Tuesday, December 07, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...Advent Synchro Blog

Well, fourteen inches of snow in our back garden by last Friday, three days snowed in and working from home, chaos on the road and trains. Welcome to the British winter! Again.

It is interesting how just a few inches of frozen rain reveal how vulnerable our society is – shops running out of perishable supplies, major transport infrastructure going wrong, leaving people trapped in trains and cars overnight. What would happen is something really serious happened, and all of it just fell apart?

It puts me a bit in mind of Jesus’ warning to the disciples not get anxious about future or current troubles – it’s the way it will be. Sounds a bit fatalistic, but actually, it is reminder that we so easily get distracted by the immediate perils that we miss the bigger picture. If Jesus really is retuning, then things will be kicking off out there in way we cannot mistake – but history is replete with natural and manmade disasters that must have seemed like the end of the world. The long, hard winters at the start of the twelfth century, followed in less than a generation by the Black Death must have felt pretty apocalyptic to the people of Northern Europe And you can point to countless other events of similar ilk. A reminder that our lives on this planet hang by a thread.

Which is why knowing that Jesus is coming back remains so important in Christian thinking – because we know our fragility and ephemerality, we also realise that we have no help or hope other than God, and if the whole world comes crashing down around our ears, God remains firm. There is always a hope, even in the midst of hopelessness.

One of the most striking novels and films of recent times is ‘The Road’ which takes us to a world where is has all collapsed – there is no future, no hope, only a lingering (or if fortunate, a swift and painless) death. But although God never appears, there is that spark of hope, of light, of humanity in the midst of this devastation that looks onwards to a future. It is a human instinct to believe and hope that there is a better world coming – I believe that it has been planted there by God, because it makes us willing to get up every day, persist through the hard things, toil in the face of adversity, believe in the face of doubt, hostility and even persecution.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where is it all going wrong?

Is Obama getting it wrong? There has been a lot of buzz lately about his responses to global health issues - particularly HIV & AIDS. I have blogged elsewhere on the detrimental impact of his changed funding priorities is having on HIV treatment, and the concern that much of the good done by PEPFAR could be lost.

This post from the Huffington Post suggests, quite rightly, that while Obama is right to focus on a wider range of health issues, including maternal and child health (arguing that you cannot deal with one disease at a time, but with the whole constellation of health crises), this should not be at the expense of the work already done on HIV treatment. It's both/and, not either/or.

But, at a time when the economic downturn is putting pressure on aid budgets everywhere, it is harder to make a case for the big spend. While our own government claims to be ring fencing aid spending, the reality is that many in the Tory Party, the right wing press, and quite a few members of the public, are arguing that we need to concentrate on our domestic ills rather than the needs of the world's poorest. Actually, the decision to up the aid to Afghanistan (a significant proportion of which seems to be disappearing into the pockets of a corrupt elite) only serves to strengthen the naysayers.

Aid, where it works, needs to be maintained and expanded - at least until such time as it is no longer needed (which should always be its ultimate aim). We cannot back peddle now!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Earth is Crammed with Heaven



“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I stumbled upon this quote just this morning in one of my wife's books. Every morning on the train I pass by a small glimpse of heaven (or at least what I would hope heaven might be like). Just past Cuxton on the way towards Meopham is a small valley full of farms and fields that change almost daily with the seasons. Going from alternate rich green and yellow fields in the spring, to a uniform green mottled with red poppies in early summer, then white with wheat in August. Meanwhile the trees in the hedgerows and a small woodland in the midst of the valley go from winter's bare skeletons to a riot of spring blossom to lush summer greens and then autumn golds and reds.

But most of the train is too buried in their papers, iPods books and (indeed) Blackberries, or else are too fast asleep to notice. I miss it too, most mornings, but every now and again I see this valley on my way in to London and my heart leaps and gives praise. On my way back from London, especially in the lighter evenings of spring and summer I give thanks whenever this valley comes into view, as it reminds me that I am near home - both physically and spiritually.

This little valley, glimpsed twice a day for barely a minute is, for me at least, a reminder of God's incredible creativity and artistry, and of his tangible presence in a Creation that holds together through his very Word.

Earth is crammed with heaven indeed, even in an obscure part of Northwest Kent.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dying patients denied pain relief because of legal fears

A survey in Nursing Times has been published this morning claiming that "dying patients denied pain relief because of legal fears" - specifically that one in ten 'nurses' surveyed said that they were scared to give full doses of pain relieving opiates (even where prescribed) because of fears of being prosecuted for assisting in the death of a patient.

There are some real question marks to raise about this. First and foremost the methodology of the survey itself. This was an open survey that anyone could post to. Pro euthanasia groups were generically emailing their supporters asking for nurses to fill in the survey, but any of their supporters could have. The same may have happened on the other side. But the key point is that you did not need to be a Nursing Times subscriber or show any proof of being a registered, practising nurse to fill this in, so the results cannot be said to have a high degree of validity. The 2,311 respondents may have all been practising nurses, but there is no way to verify that. Furthermore it was a self selecting sample, so there is no way you can say this is a representative cross section of the profession.

Secondly, the survey asked distinctly slanted questions, which seem to look for answers that pointed to neglecting patients' symptoms for fear of prosecution. It was hard to give an answer that did not point in that direction without ticking an 'other' or 'not applicable' box. In other words, there was no real triangulation of data by asking different questions with different possible answers to make sure that the respondents were actually saying what they appear to have said.

In short, the methodology of the survey is so poor as to leave one wondering how many useful conclusions one could make from the data.

However, leaving aside the questions about the methodology and validity of the study, if one is to draw conclusions from it, then it does suggest a scary level of apparent ignorance of good clinical care and the law. 33% said they did not know what the law was (it hasn't changed, despite what you would have thought seeing the coverage of the DPP's guidelines on prosecution in cases of assisted suicide), and if 12% of nurses think it is better to titrate down the dose of opiate analgesics so that a patient is in pain rather than risk prosecution, that show a) a starling level of callousness and lack of care, b) a devastating level of ignorance about good palliative care and how hard it is to actually overdose someone on appropriately prescribe opiate analgesia, and c) a scary level of ignorance of the law on assisted suicide.

Has any nurse ever been prosecuted for simply giving an extra (prescribed) dose of diamorphine to a patient in terminal pain? I have never heard of such a case. You would have to give a huge dose to kill someone (people in severe pain can take considerably higher doses of opiate analgesia than people in no pain), and be either deliberately malicious or unbelievably incompetent to do so. In short, either this survey is picking up something that is not there by nature of its methodological flaws, or we really need to look again at nurse education on medical law and end of life care!

What is even more concerning is that the Royal College of Nursing has still to produce any professional guidance on this issue. The Nursing and Midwifery Council have spoken strongly, pointing out that the law has not changed, but despite the RCN changing their stance on assisted suicide to one of neutrality (supposedly to enable greater discussion of the issue), the main professional body for nurses in this country seems to be dithering and uncertain what to do. This lack of leadership may explain, at least in part, why so many nurses apparently feel ignorant and unable to act appropriately in the face of a person facing the end of their life in pain.

Leadership and education are what are needed here, not a change in the law!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Christian Manifesto

I was heartened to read the Evangelical Alliances' Open Letter to Party Leaders today, as it reflected the views of British Evangelical Christians on Facebook and Twitter, and refreshingly not a single reactionary idea amongst them!

  • Encourage the importance of marriage as the best environment to bring up children
  • A change to the voting system so that it is more representative of the votes cast
  • For politicians to act with honesty and integrity
Other suggestions that make up the top ten ideas include:
  • Foster social entrepreneurship in inner city areas that have suffered from long term deprivation
  • Fully worked out plans for supplying water and sanitation to those currently without in developing countries
  • An immigration policy that ensures we provide proper sanctuary for those fleeing persecution in their own country
  • Cap the interest rate that can be charged on loans and credit cards
  • Reform the House of Lords
  • Work to set up an international tax on financial transactions
  • Take hard choices to tackle the national debt
This is just a sample of the many ideas that were submitted to the Facebook group and via Twitter, and show that Christians are passionately committed to all areas of society. Which ever party or parties form the next Government we call on them to listen to these suggestions and engage with the Church. Across the country churches are an integral part of local communities and work for the good of all society. We ask that you work with the church as a key partner as you begin to govern.

The thinking is refreshingly global, focussed on justice, fairness and community - values at the heart of a Christ Centred, Biblical world view. I doubt that the party leaders will have listened that much (judging from most of their manifestos), but whatever government we find tomorrow morning, we have here some of the issues that Christians at least would like it to address - issues that will have a wider benefit rather than simply fulfilling sectarian interests.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Where Was the Foregin Policy?

Tonight's Leaders Debate on Sky is being picked over by pundits ad nauseum, so thought I would add my own twopenny worth.

It was meant to be in foreign policy (although less than half was - especially if you take a pointed question about the Papal visit as being less about foreign policy and more about relationships with faith communities, which the leaders seemed to do). So we got Europe (sort of), Afghanistan (a lot) and the Special Relationship with the US (again, sort of). But nothing on overseas aid.

Four or five years back, that would have been in the top three questions asked by the audience or the pundits. Not now - the world's poor have dropped off the agenda again. Depressing. Inevitable, but depressing, because this election will once again be fought about who is going to put more pounds in my pocket - and the swing voters in middle England will be the ones who's pockets that party will want to promise to line. Our own poor, and the poor of the developing world, once again, not getting a seat at the table.

Update 4 May 2010:
Well, it seems the lack of Development related policy or questions was no surprise to some, and that that other have been dissecting the limited differences between all the parties (who all adhere notionally to the target of 0.7% of GDP going in aid by 2013). All well and good. And the One Campaign has got all the party leaders to go on record with their fairly trite statements on aid policy. All seem to be saying the same things, and none of them are bad. But I fear that the world's poor have genuinely slipped off our radar as a nation.

In Sarah Bosley's Global Health Blog in the Guardian this morning there was a pointed piece about Avastin, a bowel cancer drug that can (in very small doses) cure wet age related macular degeneration. But the drug companies are peddling the low doses of Avastin at a hugely inflated price and under another brand name. And this goes on all the time with diseases in the developing world, where treatments are denied the poorest of the poor because of profiteering. But this gets hardly any media or political attention.

This morning I led a morning devotion on Ezekiel 16 (one of the stronger passages in a pretty hard hitting prophetic book). Verses 49-50 say something quite scary - the sin of dear old Sodom, destroyed by sulphurous fire in Genesis, was not as is widely assumed, homosexuality, but rather that they sat back comfortably engrossed in their own pleasures and problems while the poor and vulnerable around them starved.

I fear for our nation - that we have let our own concerns (however relevant and valid they may be) deflect us from the real needs of the poor and our obligations to them as the rich world. And what judgement awaits us for this? Hmmm, read the rest of chapter 16 in Ezekiel and beyond...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BBC News - Will Christians swing the 2010 UK election?

Interesting article on the BBC News - Will Christians swing the 2010 UK election? - there is definitely a far more high-profile mobilisation of the Christian electorate this year than I can ever previously recall, and all the major parties (and not a few of the minor ones) seem to be playing up the Christian vote.

Wonder why the sudden sea-change? Is it because we are becoming more political as British Christians, or is because we tend to vote more than the general population, so in a close contest the parties need to court us? No easy conclusions, but perhaps both are true.

I see two dangers - firstly that we end up like the US Evangelicals and become too wedded or identified to one set of political issues and one party, or secondly that we end up being useful idiots to parties that dump us once it is more more politically expedient to do so, as the Republicans did evangelicals in the last US election. Either way, the temptations of power and empire are the ones we must abjure as followers of the King whose Kingdom was not of this world, whilst engaging with the political world in a constructive and Godly manner. Not an easy tightrope to walk, but one we should not avoid.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marriage does little for child development


Not really a surprise - it isn't marriage per se, but the people who tend to get married that has an impact on the development of their children.

Which does suggests that in finding policies to help lift children out of the poverty trap and improve social stability it is not so much finding tax incentives for people to get married, as addressing the wider social, educational, economic and health issues that affect families of all shapes and sizes.

As a Christian I believe in marriage, but recognise that it is only one of a whole tapestry of social strands that build stable individuals, families and communities. And it is the wider social, economic, political and spiritual changes in the life of our nation that has eroded many of these strands in many of our communities.

Once again, it is easy to address the surface issue without going deeper in a hunt for attention grabbing policies.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Christian Declaration ahead of the General Election

This time Steve Chalke's network, Faithworks has launched The Faithworks 2010 Declaration calling on the major parties to recognise the role of faith based organisations and churches to local communities and service provisions across the UK, and the centrality of the Christian faith to those responses. It also calls or stronger national and local government partnerships with the Christian FBO sector which recognise rather than marginalise the core Christian faith at the heart of the work done by churches and Christian organisations.

It is encouraging to see the number of Christian organisations really engaging in this general election (the Evangelical Alliance are asking people to tweet or Facebook their manifesto priorities, CARE are asking Christian to Make The Cross Count, etc, etc.) - and showing the breadth of concerns and involvement that Christians in the UK have with the life of our nation. We may not all agree on what the core issues are, but we hold the same Lord to be at the centre of our ethics, values and practices.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Westminster2010 - Protecting human life, marriage, and freedom of conscience

Following the US 'Manhattan Declaration', British Church leaders have today launched Westminster2010 - Protecting human life, marriage, and freedom of conscience, a declaration of Christian conscience, valuing human life and justice for the poor and marginalised ahead of the UK General Election, (expected to be called next week).

The leaders (including former Bishops Michael Nazir-Ali and George Carey, Steve Clifford of the Evangelical Alliance, Cardinal O'Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, and the heads of several other Christian denominations and national organisations) call upon all the major parties and candidates to listen to the voice of Christians (amongst others) at the election, recognising that the voices of Christians have been somewhat in danger of being marginalised in recent years.

In particular the Westminster Declaration sets out a broad range of policies that unite churches in the UK, including support for marriage, freedom for those of faith to live their lives according to their beliefs and opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia.
It also calls for Christians to support, protect, and be advocates for children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, poor, exploited, trafficked or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies.
The timing of the launch of Westminster 2010 ahead of the call of the General election is designed to send a clear message to all parliamentary candidates that Christians will be supporting those who will both promote policies that protect vulnerable people and also respect the right of Christians to hold, express and live according to Christian beliefs.

You can sign the declaration here.

(At time of posting, the site seemed to have crashed, but should be up again soon).

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Pullman's Latest Offering Gets a Thoughtful Christian Response

Bishop Alan’s Blog: The Goodman Philip and the Scoundrel Pullman?

A typically thoughtful review of Philip Pullman's 'The Goodman Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' - suggesting it may be a more helpful and thoughtful read than the provocative title suggests. I may now even be tempted to borrow it from my local library! Sadly, I fear this may not be representative of the mad eyed responses I anticipate flooding in from many of my fellow believers (sigh)

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Think local to change face of Britain, urges David Cameron - Times Online

Think local to change face of Britain, urges David Cameron - Times Online

It is encouraging to see words like 'Community' and 'Civil Society' being used in the language of the general election. However, while none of the parties has it really nailed, they are coming out with some good ideas. Ideas, however, have a habit of biting the dust once an electoral mandate is received.

Meanwhile the local community groups and churches will get on with the job we do best, with our without the Government's support, whether it be blue, red or yellow come June.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#RHT - Robin Hood Tax

Check out this video that explains a simple but potentially significant idea to release a global benefit from the world's financial markets - something that could save lives and make a real, lasting difference.




see http://robinhoodtax.org.uk/ and follow on Twitter & Facebook for more information and ways to get involved.


This is an idea whose time has come!