My Favourite Tourist Destination: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 29 September 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. Listen in here.


On the first morning of a holiday, I get up early and go running. Wherever I am, a run shifts my body-clock, gives me the vibe of the place, and serves as reconnaissance for the best coffee joints.

I’ve been lucky to travel in life. Looking back on my journeys, it’s the running I remember most: hurdling tree roots in the Costa Rican jungle, sprinting around Istanbul’s Taksim Square, racing the clouds along the River Liffey in Dublin.

But you can’t holiday every week, so I was thrilled upon moving to the UK to discover parkrun ­– a national movement of free 5K runs for the whole community. Every Saturday I can show up to my local London park, or be a tourist ­at one of more than 700 parkruns across the country.

If I’m not on holiday, it’s my favourite tourist destination….

…Where diverse people gather to run, or walk, push a pram, roller-skate, jog a dog. If they don’t want to run, they volunteer ­– or just cheer. That was a shock at my first parkrun in Birmingham. All around the course, people clapped for us, rang cowbells, yelled “Come on! You can do it!”

I was like: “Am I actually in Britain? What is this bizzare experience? Oh wait! It’s affirmation and public joy!” At parkrun, even the stereotypical British reserve is transformed. It’s so good for us that GPs have started prescribing it.

As a Christian, I think the inclusivity of parkrun is something many churches could learn from: how to celebrate diverse community, how to help people speak of the goodness running through life, how to welcome newcomers.

Once at a Brighton parkrun, the host gathered all us tourists and first-timers and said: “One of the main impediments to trying a race – one of the biggest fears people have – is that they’ll humiliate themselves and be the last person across the finish line.”

“But don’t worry about that,” he said. “We have a volunteer whose job as tail runner is to make sure everybody else gets across the line first. At parkrun, no one has to worry about finishing last.” I mean, how good is that?

I thought of Jesus, whom I believe always takes the place no-one wants: the last place, the losing place, so we don’t have to worry, so we can experience a life run not by fear but by freedom.

So, happy tourist running, good people. May you be surprised by a good vibe and public joy.

What Am I Thankful For?: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 22 September 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. Listen in here.


One Christmas Eve, my husband and I took a late flight to my hometown. We arrived after midnight to my sister and brother-in-law’s house, and crept quietly down the hallway so we didn’t wake our niece and nephew, aged 8 and 4 at the time. They had no idea we were coming.

At dawn, we heard them run downstairs, ready for presents. My sister texted us to make sure we were awake, then told the kids that their first gift was hidden under the duvet on the guest room bed. We heard their feet quick on the stairs, our door creaking open, they came in curious, we could hear them breathing, wondering aloud what the big lump under the duvet could be – two bikes, maybe a small pony?

Finally they pulled back the covers. We yelled “Surprise! Merry Christmas”, and their faces lit up with shock and delight. For a second they had no words, then they screamed, “It’s our uncles!”. They jumped onto us, laughing, full of love. I tear up just thinking about it.

My sister filmed it so we could watch how happy they were when they found us. To search for something ­– and to find it – is a beautiful thing.

But what I remember most from that Christmas morning is how wondrous it was for me to be found. Our niece and nephew did the finding; but my husband and I got to experience the joy of being looked for, being discovered.

Sometimes in spirituality we’re in active search mode ­– we’re looking for wisdom, we’re seeking hidden treasure. And that’s important.

But I think it’s also important to realise that we are the hidden treasure being searched for – and to let ourselves feel the gift of being found.

The old hymn says it: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, I once was lost but now am found.

As a Christian, I believe God has already found each of us. Before our first breath, actually, before our first opinion, before we know anything, we have been found. That’s what I’m most thankful for.

And when I forget, God reminds me again, in the moon seeing me on a night walk, in a friend calling out across the pub, in a child’s delight, in a song loving me through the radio. Thanks be to God.

My Proudest Achievement: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 15 September 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 – about learning to admit that I am wrong. Listen in here.


I remember the night I sat across the table from my friend Mark, with a notebook in front of me. In the notebook, a long list I’d been making for weeks. Mark and I’d met in an addiction recovery group. And I was at a crucial place in the recovery process, which suggested that I make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself – and then admit it to another person.

Mark said, “why don’t you open the notebook and start by sharing the things you’re scared to death of telling me?”

The thing is, I was scared to death of the whole list! Some people’s proudest achievements involve conquering their fear by climbing a mountain or running a marathon. For me, it was jumping out of an airplane into sobriety and hoping that the parachute would open.

Now, I trusted Mark – he’d been there before, on the other side of the table – so I took a deep breath and jumped. I went through every item on that list: every resentment and my part in it, every story, every offence and failure. I surveyed the inner wreckage of my life – and to the best of my ability, I described the exact nature of my wrongs.

It is the most profound spiritual experience I’ve ever had – coming clean about everything, having it held by Mark with compassion, looking at it all with a liberating honesty. Later on, the recovery process suggested I make another list – of people I’d hurt – and that I try to make amends and put it right.

It’s weird, I know, to name this as my proudest achievement. It’s not something you’d normally put in a trophy case or on your resume of accomplishments! It’s not really even an achievement ­­– it’s less something I did and more something other people helped me into.

Still, it’s the truth. Honestly. My proudest achievement is that, quite well into adulthood, I started learning how to say: “I was wrong”.

And not just to say I was wrong, but I am wrong, because in my life, at least, there’s still plenty of daily material to confess.

In my opinion, the world would be better if we all tried this, people of faith, agnostics and atheists all together. Instead of signaling our amazingness all the time, can you imagine if prime ministers and presidents and all of us started with: “You know what I struggle with? Or “let me tell you about a time recently that I was wrong.”

We could all be proud of that.

Where Were You When?: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 8 September 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 – about Jesus and walls of oppression coming down. Listen in here.


There was no Twitter in 1989, of course. I heard on CNN that the East German government was allowing crossing over the border into West Germany. The violent incarceration of a generation of people since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 – was over.

I was born in 1975 in the US, in the middle of the Cold War. And its images were seared into my mind – from history books and spy movies. Images of a world split by hatred, divided by a wall of hostility and barbed wire and weapons.

But also images of people risking everything to cross the wall – climbing over it, tunnelling under it, jumping from windows, breaking through borders in the boots of cars. Sometimes successful, often not, but people never stopped trying because, as it’s said: “once a truth is seen, it cannot be unseen”. It lives inside of us – rising and bracing, until it shines out.

On the afternoon of November 9, 1989, I was 14, in front of the television after school, transfixed by crowds of people ­– young people, old people – dancing on the wall, hammering holes in it and reaching hands across to friends never met, busting barriers and popping champagne bottles.

At Christmas that year, my grandma asked me to write a prayer for the family dinner. I didn’t know how to pray, but I wanted somehow to thank God for the crumbling of the Iron Curtain. I found a Bible verse: “Christ is our peace. He has made us one and broken down the dividing wall, the wall of hostility between us.”

A couple years later, my grandma travelled to Europe, and she brought me back a fragment of the Berlin wall, a palm-sized chunk, you can see the graffiti on it. She said: “I remember what you prayed.”

A generation has passed since then. I’m 46 now, not 14, but I still have that piece of concrete. For me, it’s a sign that walls still need to come down ­– in Afghanistan, around the world, in my own judgmental heart – but it’s also a trust that their foundations are already broken beyond repair. The battle is not over, but in a sense, it’s already won, because what’s been seen cannot be unseen, and the truth is shining out.