Thursday, 25 December 2014

The only certainty is Christ

I wake early on Christmas morning, but not alas excited by opening my presents (neither of them!). In fact the computer by the bed 'accidentally' started playing some music at 5.55am. I wake with the words of Archbishop Justin Welby spinning in my head. He had been a guest on Desert Island Discs last week and I'd listened to the podcast yesterday. The words? 'The only certainty in life is Christ'.

They seem rather abstract and a tad mystical, but they were spoken in response to Kirsty Young's questions about the death of the Welby's firstborn 7 month old daughter Joanna, who had died in 1983 in a road accident. Indeed she pressed him on some of the sorrows of the day
, such as conflict, Ebola and other tragedies (I thought of the runaway bin lorry in Glasgow and the heartbreak of a family losing parents and a child at a stroke). He quietly and calmly said,
'It is a reminder of the uncertainties of life. The only certainty in life is Christ, everything else is contingent'
The only certainty is Christ. What might that mean? I guess the love of Christ is a certainty as a constant, the presence of Christ never deserts us, the future with Christ is never threatened, and so on and on and on....Indeed my reading this morning reflects upon this, Romans 8.31-39
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[h] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[i]35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As Paul Tripp comments, on these words, 'sit in front of your Christmas tree and read these words out loud so that you will remember what the Christmas story is all about.'

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The gifts of Christmas

Great little quote from Tim Keller's Christmas sermon, 'Mary'. Keller reminds us that the coming of   Christ as a baby gives us the vulnerability that can lead to intimacy, strength in our suffering, power over our prejudices and...
'Christmas shows that God is not just concerned about our spiritual problems but physical problems too. So we can talk about redeeming people from guilt and unbelief, as well as creating safe streets and affordable housing for the poor,  in the same breath. Because Jesus himself is not just a spirit but also has a body, the gift of Christmas is a passion for justice.'

Thursday, 18 December 2014

God at work in unexpected places in unsuspecting people

Reading part of Luke 2 this morning. Joseph summoned to Bethlehem by the mighty Caesar Augustus for the census-no doubt leading to greater taxation. And the inn-keeper providing a feeding trough for the one who would be the Bread of life and the Saviour of the world.

In John Stott's excellent book, Through the Bible through the year, he notes,
'Thus the emperor and the innkeeper both played their part in God's plan without knowing it. The emperor's edict brought Joseph and May to Bethlehem in fulfilment of prophecy (Mic 5.2, Matt 2.5-6). And the innkeeper, by reason of overcrowding in the town, ensured that the Saviour of the world was born appropriately not in a palace but in a stable, not in splendour but in obscurity and poverty'

'Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity! 

"And I would gain 1000 days"

Every now and then we learn that simple thing make a big difference. So it is encouraging to hear of an article in the Journal of the Amercian College of Cardiology with bold yet simple claims.  In a large observational study involving 55,137 adults who were followed up for 15 years, those who ran regularly reduced their risk of cardiovascular deaths by nearly one half (45%), and they had an extra three year life expectancy benefit!
Your body needs you!

What was particularly encouraging was that even fairly modest running patterns conferred significant benefits. Running relatively short distances at a fairly slow pace (6 miles per hour) for as little as 5-10 minutes per day can dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease. The key is for the running to be habitual.

Occasionally I care for  patients with terminal metastatic disease.  When a new drug is offered by the oncologist, which may confer up to three months prolongation of life, for many the opportunity is too great to resist, despite the potential for side effects and failure of efficacy. Modern medicine is tempting and vast sums of money are spent on the 'wonder drug' (three months!!). Yet here is something simple and cheap, that many (ok, not all) can realistically do; just run slowly for 10 minutes most days, and your life expectancy will be prolonged by three years.

For my Christian friends I think there is a similar logic. Maybe just 5-10 minutes spent in quiet, personal friendship with God, in prayer and Bible reading, on a regular basis, would probably dramatically alter the experience of being a Christian. Maybe forget supposedly powerful 'Christian chemotherapy', do the simple things-I'm convinced you won't be disappointed.

I'd like to acknowledge Dr Peter Savill from Medstaed for drawing my attention to the article in the American College of Cardiology  2014;64(5); 472-481, and quoted in The Practitioner December 2014.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Low-tech effective medicine

The media loves high-tech, expensive medicine. Brain surgery, complex management of the critically injured person, or super specialist management of cancers gain much acclaim, and big tv audiences. But what about medicine in the second line trench? What about the soft stuff of talking and empathy and time given?

I thought about this after speaking to a patient who some while ago  had recovered from a serious brain bleed, only to then nearly succumb as a result of the treatment given at the time. She had been terrified-since she was awake during the life saving treatment-but had survived. So when I phoned her to ask how she was doing, it wasn't until I said, 'and how are things emotionally?' that the flood-gates opened. There was a pause, and then sobbing, before she was able to say that no-one had asked her that before. It had been presumed that because she had recovered, she would be living a perennially grateful and happy existence. But not so.

As we talked it became clear that the near death experience had significantly scarred her. She was experiencing flash-backs, she was struggling to do the normal things of life, like cleaning, taking the children to school and enjoying being part of a family. Indeed she was suffering from post-traumatic stress. But no-one had picked it up before, it's as if she hadn't been given permission to feel.

Hopefully with time and appropriate support and counselling she will regain her equilibrium. Of course she's mighty relieved that she survived the acute illness, but survival isn't everything. And it's in general practice that enabling a patient to live isn't so much about high tech, expensive interventions, but about the traditional GP skills of empathy, constancy (an argument against mere access as a priority) and broad picture thinking. Its not glamorous, but it's what I value most about being an 'umble GP.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Jesus the vagabond


Vagabond: A. adj. 1. Of persons, etc: Roaming or wandering from place to place without settled habitation or home. OED.


I'm not sure that I've ever thought of Jesus as a vagabond before, but having just read William Willimon's excellent opening chapter in his book, Why Jesus? I clearly need to renew my thinking. Having described the essential characteristic of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels as someone who was constantly on the move and who never accepted the status quo, Willimon goes on to say, 
Anyone who wants to meet Jesus, to understand or be with Jesus, must be willing to relocate..
And then speaking more personally, he says,

'Not only was he on the move but Jesus constantly invited everyone to join his journey. In my pastoral experience, Jesus holds little interest for people who are at ease with themselves here, now, in this place, living their lives as the world tells them, content as pigs in mud. Jesus tends to come to people where they are but rarely leaves them as they were. Conversion of thought and life, is part of the adventure of being loved by Jesus, of being invited to be his travelling companion'
So to my fellow believers I would want to say, are you 'travelling with Jesus' or have you got used to a settled existence, where all your beliefs are neatly settled and nothing much changes in your life from month to month, year to year?  Come on, get following.


And to any of my skeptic, unbelieving friends, there's nothing boring about being a follower of Jesus. It's uncomfortable at times, and indeed the lifelong process of conversion is challenging often, but would I swap it for any other way? Nah, i'm glad to be a follower of the vagabond from Galiliee.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Spurgeon the diagnostician...a kind of spiritual 'Dr House'

Many Christian believers regret that 'things are not what they were'. The sense of God's presence is lost,   the pleasure from meeting with fellow believers is gone, or there is a just a perversive apathy about spiritual things. In the August 15th  Morning by Morning with Spurgeon, he comes up with three possible diagnoses,

1. A neglect of prayer. 'A negelcted closet is the cause of all spiritual decline.'
2. Idolatry. 'The heart has been occupied with something else, more than with God.'
3. Self confidence and self righteousness.  'Pride is busy in the heart'

Not an exhaustive list no doubt, and each point needs careful unpacking. Indeed I'm only too aware of patients who self diagnose on the basis of an internet search. But it's a good staring place to help us understand the coldness of our hearts. Think about it, chat these three through with an older wiser believer and...
'do not rest satisfied with wishing for a return to former happiness, but go at once to seek your Master and tell him your sad state.....Do not sit down to sigh and lament,  while the beloved Physician lives there is a certainty of recovery of the worst cases.'  Spurgeon.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Lift up your soul!

Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143.8


It been great reading though the Psalms again. And what a helpful prayer this is to take into to any new day.


I was especially struck by the last phrase, 'for to you I lift my soul'. What might it mean to lift the soul?

A good starting point is the ESV study Bible  (by the way an excellent resource, and a very reasonably priced App at £10.49...no commission honest). And there I note that the phrase suggests 'deep dependance and allegiance'. That was helpful, but I wanted to get at the active idea behind the phrase, what is the 'lifting' all about? A cross reference took me to Psalm 25.1, To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. And there the comment is, 
'The Hebrew expression occurs in many places in the OT.....it is an idom for, 'I direct my desire'
Ah, here's the active component, for I need to direct and guide my desire. It seems that so often our Christian lives stall because of an  undue emphasis upon grace and a fear of anything that might be perceived as 'trying harder to be a believer'. We are naturally attuned to shy away from any effort as justifying us before God, but we misunderstand the subsequent responsibility we have to 'make every effort' (2 Peter 1.5) to grow.

To lift up our soul then is to consciously take time and moments out in our normal everyday to acknowledge our total dependance upon God. It means to take our desires and longings and to redirect them in a way that brings pleasure to God. That does not mean that everything becomes 'religious', but rather that how I relate to others, how I do my work, how I care for my home and garden, how I stand up for justice, how I become a mouthpiece for the gospel, how I live, matters. To lift up my soul is to bring all of my life to God.

It is about prayer. Both the allocated personal times and the moment by moment chatting to God.


'The phrase ( 'lift up our soul') portrays prayer as an act in which individuals hold their conscious identity, their life in hands stretched out to God as a way of saying that their life depends completely and only upon the help of God.'  James Mays Psalms.



Saturday, 9 August 2014

The unexpected Jesus

The Unexpected Jesus | Library | Centre for Public Christianity



Worth a look at this short clip of Francis Spufford whose book Unapologetic is (amongst much else) an assertive rejection of the New Atheism. Spufford's Christanity is not neat and tidy but his observations about Jesus are incisive and compelling.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Great War

I was glad to go to the Imperial War Museum in London today, exactly 100 years from our declaration of war. Very struck by the gallery of paintings, and especially this one by C R W Nevison. It was titled, Paths of Glory in an ironic sense with sad, bloated, decaying corpses of two Tommies, lying neglected behind the lines. It was censored at the time and hence was not granted permission to be displayed (although the artist ignored the censor). Interestingly the censor was quite happy to have images of dead German soldiers displayed. The pity of war indeed.

Photo taken today....

.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Assissted dying debate

This from Telegraph website.  Greatly admire this lady.
1252 The most personal intervention so far came from Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, who suffers from severe spinal muscular atrophy and spoke through a ventilator. Here is a text of what she said:
“My Lords, I have fought for autonomy the whole of my life.
“I have fought it for myself and I have fought it for others. I do not want this bill.
“My Lords, first I must declare a very important interest: this bill is about me. I did not ask for it and do not want it but it is about me nevertheless.
“Before anyone disputes this imagine it is already law and that I asked for assistance to die – do your lordships think that I will be refused?
“No. You can be sure there will be doctors and lawyers willing to support my right to die. Certainly many would put their energies into that without … helping me to change my mind.
“This bill offers no comfort to me, it frightens me because in periods of greatest difficulty I know I might be tempted to use it.
“It only adds to the burdens and challenges life holds for me.
“But it is not just about me, my story is echoed by the majority of disabled and terminally ill people in Britain today many of whom are outside this House protesting against this bill I urge you to go and talk to them. Many more have written to Your Lordships.
“Supporters of this bill argue that there is a hard and fast distinction between terminal illness and disability – I can tell you absolutely there is not.
“We the folk this bill claims to serve know that.
“The bill purports to offer choice, the option of premature death instead of pain, suffering and disempowerment.
“But it is a false choice – it is the burglar who offers to mugs you instead.
“That is not choice: pain, suffering and disempowerment are treatable, I have to believe that and it should always be treated. My own experience of progressive deterioration has taught me that there is no situation that cannot be improved.
“My Lords I have spent my life developing ways to prevent people in vulnerable situations from feeling powerless and burdensome. They do get cajoled, they do feel a burden, especially when they are at home with no one to come and assist them to go to the toilet, to have dignity.
“I have seen this transformation … those who society once saw as totally dependent become active and valued human beings.
“Assisted dying, I’m afraid will bring back outdated beliefs that devalue disabled and terminally ill people and we have tried so hard to get away from that.
“Small wonder then if some succumb to those beliefs and see premature [death] as the only answer.
“Small wonder then if family, friends, doctors and others see their duty to support that goal. It does appear easier, cheaper and quicker – and it is. 
“My Lords is motivated by fear and pity but, as the great words of the greatest French novelist Balzac observed, pity is death to us it makes our weakness weaker still.
“Death is seen as a release from pity for both giver and receiver but there are far better ways but there are far better ways of responding … we are no way near there yet.”
She went on: “This bill has become a runaway train, all the more frightening because of that.
“Please my Lords let us pause, let us find ways to reflect further. The bill is not the answer.”

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Assisted suicide

I'm very concerned by the prospect of assisted suicide becoming law, and the forthcoming 2nd reading in the House of Lords that comes up this Friday, July 18th. For once the Daily Mail is helpful (I have to say its usually a bit of pain generally for the average GP). So catch this, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2686711/Dont-make-mistake-As-assisted-suicide-bill-goes-Lords-Dutch-regulator-backed-euthanasia-warns-Britain-leads-mass-killing.html

There are so many reasons why the law should be left alone. The vulnerable need protection. The value of human life needs to be constantly upheld. The research and effort for palliative care needs to be maintained and even increased, doctors should not become partners in assisted dying-it changes the trajectory of the whole history of medicine and doctor-patients relations.

Insistent on assisted dying

The national newspapers are lining up. The Guardian is in favour of assisted dying, but columnist Andrew Brown has this tucked away in yesterday's piece.

A central objection – which seems to me completely inarguable – is that this really is an extremely slippery slope. Once the principle of autonomy has been conceded as a moral one, it becomes immoral to interfere with it.
There is no line to be drawn. Once we concede the principle that it is up to the patient to determine whether his life is worth living, and that the doctor's duty is to facilitate this wish, no amount of safeguards in law will matter. The patient's right to choose will become an absolute, just as the woman's right to choose has done. And that will put huge pressure on doctors to act against their own consciences, just as abortion does.
What is more, opponents are correct that it isn't really the patient's right to choose. As Giles Fraser keeps saying, we are not as autonomous as we currently pretend. Old people and others are hugely influenced by those around them. And – let's be frank – when those others have a financial stake in an early, cheap death, they will value the patient's life less. So will the patient. The desire "not to be a burden" is pretty deep rooted in social animals like us.,

Monday, 14 July 2014

Listening


Just recently I joined the rest of the human race and had some fraudulent payments exit my bank account. I cannot deny that it was stressful although the sums of money involved were not too great. The source of the stress was the way my bank dealt with me.

I totalled eight different ‘customer specialists’ (heaven help those people who speak to customer generalists), before finally the matter was successfully resolved. The nub of the problem was that each of them failed to listen adequately to what I was saying.  I tried, I really did try to communicate, but it wasn't until ‘Matt’, that I was understood.  Ah listening, that old fashioned supremely powerful tool in the hands of all doctors.

Listening is difficult and it is very tiring. It may seem strange to the non-doctor, but 3-4 hours of listening to a variety of human stories, especially if listened to well, is exhausting. Active listening consumes considerable energy as one seeks to clarify, summarise, encourage and understand. But the gain is enormous.

The medical insurance companies tell us that when a patient feels listened to and understood the complaints are much reduced, and similarly the likelihood of the patient benefiting from the consultation (even where no firm diagnosis is made or treatment is prescribed) is considerably increased.

‘To give a patient the impression that you could spare him an hour and yet make him satisfied with 5 minutes is an invaluable gift, and of much more use than spending half an hour of which he is made to feel that he is encroaching on your time. I do not know if this sepical kind of unhurried placidity can be acquired purposely, but it is a most enviable faculty to possess.’ Richard Asher in Talking Sense

To do it well requires at least two commitments. A commitment to at least try to understand (the ideas, concerns and the expectations), and also one of unhurriedness.

In the vortex that is the modern NHS what a relief to realise that there are many things that don’t and needn’t change, the art of listening is surely one of them.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Half-baked

On our recent summer holiday Biddy and I read from Charles Spurgeon's daily readings. On one particular  occasion we were very struck by the perception of his comments on what at face value seemed a rather obscure Biblical text. If the cap fits....


"Ephraim is a cake not turned." 
A cake not turned is uncooked on one side; and so Ephraim was, in many respects, untouched by divine grace: though there was some partial obedience, there was very much rebellion left. My soul, I charge thee, see whether this be thy case. Art thou thorough in the things of God? Has grace gone through the very centre of thy being so as to be felt in its divine operations in all thy powers, thy actions, thy words, and thy thoughts? To be sanctified, spirit, soul, and body, should be thine aim and prayer; and although sanctification may not be perfect in thee anywhere in degree, yet it must be universal in its action; there must not be the appearance of holiness in one place and reigning sin in another, else thou, too, wilt be a cake not turned.
A cake not turned is soon burnt on the side nearest the fire, and although no man can have too much religion, there are some who seem burnt black with bigoted zeal for that part of truth which they have received, or are charred to a cinder with a vainglorious Pharisaic ostentation of those religious performances which suit their humour. The assumed appearance of superior sanctity frequently accompanies a total absence of all vital godliness. The saint in public is a devil in private. He deals in flour by day and in soot by night. The cake which is burned on one side, is dough on the other.
If it be so with me, O Lord, turn me! Turn my unsanctified nature to the fire of thy love and let it feel the sacred glow, and let my burnt side cool a little while I learn my own weakness and want of heat when I am removed from thy heavenly flame. Let me not be found a double-minded man, but one entirely under the powerful influence of reigning grace; for well I know if I am left like a cake unturned, and am not on both sides the subject of thy grace, I must be consumed for ever amid everlasting burnings.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Dignity is intrinsic

I recently watched this clip of Jonathan Allen, another Paul Potts wannabe, on America's Got Talent . At face value a very touching and hopeful piece. And yet the more I pondered it, the more I felt uncomfortable. And that's not because I'm a bit of a AGT/BGT etc snob, since I must confess I really don't like such shows! No, it's because the judges want to affirm Jonathan simply because he can sing, and incidentally because he's gay and has been rejected by his parents. We are not loveable because of any talent we may possess, but simply because we are made in the image of God, and that His divine love has been demonstrated to us in the giving up of Christ in the Calvary event. We have 'bestowed worth'.


John Ortberg has a great sermon on how human dignity is in large part a consequence of the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the movement he spawned, check it out here, and in a another sermon he spells out why human dignity does not depend upon talent and ability,

A Yale professor by the name of Nicholas Wolterstorff has written a fabulous book about justice in the last couple of years. He raises the question…Why do human beings have dignity, worth and rights? His book is an attempt really to found justice on the notion of human rights, which he believes are very important. But he asks this question…If children are beaten, if woman are marginalized, it's wrong. We all have this sense that it's wrong. Why? Now it turns out that secularism has a very hard time establishing a foundation for human worth and rights.
That's not to say that secular philosophers don't value human rights because they certainly do, but it's hard to find something to ground them in. If you ground them in certain human capacities or abilities then when those abilities get diminished, then to that same extent, those rights would get diminished. But we have this sense that all human beings, whatever their IQ, whatever their capacities, there is a notion of human rights and it turns out there simply has never been a foundation for them like human beings have worth and rights because they are precious to a Creator who made them and loves them; and therefore, we are to value them, value them all as well.

So don't be mislead by the rather gushing judges on BGT since as you can see by subsequent rounds in the competition, they actually didn't want Jonathan to stay just like he was, a rather geeky drop-out, oh no, he's preened and coiffured into something more attractive to the marketeers. I wish him well. But his value is not in his talent but in his humanity.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Cake

Ah, Victoria sponge by the sea. Not everything Victorian is bad.

Bank holiday in Norfolk.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Careful unreasonableness

It's over 40 years since I first read My utmost for his highest, by Oswald Chambers. It's a daily devotional based upon Chambers' extensive teaching at theological college in the early part of the 20th century.

I infrequently dip into it now but generally find that his thinking is stimulating and creative. So for today, May 18th reflecting upon Matthew 6.26, 28
CAREFUL UNREASONABLENESS
"Behold the fowls of the air." . . . "Consider the lilies of the field." Matthew 6:26, 28

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they simply are!.....

The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mould us.

If you want to be of use to God, get rightly related to Jesus Christ and He wil make you of use unconsciously every minute you live,
Like much stimulating teaching, Chambers is here reacting to an exteme, of trying too hard at living as a Christian,  and you have to be careful not to catapult to the other end. Thus he is not teaching, 'let go and let God' and a sort of Christan nihilism that simply gives no thought to growing as a believer, nor makes an effort (note Peter says, 'make every effort'  in 2 Peter 1.5), and does not live intentionally. No, he is reacting to the tendency to forget that we are (unequal) partners together with God, co-workers with him. We may plant etc, but it is always God who gives the fruit.



Thursday, 15 May 2014

Two good books

Like most of us, I do enjoy a good story. So two recent novels have been very worthwhile.

Landfall by Nevil Shute.


Nevil Shute is such a good story teller. His books are easy reads and in some ways quaint by contemporary standards (but then certain aspects of life were quaint in the 1940s!),  with several fairly innocent non-pc comments about the role of women and the class structure which pertained then. The book centers around the activities of a young pilot in the first year of the second world war  (indeed the book was written in 1940). As usual with Shute there is interesting technical detail, but also at its heart the willingness of young men to serve our country. There's fascinating touches on the inter-relations between the Royal Navy and the RAF,  a rather gentle romance, and a good angle on one of the many little stories which would have been easily lost within the grand larger theme of the war.

The man from Bejing by Henning Mankell


A much heftier and punchier  book by one of my favourite authors. For those who have enjoyed the Wallender series this is another great read. It is typically atmospheric with a stunning and disturbing opening. The characters are as ever, memorable and the story line somewhat complex but ties together brilliantly. At times it is perhaps a little more discursive than it needs to be, but Mankell's grasp of history and international relations is excellent and there is a genuine page-turning quality to the book..
There are a good few stories within the over-arching story, but I didn't get lost and I enjoyed the movement thought history and across continents.
 Its nearly 550 pages, but worth the effort.

Timing

Frank Sinatra, David Gower and Michael Macintyre. It's all in the timing.

So when a patent tells me that she was phoned at 8.30pm one Friday evening to be told that her scan was abnormal, I despair. The scanning department had taken it upon themselves to ring her and advise that in view of a suspicious abnormality, they would like to book her for a further, more sophisticated scan.

Friday evening? Surely just a moment's thought would have prevented them making the call then. For many people (but of course far from all) it is wind down time towards the weekend. And the weekend  is not a good time to anxiously wait and worry. Of course no interval is good between news of abnormality and more definitive confirmation one way or the other. But it's just the thoughtlessness of it all. Sadly one outcome of the 24 hour Tesco-ization of society is the failure to realise that such things as significant accidents are more likely when society just runs and runs with no natural rthythm of work and rest (see The 24 hour society- the risks and challenges of a world that never stops). And perhaps more subtly,  this ever expanding working day or week, can make us insensitive to others whose 'moment' in the day or week may well be different from ours.

Timing is vital for the doctor. How often have I thought I knew the answer to a patient's presenting problem within seconds, only to be proved wrong as I have resisted the temptation to interrupt and let the patient finish. And even when my instinct was correct, it's nearly always best to wait. Reassurance given too early in a consultation seldom helps. I'm not sure that timing in sport is learnt or innate, but in medicine it has been be learnt through long practice and close human observation.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Gratitude

'We've done it'
What a lovely day we enjoyed last Saturday May 3rd. The sun shone on our beautiful daughter Sarah as she married Owen. We had looked forward to the day for so long, and finally it was here. The service was simple and traditional, but with some lovely touches, such as the variety of musical styles, from Bach to the Proclaimers. And a very helpful short message based on the Four Loves of C S Lewis (4 'Fs'...Family, 'Fysical', Friends and Forgiving love), excellently presented by the pastor of our church (Grace Community Church), Ray Evans.


Hannah enjoying the signing
It was a joy that our other daughter Hannah was maid of honour and looked so lovely with her fellow bridesmaids, Beth and Althea. The morning at home had been such fun with Sarah and the bridesmaids plus my wife Biddy getting ready with the help of hairdressers, a make up 'artist' and the photographer Sam. I was just a spare penny wandering around doing odd jobs. We were naturally anxious about the weather, especially as the reception was held in a marquee beside the River Ouse in the grounds of Bromhall Hall. As it happened the weather was perfect and it was a truly wonderful time.

There is no guarantee of good weather on May 3rd. In 1979, the day of Maggie Thatcher's election victory, Tony Been wrote,
'For eleven hours Caroline and I drove around the constituency, in cold weather which turned to hail and snow.I sat on the roof of the car in a blanket with rubber overtrousers, wearing a woolly cap and anorak. It was freezing'

So for early summer loveliness, the joy of the day, and the radiance of our dear Sarah, I give thanks.  With George Herbert I pray,


Thou who hast given so much to me. Give one thing more, a grateful heart. For Christ's sake.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The cross and the colliery

I've read two contrasting books this week. Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter.

The Return of Captain John Emmett is a brilliant novel of the immediate aftermath of the Great War. It concerns the quest of Emmett's sister Mary, to discover the reasons behind his inexplicable suicide just some two years aftert the close the war. To do that she enlists the help of old friend Laurence Bartram who had come through the war himself, and who's wife Louise had died during childbirth whilst Bartam was serng at the front.

The book is a beautiful and haunting unravelling of the varied experiences of those caught up in the tragedy of war. From invalided soldiers and grieving mothers, to those still affected after taking part in the summary execution of an officer, 'for the sake of example', some three or four years earlier. At the heart of the book is an exploration of Captain Emmett's life and character, his love of poetry and his sense of humanity and justice. Mary doesn't just want to know how he died but why. What was the reason for his death?

In the Cross and the Colliery are eight short meditations on the Easter theme for Holy Week, by the then Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright,  as they were given in Easingtom parish church in County Durham. Easingtom was chosen because the community had gone through its own Calvary in1951 when 83 miners wee killed in an underground explosion. And then in 1993 when the colliery was closed and the heart was ripped out of the community.

Wright skilfully blends together the 'base note' of the Old Testament with readings from Isaiah, and the 'tenor' of the New Testament with readings from John's gospel.  And then asking and challenging us to provide the alto line as a response. In his Good Friday meditation, he muses on the words of hymnwriter Augustus Toplady, Nothing in my hand I bring simply to you cross I cling
'Faced with (the staggering words of Isaiah 53) what can we say? Fortunately we have poetry such as this which have said it better than we can. We share the words and hope to grow into them. But the only proper response to the death of Jesus, wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, is gratitude, faith and love.'

As Wright points out the whole focus  of the Bible story is the Easter event. He uses the analogy of the canoeist heading for a waterfall. To get the correct channel the canoeist must aim for the inverted V in the rushing water that can be seen on approach. Pass over at another point and the canoe goes sideways and the canoeist has a hard fall, but get the channel right and the journey continues. And so the cross and resurrection of Christ are the apex and centre of the history of the world. Respond correctly to that and our life will have meaning and purpose which sustains though life and on into eternity.

What mattered about Captain Emmett was not his poetry, war service, or means of death-seemingy shot by suicide-but the reason behind it. It's only a surprise that so much of the gospel accounts are taken up with the death of Jesus, and so much of the rest of the New Testament with the reason for his death, if we fail to see that this death gets to the core of all reality.

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...