A Divine Scandal – a BBC Pause for Thought

Here’s the text for the 6 March 2023 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.


February was LGBTQ+ History Month – and I thought about Pride Parades from over the years. My first was Nashville, Tennessee, just after I came out in 1995. Not exactly ancient history, but things were different then. Only about 200 of us gathered to walk through the city-centre. I remember passing by the bar, Hooters: in one window the waitresses cheered us on. In the next window, the drinkers offered us a colourful display of rude gestures.

Another memorable Pride was 2010. I was helping start a new church in Chicago. And one of our first events was marching together in a parade packed with 2 million people. Our fledgling congregation included gay and straight and trans folks, but most of us had never been so public before about our faith.

We were nervous as we queued to march. But we believed God had given us a message we had to share: that God is for all people. And so edgy as we were, off we marched with rainbow flags, a cross held high, and postcards we gave out, printed with different versions of that message:

LGBTQ or Straight: you are loved.

Believer or Doubter: you are loved.

Tattoos or Suits, HIV-positive or HIV-negative, Cubs fan or Sox fan, you are loved.

That last one ­– Cubs fan or Sox fan – is the American equivalent of saying something as scandalous as ‘God loves Liverpool *and* Man United’.

As we passed out those postcards, we talked to people, we hugged and high-fived people, we paused and prayed with people. And something beautiful happened along the way. We had imagined ourselves blessing the crowds with a message of love, but we realized really quickly: we were being blessed by the crowds even more. Fueled by their energy, our nervous band of inclusive evangelists came alive like a joyous flashmob.

When we reached the end of the parade, one of the straight guys in our church said to me: “Pastor, that was the most fun I’ve had in my entire life. Please can we go back and do it all over again?”

Desmond Tutu often preached: God’s love meets us right where we are – but never leaves us there.

I believe God has always been that way. The same God – of history, of today, and the world to come – is God for all people. LGBTQ+ and straight, socialists and conservatives, football fans and Hooters waitresses. The list goes on and on. It’s a divine scandal – God’s love bringing us all together and showing us the way to something totally new.

Humanity on the Tube – a BBC Pause for Thought

Here’s the text for the 27 Feburary 2023 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.


I sat down on the Tube and as it left the station, I caught a glimpse in the window of my ever-expanding forehead marked with a smudge of dirt. It was Ash Wednesday, when some Christians ponder what we humans are made of. And in case we’ve forgotten, we go to church to receive a reminder: a cross of glorious mud traced right onto our faces.

At the next station on my Tube journey, the doors opened and a young Muslim guy got on. He sat in the seat just to the left of me and opened his Quran, the holy book of Islam. He held it on his lap and prayed quietly, whispering verses from the scriptures. He was almost singing them. It was beautiful.

And then, at the next station, the doors opened and – I promise I’m not making this up, y’all – a young Jewish guy got on, dressed in a long suit and traditional black hat. He sat just to the right of me, and he leaned forward, he held his face in his hands, his sidelocks tassling over his fingers.

The three of us sat there next to each other, and I felt like I was part of the beginning of a joke – “So, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew get onto a train….”

But more than a joke, I felt like I was the recipient of a blessing – one of those rare times in life when you get the luck or the grace of being in the right place at the right time. You did nothing to ask for it or plan it – it just happens. And when it happened to me that Ash Wednesday night, I felt a deep joy – a comfort, actually – that I get to be part of this beautiful crowd called humanity.

The blessing wasn’t just the guys to my left and right: the whole packed-out train felt like a gift – people on their phones, kids twirling on the poles, folks of different spiritualities, atheists and agnostics, too. People different in every way, but all of us held together.

The philosopher Sartre said: Hell is other people. And don’t get me wrong: I can go there, too. When relationships are twisted, when politics are warped, when someone cuts me off in traffic. But that rush-hour on the Tube, other people seemed like Heaven. All of us connected, whether we were conscious of it or not, by the glorious, unearned gift of being human.