Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Punching individualism on the nose

This is one great talk by Andrew Wilson who speaks powerfully and personally from an apparently obscure list of names in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, chapter 3. 'Mugged by the world, but loved by God'.

Its a very worthwhile investment of 40 minutes.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


Our courteous Lord does not want his servants to despair even if they fall frequently or grievously. Our falling does not stop him loving us. Julian of Norwich
This helpful quote comes in the book I am currently reading, The art of prayer by Timothy Jones. After initial chapters encouraging the believer to accept the simplicity of prayer, and the need for quietness of soul, he moves on practically to the different aspects of prayer. And so his chapter, Facing our failings:Confession and repentance, begins with the quote from Julian of Norwich. Jones goes onto say,
Admitting in prayer what plagues my conscience, or nags at my peace, or destroys my relationships with others, helps me deal with places that need forgiveness and purifying. I am learning that confession is a wonderful way to keep my relationship with God clean and uncluttered. Confession is where my tender conscience and the love of I'd meet.
 And those wonderful words from the New Testament,

If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness 1 John 1.9 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Music to my ears

It was plain speaking Martin Luther who said, 'A person who does not regard music as a marvellous creation of God is a clodhopper'.'

That is a tad blunt, and yet what joy and comfort and even a sense of deep longing music often brings. Are we really merely chemical and biological as the new atheists woud have it? Or does our love of music point to something more profound.

By the way the Oxford English Dictionary tells me that a clodhopper is,

One who walks over ploughed land; a ploughman or agricultural labourer; a country lout; hence, a clumsy awkward boor, a clown. 
Or perhaps even an Oxford Don?

Monday, 21 October 2013

A tale of three Apples

In his book, How to think like Steve Jobs, Daniel Smith notes a tweet from the time of Jobs' death, summarising how the history of the world has been defined by three apples,
'The one that Eve ate, the one that dropped on Newton's head, and the one that Steve built'
Now there are significant objections to that mantra, after all the Bible does not recall Eve eating an apple, but rather the 'fruit from a tree', and Steve Jobs is not the Saviour of the world (although some techie Apple freaks may believe he is), but with a little (a lot?) of imagination, the three apples do (sort of) fit nicely into the Bibilcal understanding of history,
I guess there might be an evangelistic talk in there somewhere! 

Monday, 14 October 2013

The sublimest motive for the smallest duty

It was good yesterday to sing the old Wesley Hymn, Forth in thy name O Lord I go. We sang a contemporary  tune which was composed by the prolific Graham Kendrick and wasn’t too difficult to get hold of. He has modernised the language (your rather than thy etc). He’s also made some minor additions which I think do capture the spirit of the hymn and enhance it.

I’ve written before about the value of hymns Apart from the value of singing them together with other believers as a kind of mutual encouragement, they can give such help to the individual believer when words are memorised and become part of the vocabulary of one’s faith. Indeed this very hymn was on my lips many times during my early years at medical school , often using the opening verses as a prayer for the day as I left my rather less than salubrious bed and breakfast in Clapham North.

Forth in thy name O Lord I go
My daily labour to pursue
Thee only thee resolved to know
In all I think or speak or do

I don’t think the sentiment here is to suggest that human interaction throughout the day is of no consequence. It is not a plea for a sort of other worldly mysticism. Rather I see it as a prayer that in all the contact and activities of the day there would be a sense of recognising the image of God in ones fellows, and a request to follow the leading of God’s Spirit, in thinking, speaking or doing.

The second verse perhaps expresses it more directly

The task Thy wisdom has assigned
O Let me cheerfully fulfil
In all my work Thy presence find
And do thy good and perfect will

It seems to me that a here is a similar thought to George Herbert’s,

Teach me my God and King
 in all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything, 
to do it as for Thee,

 Indeed may I cheerfully live my life under God’s wise and good leadership, and may I throughout the day have a recurring sense of God’s presence. And may I do all that I do in a way that pleases God my father. The Christian disciple lives every moment with an impetus to live life well-all of it and not just the 'religious' bits. As the Victorian preacher Phillips Brooks put  it, ‘Never fear to bring the sublimest motive to the smallest duty’

Here is the Kendrick version, with some lovely stills. The words are just a little different from Wesley's original.

Forth in your name O Lord I go

My daily labour to pursue

You, only you, resolved to know

In all I think or speak or do

In your name I go Lord

The task your wisdom has assigned

O let me cheerfully fulfill

In all my works your presence find

And prove your good and perfect will
In your name I go

Be glorified in me, Be glorified in me

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Will you still need me...

Ringo was famously concerned abut reaching 64 years of age. I enjoyed my 60 birthday a couple of days ago and so far at least, I'm not getting especially worried. Indeed I'm pretty grateful for reaching the milestone in reasonable health and with a body still functioning fairly well. Daily I see many patients younger than me coping with chronic illness and it leaves me rather humbled.

I had a lovely day. Biddy and I went down to London the day before my birthday and then to the Royal Albert Hall to see Crosby Stills and Nash. They are a band I use to enjoy listening to in my medical school days, so it was somewhat nostalgic. And those guys are even older than me! They're mostly in their early seventies,  but still with great stage presence and indeed outlasting us on the night-we left at 11pm with the music in full flow, and before their encore! It was getting a bit stuffy and I felt they were becoming somewhat self-indulgent on stage (I recall seeing Eric Clapton do the same thing at the same venue).

We stayed at the Royal Society of Medicine which is centrally positioned just north of Oxford circus. It's a great location with excellent facilities. On the morning both our daughters met us there and we went off for some brunch together. It was a mild October day and so we walked though bustling London streets until we reached Conduit Street and the wonderfully eccentric and rather marvellous Sketch. Im not sure how you would describe it since its a cross between a quirky patisserie, restaurant and cocktail bar with Louis XV seating. I suggest you go there to find out for yourself!

Back at Sarah's we were joined by Owen and we all enjoyed a glass of Proeco whilst I opened my presents and a bumper collection of cards (well twenty or so which beats by some distance my usual six- ok it's nowhere near the number my dear mother used to get!!)

In the evening we went to the little 'Georgian gem' that is the Albion pub in Islangton. We had an excellent meal and enjoyed lively banter. I had had a truly fabulous  day and will in future days think back on it with real joy and contentment. Indeed it was one of those days that you just want to last forever. And that feeling is no accident, as the old scriptures put it, 'God has set eternity in our hearts' (Ecclesiastes 3.11). The instinct to 'want it to go on and on' comes from Him, for we weren't just made for finite time and transitory experience, but to enjoy an eternal new heaven and a new earth. Because Christ has conquered our past enemy of death, He has 'brought life and immortality to light hrough the gospel'. 2 Timothy 1.10.

So I feel much gratitude for reaching sixty. God has been good to me. His love has never faltered and His mercies have been immense. And indeed why me?  And I so appreciate the love and care shown to me by Biddy, Sarah and Hannah and look forward to formally welcoming Owen into our family when he and Sarah marry next Spring.

How good is the God we adore
our faithful unchangeable friend
Whose love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end.
Joseph Hart 1756

Sunday, 6 October 2013

You must remember this...

The gradual loss of memory and the associated difficulties of performing simple tasks, is a hallmark of dementia. It is generally insidious and not always noted by the sufferer, but loved ones have usually been aware of the difficulties, but have most likely been reluctant to comment, assuming it is, 'just old age'.

Thankfully there is an increasing awareness of the burden of dementia, although there is a lively debate about the merits or otherwise of early diagnosis (see recent BMJ articles and comments-although you have to be a BMA member or use library access to see it). I'm of the opinion that each case should be judged on it's merits, and that a blanket approach of assuming everyone would like to be informed is taking the non paternalistic approach of medicine too far.

For Christians and Christian churches there is a particular challenge; not to be so enamoured with the vibrancy of youth that ageing members, and those with dementia, are neglected. I was at a meeting in Bedford yesterday of the local support group for Pilgrims Homes. One particular comment from Brian Edwards the retired pastor of Hook Evangelical Church, really struck me. He wondered if churches which employed a youth pastor might also include within the remit, a responsibility to encourage the your people of the church to visit the elderly and generally show interest in them-perhaps even attending and taking services at the care homes where some of the older folk with dementia might be living.

I have been particularly struck by a verse form Proverbs 31.8
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.

In his excellent book, Is faith a delusion, Professor Andrew Sims the former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, notes that as a young Christian he was motivated to go into psychiatry on the back of that verse. It seems to me especially appropriate as we think of those (and their) carers sliding into dementia, that  we see this as a particular responsibility, particularly to speak up for them and indeed defend them. Louise Mores on behalf of Pilgrims homes has written an excellent introduction to the subject in her book, Could it be dementia? There are particular aspects of dementia which are a challenge for the Christian believer and she addresses these well. She also reminds us of great resources in the Scriptures, the fellowship of the church,  and the deep seated memories of ageing Christians who at times can pray lucidly and sing along to some of the great hymns of the faith. All the more reason to keep singing some of those great  historic hymns, in addition to the wonderful contemporary hymns of Getty and Townsend, so that the words and their associated truth get into our marrow.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Communication and the NHS

Like many other GP practices we are soon going to be changing to a new computer records and appointment system. To help with that change the new suppliers  provided  us with an information leaflet to give to patients. It's very badly written.

The leaflet tells patents when the changes are going to occur. But rather than just saying that, it talks about a "cut over" period. When I complained to the new company about the jargon, the reply was that, 'everybody in the trade has used that expression for the last 9 years.' Sadly I think they failed to realise that the document was not written for those in the trade but for ordinary mortals like you and me. How often failure of communication is simply due to thoughtlessness. Misunderstandings abound in life and GPs especially need to be masters of succinct and clear communication. Failure to understand can lead to unnecessary anxiety or even more serious problems.

The leaflet also spoke of a 'Go Live' date and hoped the change would be 'undisruptive'. What's  wrong with hoping the change will not be disruptive?

Some years ago I taught a 'communication skills' course at the Royal Free Medical School. The students were not especially interested and I spent a lot of time urging them to realise that communication  is near the top of the list for most doctors in needed skills. I guess they are probably realising that now.

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.