Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Joy to the world

Really enjoyed out carol service at Grace Community Church.  This video was shown half way through-really makes you think.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Everything sad will come untrue

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." So begins Dickens in his Tale of two cities.  And for many people this will be their experience of Christmas.

I reflected on this when we had our surgery Christmas meal the other evening. As I gave my little  spiel summarising the year, I reminded folk  of some happy events (one of our young receptionists had had a baby), and some less happy ones, since one of our nurses had passed away so prematurely. And I added that Christmas,  highlighting and accentuating life's joys and sorrows can be a stressful time for many.

It is unimaginable to think of those dear children in Connecticut and their grieving parents. Such events bring home to us both the preciousness of life and the deep seated longing that we have for a better world. In the season of Advent,  Christian believers look back and celebrate both the first coming of Jesus, but also in anticipation of his second return, when he comes back to finallyl renew and fix or all things.

I read out just a short quote from Lord of the Rings, in which towards the end of the book Gandalf encourages Sam after Sauron's evil reign had come to an end,
How do you feel?’ he said. But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’
‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.
How do I feel?' he cried. 'Well, I don't know how to say t. I feel, I feel'-he waved his arms in the air,-'I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard.'
And so these lovely words from the mysterious book of Revelation giving us great comfort and joy as we face the future...
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

Bring it on Lord!

Friday, 21 December 2012

"Call for rethink over older cancer patients"

So trumpets  the BBC in yet another side swipe for the poor old GP. Listening to Radio 4 this morning I hear a representative from MacMillan discuss cancer treatment for elderly people. It is suggested that more assessments should be made to determine the suitability of treatment for elderly people so as not to inappropriately treat some nor unthinkingly deprive others of treatment.

I sometimes wonder what I have been doing for the last 30 years. I've been privileged to remain in one practice through all that time and have consequently grown old with my patients. I think by now I should be in a fairly good position to help patients (and their relatives) whom I've known for much of that time, make decisions when faced with serious illness. But apparently no, there needs to be more assessments.

So can a nurse or social worker or junior/senior doctor, apply some proforma to a patient whom they have never met, or perhaps met once or twice, and come up with the 'right' answer with regards treatment? It seems to me that it takes courage to decide not to have active treatment when faced by cancer. And yet this often proves to be the most suitable approach,  even when there is a possible gain  of weeks or months, since much of that time may be occupied by debility from the effects of the treatment. Knowing a patient well really adds to the potential usefulness of the decision, to either go for treatemt or not, and who frankly may not be helped by an unknown professinal completing a mere proforma.

Such check lists and proforma have not served the NHS well. Hence the person who rings NHS direct with chest pain and receives a 999 ambulance irrespective of the fact that it is a 26 year who has been showing off in the gym working his pectorals too hard and has consequently got sme muscle soreness.

We are suffocating in a world of check lists and proformas.

Monday, 17 December 2012

A Connecticut winter-why our hearts break

'It's only words and words are allI have....' How hard it is to find words that match the tragedy in Newtown.  I found this short piece by Rebekah Lyons from qideas helpful.  She concludes...
As Christians, here we are in the midst of Advent. December, the month we earnestly reflect on the coming of the Christ child, who became flesh as the Savior of this world. And yet we are still longing, yearning for Christ to put the world to rights—to re-make this place into one where the cold-blooded murder of innocents is no longer a reality, where pain and sickness disappear, where all things are made new. Our hearts cry out in unison, out of loss and longing for this new heaven and earth.
For those who renounce faith in God, these feelings still rear their mysterious head in the face of such devastating loss: the loss of children, beauty and the best humanity has to offer. In these moments, our Creator brings to the surface something we intrinsically hold deep within—a longing for something greater that feels just beyond our grasp.
Richard Rohr speaks of this longing in his book, Falling Upward. Of homesickness. That is what this earth is groaning for. We long for a home where wrong is made right. Where sickness takes flight. We long for redemption where death raises to life.
“Wouldn’t it make sense that God would plant in us a desire for what God already wants to give us? I am sure of it.” Rohr writes. “There is an inherent and desirous dissatisfaction that both sends and draws us forward, and it comes from our original and radical union with God. There is a God sized hole in all of us, waiting to be filled.”  
In the coming days, we will learn more about each victim. Empathy will flood us high. We will relive their stories until our stomachs can’t bear it. And we will grieve, again and again. We dare not numb ourselves to it—those persistent and welling emotions—such grief can take us to new depths of brokenness and surrender. And in those depths, is the realization that mourning brings comfort, that above all, there is a God waiting to rescue in our darkest hour.

To read it all check out here.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A time to leave the ploughshares

I've just enjoyed a lovely weekend in the beautiful town of Ypres in Belgium. I wanted to go back there so that Liz and our girls could experience the Last Post ceremony, so faithfully persisted in every night since 1929 (except for the  hiatus of the second world war). It was a privilege to be there especially with a group of German schoolchildren laying a wreath at the Menin gate where the names of 55000 British and Commonwealth troops are recorded.

I've had an interest in the Great War (aka the First World War) since school days, and my interest only grows with each new book I read or each visit I make to Ypres (500,000 British troops alone lost their lives in the Ypres salient).

Aged 100 years
I've just read A time to leave the ploughshares:a gunner remembers 1917-1918. It is a story recalled by William Carr. He had been a farmer in Scotland, but at the age of 32 years enlisted for active service,  whereupon he was seconded to the Royal Field Artillery. It wasn't until he was 90 years old that he returned to the scene of his service, and subsequently was encouraged to record the recollection of his wartime experience. The extraordinary detail of his memories is contained within the book. It is not a detailed account of the great battles nor of the various forces of nationalism at play during those times. Rather it is a story simply told. Of the loss of colleagues, of the stench of death and decay, and touchingly towards the end of the book, the account of his command of his battery during the offensive of 1918. He knew he had a large group of retreating German soldiers within the range of his guns which he accurately deployed to devastating effect,
'I could see the road black with retreating men. I could scarcely believe my eyes. It was like a crowd leaving a football match. "Prepare for salvo and five rounds of gun-fire," I ordered.
I had to wait a few minutes for them to reach the target area. The first men, moving rapidly, were nearly there, probably thinking themselves lucky to escape.
"Fire!"
I shuddered and felt jubilant. What happened next is a recurring nightmare. I hear the salvo on its way. Judged by the report of the guns it is almost perfect. The range is six thousand yards, shells are 103, the most efficient at this range. 
What is happening? Grey clad figures are falling in all directions disappearing in a cloud of smoke. I feel dazed, close my eyes and remember I am a soldier. There has been a pause. I pull myself together and order:
"Repeat!"
The smoke and dust have cleared. Men are lying all over the road-others have bolted into trenches alongside. Now two jump out of a trench and lift up a wounded man. I hear the roar of the second salvo-would to God I could stop it. The wounded man is raised up. I can see clearly-a stretcher is brought. They are in the centre of the target....please God stop the salvo....but no - a direct hit.....the wounded man and the rescue party are no more. I Weep .'
As the guns blaze in Syria, Israel and Gaza, it's salutatory to reminded of the personal effects of the power of such weaponry. perhaps the fact the Gunner Carr to actually see the effect of his weapons explains his telling comment of weeping.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Monday, 10 December 2012

Creation evolution and hell

My friends know that I am a big fan of Tim Keller. In this intriguing interview I would suggest that you can see why. Interviewed by Eric Metaxas (he of Bonhoeffer fame), Keller discusses an aspect of his view on creation/evolution ( a progressive creationist!), as well as science and the Bible. He debates the challenge of hell and the problem of Rob Bell, as well as the fate of those who have never heard about Jesus. And then for good measure, why commuting long distances into church is not a good idea.

New Canaan Society 2012 Washington Weekend Eric Metaxas and Tim Keller Fireside Chat from New Canaan Society on Vimeo.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Small screen-big impact

At our church we have had a Sunday evening series looking at the influence of the small screen on our culture. Whether it be costume drama, talent shows or the presentation of the news on the TV, or gaming and pornography on the internet. About all of these areas, except internet pornography, we have been able to say much that is positive. Whether it be the creativity or giftedness of human beings-made in the image of a generous creator God, or that sense of story that is built deep within us for meaning and purpose, which so many of the costume drams bring out. Yes there is also exploitation, and time wasting and the banality of celebrity, but I've been surprised by how much we have been able to celebrate about TV and the internet.

Internet pornography is a completely different story. It fell to me to speak to the issue. I didn't attempt a seminar, not engage in a diatribe. What I did attempt was to acknowledge just how pervasive and enslaving internet pornography is and how sad to is to see so many children ensnared by it, both by watching it and also being forced to be involved in it.

I built my talk around the Thomas Chalmers idea of the 'expulsive power of a new affection'. Since all the studies show that many pastors and Christian lay folk are watching some  pornography, I felt it right to focus upon the positive immensity of the love of God, as described by Paul in his amazing prayer to the Ephesians chapter 3

Take a listen to my attempt  here if you would like. And do catch the other talks here.

I'm glad to know that there is a good deal of help available. Check out www.xxxchurch.com or www.safermedia.org.uk or www.safetynet.org.uk.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

All in God's hands

There is a recurring theme of trust in the providence of God throughout the collection of John Newton's letters gathered together in,  The aged pilgrims triumph over sin and the grave,  published in 1825. Writing to close friends in 1794 he says,
I am sorry that your nerves, or spirits, or whatever indescribable things the are, on which the comfort or enjoyment of life so greatly depends, are still very poorly; sickness and health are in a higher hand than that of an earthly physician, and if the Lord is pleased to lay an affliction upon us , no one can take it off without his leave or before his time. Events are at his disposal, but the use of prudent and probable means is our part 
Nothing about practising medicine in the 21st century nullifies these wise words.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Advent 2012

I've been a Christian believer since I was 16 years old. For most of that time I've been a part of churches which do not use regular liturgy.  However for the last couple of years I've grown increasingly attached to certain aspects of the Prayer Book of the Church of England.  Although I still greatly value the spontaneity which extempore prayers provide, there is a sense of being part of a body of believers going back through the centuries, as one prays some of these ancient prayers. Take the collect for the first Sunday in Advent, (added by the Cranmer in 1549 and included in the 1662 Prayer Book).

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee, and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Even though Christians look forward to a great future in the renewed heaven and earth, we are not called to sit back and wait, as though this 'mortal life' was just a waiting room. This prayer reminds us that our life is an, 'incubator for our future and enduring life. And every moment of this life is accompanied by Him who visited the planet in great humility' (Barbee and Zahl).

As the Prayer Book epistle for today reminds us in Romans 13.14, 'let us be Christ's men from head to foot' (Phillips' translation). All of life truly matters.

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...