Saturday, 13 September 2014


One element of my faith is to avoid hypocrisy- you know what I mean....matters like listening  to and singing nice words but not letting those affect our lifestyles or engage us in the rough and tumble of life. Today I read a moving story of compassion and idealism which I will pass on to you. It comes from a letter attached to the magazine of Medecins Sans Frontiers, Doctors Without Borders. In particular it is written by a young female doctor in Africa.

The man was at least six foot four inches, with composed, stoic features, sharply dressed ...with an old gunshot wound just visible above his left elbow. This man had witnessed scenes I could never imagine.   There he sat in front of me, his head in his hands, wiping away his tears. He, his wife and his son had fled violence and had survived the dangerous journey from South Sudan to Uganda.

The boy ,aged eight, was in a malaria induced coma with three organs failing as a result. I knelt in front of his father as he explained how God had brought them out of the conflict, out of danger and now into my hands.He begged me to save his life.

We gave parasite-busting drugs, we transfused, we fed him through tubes  and we monitored every breath and every eye movement. We watched and we waited.

Three days after the boy with malaria arrived with his panicked and distraught father, I sat down next to the boy on the bed and held his hand. All of a sudden his eyes looked on mine, widened in terror, then let out a yell,apparently terrified at the strange white, pale face that looked down on him. The whole ward- patients, staff and family erupted with joy at this ridiculous sign that this boy was coming out of his coma and back to our world. Just two more days and we watched the same family- the boy now scrubbed and dressed in his sunday best- walk hand in hand out of our health centre.

The boy's father had put an incredible weight of responsibility on my shoulders, but in truth my part was small. I am a stethoscope, a prescription, a facilitator. Its the drugs that work.The drugs, the blood transfusions, and hundreds  of compassionate, dedicated staff....

I find stories like these deeply moving. What was this doctor's 'Opportunity Cost' of volunteering for MSF? Prosperity and safety in her own country?.

That needs our imagination. Their deep dread and fear, the awesome trust, the healing.And in truth every time we make a gesture something may be happening like that. And every time we read of New Testament healings the same imagination is needed for the joy that results. Perhaps it is too frightening to write over the top of a story like the above that 'that could have been my child, or my grandchild'?


In my preaching days, I liked to use the humorous story because it could carry a message with it (I always hated the idea that folk remembered the story and not the message). I heard one such story whilst watching an inspiring story of neighbourly help from Warrington. I man went to the doctors and pointed to three different parts of his body where it was hurting. The doctor soon came to a conclusion: you have a broken finger!

The message? So often we are pointing to our wounds- individually and collectively- and concluding that this is the seat of the trouble. But all the time the source of the trouble is elsewhere- in the human heart with all its weaknesses and frailties. We blame circumstances, statesmen, anything instead of looking in ourselves for the problem. It reminded me of a family situation where a row had broken out, each blaming the other. The old grandfather produced a box, declaring that if each looked inside it they would see part of the problem. Once opened, they saw a mirror inside.

I was reminded of how circumstances change when reading a holiday suggestion about cycling around Berlin. It described deep green woods, large lakes, beaches and clear water. I remember all those things well, and by bicycle. But in my Berlin days the city was divided by that famous Wall, along its length the no-man's land of mines and the dog runs, all surveyed by the sinister watchtowers (They still send a chill down my spine just remembering them). But now those same watchtowers stand in the middle of big housing estates, benign reminders of an evil past. Things change so much in human affairs and sometimes it is difficult for our memories of past events to believe they ever happened.

Perhaps that is why the Psalmist looked to the hills for strength, to remind us that in a rapidly changing world some things abide and remain for ever.

Friday, 12 September 2014


We called in Fleetwood today and one of the things I noted was the ferry crossing the River Wyre to Knott End. I timed it, and even though the tide was quite high it took no more than three minutes. Had that journey been undertaken by car it would have taken up to fifty minutes, depending on traffic. So near and yet so far. It occurred to me that life can be rather like that; sometimes it is a long journey to achieve a given aim, but by other means just the opposite.

I am thinking about a couple I knew who were having family troubles. Their children were estranged and it took years to put right. It was a long journey. I recall thinking at the time if only they could take up(as I suggested) the forgiveness and humility options. That would have been a short journey.And if we bring Graces to life- simple Christian attitudes-they can have the equivalent of a sea journey and not a long land journey.

Now to a different topic. I have been thinking of the New Testament incident when the old woman came to the Temple collection plate and gave more than she could afford, especially compared with the religious official. What has this incident to do with a big principle of economics? I am thinking of what is called 'Opportunity Cost' which means that a given decision to spend is not only measured by the monetary price, but also by the alternative thing we have given up in favour of what we did buy. It was called 'The guns or butter argument'...we could have one or the other but not both.

I guess you will be asking what this economics has to do with that New Testament story? Simply that the old lady in the temple had an alternative- she could have kept the money, but gave it away instead. So what was the 'opportunity cost' of her gift? Food? Drink? Comfort? We will never know.

This all arose because I was thinking about the bargains I collect around town, simply by using my eyes and my feet. I am collecting quite a total, soon to be in my jar. I intend to give a percentage of my bargains away. The opportunity cost of keeping the money may be a glass of water, a bowl of rice, a rehydration tablet for a child somewhere in the world. We sing our nice hymns about Love, use a lot of words but does our lifestyle reflect what we believe? This is what I am trying to work out.

Perhaps I should challenge people to establish a 'Sacrificial Circle'.....walk instead of motor...resist that cream cake just once to save a pound....get that bargain(Milk at 25p instead of 58 p to the door? Little things....big challenge. After all, how much does my giving really cost me? 


Thursday, 11 September 2014


As I put together the book of 60 blogs, selected with difficulty from the 500 done,I ask myself which would I count as particularly significant.Of course I have no idea what might be significant 'out there' among my readers, so the answer to my own question is likely to be what I have found most helpful in my own life.Well, there are two  and I will remind you of these now.

First to ensure the wide angled lens that comes from good perspectives. Seeing things- ourselves and our circumstances - in the widest way we can.Again and again they can prove a great help, whether delivering us from grumbles, reviewing the years past, making a decision, viewing and forming an opinion of others.

Secondly to use what I have called my 'RAD' practice. There are many occasions when we need to rescue our fate from the place in which they are at any particular time. Recognise those things that disturb our peace, or lead us into unhappy places.Avoid such situations whenever possible. If this is not possible then resort to a Distraction.

These are just insights I have learned from people along the way. Others are matters like attempting to live more lightly, to turn off those demon 'engines' in our minds that can drive us to distraction,Another might be living more deeply in all the delightful colours of daily life. 

This morning came another: there was an interesting interview with one of England's all time famous batsmen. He is 73 years old and has just written his autobiography. Ten years ago he had cancer and his book looks back on this and reports how he learned to say again and again;'Does it really matter?'.I think I might well learn to say that a bit more often. Perhaps you too?

The other interview was with a man as equally famous but in the world of film and theatre. He is just about to go on tour with his one man show about the life of Jesus. Once a catholic, now an agnostic, he spoke approvingly of the life he was to portray, interestingly through eight characters who knew Jesus. It did remind me that in some senses Jesus is too big for the church alone and belongs to the world. There is a danger of ecclesiastical hijack.

Rosie and I have been collecting blackberries. Well, she sniffed, I picked.Doing a little detective work I concluded that those who have already taken some fruit were only four feet tall, with short arms and sensitive legs(blackberries have prickles).I was able to reach those that they couldn't. One of life's simple pleasures in the warm sunshine. My dental fillings will just love all those seeds. It did occur to me that a better, more effective way to pick would be to take a pair of scissors and snip off six inches and then pick them individually  at home..I am sure the Railways would not mind me leaning through their fence. It might even be helpful.