Has anyone mentioned the Olympics or the Golden Jubilee yet? No? Well I'm not going to either.
Did anyone see Great Expectations on the telly over Christmas? It was really good!
Dickens was a really good writer and this year sees the bicentenary of something or other connected with him. As well as being really, really popular, Dickens' works are also very strong on morality. No honestly, they are. If you want to be moral, you could do a lot worse than read Dickens. And the great thing is, even if you don't have an Invisible Magic Friend, you can read Dickens to learn how to be moral.
The central character of Great Expectations is Pip, who wants to be a gentleman, but he learns that personal virtue is more important and then the book ends. I just want to throw in the word "didactic" at this point. That should get even a few Radio 4 listeners searching for their dictionaries.
Another character is Miss Haversham. She's an elderly spinster in a wedding dress, who we associate with decay an putrefaction. Putrefaction's not a very nice word to associate with anyone, even Miss Haversham, but I'll use it anyway.
This is all very moral. It's also Art.
It's also Karma, which is the belief that things affect other things, but you can read Dickens and learn to be moral even if you're not a Buddhist. In fact, you don't have to have any religion at all to read Dickens and learn to be moral. Even secular people can read Dickens and learn to be moral.
Morning prayer begins, "The night has passed and a new day lies open."
What a wonderful sentiment that is. It suggests that the night has passed and a new day lies open. We could say something similar about the new year, the old year has passed and a new year lies open. This too suggests that an old year has passed and a new year lies open.
Of course, things in the past affect things in the future. It is the way of things. But not all things in the past affect all things in the future and there are some things in the future that we can still change, even though there remain some things in the past that will affect the future and that we have no control over.
The writer of Ecclesiastes, a grump middle aged cynic, goes on and on about how nothing ever changes. Well, as I have just shown, things do change, because there are things in the past that do not affect things in the future and so there are things in the future that we can change, even though there are some things in the past that do affect some things in the future, although not all of them.
When we were young, a long long time ago now, the world was full of possibilities. Then we ended up in some dead end career, got married, got a mortgage and settled down to the daily, depressing, endless grind that became our unfulfilling and ultimately pointless life. Just as Ecclesiastes says. Don't you wish you could have a more exciting career, that you could abandon your family and be free again? I know I do.
But wait, some of us can pray to the Invisible Magic Friend! And in praying to the Invisible Magic Friend we become, in an ambiguous and unspecified but nevertheless very real sense, free to gain more knowledge, more understanding, to do more good.
Thanks to the fact that I pray to the Invisible Magic Friend, I am able to be optimistic about the future and wish you all a very Happy New Year. The rest of you will just have to collapse in a depressing, paralysing heap as you contemplate the economic woe or the wearisome drudgery of your inane, irrelevant existence.
Sunday, 1 January, 2012, 08:06 AM - ClemmiesHappy New Year everyone!
Time to award the last Clemmie for 2011 and complete the select group of presenters who will be eligible for the Platitude Of The Year (POTY) 2011.
I know, the excitement's just unbearable, isn't it?
We've only got four contenders this month, but I think you'll all agree, what may be lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality.
First out of the starting gate this month was our old friend Clifford Longley. Clifford put in a very respectable performance. He explained how David taking on Goliath and then going on to be hereditary autocratic dictator for life was a perfect metaphor for the Arab Spring. The time for being good has finally arrived, Clifford announced.
Baron Jonathan Sacks gave a spirited retelling of the noble war for freedom that the Jews fought against the mad king Antiochus IV. Mad old Antiochus banned the Jews from chopping bits off of baby boys' penises. Yes, that's how mad he was. The Jews bravely fought against the evil Hellenic ideas of religious pluralism and returned to the freedom of only allowing one god in one temple, with the right to chop bits off of baby boys' penises whenever they liked, which was always.
The month ended quite splendidly with two extraordinarily platitudinous thoughts. On new year's eve, eve, we had the Archbishop of York. The dear Archbishop treated us to a charmingly confused jumble of incoherent ideas. He threw in one assertion after another in the delightfully naive belief that simply saying something is true, makes it so. He even managed to slap down a perceptive child who had seen through all his religious hogwash.
Then, on the last day, of the last week, of the last month, of the last century, of the last millennium, we got the Celebrity Christian Writer himself. As we have come to expect from a Christian writer of such celebrity, this was no ordinary platitude, this was a work of literary art!
First, the whole platitude was framed in the third person, cleverly allowing the author to seem detached and uninvolved in the unfolding narrative. There were healthy doses of literary references, of course. The whole ensemble was crowned by a final quote from the Bible, which he freely admits he hasn't read and so just flicked to the last few pages to see how it ended. There he found a quote of such perfection, such intensity, such finality, that his description of it included everything, absolutely everything, except accuracy.
So, who shall receive the final Clemmie of 2011? I really wanted to give it to the Archbishop of York. The dear old soul doesn't get on very often. His belief that churning laudable ideas and religious assertions together constituted some sort of insight, was really quite adorable. However, the heart cannot rule the head when it comes to something as important as the Clemmies. We have to ask ourselves, if this had been delivered by Anne Atkins or Clifford Longley, would we consider it worthy of such an honour? Sadly, seen in this light, the answer has to be no.
Turning to Clifford. Yes, as I say a respectable performance, but no more than we would expect from the Platitude of the Year 2010 winner.
Which brings it down to a straight fight between Rhidian Brook and the Chief Rabbi. You can probably guess where I'm going with this. Much as I admire Rhidian's uproariously funny attempt to created profundity, wrapped in a work of art, there can surely be no doubt who gets the year's last Clemmie.
For that bold Jewish fight for the freedom to suppress all other religions and chop bits off of baby boys' penises, the final Clemmie of 2011 goes to The Big Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Baron Aldgate.
What an inspiration to freedom fighters around the world that will be. Well done Jonathan!
There was once this man. No, honestly there was, I knew him well. He's not at all a literary fiction designed to embody certain characteristics that tend to typify people about this time of year, and this year in particular, and that you might expect from such a celebrated author as myself.
Anyway back to this man. He was able to mention the latest fad in mass TV programming and quote G.K. Chesterton. He could mention financial terms and even knew what some of them meant. This was a man to be reckoned with, a man as well read and well informed as, oh, me for example.
Now this totally non-fictional man who isn't me and that I know well, was useless at keeping new year's resolutions. He'd resolved to read the Big Book of Magic Stuff from cover to cover but rapidly got bored by its tedious, contradictory, often badly written and largely irrelevant prose. In these difficult economic times, he was determined to find a resolution that even he could keep. He decided to quote Mark Twain and a phrase from Robert Burns made famous by John Steinbeck. He even managed to squeeze in a passing allusion to Dickens, just to remind you how well read he was.
His set of resolutions was a blank page (a somewhat overworked metaphor you might think, but he probably wasn't as advanced in literary craft as a celebrity, Christian writer like myself - or alternatively, he couldn't be bothered to waste an original metaphor on a radio slot where he didn't get paid).
He consulted the great god Google. (Did you hear that? I managed to combine the idolatry of false gods with our dependence on technology. Oh, I'm on fire today, or rather he
He turned to the last paragraph of the last page of the last book of the Big Book of Magic Stuff, and there...
Well, no, actually it's not the last paragraph, it's verse 4 out of 27. It's almost certainly not the last page because there is no standard page layout, and it isn't even the last chapter, as there's one more chapter to go in Revelation before it appears. I just knew some nerdy, scientific type, with their obsession with "accuracy", would go look it up and make a big deal about it. You're so predictable. It's called artistic license, you wouldn't understand.
Anyway, it says in the Big Book of Magic Stuff, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
And he ended the last Thought for the Day, on the last day of the year, with a phrase that was intended to be profound, but was instead hilariously platitudinous.
Hasn't 2011 been just terrible? It's been awful. Absolutely abysmal. There's youth unemployment and all sorts of social ills.
Fortunately, Christianity invented something called "hope". This isn't just blind optimism. It isn't.
Christians also invented things called "faith" and "love". The Bishop of Liverpool might think the phrase "God is Love" is too vacuous, but God is Love, and this is not a contradiction. God is the ultimate reality. It is.
A famous theologian thought love was a really good thing, so it must be true.
Since love and hope are such good things, faith must be too. A child told me that faith was believing what you know isn't true. Foolish child! Don't worry, we will soon correct such wrong notions. Nor is faith simply a crutch for those who can't accept that the universe wasn't made for our benefit. It isn't.
To show how correct everything I'm saying is, my charity collected the money to switch on an old woman's heating. That's how right I am.
We, and by we I do of course mean you, have the ability to transform from an ugly, selfish, sinful pond nymph, into a beautiful, generous, virtuous dragonfly.
This programme is all about leaders, which is why they have important religious leaders like me on. There are two types of leaders. There are political leaders, people who seek power, like kings, who fight their petty little wars and are soon forgotten. Then there are important religious leaders, whose words inspire and bring hope to the masses of ordinary people.
Important religious leaders, whose wisdom and humility echo down through the ages, never seek political power. They are not the kind of people who try to control others or bend them to their will.
The Big Book of Magic Stuff has many examples. Who, for example, remembers any of its kings. Names such as David, Solomon and Herod are largely unknown. Whereas, among the prophets, who can forget the unforgettable Obadiah. The words of the famous Haggai are so famous that I need not even quote them. A famous poet agrees with me, so I must be right.
In our own time, there are such inspirational religious leaders as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. With their vast reserves of cash, I would just like to say how admirable and wonderful they are. I didn't get where I am today without telling the rich and influential how admirable and wonderful they are.
Then there are the ordinary people, teachers and nurses, the kind of people we don't allow on Thought for the Day. Although not as important as great religious thinkers such as myself, I'm sure they go about their humdrum little lives in a reasonably competent fashion, possibly doing something vaguely useful from time to time.
In the tough times that we face ahead, the inspiration of we great religious thinkers will be even more important and relevant than ever before.
The marvellous Tracey Emin has asked me to provide a thought for you today. We have one of this marvellous artist's work in my cathedral. What a marvellous work this is, it is a neon sign with the word "love" in it. Marvellous, is it not? Who but such a marvellous artist could have created a marvellous neon sign with the word "love" in it? It says it all marvellously, does it not?
The Hayward Gallery put on a marvellous display of this marvellous artist's work. Some of those marvellous works also included the word love, as well as Christ and the cross. Emily Bronte mentioned love too, which just goes to show how important love is.
Tracey, I call her Tracey due to us both being marvellous, might expect me to say here that God is love. That would be too predictable. An empty, vacuous platitude, unworthy of this illustrious slot. In fact, the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend never said this and it only occurs a few times in the Big Book of Magic Stuff. Therefore it may, or may not, be true that God is love. I think my point here is clear.
If, and I emphasise if, we were created by the Invisible Magic Friend, which we definitely were, then that creator must be able to love. For it is clearly impossible for a creator to create anything with attributes that it itself does not possess. A few moments thought will soon convince you that there is not a single counter-example to this.
Tracey has another marvellous work with words in it that include "love". These words on a blanket could have wrapped the baby Invisible Magic Friend. They didn't, but they could have. Indeed, of the infinite number of things that could have happened, this is one of them. They could also have been stained with blood by Herod, the evil baby murderer of ancient Judea and not a marvellous artist of any kind.
His Grace, Bishop Angaelos, Patriarchal Exarch for the Youth Ministry at the Patriarchal Center and the Coptic Orthodox Theological College, Stevenage
Tuesday, 27 December, 2011, 08:19 AM - Christian persecutionRating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)
Things are not going well for Christians in the Middle East. We used to be top religion, where everybody did what we told them to. Now another religion is top religion and they're making life very difficult for us.
Some Christians in the Middle East have already celebrated Christmas, unlike the Coptic Church, which, more properly, uses the correct Julian calendar - an eternal calendar, that is not swayed by the passing fashions of astronomical alignments. Whether they use a heretical calendar or not, Christians are increasingly having to flee from the Middle East to seek a more favourable climate in other traditional Christian centres, such as Stevenage.
You would think that the recent revolutions and the arrival of democracy would make things better for Christians. It turns out that the rule of the majority, when the majority all belong to the top religion, seems to make things even worse for non-top religions. I think there may be a message in here somewhere about mixing religion with politics and the benefits of a secular society, but for the life of me I can't think what it might be.
Some of the people from the top religion are even manipulating the feelings of the electorate. Yes, I know, shocking isn't it?
Fortunately, we can place our trust in the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, who arrived 2,000 years ago proclaiming peace and hope in the Middle East. Things have just been getting better and better there ever since, apart from the occasional little hiccup like the current century and most of the previous ones.
Rev Canon Duncan Green, Church of England Olympics Co-ordinator, LOCOG Head of Multi Faith Chaplaincy Services
There's only 215 shopping days left to the Olympics. But don't panic. Me, and my Olympic standard multi-faith staff are training round the clock to make sure that the 193 Olympic chaplains are in peak physical condition.
While thousands of athletes are running round in circles, throwing things, splashing about in the water, or kicking and punching each other, the Olympic Multi-Faith Chaplaincy will be praying that their religion wins gold. May the best religion win.
At this special time of the year, when we remember the True Meaning of Christmas, the birth of the baby visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, let us extend a hand of welcome to all the peoples of the wrong religions that will be visiting us this year. Friendship, generosity and hospitality is something that comes naturally to we people of faith. It's something that non people of faith could really learn from us.
From Norwich, it's the bishop of the week, Mind-blowingly Reverend Graham James, Lord Bishop of Norwich
The rules regarding adoption are to be reviewed.
Parents. Babies. Adoption. It's Christmas Eve. I wonder where I should go with this story? Hmmm... difficult one. I hadn't anticipated such an awkward news story appearing. Somehow I've got to relate parents, babies and adoption into what I was going to say about the True Meaning of Christmas.
I mean, if one of Jesus' parents had been an adoptive parent then I think I might have had an angle on this. Oh, wait! Joseph was! Phew, that was a bit of luck! Brilliant! That means I can talk about the visible bit of the invisible Magic Friend becoming visible after all.
Joseph was initially going to split up with Mary due to her having a baby that he couldn't recall playing any part in. Fortunately, the Angel Gabriel informed him that she'd been blessed by the particularly invisible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend and that the baby was in fact going to be the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend. This came as considerable relief to Joseph who decided to stay with her while she remained a virgin for the rest of her life. Presumably Joseph did too.
With all their fussy rules about protecting children, those politically correct bureaucrats gone mad down at the town hall, probably wouldn't have allowed Joseph to adopt nowadays, even when he told them about the Angel Gabriel. Joseph wouldn't have learned about the way children mess up your life. My wife and I had to constantly cancel our wild parties and boozy nights down the pub.
And that is the True Meaning of Christmas.
Happy Christmas to you all!