Cut is the branch

cut is

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man.

Faustus is gone; regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendfull fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits. [Exit.]

(Scene XIV. Marlowe, Christopher. 1909-14. Doctor Faustus. The Harvard Classics)

Just Pray advert, is it in the real world?

The purpose of advertising is to gain attention and to put over a message that people will remember. Remember that.

I think the ad is cheesy and really quite odd in the way it’s presented but I do get the message that prayer is relevant in our everyday lives.


I have been though some deeply terrible situations where I have been incredibly supported through prayer. Friends have prayed, I have prayed and the connection between people and God has been profoundly evident. For those who have not experienced prayer I can quite understand how strange it must seem. But I would say that for me prayer is not a ceremonial uttering of words during a church service but a dialogue or connection with God that is always open. The presence of God and our conversation with him is something which is there in every situation – we carry the presence of God into all situations no matter how small. For me the realisation that we can have a dialogue with God at all times was a turning point for me. I don’t get down on my knees or go into a linguistic spasm, I just talk. It works.

The Just Pray advert was supposedly intended to be shown in cinemas but the rejection of the advert can only have been a good thing. The emotional engagement with the film has been intensified and the attention it has gained has been significant. I used to produce promotional films when Mary Whitehouse was alive and kicking. A complaint from Mary Whitehouse was always considered a blessing because of the added publicity it would generate.

But all that promotional stuff is grubby isn’t it? It is possible that those responsible knew it would not meet the straight forward cinema policy and that rejection could be an advantage. The word “ban” being a stretch.

The reaction against the ad seems to suggest that people think it is imposing some false view of the world or that religion, to use that unimaginative term, is being “rammed down our throats”. Let me just say that the manipulative way commercial advertising plugs into our deepest needs and values is quite shocking. Our lives and values are being heavily manipulated by commercial advertising agencies. Let’s not be too harsh on a campaign which in my experience is plugged into the real world.



An astronauts guide to life on earth…

“Over the years I’ve learned that investing in other people’s success doesn’t just makes them more likely to enjoy working with me. It also improves my own chances of survival and success” 

Chris Hadfield

The wood is not yet dead

woodIt doesn’t seem long since we were enjoying blossomy trees and children were playing amongst the bluebells. Now, life is retreating again and the sun is muted by washed out skies.

The wood is not yet dead just preparing for rest, and this clearing is like a house strewn with the remains of a riotous party. It is a place recovering from the excesses of time well spent.

It is peaceful here where the smell of decay is sweet. There is not much sound, only the crunch of leaves and a lone crow’s call stabbing onto into the cold air.

The wood is not yet dead and the glorious shades of yellow and red seem to insist that in even in the dark seasons  is something to celebrate.

The beauty of the wood never ends, but it also never stands still. The wood is not yet dead.

Shared journey

Some years ago I was working in a department in which the boss was unhappy with the level of productivity. He was piling on the work and unhappy that not enough work was being done and not to a high enough standard. His solution was to send everyone on an inspirational time management course. His hope was that we would all get more work done and improve standards. Here’s why it didn’t work.

On the course we were encouraged to prioritise the work according to its urgency and in particular its strategic value. And so, we all became adept time managers.

At the time the department didn’t have a clear strategy and so we all worked to meet our own personal strategic objectives – these were to do with getting promotion, winning awards, working with our favourite teams. We became very confident in the art of saying no. Because there was no clear direction the staff would push back with hard questions about how the work would meet strategic aims. The boss got less done than before, and the staff became more difficult to manage.

Reflecting on this some 20 years later I can see just how valuable a shared understanding of vision and purpose is for the work we do. A failure to provide a clear articulation of purpose and values is disempowering for staff who will inevitably find their own direction. There is really no use in pointing a finger at difficult and under performing staff if there is a disconnect between the ideas and energy of the staff and the company vision.

Each of us is operating according to our own personal goals, passions and energies. When we talk about human resources we sometimes only count the numbers of person hours available. These calculations may look ok on the company dashboard but people need fuel to make them come alive. What we end up with sometimes is a strong, over paid manager trying to kick start an empty engine. Manipulative, bullying management doesn’t work. The ideas, passion, and goodwill of the people is the real resource we share.

Where people’s ideas and energies are valued and there is shared purpose time will be found.

Keighley stands together to protect children and condemn grooming.

The Church of England is at its best when it can bring people together around shared values. I have had the privilege of working with the folk in Keighley to launch a campaign to protect the town’s children from sexual exploitation. The aim is to bring the whole community together in a statement of unity. I share the story with you here.


The United Keighley Statement was launched tonight at Keighley Cougars stadium under the banner, ‘All our Young People Matter’

Community leaders and representatives from local organisations gathered at Keighley’s Cougar Park stadium to unite in support of children affected by sexual exploitation. The initiative, formed through a community wide partnership, invites all sections of the community to sign a statement of unity condemning grooming and committing to protect all the town’s children.

Instrumental in pulling together this community partnership has been the Reverend Jonathan Pritchard in his new role as Town Chaplain. Reverend Pritchard said, “we want to take a stand in here in Keighley and show how much we care for our young people. Whatever our background or religion or ethnicity, together we want to make our voices heard”

The United Keighley Statement sets out a shared commitment to condemning grooming and calls for everyone to work towards a town free of child sexual exploitation. Those gathered to give their support for the statement included the town’s mayor Councillor Javid Akhtar and Toby Howarth Bishop of Bradford together with Monsignor Kieran Heskin representing the Roman Catholic Bishop Marcus and Mohammed Saleem of the Keighley Muslim Association.

The Rt Rev Toby Howarth told the gathering, “Keighley has a name for coming together at times of crisis, standing together shoulder to shoulder. We can’t just hope that someone else is going to deal with it. This is our issue, this is our problem because it affects all of us together”

In the coming weeks the whole town will have an opportunity to sign the statement at venues across the community. People in Keighley will be able to sign the statement through churches schools, mosques and community centres that display a ‘All our Young People matter’ banner.

The ‘United Keighley’ statement which community groups, schools, colleges churches, mosques and many other groups have signed up to states:

Grooming children for sex is wrong: any sexual abuse of children is wrong. Whoever does it, whenever, wherever. It is morally, legally and spiritually wrong. It harms our children, it harms all of us. There is no place for it in Keighley or anywhere else. And we utterly condemn it. We want to live in a town where all children are safe from sexual predators. We want our children to be safe from abuse. We want to be safe from abuse. We, the many different peoples of Keighley, commit ourselves to work together to make this happen.

Be nice if the CofE could do some proper brand advertising

It concerns me that the Church of England for whom I work sometimes equates the transfer of text based information with communication. A word written or read out loud is not the same as a word received.

The written or spoken word in a religious context is often a kind of legal transaction which establishes the terms of membership. The words are a statement of what we are signed up to. We are connected in a formal sense but it requires creative expression to bring the meaning to life. I wish we could be more like the advertisers, or at least learn from them.growing-younger-header.png.576x260_q100

In fact, I spoke too soon! Birmingham diocese has grasped the advertising thing with both hands in this message – “we’re growing younger”. In an unconventional move the diocese wants to install significant numbers of young people in positions of leadership.

Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.

Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.  An accessible and creative brand. A live product demonstration.

It has been said that St Francis of Assisi urged his followers to preach the Gospel, “use words if you have to”, but maybe he never said those words, I don’t know. The point is that it’s the stories that make the communication – every colourful detail of how we live our lives becomes our sermon.

We are compelled to tell our story by whatever means we have at our disposal. It is no use saying that words are better than pictures or any other medium for that matter.

What matters is the connection. The famous theme at the start of EM Forsters Howards End is “only connect”. That’s just it – THE CONNECTION. We live in fragments searching for a connection and in the end that’s what we strive to achieve.

Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds

Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds positioning banking as part of your life story and values. It takes no time at all to read.

I think it is fair to say that we live in a time where the captured image is the medium of choice when it comes to communicating stories; from films to magazines, to websites.  The power of the photograph to connect with people is extremely powerful.  But we must remember that according to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. I understand from this that the words on the printed page can be spoken, and that the voice may convey images, and that the images can embody the stories.

Pictures have always been engaging and in our busy, mobile world pictures are now also extremely convenient.  An image can communicate an idea far more quickly than a paragraph of text. It is this convenience in our speeded up world that is the important thing to remember. This surge of interest in photography is not to diminish the power of words at all, it is simply to say that in our busy lives we need to keep it short. In fact pictures can assume tremendous power when accompanied by a few words of text. Poetry is a wonderful form. This leads me on the Twitter.

Twitter is a social media channel that restricts posts to 140 characters with the option of accompanying image, as you may know. The two most striking observations we can make is firstly that brevity (both in expressing and reading) is important and secondly that the message does not persist, by which I mean that it is designed to be visible only for a short time.

iPhone 6

The on-screen image is the message of this iPhone ad. Design and creativity.

So, the way we consume messages today is in the fleeting moments available to us.

As a society we are expected to be in sync with the conversations going on around us as they happen. These fragments of conversation are connected to other fragments of conversation and eventually coalesce into coherent ideas. We must be alert to the conversation.

The ideas are forming collectively with many voices participating. There is a flow and a rhythm to the dialogue which can be a beautiful thing. The connectedness of these conversations is a step towards being connected as humans and so here lies a wonderful prospect.

Yes I love photography and I love advertising because those who excel in these arts have understood that communication is about connection and  relationship not simply the transfer of information.

Relationships, reactions and turning points. Life’s a drama.

Things at the heart of good drama include – relationships, reactions and turning points. Drama is an uncertain journey where steps are taken with no assurance of the outcome. We stare into the eyes of our fellow cast members not entirely sure of where we stand. Yet we journey together dependent on one another overcoming obstacles and moving to a place of irreversible change. The appeal of good drama is that it gets close to where we’ve come from, who we are, and where we might be going.

I confess I am addicted to TV dramas. Feeding my addiction is Netflix which has given me access to many of the Scandinavian thrillers like The Bridge and American series like 24. Some of the best TV dramas here in the UK, in my opinion, have been produced by ITV like Foyles War. The BBC wasn’t very confident about Ripper Street, but I have to say the Amazon funded series of Ripper Street has been absorbing. The the dark Victorian crime story was designed and directed beautifully with compelling performances that were intense and immersive. The latest series of the BBC’s New Tricks has fallen short with some tame story lines, lack of clarity, slow pace, predictable outcomes, poor acting and little depth. It looks elderly and dated.

I am not high minded or particularly sophisticated in my viewing, I make no pretence. For me formula works pretty well. I like strong characters, a roller-coaster journey of unexpected twists. I appreciate good acting and camera direction, but for me it’s the strength of the story that keeps me engaged.

The ingredients of a good story are high stakes, dramatic turning points and a well timed beat. Take 24 for example with Keifer Sutherland as agent Jack Bouer. The formula is well worked out with stakes as high as they get – for example world war three! Every ten minutes there is a seemingly insoluble disaster and yet the hero turns it around. The characters are crude but well defined. Underneath this crudeness you get to see the mind of the writers exploring aspects of American life with the characters taking on representations of key power groups like the press, government factions and the outsider. Crude and upsetting but insightful. Foyles War gentler but reminding us of many of the atrocious things that went on in our name during the war.

The key thought in this blog post is the idea that a great life is made up of ever changing relationships and turning points. Whatever situation we find ourselves in there is always hope. The refugees flocking into the country for a better life, the loss of a friend or relative, a difficult relationship – these are all things which go into our story. We may have difficulty finding a job or wake up cornered by financial difficulties. Yet, the experience of life is that there is always the hope of a dramatic turning point.

The ingredients of a good drama include, as I say, relationships, reactions and turning points. Good acting is not about acting but re-acting – it’s how we respond that matters. A comfortable life many not afford an opportunity for drama or story and be a waste of our limited time. Risk opens up the possibility of fuller and more exciting life

Have we got the right relationships? Are we reacting to our circumstances in a helpful way and are we hopeful that things will turn around? Are we part of the story or just an observer? Are we moving our ow story forward to that all important resolution?

Islands within islands under siege

At the weekend I caught up with the controversial edition of Songs of Praise from Calais which included conversations with migrants determined to get into Britain. The programme reminded me that these were real human beings. It all seems very sad and unacceptable at so many levels. Here I am in a comfortable corner of England’s green and pleasant land, while not so far away life is relentlessly crap for these poor souls.

A common approach (which the programme may have challenged) is to 1. identify the people we want to get rid of, 2. paint them as black as possible and then 3. crack down on them. Hopefully if we have spun it right we will get a round of applause and re-elected. Politics of fear.

The government’s apparent strategy of making life hell for unwanted people seems mediaeval. I can get that an open gate would lead to chaos but allowing people to fall into abject poverty as a deterrent doesn’t seem right, does it?  It seems to indicate an absence of a compassionate strategy, and not for the first time. These people are not coming here as “tourists” they are people in desperate circumstances. They are labelled as “marauders” and “illegals” who are intentionally taking advantage of the system. The word illegal is used as though it is a fundamental part of their identity. True outcasts.

People who beak rules in desparation are unlikely to go away. Some might take the view that if the law comes into conflict with our basic human (or Christian) values then of course chaos is going to ensue. We either have to challenge the policy or adjust our values. This is where we are.

No matter what the right or wrong I can’t see that allowing refugees and asylum seekers to fall into deprivation is an appropriate form of control.  More broadly this kind of strategy could lead to a division between those whom we consider respectable citizens and the outcasts who inhabit dark ghettos.  We risk creating Folk Devils from which we must protect ourselves – islands within islands under siege. Once we use labels and repression to control people we are setting up division and encouraging conflict.

The “marauding” migrants whether legal or not are being forced to live as outsiders not embraced as brothers or sisters in need.

Peter Byrne

Just back from the funeral of Peter Byrne.  Peter was a man of faith and a huge influence on me personally. I got to know him when I was 17 and at School at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, West Yorkshire. 

peterI was potty about radio and Peter was a producer at BBC Radio Leeds – and it was thanks to him that I got my first job at the BBC. As a teenager he trusted me to make short reports about community life in and around Leeds. I’d record interviews and edit them under his supervision. Although he was a gentle and kindly soul he was uncompromising in his mentoring. How to ask the questions, getting the best sound quality, setting the scene and so on. I can hear his voice now telling me to ease off on the sound effects.

I remember going with him to record the Huddersfield Choral Society in Huddersfield Town Hall. We set up the microphones with the choir and then realised we’d left the tape recorder back in Leeds.  Peter without loosing his calm drove to Leeds and back while I kept the choristers entertained for what seemed like an eternity.  Nothing phased him.

Best wishes and prayers for Janet and the family.

Category: BBC