Saturday, July 04, 2020

'I was in constant agony'

 My story was featured in this month's edition of Christianity magazine in the UK. It is about my most recent book, 'Through the Storms: a manual for when life hurts' and takes a look back at the 22 years long odyssey of pain and hospitalisation that lies behind it. The magazine also says a lot about the recent anti-racism rallies around the globe, and I found its approach to be refreshing and well-balanced, even though I'm sure some will disagree.

I hope, though, that in telling my story I am doing more than simply marketing a book. At least four people told me last weekend that they are reading Through the Storms and finding it both challenging and helpful. Above all, I want it to bring glory to God and show people his amazing love. Faith is not always a procession of glorious successes. It is often written in what Winston Churchill called 'blood, toil, tears and sweat'. If you feel that your own faith is failing you in this current pandemic crisis, then can I encourage you to get hold of books like mine, and magazines like Christianity, which may help you to just get through. You only get a testimony when you have been through a test, and maybe one day your own story will be a help or encouragement to someone else.

You can also hear a recording of the full interview with the editor of Christianity magazine, Sam Hailes, on Saturday 11th July on Premier Christian Radio, the Profile at 8pm or download the Profile podcast from https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Podcasts .

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Isolation Agonies!

I have a friend in quarantine. He has about a week to go of his 14 day sentence. It's hard going. Meals put down outside his door. No mixing with hotel staff or anyone else at all. Twenty minutes exercise per day - less than many prison regimes. And his crime? Arriving in Guernsey from the UK to work in our local hospital. Our borders are firmly closed. Anyone arriving in this little group of islands has to isolate for two weeks, or face a fine of up to £10,000. One man was recently fined £6,000 for his first offence!

My experience of chronic pain is that it isolates the sufferer. You can't go out socialising because you simply don't feel up to it. Even within families and homes you can't take the noise and hassle of chatter and being with others. Sadness is compounded by loneliness as you ask yourself 'Will I ever feel different?'.

Yes, you will. You are not shut up for ever. Try to look beyond the confines of your situation. Even lying in bed you could FaceTime or Skype someone you love. Above all, keep your mind on the fact that you are never truly alone. Jesus said "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you".

For some of the lessons that I have learned in my many periods of real isolation caused by pain and recurring acute pancreatitis, get hold of my book 'Through the Storms: a manual for when life hurts'. And/or, get in touch with me at throughthestorms750@gmail.com as I would be pleased to hear from you.

My friend will emerge from behind his cage next week. I will be pleased to see him, and I hope he will be even better equipped to understand how people in chronic pain feel. But if you are feeling isolated today, I hope you will reach out by some means to get help to just get through. Better days are ahead!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Bailiwick Bubble

This is the first day of freedom from all Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in the bailiwick of Guernsey. (Saturday 20th June 2020). The island group of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm, plus a few smaller islands, has eliminated the virus with no new cases for 50 days now, and so there is no more need for social distancing, special measures or limits on numbers of people gathering. Tonight there will be a 'gig' in a local music venue and tomorrow the islands' churches will fling open their doors to all-comers!

Wow, what a moment for our small communities! It is being officially called our 'bailiwick bubble' because we can all function normally as we did before the pandemic with one exception. If we travel further than these islands, or if someone arrives here, they must strictly self-isolate for 14 days, checked by police and subject to a £10,000 fine if breached. So, in some ways, this is an artificial 'normal' not really the new normal. But it is a great start and we are grateful for the actions of our government and the expertise of its public health team led by Dr Nicola Brink. Leadership plus community action have led to this success, but those of us who pray for them are grateful to God too for this outcome.

Of course, 'fortress Guernsey' can only go on for a limited time. One day the borders will reopen, although the island's leaders are talking about 'when a vaccine comes' or when neighbouring jurisdictions get their virus under real control. Until then we can enjoy our new freedom and welcome the chance to live life as we can whist experiencing a kind of bigger 'isolation'.

This reminds me of the importance of being together with others. I am longing to see the faces of our faith community at Vazon Elim Church in the morning. We will continue to Livestream our services and value our online congregation highly. We know we have folk sharing with us from the UK, Belgium, Spain, Canada and even South Africa! In that sense we are not cut off, but being able to meet together in person as Christians, to love and even hug those who are not too scared to do so, is an absolute dream. Hope you can join us at 10.45am, in the flesh or online - come and celebrate! You will be so welcome to our bailiwick bubble!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Feet of Clay or Heart of Stone?

Statues are falling everywhere. From Baghdad to Bournemouth and from London to LA, no memorial, it seems, is safe. Winston Churchill's in Parliament Square is boxed up in metal for protection. Baden Powell's in Dorset was being guarded by old men in Boy Scout uniforms and is also now boxed. No matter how much good or commendable stuff the person being remembered may have done, down they come, or else they are being redecorated with all manner of ordure!

I have real sympathy with the grass-roots of this anti racist movement, though I fear the statue protests may be ineffective. We were all horrified by the murder of George Floyd and by the statistics of racism in both US and UK. But, whilst it is the case that the pulling down of the statue of Sadam Hussein in Baghdad may have given some relief to those pounding it with their sandals, it failed to eradicate corruption and violence in Iraq. Only substantial heart change could do that.

I also recall the response of Jesus to a baying mob. They wanted an adulterous woman to be stoned for her appalling sins. Jesus said 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. One by one the crowd dispersed, until Jesus was left with a woman whose life would never be the same again. If human perfection and purity is to be the standard by which the people pulling down statues have to qualify for being there, I think their ropes would lie limp. 

I remember another statue too. It is written about in Daniel chapter 2 and featured in a dream to King Nebuchadnezzar. In his night vision he saw a huge human image made from different materials, gold, silver, bronze and iron, each representing dynasties to come. The thing that strikes me is that the idol had feet and toes of clay (this is where we get our proverb from about leaders who have 'feet of clay'). 

And that's the point isn't it? These great men (and sadly it is usually men) all had feet of clay. They were human beings like you and me, and they were sinners, products of the age in which they lived. It is as foolish to make images of them and stick them on pedestals as it is to gather in screaming mobs to tear them down. Nothing great is achieved by either action, though it may give temporary pleasure or relief.

I suggest we look away from people of stone and bronze and focus on ourselves, flesh and blood that we are. Only God can change our hearts. Racism is a dreadful poison that afflicts our society, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. I need to repent, and ask God for his power to eradicate the idols I have erected in my heart. Only then can I begin to address the ills of a society which, given the centuries it has had the truth of the gospel, seems to be intent on ignoring it. 

In Daniel's day the heathen king was shaken by the dream and its interpretation and confessed that Daniel's God was Lord of lords and King of kings. Heart change needs that revelation. Let's tear down the idols in our hearts today.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

A Deadly Challenge



Overcoming impossible odds is nothing new. Facing huge challenges that are shaking nations and costing thousands of lives is not novel, though the Corona virus may be. Human history is marked by this kind of crisis and thus far there are reasons why it has always been overcome.

Today, the 6th June, marks the 76th anniversary of the Normandy landings - D-day. Hundreds of thousands of Allied troops hurled themselves against the might of the German army in Hitler's Atlantic Wall. The casualty rate was high, though not as high as that faced by the Allies today in their battle against Covid-19, at least not in the Normandy campaign (one estimate puts it at nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces). The UK has over 40,000 deaths from the virus in the last 3 months alone and the US many more. But, the opposition to the D-day landings was dreadful and seemed impregnable, yet today the remnants of that resistance can be seen broken and rusting in the French (and Guernsey) countryside.

Victory comes at tremendous cost. Yet there are some things that are always needed to secure it. A wartime spirit of unity and self-sacrifice, for instance. An acceptance that my comfort and well-being are not all that matters. A desire for the greater good for all and a willingness to serve rather than to be served. All these were present in Normandy this day 76 years ago and are needed now. But probably the greatest need in our day is for leadership that inspires and perseveres with a clear goal in mind. Winston Churchill was once asked what his plans were. He replied 'Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival'.

Victory came in 1945, a year later. It was at great cost. But we must hold onto the hope and ideal of victory at this time too. Pray for a vaccine to be found. Praise God for every lowering of infection rates, but pray on for complete elimination of the virus. Lift up governments and public health leaders in intercession and prayer. And be prepared for this to take time. D-day led onto a year of fierce combat before VE-day.

The death of Christ at Calvary and his glorious resurrection assures us that the war is won, but the fulfillment of its great victory remains ahead.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Double Standards or Simple Privilege?

The UK government has had a bad week. Losing ground in the polls is one thing, but weakening their grasp on the public health message is something altogether more dangerous. It could cost lives. And in case your isolation has meant that you have not been aware of the row at the centre of all this - the right hand advisor to the British Prime Minister, one Dominic Cummings, has been heavily criticised after allegations that he allegedly broke lockdown rules early in the pandemic - rules that he had helped to draw up. Some polls have shown a majority of people in favour of his removal from his post or resignation, but there are still a large number who wish the whole story would just go away. Among them is Boris Johnson, who seems indifferent to criticism on this matter and is renowned for standing by his officers when they err (perhaps due to his own experiences of being fired and shamed following mistakes in the past).

In my opinion, though, what we are seeing here is the typical British expression of the worldwide phenomenon known as 'privilege' - a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. It is not unique to the UK though it often expresses itself in very different and sometimes extreme ways, like the Indian caste system, or the American worship of riches and success in business. It causes untold harm wherever it becomes the norm, and can lead to situations where people lose respect for their leaders and confidence in their ability to guide and direct others.

Privilege also leads to a drawbridge mentality where members of a particular social class or grouping become extra protective of one another and closed to the needs of those outside the group. In the case of the UK government as a whole I am sure that is not so, but that impression could be gained from what has been going on. Hopefully, lessons will be learnt, and the media agenda will move on, but possibly not before significant harm may be done to the government's public health agenda.

As a Christian I don't like the concept of privilege. Unfairness adds a load of  discouragement to the burden of lockdown and isolation. The potential for discrimination and superiority is real, and the danger for looking down our noses at others is anathema to the Jesus we follow and serve. He saw the needs of the dispossessed and marginalised, calling them to Himself. He touched the lepers and elevated them to social acceptance. He challenged the privileged attitude of the Jewish leaders, urging them to take care, in case their actions put burdens onto people's backs that they were unable to bear.

In short, He created a new world order where those who are called to rule are firstly those who learn to humble themselves and serve.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

This is Mental Health Awareness week (declared by the World Health Organisation) and this year they have chosen the theme 'kindness'. They did so long before the lockdown, but they have really hit the nail on the head. Being kind to one another is a fundamental part of our humanity. When asked why they had chosen this theme, Mark Rowland the Chief Executive of the UK's Mental Health Foundation said 'We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive'.

Random acts of kindness can transform the drab, humdrum experience of lockdown. Those who are shielding because of some illness, or due to age, are being helped by strangers who have offered themselves by the hundreds of thousands to get involved. Food-banks are operating, often without PPE, in order to make gifts to those who are struggling economically during these tough times. Churches are organising donations of 'goody bags' for NHS staff in hospitals and care home staff.

Kindness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, along with virtues like love, joy and peace. So, being kind and mental well-being are closely linked. We need the courage to reach out in kindness towards people we may not even know. We discovered in Zimbabwe that when we could not yet even speak the local language, there is a language of love and kindness that breaks all barriers down.

And we need to be kind to ourselves too. I talk about this in my book Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts. In the chapter 'How Much am I Worth?' I share how hard we can be on ourselves because we don't feel worthy of the love and service from others, especially in chronic conditions. May we learn that God is kind, and God is love, and that He longs for us to be kind also - and charity begins at home! Go easy on yourself in this lockdown, and receive the grace of God in its fulness.

Can God point to us as examples of His kindness? He should be able to. Ephesians 2:7 (Living Bible) says: 'And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is, as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ'. So, in this mental health awareness week, let's choose to be kind to ourselves and to one another as an expression of our humanity, and our faith in Christ.