Sunday, 29 November 2015


The crisis reported yesterday went worse as the day went on. In the evening Rosie's breathing worsened steadily and at ten o'clock we rang the 24 hour vetinary surgery. We took Rosie round and her breathing was bad and she had to stay the night in an oxygen tent. We have brought her home this afternoon with tablets-one a diuretic, the other for her heart. The vet said that these were relatively new and a few years ago he  would have been 'very worried indeed' about her condition. To add to the pressure I had a Service this morning and another this evening.

My sermon theme this morning was on the subject of Advent and the light that we celebrate in this Season of the church's year. I wanted to remind people of the light, the potential, the resources that are there all the time inside them. Another aspect of this message of light is that it was out there to be discerned and discovered in the world- in its beauties, its potential, its hidden virtues. We need eyes to see and identify these realities.

Then there is the light coming from the world of the Spirit, those beyond the ones already described. There are things deep down inside us- resentments, past pain, troublesome thoughts and memories, wounds of various sorts. It needs a special  sort of light to get down into those depths.

Earlier I had some fun with the young people. I was reading the mind of the congregation in the guise of being able to tell them which of three words a young person had chosen which I had not seen. It all came down to a helper in the choir giving me the  correct signals. I described leaving fifty pounds in the machine outside the bank only to find that someone had handed it in. I had a helper that day and there are always ways we can help someone whether known or unknown. The other aspect of this playful device was that the incarnation is our first real insight into reading the mind  of God.

So we are thankful on Rosie's behalf for new medicines. That is in the animal field but I have just read about the cold sore virus being a powerful weapon against cancer.How' s that for a bit of good news against all the bad that will fill newspaper columns this weekend?

Saturday, 28 November 2015


Over the last few days Rosie has not been too well, which made necessary a visit to the vets last evening. She is panting and not very energetic but her appetite is as good as it ever was! The verdict was that heart and lungs were sound but she had a tender place on her back. This he thought might make her breathing difficult. Today her panting is a little worse, so all we seem able to do is worry and wait in hope.

It does present some wider perspectives (that word again I'm afraid). There are two of us here to share the situation, but for many there might be only one. How true it is that  a problem  shared  is a  problem halved so in translation means that to face worrying situations alone is double the pain of facing it shared. This thought opens my mind to others and I wish we had in place at our churches our own night time crisis call centre, for people not animals.

And last evening we had the nearby vets and in times of danger people might need the doctor, the ambulance or the hospital. But for millions of people there is no such possibility and my heart goes out to them at times like this.

It seems to me that we Christian folk need to be light and tender in one lifestyle. Light because we live our lives joyfully and thankfully...the dance of life if I can put it that way. We also are called to be tender. This word has been misused so often, but I think its rightful use might be a vulnerability to pain. An unhealed wound is tender. A hurting personality is tender until made  whole. Surely we should be tender about the needs of the world. Of course we cannot carry the world in our hearts but a tenderness that makes us able to respond when the call comes to help, assist and heal.

And tonight with the torrential rain beating down like a tropical storm, a tenderness or sympathy for those caught in the middle of it or subject to its horrors.

Friday, 27 November 2015


Loneliness is a besetting problem in our society and reminders of it come to us from all sides. This morning I heard of a scheme designed to help older people who are lonely that involves modern technology to the full. They are to use skype to help people in India to learn English and at the same time solve their loneliness problem, at least to escape some of its pains. My first reaction was, of course, pleasure that help could be given in this way. My second reaction is simply this: do people have to go to such lengths to find friendship ?

At our Church Fellowship on Wednesday I guided the discussion towards our own meaning of community, clearly related to loneliness when true community does not exist. Inevitably we reflected on our own community and how it comes to the aid of lonely people. Not just the church related activities but those where the community use the premises. In the former category there is clubs for gardening, walking, fell walking, speaker meetings,line dancing, indoor bowls, the coffee shop, various uniformed organisations, choir, youth  groups. In the latter category there is tap dancing, community choir, photography club, and a number more I have forgotten about. Let me put it this way: there is a smaller chance in this community of loneliness than in the world outside.

We also had an exchange about 'disguised loneliness' when in a crowd there is the feeling of isolation and not belonging. We thought that one way this might be helped would be those activities that involved working together (the well named 'Fellowship of the Kitchen') rather than simply sitting and listening together. The implication was clear- the more working together activities that are developed the less chance of this disguised loneliness.

Yesterday I wrote about the need for good perspectives in many aspects of our ordinary lives.You will realise how pleased I was to see a learned reference to this matter in the book 'Rewiring your Brain'. Here are one or two sentences on this subject:

'...even though your attention is scattered, it is narrowly focused, for you are only able to fixate  on the stressful part of your experience. When your attentional spotlight is widened. you can more easily let go of stress'

and again; 'A narrow focus amplifies the stress level of each experience but a widened focus turns down the stress level because you are able to put each situation into a wider perspective.One anxiety-provoking detail is less important than the bigger picture'

Encouraged by this I have resolved to write down every situation- my own and others- that would lend itself to the wider perspective. It could be interesting.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


This has been an interesting day, depending on one's definition of interesting. Yet again my car has internal illuminations on the .instrument panel telling me there is a fuel shortage (even when plentifully supplied) and the spanner picture indicating the need for engine maintenance. In the Summer I took it down to the garage on the southern edge of Blackpool and after having it for a day they declared there was nothing amiss.

But recently the illuminations have appeared again, but intermittently. So back to the garage complete with mobile phone to ring daughter Janet to drive down to give me a lift home. I decided to walk a little way to be helpful but soon realised that the phone had locked and I could not see how to free it. So keep walking Peter. Sooner or later you will find a helpful policeman or a BT telephone kiosk. 30 minutes of walking passed as the rain came down, but only in drizzle form. Then I espied a phone box and jumped into it with  delight. But sadly someone must not have liked the biscuit they were eating and had stuffed it down the phone rendering it inoperable. So keep walking Peter. After another 20 minutes (I hope by now you are feeling sorry for me) another phone box came into view. Once again I stepped into it hopefully and it was working! Within a short time my daughter arrived to pick me up despite getting lost on the way.

I was tempted to feel rather cross as I walked home, a difficult state to be in since there was no-one to grumble to! But I dealt with it by my old remedy of perspectivisation..Here I was, walking in the rain, with something to grumble about but so much more not to grumble about. After all, the repair would not cost me any money because it was still in warranty (1st perspective).Admittedly I was losing a morning but in exchange for what? 21 months of carefree motoring (2nd perspective). I was travelling cheerfully and saw things the speeding motorist did not- swans on an improvised lake that was really a flooded field, hundreds of ducks rising as I passed, tiny wagtails scooting about in front of me ( 3rd perspective).

Then I realised that many folk my age would not be up to walking like this (4th perspective). Allied to this the sense we get from Eastern mystics that wisdom and spiritual wisdom come up from the earth through our feet when walking (5th perspective)

There were several more but the principle remains the the lens, do the opposite of focussing for a while, see the wider picture.I think that we should have perspectives ready at all times of the day and every day of our lives. I will even have to add some more when my knee wakes me up in the middle of the night!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


I read an interesting report about a London show that featured a famous illusionist, who I'll callDB. The first half of the show left the Reporter quite bored and she critically suggested that a preferred way to spend the time would be to be in her local pub. But the second half was different. DB turned his attention to what he called 'miracles'

Everyone is asked to stand, hold hands and imagine they are on a sunny bridge. DB now becomes the faith healer, worker of miracles. Everyone is asked to imagine themselves on a beach, and all the pain and ailments leaving their bodies.The audience are then asked if anyone among them feels different.Unsurprisingly several respond . A lady with rheumatoid arthritis can move pain free for the first time in 5 years. A young lady with glasses doesn't need them any longer. A stocky ex  Rugby player finds himself able to move his locked muscles for the first time in eleven years.One man levitates (that would be useful to do this Sunday when talking to the young people!) while some are hypnotised and lowered gently to the floor.

The reporter is transformed from her first half boredom. She described it as gripping and utterly inexplicable. "So I take it all back" she wrote."No one could fail to be impressed, other than a genuine charlatan Christian Faith Healer"

Let me take this apart for us, by which I mean examine the implications. DB is an atheist and wanted to prove that healing lies in the mind and not with God. Question: we know some healing comes from within our own minds but does this mean it cannot be of God? In the very act of creation these powers may have been planted within us, even though as yet we know so little of them. Twenty years ago the choices between nature and God might have been more real than today as neuroscience opens before us the wonders and powers of healing that our brains contain.

And here is another thought. At the show there was much open mouthed astonishment at what was happening. So go back to New Testament times when more miraculous healings than this were taking place in country and town. We get little sense of astonishment, much as if someone performs something routinely done very day. In New Testament terms we know the healing miracles happened regularly for nigh on 3 years. If they were fabrications do you not think that the crowds would have faded away when the early healings proved to be fakes or imaginations. My conclusion: there was something real about it all then, even though we cannot explain it.

This confusion about 'God' arises again and again because of our immature notions and concepts about God. Occasionally in Christian liturgy we use the words 'Creator Spirit ' which may help us a little into the need to escape from the childish old man in the sky image. As readers will know I find liberation in turning round the words 'God is Love' to 'Love is God' which reminds me of a young person years ago suggesting that God was more like a cloud of warm gas! Of course that is inadequate but our human language and thoughts always will be inadequate. 'Tis mystery all' as Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn about the incarnation.

So did DB actually heal people? Well for certain he didn't and would gladly say that himself. Were those 'healings' real and if they were how did they happen, and did they last? We can say no more than this; the entire world of minds, brains, health and healing are wrapped up in a mysterious unity we do not yet understand. Incidentally, I do not think any serious Christian involved in what might be called 'Healing Ministry' would want to see that gift worked out, seen and practised in such a public and concert setting.

There is a strange sadness for me in this. DB was once an evangelical Christian himself and instead of moving along the theological spectrum to a more appropriate understanding he threw the precious baby out with the less than worthy (to him) bathwater.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


You will understand my difficulty in choosing what to write about each day in these pieces. If I estimate 40 or 50 people reading them from time to time, on catch up if not daily, then most of you I do not know. I have no idea what your particular interests or needs might be, so it is all conducted in the dark. I reflect, as you know, on things happening to me and around me, and occasionally on books I have read. Hence recently you have shared a little of Beethoven's life as I have followed it in the excellent biography of the great musician.

Another book I am reading, yes a birthday present from one of my daughters, is about rewiring our brains. Now I should not write this again, but I will. I seek no expertise in these complex matters, nor have any to build on. AS I expressed to a friend recently the only 'e' I can offer is experience. That is what we all have to share and is our unique treasure. So when requesting and reading a book about rewiring that wonderful organ in our heads I knew it was a book intended for interested lay people, of which I am one. What is particularly interesting for me is the way it takes things we know about moods and minds and shows how our brain seeks to deal with these things.

Early in the book there is a chapter about sorting out our thinking. It spells FEED. The 'F' stands for focus says no more than the need to focus, to concentrate attention on what is going on in our heads.. This is not enough, rather a starting point. It leads on to effort which involves taking action on the basis of our focus, on the grounds of what our attention currently is fixed upon. Taking action changes the situation in our brain and switches it to new  possibilities. The next 'E' is  effortlessness. This means that once we make the effort it will become more habitual, like water flowing down a channel. Perhaps thinking positively is the key thought here. We recognise our negative thoughts and make the effort to switch to positive ones. The more we do this the less effort it requires. The 'D' represents  determination to remain in this mode of thinking.

The book goes on to adapt the FEED method to the positive thinking referred to above. First it sets out the symptoms of negative thinking.  (1) We think in all our nothing terms, black or white and nothing between.(2) We overgeneralise turning a single incident into a generalisation about ourselves.(3) We interpret everything personally instead of objectively (4) Pessimistic conclusions about things that happen (5) Basing opinions on how we feel rather than what a reasoning mind might tell us instead.

There are, of course, counterbalances to all this. (1) Think grey not black and white;(2) think brightly and optimistically instead of the opposite. (3) Detachment from the cycle of beliefs (4) seek to externalise matters , aiming for a generalsed conclusion rather than taking it to heart.

Useful perhaps for some? Quite irrelevant and more for others? I like the book so far because it tells us all that we can change our ways of thinking. It goes on to consider moods, an affliction most people suffer, even in minor ways. But that is perhaps for another time! Suffice to write now that the one overwhelming advice for our brains would be that, having recognised a mood by taking action (e.g.a walk) we ignite a quite separate part of our brain to enable the grip of the mood to be lessened.

Monday, 23 November 2015


It is a world where bad news dominates the headlines and the good and unspectacular are too often hidden. The matter may be of huge proportions but because it comes gradually (the media  prefers sudden dramatic changes) it is often hidden. One such matter became obvious during a documentary about Ireland yesterday. The well known presenter was in Londonderry and was reflecting on the huge changes from a city with civil war raging in its streets to a city of peace, culture and  co-operation. We could discern the amazement in the voice of the presenter. And so it often is- changes for good going on all the time. Perhaps we need better eyes to see through gloom and realise that there is so much good and progress taking place.

And here is a story that amazed me. Our County Council had been told that the accepted formula for spending meant that budget cuts of  £24m must be borne from the Constabulary Budget. The Labour MP for a constituency in the county pestered the Home Office, always insisting that the formula was neither fair nor correct. So recently, on the final day of a quite extended consultation, they admitted that the decision was based on incorrect data. As a result the new figure was £8m. A saving of £16m and just think for a moment how much that means in our policing.

This shows the importance of a forgotten facility: the readiness to ask questions. Closely related to this another question: do we take to much for granted instead of challenging those things?

One of the things I notice in myself, is that as the months and years pass the things I believe become greatly reduced. Alongside this I have to say that the things that remain of them I grow more and more certain. It is as if I am getting thinner theologically but deeper at the same time. I think it is a fair exchange. But what are the things I am learning to do without, or outgrow? Well, just to give one example, my belief in what we so casually call 'prayer' is changing. It now has more mystery wrapped around it, more expectation, more purpose. And this, along with other things makes me ask a bigger question; is the throwing out of old customary beliefs (whilst still holding on to the central ones of course) a necessary part of our growth as mature Christian believers?