Friday, 31 December 2010

O death where is thy sting?

2011 sees the 400th anniversary of the Authorised version of the Bible (also known as the King James version). There are many phrases which even now feature in everyday speech-the blind leading the blind, sign of the times, and lots  more. One of my my favourites is, O death where is thy sting?

As we come to the end of another year it's perhaps not inappropriate to think about one of the few unmentionables in our culture-death. In today's Guardian newspaper there is a leader which begins,

In these final days of the year, many will fall to thinking of those lost in the course of it, from the famous – John Dankworth, Jean Simmons, Michael Foot, Charles Mackerras and Beryl Bainbridge have been among the conspicuous departed of 2010 – to the recently dead among their own families and friends.
How we deal with the prospect of death in some ways defines us. As a Christian believer I don't pretend that at times the thought of my own death doesn't unsettle me, and yet I have a fundamental conviction that because Christ conquered death I too can have great hope beyond the grave.

I've been reading John Newton's letters to his adopted daughter whilst she was at boarding school,
'You sometimes intimate that you are afraid of death, I wonder not at it. For you are a sinner and I hope to see you a believer, and then you will not greatly fear it, while it is at a distance, and whenever it is comes very near you will not fear it at all. Mr Harris and is gone and so is Mr Campion, and neither of them was more afraid of death, than you would be afraid of a coach that should stop at the gate and take you home to us. Jesus died to make death safe and comfortable to us'
The coach at the gate? A lovely thought.

That most secular of publications, The Guardian,  ends its editorial which had mostly been concerned with an interesting guest feature on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme  about cemeteries, with the rather surprising thought,

Ms Athill and Mr Naughtie were guided round Highgate by a volunteer, herself in her 80s, one of those who in graveyards great and small across the land have redeemed past neglect and made these rewarding places in which to wander, to meditate and to be serious.
 Wandering, meditating and being serious about death is not a forté of our culture.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Nativity

Just watched the final episode of The Nativity on BBC. It was truly beautiful. Catch it on iPlayer in the next 5 days before it's too late!

Cannot remember the last time I was so moved whilst watching the tv. The story of the incarnation is so familiar to me and I was taken aback by the power of it all.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

'I counted then all out and I counted them all back'

I was sad to hear today of the death of the journalist Brian Hanrahan who died yesterday at the age of 61 years of colon cancer.

In the early days of the Falklands conflict he was based on HMS Hermes when a number of Harrier Jump jets left on a sortie. Government restrictions prevented him giving any real detail of the mission but he was able to provide wonderful reassurance by coining the phrase, 'I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back'. It was an inspired choice of language and eventually found its way into the Oxford Book of Quotations.

Words really do matter. Communication skills are absolutely vital not just for journalists but also for doctors. Over many years I taught communication skills to undergraduate medical students at the Royal Free Hospital school of medicine (Now UL!!). They were often underwhelmed by the subject and found it rather soft and of somewhat secondary importance to the glamour of transplants and implantable defibrillators. How I wish I could have fast forwarded their careers 20 years. Much of the stress of being a doctor can be obviated by anticipating patient's concerns, explaining procedures and prognoses well, choosing language carefully and being a first class listener. All this and more under the rubric of communication skills.

Patients will forgive a wrong injection, a wrong diagnosis and perhaps even failed treatment, but seldom forgive rudeness, insensitivity and thoughtlessness. When a formal complaint is made against you, you'll wish taken communication more seriously.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

'When I'm 64'

Pensioner moi??
Every once in while we have humbling experiences  Sometimes our pride catches us out and at others its just our folly. Our self image is a powerful force which varying in intensity between different people, determines our mood, our daily activities and our generosity amongst many other characteristics. For some of us it can be over-inflated.

I was humbled last weekend when upon entering a car park I was greeted by a friendly attendant with the words, "only two pounds for you mate-we've got to look after our pensioners...this government won' I will."

Now for some of you this would have been a relief-saving a quid-but at the tender age 57 summers (well actually 56 summers, but 57 years-I was born in Autumn!), I was briefly mortified. Surely I don't look like a pensioner? Why it was only a minute ago that I was at school. And I'm so well preserved!  It must surely have been the flat cap and the unshaven appearance?

Well, whatever it was, this dear chap thought I was further down the road than I imagined I was. And in many ways we all are. So get your botox, go to the gym and wear 'young people's clothing' (one of my female work colleagues commented derisively about Pamela Stephenson on Strictly Come Dancing, 'she's a 60 year old dressing like a 30 year old'!!) if you must, but the years will roll on if you are spared. Somebody somewhere will call your bluff eventually.  And certainly our maker and creator,whom we must all face, is not fooled and we must all pass his way.

I was reading this morning some of the most well known verses in the Bible and yet again the beauty and wonder of God's sacrificial love struck me,
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life John 3.16

I may age in this life, but because of the Christ  who went to Calvary via Bethlehem I need not 'perish'.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Terry Jones, Teresa May and Jesus

Terry Jones came to the attention of the UK first by threatening to publicly burn a copy of the Koran. He has now been invited to speak at a rally of the English Defence League in Luton. And just yesterday he and his church attracted yet more attention by encouraging his member to protest outside the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards the wife of former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards. She died just a few days ago at the age of 61 years. She was a noted gay rights and anti Iraq war spokeswoman.

Terry Jones is a Christian pastor and yet his approach to those he disagrees with is not Christlike. Take a look at this short video of pastor JD Greear whose sentiments I share

Ask Anything Friday 12-10-10 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Thirty years ago today John Lennon was shot dead outside of his New York apartment in the Dakota building.

Being a boomer baby I grew up with his music, and the Beatles are still a staple for me to enjoy and listen to. John Lennon was in many ways a genius with enormous artistic talent. Perhaps his most famous composition is Imagine. And yet like much aspirational poetry I'm not sure how well the lyrics stand up to scrutiny.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Haunting and beautiful in their way, but the lyrics lead us nowhere. The implications are that there is some utopian world which exists only whilst we are alive on earth and which is spoiled by religion and rescued only by a brotherhood of man. But even in his own life there was no real brotherhood of man, with tensions especially between him and Paul McCartney.

OK 'religion' screws alot of people up. But I would want to argue that Christianity should be distinguised from religion. The essence of religion is a code of behaviour required of the adherent to appease a god or  in some way merit divine favour. The sheer relief of the Christian gospel is that in its essence it is good news of what God has done for us (not what we do for him) in sending his only Son to die in our place and bear the judgement that our sins deserve.  So the Christian life is one of gratitude, not 'trying to be good'.

Check out this site to explore Christianity further. Use the zoom button to make the text easier to read-and make sure it's full screen-it's worth the effort!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

I've not seen it all before

I've worked in general practice for 30 years and frequently seek to reassure patients who are about to show me something that they would rather keep hidden that, "I've seen it all before".  I realised this week that that is far from the truth as I was consulted by a young mother who was concerned about her 13 month old who had managed to eat half of a cigarette. My instinct was to immediately reassure her, but upon reflection, reading and consulting the national poisons line, I changed my tune.

Nicotine in tobacco is a toxic alkaloid called solanine (the same toxin as occurs in deadly nightshade and the green of potatoes exposed to the sun). Ingesting nicotine chemical results in a build up of the  neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. At lowish doses it causes nausea, vomiting and palpitations and at higher dosages may cause delirium, paralysis and death! Apparently ingesting 5 cigarettes or half a cigar is enough to kill an adult!

Fortunately my patient recovered apart from a few hours of vomiting. I've lots to learn yet.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The other RAC

Thanks to my friend Trevor Yorke who sent me the link to this 'random act of culture'.

He tells me that the organ at Macy s has 25,000 pipes compared to the one at The Royal Albert Hall which 'only' has 9,999 pipes!  You never know when such knowledge will come in useful.

And for the background to the Macy's organ story-go here (after the ad)

A message from the other side

No, not that side! But thank God got through surgery ok yesterday. And thanks to all for love support and prayer.