Saturday, 22 August 2009

Pearls before swine

'Flu pandemic closes church'

I haven't seen that headline yet but I guess it will happen. And it's set me thinking. In our church we have begun to think about how we share communion- that is how we practice the Lord's supper or Holy Communion or breaking of bread or whatever other phrase you care to use-and all because of pandemic flu. It seems that there is lots of advice to the effect that we should not use a common cup, nor share one loaf. I think that's shame. And for a couple of reasons at least.

There is just something especially meaningful about all drinking from the same cup-it sort of emphasises the democracy of the gospel. All one in Christ Jesus (as the Keswick motto has it) no matter what social status, experience of being a believer or role within the church. We are in it together, we are the family of God.

But secondly I cannot deny that it all seems a bit weak and cowardly. Of course tragically some people have died of the pandemic flu (although it has thus far been much less potent than predicted and the British Government has been criticised for it's over reaction and enthusiasm for prescribing Tamiflu by the World Health Organisation as reported in this weeks BMJ). But it just seems as if we Christians in the West are soft. Whilst fellow believers in Muslim countries face harassment and worse, we join them in 'sharing in the sufferings of Christ' by worrying over whether we might catch swine flu from our brother in Christ. It's not exactly the persecution Paul had in mind when he wrote to Timothy that, everyone who wants to be live a godly life in Christ Cesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).

Maybe we just love life too much. it just seems ironic that we who have faith in Christ and have such a hope for a new heaven and new earth are so minutely anxious about death. OK common sense is needed-stay away from the service if you have a fever, or if you are in a precarious medical state-but for the rest of us? 'Gird up you loins', I say,

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Is faith delusion?

Chapter 1 'Psyche' means more than mind.

Andrew Simms uses much of the first chapter to make a plea to other psychiatrists and mental health workers for the acknowledgment of spiritual and religious factors whilst assessing patients in their mental distress. He criticises those psychiatrists whose approach towards patients with religious conviction is to assume psychosis-indeed he opens with a quote from a consultant psychiatrist reported in 2000 as saying, 'all religious people are psychotic'!

But before he gets to that he begins with a brief account of his own journey into psychiatry-it's really very moving as he quotes from Proverbs 31.8-9, 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy'. To my surprise I had never really made the connection as a follower of Christ to view mental health patients as particularly 'worthy' of support and care. In a sentence he tells us both of his calling into psychiatry and also makes a subtle point about the inappropriateness of using the word delusion in matters of faith,'my conviction (which was never a perception nor, since it was always amenable to reason, a delusion) felt to me then like a vocation , a 'call from God'. Remember this is the academic who has written the standard text to UK trainee psychiatrists on descriptive psychopathology-so he should know precisely what words such as delusion mean.

He stresses the integration of the person and the unhelpful distinction which has been made between physical and mental illness, 'doctors should get away from seeing the flow-chart in their minds that sends 'physical' and 'mental' in different directions'.

In discussing the importance of spiritual concerns with regard to the patient he reports a psychiatrist who told him once that, 'none of her patients had ever alluded to spiritual issues and it was therefore an irrelevance'. Simms goes on to say, such doctors should be cautious; not reporting psychological, or emotional or spiritual distress may reflect the quality of communiction between doctor and patient rather than the absence of such causes of conflict'.

The rest of the chapter is a plea for taking the spiritual dimensions of life seriously. He gives various definitions of spirituality coming down on the side of Rowan Williams, the cultivation of a senstitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love'.

I can't pretend it's racy read, but his plea for the essential unity of the person and the vital importance of spirituality is well made. As he concludes the chapter he tells us, 'what I greatly respect in a spiritual person is this sense of yearning-for a better world and a better self'. Yea me too. If we are just biological genetic cocktails why is this need for meaning so pervasive?

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Restraining grace

Paul Tripp has some very helpful-if rather challenging- things to say about the power of sin in our lives. Nobody likes talking about sin, whether we are a convinced atheist or an overly introspective Christian-or one of the many shades between. Nonetheless it's important to appreciate some of what the Bible teaches about it since it provides an essential backdrop to why we so very much need the Christian gospel of salvation. Don't let my jargon put you off, read on...

'sin is so pervasive and so comprehensive that it influences everything we do and everything we say...it causes us to place ourselves at the centre of our universe. Sin causes us to set up our own little kingdom of one, where our desire is the functional law of the land. And as little kings we want to co-opt the people around us into the service of our kingdom purposes.'

It's not a pretty picture but alas it's eminently verifiable in experience (or as the medical scientists say these days, it's evidence based!). Tripp goes on to say, 'every situation, location and relationship you're in every day is made livable and tolerable by his grace. Every day God keeps us from being as wicked as we have the potential to be.'

This is taken from his excellent book of 52 short chapters from Psalm 27.

Don't lose the shock!

I was talking to a patient this week who has worked in very senior positions in a number of companies. We were discussing how new employ...