Sunday, 14 February 2016


As readers will know I try to keep up with various matters that impact on faith. I simply cannot stay in what might be called 'A Sunday School State' hiding away from the vast (and often uncomfortable ) tides that swirl around us. One area that seems more and more relevant is all the information emerging from the study of our brains. Thus far we have known so little about it even though many regard it as the most complex and mysterious matter in the entire cosmos.

. Let me give you a simple example gathered from my 'skimming' (taking the main points out of things I do not fully understand). Rather than summarise it, for fear of putting my own take on it, I quote from the book where I encountered it.

Even just thinking about exercise activates the same  neuronal systems in your brain. The effects of mentally exercising were compared to the effects of actually exercising by observing cortical activity and comparing and subsequent physical performance.

 The same parts of the brain are activated during mental practice and  actual physical performance. This finding led the researchers to see if mental practising improved actual subsequent performance. They found that five days of mental practice followed by two hours of physical practice improved performance as well as the five days of physical practice did.

To be honest I find this hard to believe but the evidence is clear. So what do I conclude? First Life is a mystery still. Then the increasing knowledge of our mental functions is going to impact on Faith. I think it will make it more wonderful, not less. Is the power of one mind to impact and effect another just part of the wonderful gift God has given us? Is visualisation part of what we call prayer, the true secrets of which we have yet to plumb?

I find it quite exhausting but also quite exhilarating too. Then there is the placebo effect which we hear about more and more. If our minds think something physical will do us good then there is an enhanced chance it will. So whenever I take my delicious two teaspoons of cod liver oil each morning I think as it goes down' Umm...this is going to do me good' A double blessing.

After all wasn't it Jesus who said that when we pray we should see in our minds the prayer answered. And remember that no-one has ever explained the healing miracles of Jesus.

A famous Christian once said that to live in God's Kingdom is to discover one wonder after another and then discover each new wonder to be true?

Saturday, 13 February 2016


I do like to find stories of inspiration, so you will have to excuse me another one today. They are all the more meaningful in a society bent on trivia, image and popularity.

Today's story is about a man who works as a consultant colo-rectal cancer consultant at one of London's internationally famous hospitals. He cannot spend much time on the golf course because he takes a keen interest in a rural  health project  in rural Bangladesh, and at a new surgical training centre in Dhaka. As if this was not enough he is the youngest member of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons and Associate Dean of the Hospital's Medical School.

 The doctor's interest is also in Palestine's health and hospitals. Because of the blockade they have inadequate resources and few training facilities. How did he find Palestine? The people were warm and friendly, the medical students anxious to learn all they could. He realised that part of the answer was to facilitate education about new methods and medicine from around the world using the internet. One of the surprises was to discover that Palestine has one of the highest rates of literacy in the world. Another surprise was to discover that the major A and E Department had one stethoscope, one blood pressure machine and one pulse oxiometer that did not work.

I find the story inspiring and I am sorry if you find it wide of your interest. Learning  about this idealistic doctor came at an interesting time. I have just taken delivery of our first consignment of Palestinian Olive Oil. This is what it said on the bottle:

Palestine is the home of  the olive tree and this award  winning extra virgin oil connects you with farmers whose ancestors have tended their trees by hand for countless generations. From stone terraces nestled on sun  drenched West Bank Hills comes produce grown with wisdom by people who know their trees both as old friends and as a lifeline for their children.

...our exclusively fairly  traded produce comes exclusively from farmers we know, allowing us to support farming families as they build a sustainable future. Beyond conflict and upheaval runs the thread of a vibrant culture and we proudly share its gifts.

Two inspiring stories. It makes me think that if only the young people that pass through our churches were truly and realistically shown things like this, the response would be so much stronger than the offer of trips, parties and fun. I will press on as an olive oil merchant and wonder if I should make an offer of simple items of equipment. Hopefully others will have done it first because there are still plenty of idealistic folk about resisting the flimsy, superficial materialistic money culture of today.

One final piece of good news. My friend Terry is feeling a bit better and a degree more confident about his future. Good news indeed.

Friday, 12 February 2016


It seems to me that we, as a nation, spend much time looking at and listening to other people. There seems to be a growing curiousity about the lives of other people satisfied by television , social media and the printed page. Usually it is about famous personalities but not always. I have to admit a limited involvement in this, usually through those who have deserved their fame through physical effort. I have no  interest  whatever in those who are famous because they are famous.

This phenomenon of people gazing leaves me uneasy. First because it betrays an uncertainty and negativity about ourselves as compared to others. My bigger unease is people- mainly young people I guess- wanting to copy the personalities they read about.

So what is the opposite to this? It is self confidence. It is satisfaction with who we are.At a more mundane level I have met many people who are troubled by what they see in other people. In effect they are saying 'why cannot I be like that, have that, own that? I have to say to them 'What is that to you?' How much does it matter to you? We need to keep looking to ourselves and being content with what we have and making the most of what we have.

Of course there are exceptions.There may be someone we read about who inspires us, someone we know perhaps. They lift us up to higher purpose.We need to distinguish between the two.

I am currently looking at two books you might not associate with me. The most unusual is one by a late lady who was a famous medium. I have to say I purchased it thinking it is all a hoax, but my reading left that open and some aspects were altogether convincing. As I explore it I will relate a story from time to time.

The other is the latest book by Pope Francis and it is all about  mercy. The mercy of God no less. It is thought that this is the first Pope to talk of himself as a sinner, a man falling short of what he expected of himself, let alone what God expected. It is a humbling book and makes clear that the Christian's need for mercy, for forgiveness is at the very heart of who they are.

Here again more to say on a day with a little more time.

Thursday, 11 February 2016


So now we know...the 6  o'clock news tells us that it is the most important scientific news for a decade. Gravitational fields and all of that. I would have thought that small fry compared with possible developments in medicine and health and the elimination of poverty. As the presenter on the Breakfast show asked: 'How does this news affect me?' Once again, I want to turn off the news.

I recalled the story of the old couple sat by the sea, their grandchildren happily splashing in the water, as they enjoyed the warm sunshine. A man with a metal detector spent the morning moving up and down the shoreline. 'I wonder what he found ?' one grandparent asked the other.The reply was instructive ...'I don't know what he found but I know what he missed'.We all need to keep our eyes on the things we might be missing pursuing the path we do.

This morning we went south to Lytham, in particular Lytham Hall with its woods filled with snowdrops. We had our walk and visited the tearooms to sample it for future outings with our friends from the Church Fellowship. On the next table sat a couple looking after their daughter's dog. We got into conversation, discovered he grew up near Bolton. He became a teacher carrying out his teaching practice in Blackpool and Fleetwood. What a small world it is. He even went to school in the area where I grew up. He would know how old I was when I recalled watching cricket on the place where his school was built. But we made a connection and isn't that what life is all about?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


We have had a lovely trip to Fleetwood this morning and after shopping had lunch looking out across the estuary. In some ways it is an experience in white- white fluffy clouds in blue sky, snow on the Lake District hills across the water, the white horses out to sea and the white foam crashing on the beach.

I have been reflecting on memory today, sometimes a blessing other times bringing pain. Admittedly we usually find these mixed up in a bundle but I find myself wishing my emotional memory was not as sharp as it is. My visual memory could often do with overhauling or servicing. I will often ask Janet 'Do you know where my cap is?' Invariable she of the very keen visual awareness will reply 'Try the top of the microwave' or 'Look behind the front door'.But I retain too many long term memories for my own good. Of course I have far, far more happy ones, but it would be good for memories to be listed, as on a computer and certain ones could be selected for the delete button. But we cannot do this so just have to suffice with 'memory management'.

Did you watch the programme from India these last three weeks? A group of well known retired personalities went to prospect a city with a view to one day going to retire there. I cannot sum it up if you did not see it, but it may be worth taking a look. What fascinated me was the warmth of friendship offered freely by the local people. It seemed so natural as well, to the extent that the personalities suggested that it was the people, not the climate, or lovely city parks, or super hospital (little waiting, operations performed privately for a fraction of UK equivalent cost).  Yes it was the new friendships that were drawing them back.

Why do I find this so fascinating? Perhaps it is the matter of community I wrote of yesterday?

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


I am convinced that all of us need those moments of inspiration or illumination that I referred  to recently. Needed to change a mood, lift out of the doldrums, alter a grey mindset. Furthermore we need to seek those for ourselves and for others to help them change the scene.

This subject came to my mind yesterday and today as I reflected on the lunch we had together. In itself there was nothing particularly outstanding- a group of friends meeting on an ordinary Monday lunchtime at a very ordinary restaurant. Still it was a happy occasion and left me with a glow, an aura. A moment of necessary healing. 

But why? What was it about this occasion that lit me up? I think at the most basic level it was about community. A gathering of people meeting heart to heart, with a shared purpose. For me at least it cannot be too large a number. Then I realise how far this fascination reaches back. In the green and wooded places of Bolton I belonged to a neighbourhood 'gang' of 20. This was not a gang who roamed the streets causing havoc or seeking a fight. This gang was about running, tennis, cycling, endless games across the countryside.

I suppose it was this love of, and need for, community that may well have nudged me into ministry. This life would mean the constant creation and nurture of communities, some big, some tiny. I recall that group of young people from Methodist and United Reform Churches when we bought an old van, did many things together. Then, as ministry moved on,there were other groups most especially the oft described 1738 group of almost 40 young adults. They sought community; the gathering of like minds bound together in common purpose and understanding.

I think my pursuit of coffee shops is bound up with this as well. The pictures of people coming off the street simply to meet other people, be they friend or stranger.It remains a very powerful ideal and I have many memories of people finding in coffee shops something they needed and perhaps longed for.

What does this say about me, or about you? I think it calls us to recognise our truest selves, ignore the clamouring voices of a noisy world that would  deny us our best way. I often think of the words of Jesus when he said that the wild flowers were so much more beautiful than all his wealth and human glory. In other words they are simply content to be themselves. So should we.

Monday, 8 February 2016


I like the comment attributed to the well known radio presenter who died last week when he said that the Irish city where he grew up was filled with religion yet had very little Christianity. That made me think of the huge differences between the two, a realisation that increases with the years. Of course the two can exist together but they rarely seem to. Nor is this a criticism because I realise some folk just desire to 'be religious' by coming to church and leading a good life. But they do not want to find themselves following the Christian way with its intellectual, spiritual and practical demands. So when someone says about another 'They go to church' it is probably more a comment on their Sunday habit than whether they are seen to be following the way of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.

I suppose these thoughts came to me because we have been out to lunch with our Church Fellowship. This is a monthly group of almost 30 people who enjoy the meetings with refreshment, chat, laughter and an agenda that starts in one place and ends in another ! And over the years we have grown together and become a smaller community within the bigger community of a larger church ( our normal attendance is under 20 whereas almost 150 people came to Communion yesterday).There are people of the pew, people of the porch and people of the pavement, useful ways of viewing the disposition of members. It is lovely for me that partners come who are not worshipping members of the church.I think we have further to go in this precious community ideal.

We talk about healing ways and healing ministries. Being quite personal, occasions like today and our monthly meetings are the richest part of my life in the church. I have no doubt that in community I find fulfilment and healing.

I try to close my ears to some things but others get into my head furtively, or so it seems. Recent examples are statistics on domestic violence and children living in homes dominated by an alcoholic parent. One in five was the statistic given and one man asked about his childhood ambitions in an alcoholic home replied like this; " Most of my friends wanted to be teachers, footballers, doctors but my ambition was simply 'not to be an alcoholic ". When I put these two alongside (allowing for the inevitable overlapping- a double tragedy- ) it could well be concluded that one in five homes are afflicted by these twin curses.