
Of opinion and cross-question.
To offer reflections
From Faith’s deep wisdoms
To speak for and against the absurd
To admit the world-sorrow
And not let it have the final word.
It’s slipped between
What The Papers Say
And that taped section which
(On any given day)
Reports a sparrow’s falling
A kingdom dividing;
And the weather
(Bad and changing).
This daily anomaly
Can’t be sermon
And not quite homily,
Preach and be damned
But sound right about what’s wrong
Mine for the good
In the ore of the bad
For a single pearl make a dive
Say there’s a God:
Or hint that there might be
Keep the rumour alive.
But don’t get ethereal
Keep things reasonable
Don’t peddle consolation
Or the best available illusion
Tell a truth, but tell it slant
If not truth then something equal to it.
Make sense of the din,
The savagery, the wonder and triviality,
If you can.
Think of the listeners
Put yourself in their ears
The invisible throng,
Half listening, heckling,
You’re background noise,
To all this thrum
A still, small voice vying
With all the striving.
Truth and platitude sound alike to someone not listening.
The world is dying
To hear something better,
But at this time of morning
It’s hard to catch
Other ways of seeing and being
Of doing and living
When you need
To get going,
And a bigger story’s breaking
And stocks are tumbling
Empires are crumbling
And they’re announcing
Of kings and companies
The start of wars
And the whole world’s ending.
The clock is ticking
And things fall apart.
Dare you say
There’s something lasting?
You have mere moments
To risk the invisible
Back the un-provable
Stake all on the intangible.
Be still, and know
There’s a place
A three-minute space
(The time it takes to boil an egg)
To hear a different voice, another noise
Clear your throat(Yes, it’s live)
Speak of more
Than what we simply see and hear,
The something, not the nothing.
No need to start a creed, or lay a law
Say what you think this life is for.
Give some grist,
Blow a breeze, throw a seed
From your studio chair,
From this Kingdom of the air.
Announce good news is near
Before we’re off and on our way
And whatever you do, whatever you say
Make it a Thought
That lasts a day.
Last week I received an email from a colleague who I’d not seen for years. It explained how they’d fallen on hard times and contained a request for a specific amount of money. A follow-up email included bank details and the hope that I might be able to help out; it was much in the style of one of those Nigerian legacy scams. I assumed that their email address had been hacked and so I ignored it. But when a further email arrived, explaining a little more and leaving a phone number to call, I began to see it as a genuine if desperate request for help.
Before calling I went through the list of reasons not to help: all sound, all sensible: the money wouldn’t be enough to make a difference; they’ll just fritter it away; they’ve got themselves into a hole of their own making; and I’m sure I’m not the first person they’ve asked for help. But that same day, with irritatingly apt timing, I read the bit of scripture where Jesus says: give to one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. When I went back to the text and searched for get-outs and caveats I couldn’t find any.
All my uming and ahing was rendered academic when I actually spoke to them. They had indeed fallen on hard times. Their life had seemed secure: they’d had steady work, a good relationship, a decent flat in a nice part of town – they were probably in that top 1% that economists talk about. But then they’d fallen off the edge of a cliff. Yes, there were self-inflicted reasons for this plummet. Mistakes made. Personal demons battled. But the descent to ‘living like a dog’ as they put it, had been swift. Poverty, as it says in Proverbs, had fallen upon them ‘like an armed man.’
As I listened to my colleague’s story, the reasons for their descent seemed not to matter so much; it was the ‘this-could-be–you-ness’ of their plight that struck home. It was much easier to fall off the edge than you’d think. And the thought that it ‘could have been me’ wasn’t just a platitude. It was and had been me. Over the course of my life had I not been on the receiving end of other people’s financial help? Had not people’s unreasonable generosity got me out of difficulty in the past?
The sheer competitiveness of life, with people seen as winners or losers, the atomising of community, the widening gulf between rich and poor, makes it seem likely that ever more people will fall off the cliff and not get up again. But, as my colleague’s story shows, the contingent, fragile nature of life is a reality for all of us. It’s a failure of imagination not to be able to picture yourself falling off the edge. And we need to be able to picture it because, in the end, the thing that catches someone’s fall from grace – is someone else’s grace.
Physically I’m in India’s maximum city, Mumbai, but spiritually this thought comes to you from rural Kenya where we have been living for the last month.
Although we are a well-travelled family, we have rarely been to places where people live on the dollar a day that (1/3rd) of the World’s population try to survive on. If we ever witnessed this poverty it was fleeting and at best made an edgy ‘authentic’ snap for our photo album. We didn’t dare to experience what it was like to live alongside serious deprivation. That was something for anthropologists and priests. We were busy pursuing culture and recreation. For isn’t this how we learn about the world?
But living in a community, with a high prevalence of HIV/Aids, a water shortage, no electricity, unreliable food and exceptionally bad roads, has seriously challenged our understanding about the world. We can’t help feeling that if we’d done this earlier we might have learned things that years of pursuing culture and pleasure have failed to teach us.
Not that when you come to Africa you expect to be taught something. If anything, you think, because you’ve read the economic arguments and know the history, and come from a part of the world which has surely worked out how life works, that you have something to teach it.
But then you get to this massive, red-earthed continent and away from the tourist bubble and you realise that your horizons have been utterly limited until now, and that these people you characterised as poor and sick and somehow lacking in the basics are, despite all they face, talented, funny and generous; that they live with exceptional hope and resilience, and in communities so inter-dependent that is makes our individualistic, self-sufficient lives seem deleterious. For a while, your whole system for measuring ‘wealth’ gets turned upside down.
But then you wake up the next day and circumstances douse your naïve enthusiasm: across the road a 35 year old man dies of AIDS leaving five more orphans for the community to feed; then you learn that the community has inadequate water for crops because there’s been a 2 year drought; then a tearful father asks you for funds to send a daughter to secondary school; and there is a scandal about the government spending millions on fleets of flashy four wheel drives, a government that is already spending more on repaying debt than it does on education - and you want to push your head into the red dust and scream.
But the next day the sun comes up, and you see the people walking to market to sell mangoes and goats in exchange for exercise books and tools; and in church people pledge sacks of beans for the orphans; and the widows group are using the money from their maize to buy another cow; and maybe the government are going to bore for water after all, and there’s sense that, with a little support and some investment that this could all work …
And you sit down exhausted from the rollercoaster of an African day, when your 70 year old neighbour comes to check that you are okay (as if you are the one who is deprived) and you offer her a glass of water and she pauses before drinking and you wonder if you’ve broken some social protocol and then you see that she is actually thanking God for the glass of the water and for the gift of life, and you realise that all your wealth, travel, education and privilege has never really taught you the true worth of a glass of water or been able to demonstrate how precious life is as simply and powerfully as this.
and here's a Thought I wrote for the day of Live 8. It's not a typical Thought For The Day but it seemed like a good way to get people to think about the issues that Live 8 was trying to raise.
2nd July (Live 8).
Good morning, good morning, good morning,
London Calling, to the far away town...
It was twenty years ago today,
And we’ve still got something to say
Not talking about London, Paris, New York, Munich.
Talking about my generation
There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West. And it makes me wonder.
Where is my beautiful car? Where is my beautiful house.
I want it now; I want it all. I want money.
Get back. I’m all right Jack; keep your hands off my stack.
Money, it’s a crime. Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie.
I read the news today, oh boy,
Mother, Mother, there’s too many of you crying,
Brother, Brother, Brother there’s far too many of you dying.
Help I need somebody
I'm just a poor boy nobody loves me...
Them belly full but them hungry.
You never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper…
Help me get my feet back on the ground - won't you please, please help me,
Don’t leave me here all alone. Helpless. Helpless. Helpless
Don’t walk on by
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day,
Fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way.
‘Cos maybe, you’re going to be the one that saves me.
There are still many rivers to cross and I still can’t find my way over
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own.
Don't give up, 'cos you have friends...
Life is bigger; it’s bigger than you
Consider this, the hint of the century
The world is full of refuges, a lot like you and a lot like me.
War is not the answer. You don’t have to escalate. Only love can conquer hate.
It’s easy if you try.
Come on everybody. Mr President. Come on. Come on. Let’s go.
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
But it’s a hard road to follow and rough tough way to go.
What you going to do about it, what you going to do?
Nothing to do, it’s up to you
You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.
With or without you
Give a little bit. Give a little bit of my life for you.
While you see your chance, take it.
Are you such a dreamer, to put the world to rights?
Dry your eyes mate. We can be heroes just for one day.
Today is gonna’ to be the day that they're gonna’ throw it back to you.
By now you should have found out you realise what you gotta’ do.
Time to make the change, come on you rock and rollers.
Look at the stars see how they shine for you
With the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne...
All the people, so many people, and they all go hand in hand, hand in hand
Nothing to say but what a day
It’s going to be a glorious day.
A beautiful day
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, O Lord...
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom
Right here right now
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some loving here today.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.