Monday, 29 July 2013

A time to kill?

Stephen Grady was just 15 years old when the German army overran his village of Nieppe in Northern France in 1940. Towards the end of his life at 87 years he feels the time is right to record his wartime experience as a young teenager in the French Resistance. It is a remarkable story simply told in Gardens of Stone: My boyhood in the French Resistance by Stephen Grady.

He thought nothing of cycling 60 miles (and pushing another bike!!)  to collect downed Allied airmen and deliver them in to another safe house. He endured a spell in Loos prison for defacing a downed Messerschmidt with the graffiti, Long live the English airmen who shot down this filthy Kraut! And then hanging around to collect memorabilia, only to be captured by a German patrol, and all whilst Stephen was only 15!

Truth is nearly always more powerful than fiction, and in his account of shooting a German soldier in cold blood, there is a pathos that is lost when one simply reads the statistic of the millions that died during the conflict. For various reasons,  he had been delegated to shoot a German officer who was having an affair with a French waitress. The German in question had been boasting that he  knew the names of many of the Resistance in the  local village and thus couldn't be allowed talk. And so, walking into the cafe, with Luger in pocket, Stephen shoots him.

  'The German officer, is he here?' I ask with all the casualness I can muster.
  'Why? What do you want with him?'
  'I'm looking for work....'
  The old woman narrows her eyes and sucks air through her teeth. Finally she calls out: 'Hans, there's a young man here. Say's he's looking for work.'
  He is right there, just behind that wall. A man called Hans.
  My mouth goes dry and my stomach lurches...a moment later, a tall fair-haired man in his early thirties appears from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a cloth.
  I do my best to swallow. I was expecting him to be in the khaki uniform of the Todt organisation, with a scarlet swastika armband stretched around his bicep. Instead, he is in shirtsleeves and a pair of pleated corduroy trousers, thoroughly off duty. Perhaps he was doing the washing up.
  He is a German officer I remind myself,  he has threatened to talk.
  In no great hurry, Hans sits on one of the bar stools opposite me. He folds his arms.
  I reach for my glass then think better of it. My hands would give me away.
  He looks me up and down.
  'What is it you want?' he asks in perfect French. No accent. He even smiles.
  Madame retires to the kitchen.
  I put my hand in my pocket.
  Now. It's now.
  I leap to my feet. The Luger jumps wildly in my hand as I pull the trigger, once,  twice,  at point bank range, First his chest and then just above the waist.
  Hans screams in a far-off voice and glares at me, his eyes full of shock and rage.
  So loud, I didn't expect the gun to be so loud.
  His shirt is all messed up.
  I am just standing there, holding the gun.
  And then his eyes disappear into his head, and he goes down.

Later when reflecting with his older colleague, who had commended him, Stephen said,
  'Thanks'. I am surprised to find that I feel no elation, no warmth in my belly at the thought of having killed a Kraut. I just feel numb and hollow inside.
The whole book is understated and fascinating as it records the conjunction of almost normal family activities, with clandestine Resistance work, and the sadness of communities punished by Nazi reprisals.

It's a very worthwhile read.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Is love ever wasted?

On the day when it seems the whole world is rejoicing at the news of Kate and William's new born baby born, it's perhaps not inappropriate to stop and think about those parents who today may have received more difficult news about their baby.

Today I read an article in the journal of the Christan Medical Fellowship. It was about baby Millie who was born to consultant oncologist Martin Scott-Brown and his wife Frances.  Millie had life shortening abnormalities of her brain and facial development. Earlier in the pregnancy the parents were given the option of termination, with the comment that, '98% of parents in your position would terminate the pregnancy'. Their's was no easy decision, but was helped by an apparent chance meeting with someone who recommended a book (The shaming of the strong by Sarah Williams, a parent who had been in a similar position), which brought hope and clarity to their situation. They began to see their future daughter, 'who had been given to us by God, not as a medical problem to be faced, but a daughter, however imperfect to be treasure and loved'.

At Millie's funeral her grandad made reference to Mary Magdelene, who had washed Jesus' feet with her hair and had gone on to lavish her seemingly priceless perfume on him, much to the chagrin and criticism of those present. What a waste! Was the near universal cry-although such sentiment was far from Jesus' lips.

Love is not a currency like money. Economics shouldn't come into it. Love is something freely given.     Indeed St Paul tells us that love bears all things and hopes all thngs (1 Cor 13.7). If God had waited for me to be worth loving, it would be an extremely long and fruitless wait. Jesus demonstrated extraordinary love for all and sundry when he walked the earth, and today, every now and then we get a further glimpse of what God's love is like. As Martin and Frances Scott-Brown 'wasted' 2 years of their life loving Millie, so they experienced the grace of God in their lives, humbling them and yet increasing their capacity to love. Their's is a beautiful story simply and powerfully told. In no way is it a criticism of ofhers who may have made other choices.

Do read the article here, http://www.cmf.org.uk/publications/content.asp?context=article&id=26067

Spotting the sick child

There's alot of paediatrics in general practice, and one of the most important aspects is the ability to spot the sick child. Like most other skills in life, there is no substitute for experience, but web-based learning tools like the website, www.spottingthesickchild.com from NICE are very helpful indeed.

I was reminded of this recently when I telephoned the duty paediatrician at my local hospital to admit an acutely unwell child. The young paediatric SHO rather sternly asked me what I thought the diagnosis was. I had to say to her that I really didn't know, other than to say that I considered the child poorly enough to warrant urgent admission and assessment. And that it what matters most.

So whilst attending a GP update at Great Ormond Street recently I was gratified to hear my convictions confirmed when  the paediatric A and E consultant from UCLH told us, 'Dont worry about the diagnosis, worry about how sick the child is'. What a very useful mantra. He was also keen to point out that children decompensate quickly. Hence all the more reason to act quickly.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

The shape of our lives

Since becoming a Christian at the age of 16, I have spent most of that time in churches which are non-conformist, in other words 'non-Anglican'. So I am more familiar with prayers which are spoken spontaneously rather than read from a book. However as I get older I appreciate more and more some of the historic prayers, some of them written centuries ago. One particular type of prayer is what as known as a 'Collect'.

The collects are short prayers which in one form or another have been around since the 5th century, but are largely known in the Western world through the efforts of Archbishop Cranmer who updated them for the first Book of  Common Prayer in 1549.

The collect for today is,
God whose providence is never deceived, we humbly beseech thee that thou wilt put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Don't worry about the archaic language, but read on for the excellent explanatory comments of Barbee and Zahk from their superb book, The collects of Thomas Cranmer. 

'God whose providence is never deceived, is an arresting phrase. The idea is that the purposes of God in the world, in our lives, and in every circumstance that we can imagine, cannot be turned aside......We can be deceived. The fact that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, is proof that no human being is invulnerable to deception. God is the great exception....This being the case, we can trust the shape that our lives are taking. The plan or big picture will not be derailed , even by the heaviest breathing deception (my emphasis).

Convictions like that should give the Christian believer much quiet confidence throughout life.

Great stuff.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

When the music stops

Euthanasia is a very sensitive subject. No-one who has been present at the death of another underestimates the power, finality and sadness of the event.

Just a couple of years ago I recall a TV documentary showing us the last few hours of a lady who had chosen to go to the Dignitas 'clinic' in Swtizerland in order to terminate her life. The image presented was of an ageing woman who had decided that her imminent and worsening frailty was not worth the effort of continuing to live, and she was apparently completely at peace with her own death. She lay in her hotel room with Mozart playing as she took the drugs that were to arrest her  breathing and lead to her death.

What struck me however was that soon after her death the music stopped. The assissitant saw no need for the music to continue, a life had been extinguished.

Just this past Sunday I gave a short talk at our church on one of my favourite hymns-How sweet the name of Jesus sounds-written by one of my heroes. It was scribed by John Newton the former slave ship captain, who converted to faith in Jesus Christ and who eventually became a Christian minister for 16 years in the small market town of Olney where I have been in practice for 30 years. He is most famously known for his hymn, Amazing grace.

In the last two verses of How sweet...Newton says,

Weak is the effort of my heart
And cold my warmest thought
But when I see Thee as thou art
I'll praise the as I ought

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath
And may the music of Thy name
Refresh my should in death.

Ah, now that is  lovely thought, May the music of Thy name refresh my soul in death.  The lady in the Dignitas clinic was of the opinion that, when you're dead you're dead. She offered no hope beyond the grave. But the Christian goes into the apparently uncharted waters of death following one who has faced death and defeated it. The music doesn't stop, but grows and grows though a crescendo of joy that makes Handel's Hallelujah chorus seem like the faintest squeak of a mouse. This is one of the greatest privileges for those who simply place their faith in Jesus Christ.

'O death where is your sting?  O grave where is your victory?'

Monday, 1 July 2013

Christians behaving badly

A previously homeless patient handed this £20 'note' to me the other day. He has very little money and not surprisingly was delighted with this happy 'providence'. Imagine how he felt when turning the folded note over, he read the words, 'Don't be fooled, Jesus is the real thing'.


Oh dear, I have to say I was dismayed by the tackiness and insensitivity of it all. Reading the gospels, Jesus is certainly straight with people, but he did not set out to humiliate and fool them. OK Christian believers are to be as wise as servants and harmless as doves, but are we called to be smart alecs?? Hmm...


Riding my bike around my home town today, I come across this notice board outside a Christian church,


I fail to see how the invitation we may give to our friends, colleagues and workmates, to come with us to church to hear the Bible taught and to experience the family of God meeting together, should be restricted to those who are 'well-disposed'. The Bible offers a wonderful invitation to 'all who are thirsty', or in the words of Jesus, 'come to me all who are weary and burdened' (Matt 11.28).

There are enough barriers and obstacles in the way of  people in our secular culture without making the gospel decidedly unattractive. As Paul says to Titus, we are indeed to 'make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive' (Titus 2.10). Thank God our only 'qualification' is our sense of need.



A light touch

Just pebbles Its great to be back in the Hebrides. Although lots of rain is forecast this week, yesterday was a pleasant surprise. So we...