Thursday, 28 February 2013

It was ninety years ago today...

Dad and mum on their 60th wedding anniversary 
Within hours of his 85th birthday my dear dad 'Jacko', died 5 years ago. Today would have been his 90th birthday. He died peacefully and surrounded by his small family at St Johns Moggerhanger, the Sue Ryder hospice  just outside Bedford.

Just 2 months before he had been diagnosed with a temporal lobe brain tumour. I was with him when the consultant neurologist broke the news to him, and my dad's reaction was typical in gently denying what the doctor said. In response to the neurologist's prognosis and the inoperability of the tumour, dad gently shook his head in disbelief and simply said, 'I wouldn't be so sure, we'll see.'

What followed was a very gradual decline and a growing loss of independence, which for someone who had been so active until his illness, was accepted with remarkable grace and peace. I was fortunate too be granted regular compassionate leave by my partners which gave me the opportunity to take dad out on at least two afternoons each week. They were simple and yet lovely times, just pottering around and going to garden centres, and once going to Lidl's-which latter had previously been a favourite haunt of dad's.

I can't pretend we enjoyed profound conversations during these times, but just simple conversation, which in many ways summed up the sort of dad that he had been. Faithful, consistent, unassuming, and loyal, a dad to be proud of and to be thankful for. Thanks be to God that I have been blessed with such lovely parents.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

It was harder in the old days

Somedays I feel sorry for myself. Perhaps I feel overworked even if not underpaid. So tonight I get home about 7.15pm having started at the surgery at 8am. Since that time I have been consulted by 46 patients, with varying problems, from difficulties of heart rhythm, to sinus problems, to work related stress, to problems of drug misuse, to babies with rashes, to kidney stones, to.....OK you get it. And then add the 30 patients who I discussed over the phone, then the  2 visits to frail elderly folk, and then the multiple prescriptions that needed checking and issuing, and then the completion of a report on a young patient who wants to joint the army and, yea I think I've done my bit for the NHS today.

But then I recall Dr Arthur Wakefield, a medic and member of the Mallory team of 1922 and the attempt to scale Everest. He had travelled to Newfoundland in 1908 to help with the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.  For six years there he lived a tough life, treating all and sundry as one of only two medics in the land. With the outbreak of war in 1914 Wakefield was at the forefront of encouraging young Canadians to join up fight. Wakefield didn't stay in Canada himself and soon was soon at the western front, working in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Wakefield was eventually stationed behind the lines at the Somme towards the end of 1915. An avid diary writer, the only day he missed was July 1st 1916-a date well known to us now as the first day of the Somme offensive in which nearly 30000 British and Colonial troops were killed. Writing on July 2nd 1916 he noted,
Never in the whole war did we see such a terrible sight. Streams of motor ambulances waiting to be unloaded...the wounded had to lie not merely in our tents and shelters, but in a field of five or six acres, which was covered in stretchers placed side by side, each with its suffering or dying man on it. Orderlies went about giving drinks and food, and dressing wounds where possible. We surgeons were hard at it in the operating room, a good hut, holding four tables. Occasionally we made a brief look around to select from the thousands of patients, and those fortunate few whose lives and limbs we had time to save. It was a terrible business. Even now I am haunted by the touching look of the young anxious eyes, as we passed along the rows of sufferers.
Abdominal cases and others requiring long operations simply had to be left to die. Saving of life by amputation, which can be done in a few minutes, or saving of limbs by the wide opening of wounds, had to be thought of first. There, all around us, lying maimed and battered and dying, was the flower of Britain's youth-a terrible sight if ever there was one.*

It's very humbling to read this and perhaps gives me some perspective on my working life. Of course war brings unique circumstances to bear, and in someways the wearing down of dealing with relatively minor problems has a different set of stresses. But still, hats off to these doctors of a bygone generation.

*This quote taken from,  Into the Silence:The Great War, Mallory and the conquest of Everest.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Faith and work...thank you Mark Greene.

Good to read Mark Greene from LICC with a punchy little article on the vital importance of taking our faith to work-but not perhaps in the way you might have thought...

' The gospel is good news for work; good news for the actual work we do, for our fellowworkers, for the institutions we serve and the nation we are called to disciple.
Yes, the contemporary UK workplace is tougher, faster, more pressured, more beset by anxiety, more unstable than it was ten years ago. Yes, many Christians don’t feel very confident about ‘sharing their faith’. There is fear in many hearts; a sense, as Professor Trevor Cooling’s Transforming Lives research among teachers showed, that in the workplace our faith is not ‘an asset to be celebrated but a problem to be managed’. Nevertheless, every workplace is a mission field and every one is a foreign country. Some are warm and open to gospel values and some are cold and closed, but God is Lord of all of them.'
And responding to stereotyping he goes on...
'Sadly, many Church communities give Christians the impression that the only thing that really counts for God at work is evangelism. But saved souls are not the only fruit.
‘Take your faith to work’ is popularly understood to mean, ‘Look for an opportunity to verbally proclaim your own belief in Christ.’ But it ought to mean something more like: ‘Go to work knowing that God is your Father, that you have been chosen, saved, sent, empowered by the Holy Spirit for good works where you are, supported by the people of God, trusting that God can work in and through your colleagues, and in and through you, to bring about his good purposes in time.’ Take that to work.
Read the whole thing here.

Preaching that softens our hearts

" I do not think that preaching the law generally softens men’s hearts. Hitting men with a hard hammer may often drive the particles of a hard heart more closely together, and make the iron yet more hard; but oh, to preach Christ’s love—His great love wherewith He loved us even when we were dead in sins, and to tell to sinners that there is life in a look at the crucified One—surely this will prove that Christ was exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins. Come for repentance, if you cannot come repenting. Come for a broken heart, if you cannot come with one."

From The precious blood of Christ 1 Peter 1.19 by Spurgeon 1865.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Love is all you need

So day 2 of the Lent challenge which comes from the Stewardship organisation, The tag line is, 'encouraging you to do Lent generously'. And the challenge for today is of course about, love. What would the greetings card industry do without Valentine's day?  And today I actually got it right!! Making the first cuppa of the day I hear a scream from upstairs as my wife opens my lovingly chosen £1.90 card from M&S and realises that she has failed to get me one. No problem, surely love is about giving not getting (hear endeth the pious lesson of the day).

So love. How can I 'do Lent generously today? An opportunity quickly comes my way as I park my car in town and notice a rather dishevelled and gaunt looking, hooded lad waiting, indeed loitering on the pavement. Here goes and with £2 pounds of cash ready in my hand I approach him and ask gently, "Are you short of cash mate"? "Nah, it's ok buddy, I'm just waiting for my mate to take me to work."
Oh well, that'll teach me for making instant assumptions (I guess I'm not alone here).

"Anyway thanks for the offer mate."

Yea, it's the thought that counts. Ahh.

Monday, 11 February 2013

A good death-2

Continuing from my last post on the sensitive subject of euthanasia, perhaps the single most influential aspect of the argument in favour is that for autonomy. This boils down to the bold statement, ''it's my life and I can do with it what I like". In many ways this is the mantra of our age in which choice has become it's all conquering dogma, from the choice of energy suppliers, to breakfast cereal, to doctors, to cars, choice is everywhere.

In the opening chapter of A time to live, George Pitcher brilliantly analyses the growing self-absorption in our culture throughout the last 50 years. Writing about the 'swinging Sixties', he notes,
At a distance of half a century, the Sixties are widely perceived as being less about a self-generating miracle of fresh and youthful energy, directed at replacing a bunch of war-mongering squares and fogies, and more about the triumph of selfish individualism at the cost of self-awareness.
He goes on to say  that the Me-generation of the Sixties has gradually morphed into the Gimme Generation at the turn of the Millennium
What for thousands of years had been revered as the sanctity of life had developed a death rattle. A ghostly pallor was on the cheeks of the age old idea that every life was of equal and limitless value. If everything else in the span of our human existence was tradeable and biddable, if all life's products and services, from health care and water supply, to education and prison services, even spirituality and other 'quality time', then why could death not be bought and sold? Truly free markets started to offer us not just the life we wanted but the death as well, delivered as one of our entrepreneurial service industries, life and death had become commodities.
Professor John Wyatt argues very strongly against autonomy as a reason to change the law in favour of euthanasia. In his excellent Cambridge Paper he notes,
Indeed we risk the lives of valued citizens such as police officers to try to save the life of a man attempting suicide from a bridge. Why risk precious lives in order to save someone who doesn’t value his own life? It is because our society, though penetrated by liberal individualism, is still deeply influenced by Christian ideas of solidarity, interconnectedness and mutuality. ‘…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
And he summarises his thought here,

Life together

Lent has come one day early. Leading up to Easter, I've decided to read a daily sermon by Spurgeon brought together in a book called, Sermons on the blood and cross of Christ.  It may not sound enticing, but boy do these sermons pack a punch.

Last night Martin Salter spoke at our church in the series on Core values of our church. His was called Together and not separate. He pointed out that the very existence of the church (in both a universal and local sense), is a demonstration of this maxim. In bringing together so extraordinary diverse a group of people who belong to even the smallest church gathering, God's power is at work. So, rich and poor, sorted and unsorted, educated and uneducated, employed and unemployed and so on, being all part of the same body of believers is unique sociological fact. And meeting around the Lord's table (aka Communion) is a wonderful visual demonstration of this.

In Spurgeon's sermon Our Lord in the valley of humiliation, he speaks from the New Testament  “And being found in fashion as a Man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” Phillipians  2:8, and considers how (strong-willed) individuals can be melded together in the church,
PAUL wishes to unite the saints in Philippi in the holy bands of love. To do this, he takes them to the Cross. Beloved, there is a cure for every spiritual disease in the Cross. There is food for every spiritual virtue in the Savior. We never go to Him too often. He is never a dry well or a vine from which every cluster has been taken. We do not think enough of Him. We are poor because we do not go to the gold country which lies round the Cross. We are often sad because we do not see the bright light that shines from the constellation of the Cross. The beams from that constellation would give us instantaneous joy and rest if we perceived them. If any lover of the souls of men would do for them the best possible service, he would constantly take them near to Christ. Paul is always doing so—and he is doing it here. 

So what's the best tactic for fostering unity in a church? Take them frequently to the cross.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A good death-1

It was good to meet yesterday with Sharon Crisp's A level RS class at Wootton Upper School. I was asked to speak on the sensitive subject of euthanasia (literally a 'good death') from a Christian perspective.

There is growing pressure for a change in the law to permit assisted suicide and yet another bill is going to be presented to the House of Lords by Lord Falconer in May of this year (there have been three previous attempts since 2006). This impetus largely comes from the group formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society now rather misleadingly renamed the Dignity in Dying group. I say misleading because although there is a claim that the organisation works for improved end of life care, their real raison d'ĂȘtre is a push for a change in the law favouring assisted suicide. It's an important point to make because in countries such as Holland where assisted suicide is permitted there is a corresponding lack of palliative care facilities and research. Indeed where there is the option to take one's own life at a time of one's own choosing, where is the need to provide excellent resources and care for a patient slowly dying over their last 6-9 months of life?

I would say that there are several reasons why we should  oppose  a change in the law. One of them is the signal it would send to disabled people. Our culture is rather sentimental and ambivalent about disability. On the one hand we idolise the 'superhuman' paralympians, and yet on the other there is a-perhaps unspoken-suggestion that some disabilities result in a life 'not worth living' (this argument also applies to the increasing pressure for abortion where abnormality is noted in the foetus). Baroness Campbell says this so much better than me, and so we watched this short video in class with the students.

Another time I'd like to think about autonomy and the question of being a burden to others adding to the pressure for a change in the law. There is an organisation called Care Not Killing which provides helpful resources in opposition to assisted suicide.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Gems from Dick Lucas

Great to hear Dick Lucas on fine form yesterday morning ( and in his 88th year!!).

He spent the morning reviewing the second letter of Paul to Timothy. Lots of gems but a few highlights from my notes,

  • Paul needs people around him and he needs books to sustain him-2 Tim 4.9-13 (pastors who spend most of their time in the study need to get out amongst people)
  • Some translations can cause us problems by presenting an unrealistic spirituality. Since we cannot reasonably claim to 'long for Christ's appearing' (2 Tim 4.8 NIV) as a daily experience,  we can however claim to have, 'loved his appearing' (ESB). A subtle point but well observed.
  • Paul's primary advice to Timothy was to 'keep his head' or remain 'sober (''be sober minded' 2Tim 4.5)'. A balancing act to think though in the light of Paul's injunction to the Ephesians to be 'not drunk with wine but to be filled with the Spirit'. This latter best understood as not a loss of control but rather to be 'under the influence of the Spirit.
  • 'Most people's doubts are second hand'. A great observation about many of our friends and the views that they may hold about the 'unreasonableness' of Christianity. Dick pondered on this point in the light of the 'irreverent babble or godless chatter' of 2Tim 2.16.
  • 'Fanaticism is as dangerous as liberalism'.
  • Dick spoke of the danger of a 'superior' view of spirituality ('who say the resurrection has already happened' 2Tim 2.17), although Dick challenged the assumption made by others over his years of ministry, that he did not believe in God's ability to heal. Dick pointed out nonetheless, that oftentimes 'faith is shown most wonderfully when God says "No"'.
Perhaps his most useful comment was to me in personal conversation when he acknowledged that one of the great advantages of getting old is that people can tell you their most intimate problems and you forget what you have been told almost straight away. So confidences are preserved by default!

Long may he thrive.

Friday, 1 February 2013


The Bible is a very big book. Rather longer lasting than the News of the World although sharing a tag line that 'all human life is here'.

One aspect of the Bible (ok genre for clever clogs)  which gets neglected is what might be called the laments of the Bible, those parts of the Bible where needy people cry out in extremis for God to do something about their situation. Laments are to be found in many of the Psalms and other books like Job and the catchily titled Lamentations.

In most of our Christian meetings we like to celebrate the greatness and the goodness of God, and especially the amazing accomplishment of Jesus Christ in his dying and rising. That's great and I love to do it, yet somehow we need to find a space for lament, where we can identify with the tragedy and helplessness of the world, whether it be human trafficking, enfoced child soldiers, the horrors of war, or the ever present anguish of starvation. Not of course in all of our services, but sometimes and somehow.

Seaking personally it's often music that enables me to connect with the sorrows of the world, and Les Mis certainly did that for me recently. But one other piece of music also does it, it's the theme from Schindler's list. I just came across this YouTube video of Itzhak Perlman playing with the composer John Williams who is conducting. Please forgive the interviewer at the beginning with the unforgivable Mo.

ps For those of you interested there's an excellent lecture here on Praying the Psalms given by Gordon Wenham at Southern Baptist Seminary where he makes some helpful comments on how Christians might use the laments of the Bible in their prayers.

Books on prescription

I sometimes think I live in a parallel universe. So I read today of a 'new' scheme for books on prescription to be launched in May. The Society of Chief Librarians and the Reading Agency have announced the scheme with support from, among others, the Royal College of General Practitioners. The idea is for GPs to write 'prescriptions' with recommendations for a suitable title, particularly  for patients suffering from mental health issues, to be obtained from local libraries. But many GPs have been doing this for years.

I thought I would give my top three books which I have recommended countless times over the last few years.

1. Overcoming Anxiety by Helen Kennerley.  This is an excellent read clarifying the basic principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. It has useful chapters on relaxation and breathing exercises in addition to  a simple explanation of the link between negative and anxious thoughts and their physical accompaniment. Not a big book so doable by most patients.

2. Say Goodnight to Insomnia by Gregg Jacobs. This is far and away the best self-help book I have read on the pervasive problem of insomnia. It's been great to see patients  significantly helped by applying the principles here. It too uses a cognitive behavioural approach, but with some creative and counterintuitive ideas such as sleep restriction, which has proved so helpful for my patients.

3. Feeling Good by David Burns. Slightly dated and rather wordy, but the first half of the book is wonderfully helpful to those patients battling with depression. The chapters on 'disorders of thinking' such as catastrophising and negative self thoughts are at the core of the book and when understood and grappled with by the patient can be very therapeutic.

Get reading!

Preachers and oysters

My preacher hero Charles Spurgeon died on this day in 1892. What an extraordinarily gifted man he was, and really quite a wit,
I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close.

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.