The hidden plague

loneliness

lonely

Fascinating article in about a great source of un-wellness in our society1: loneliness. 

‘In Britain 7.7m people live alone … Seventeen million adults in Britain are unattached. More than 1m older people feel lonely all or most of the time, and most of them do not feel able to admit their loneliness to family and friends. Loneliness is one of the chief reasons people contact the Samaritans, though often callers find it hard to admit it. “People who call us sometimes feel that loneliness is not a good enough reason for calling,” says Nick, a long-term Samaritans volunteer. “They feel ashamed or embarrassed, as though feeling lonely isn’t something serious.” Three out of four GPs say they see between one and five lonely people a day; only 13% feel equipped to help them, even though loneliness has a detrimental effect on health equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Only 22% of us have never felt lonely.’

‘In the autumn last year, the body of 68-year-old Marie Conlon was found in her flat at Larkspur Rise in Belfast. She had been dead for nearly three years. In a statement, her family said they were “shocked and heartbroken” at the death of the “beloved sister”. Call be cruel, but how beloved could she have been if they hadn’t seen or spoken to her since the beginning of 2015? I popped into my local funeral directors to learn how often they were presented with bodies which had lain along in flats until they began to decompose. The lady in charge that day was wary of my questions, and made me promise not to give her name. But yes, she said, this happens quite regularly–bodies lie undiscovered until neighbours complain of a smell.’

My books of the year

If you have the kind of shopping-basket mind that ends up at the checkout with all kinds of stuff from random parts of the shop, books beat Netflix any day for idiosyncracy and eclecticism, and they usually beat podcasts or blogs for cogency and completeness.

Didn’t quite make the list:

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemolu, James Robinson. Useful hypothesis about about the essential elements of a prosperous nation, spoilt a little by special pleading and being a bit kludgy. Still, if the world’s politicians read this and acted on it, the world would perk up one feels.

The Beautiful Cure by Daniel M Davies. The story of advances in immunotherapy didn’t quite it spark for me. This rise of a new therapy that perhaps actually deserves the tired phrases ‘world-changing’ and ‘revolutionary’ is (at least on the evidence of this book), a Samuel Johnson still yet to find its James Boswell.

This year’s favourites

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward. This best of White House reporters did his thing with Trump. It made my list, but at the bottom, because (a) it only confirmed what you kind of knew and (b) all the main actors had resigned already by the time I read the book and (c) it’s kinda depressing.

Chasing New Horizons by Allen Stern, David Grinspoon. Wonkish but fascinating history of how to conceive a probe to Pluto, sell it to NASA, build it, launch it, make it work: getting under the skin of how big science is done. Slight caution: history is written by the winners — but still fascinating.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Sweet, witty retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew which I read in a single evening and then went back to several times, just to revel in Anne Tyler’s deftness and grace as a storyteller. Plot, character, dialogue, background: everything is beautifully primped. It ain’t profound or deep but it’s funny, refreshing and satisfying.

The Mission of God’s People by Chris Wright. Compelling vision of the Church’s vocation to the world and to creation. Best mission theology title for me since Lesslie Newbiggin’s The Open Secret, which 30 years ago helped redirect my career.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling. We’ve long been fans of Hans Rosling’s TED talks in our house. But his book — his final offering to the world– about the relentless rise of good news about the world and how we are programmed to avoid and disbelieve it, is the best thing he’s done. Read it while it’s still warm (some of its stats. are as recent as 2017).

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The most enjoyable apocalypse I’ve ever read, and one of Terry Pratchett’s very best.

The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death’s End by Cixin Liu. Actually this has been a couple of years’ project. This science fiction series is the best SF I’ve read in years. Like a musician who keep introducing key changes, Cixin Liu just keeps unfolding astonishing ideas, ramping them up and up. The books aren’t flawless and can drag in places, but collectively are thought-provoking hard SF that I kept boring my physicist son with.

And my favourite…

Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by S Frederick Starr. This is the rather untold story of the oasis cities and great thinkers who (geographically) connected the Byzantines, the Arab World, China and India and (historically) kept the golden thread of rational thought and inquiry alive between the Roman Empire and the Europeans. I found it compelling and totally fascinating and would be sad if I didn’t travel through this book again. It turns out that the ‘Arab’ and Muslim empire, at its best, was powered by Central Asian and Persian thought.

In European times, discovery of a single volume by these thinkers was enough to spark off bits of our own Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. A wonderful unearthing and piecing together of missing historical treasure. Makes you want to visit Central Asia as Frederick Starr did and see dusty one-horse Afghan cities and recite Ozymandias or something:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Daily bread, by which I mean books

Loved this quote from preacher J John who was quoting Baptist minister C H Spurgeon.

Spurgeon was commenting on a passage in Paul’s letters where he told his friend Timothy to bring the books he left behind:

St Paul – he’s inspired yet he wants books. He’s been preaching 30 years and yet he wants books. He’s seen the Lord yet he wants books. He has had a wider experience than most people yet he wants books. He has been caught up to the third heaven and heard things it is unlawful to utter yet he wants books.  He has written the major part of the New Testament yet he wants books.

J John Defining the Future in Together (magazine for Christian booksellers) 34, Nov-Dec 2018, p 33

Feeding the ducks

Took grand-daughter to local park to feed ducks. Of course there have been developments in duck nutrition recently and the council have put up signs: don’t feed bread to the ducks. Try something like frozen peas.

I remembered this and brought peas from freezer. Threw at ducks. Most of the peas sank. Ducks swam away. This is unprecedented behaviour for ducks. Grand-daughter enjoyed eating the frozen peas.

Not sure what I take away from this.

Two podcasts I like

Am enjoying two podcasts that open a space for humane, sensible discussion between Christian viewpoints and non-Christian ones. Courteous, thoughtful, probing.

So refreshing after BBC current affairs programmes, of which I am getting fed up. Memo to the BBC:

  1. Good radio is not just getting two people to argue.
  2. ‘Balance’ is not achieved by putting a scientist against a flat-earther
  3. Presenters are often rude, talk too much and interrupt too much
  4. Courtesy is lovely

Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable podcast is just delicious and so is Elizabeth Oldfield’s The Sacred. Both presenters set a standard for thoughtful discussion. Love it.

Waiting

Sir William Tendring. 1408

I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered, why did God take so long? God made promises to Abraham but then Jewish history meandered for 2000 years until Jesus came.

One thought is that through that long wait everything had been tried –slavery, empire, exile; theology, literature, philosophy– but nothing had been found to satisfy the human soul or give coherence to the human story. History’s crayon, like a brass-rubbing, only revealed the outlines of a missing King.

I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.’ (Lamentations 3:24)

Fear and Healing

Above all, guard your heart…

I attended a lecture about disability and the role of the mind.  Fascinating. So important to (try to) tackle our fears. Here are a few quotes:

It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has

Hippocrates

Patients with the same illness or injury can have widely different perceptions of their condition and these perceptions can lead these same two patients down very different illness projections

Petrie K and Weinman J Clinical Medicine 2006;6:536-9

* The most powerful negative driver in all chronic conditions is fear

* Fear leads to avoidance of the activity/situation

*’Avoiders do not have different demographics, pain or medical history from other back sufferers but they do have a greater fear of pain & reinju

Waddell 1998

In plainer English, quite a lot of how you fare with a disease depends on the state of your heart. 

Here’s a book we were referred to — about back pain but with much wider applicability. Given the price, maybe ask a doctor friend to lend it to you!

On not taking risks

Horse Ploughing show.My friend Miriam Cowpland shared this gem from her own reading of  the devotional writer A W Tozer

In Tozer’s book ‘Paths to Power’ there is a chapter entitled ‘Miracles follow the Plough’. He contrasts two types of ground: fallow ground (fallow meaning ground which has been left for a period of time without being sown), and ground which has been broken up by the plough. The fallow field has chosen safety, security and contentment. But, says Tozer, at a terrible price. ‘Never does it see the miracle of growth; never does it feel the motions of mounting life nor see the wonders of bursting seed nor the beauty of ripening grain.’

In contrast the cultivated field has yielded itself to the ‘adventure of living’. ‘Peace has been shattered by the shouting farmer and the rattle of machinery: it has been upset, turned over, bruised and broken, but the rewards come hard upon its labours.’

I’m sure you can see the parallels which Tozer then goes on to draw with our lives: the fallow life that doesn’t want to be disturbed, that has stopped taking risks for the sake of fruitfulness, contrasted with the life that is marked by discontent (at fruitlessness), yearning for the work of God, willing to be bruised and broken so that seed can be planted.

Which kind of field am I? What kind of field are you?

Breaking up the fallow ground begins with seeking God. Prayer, deep longing crying out to the Lord for Him to work in us, in our teams, in our places of ministry – this is where it begins. Are we doing that?

Old promises and new promises

Interesting to compare the promises given to God’s people in Old and New Testaments:

OldNew
Land of milk and honeyStreams of living water,
Jesus the Bread of Life
Victory over enemiesVictory over sin, death and the devil
Nations serve the people of GodNations join the people of God
Abundant harvestsAbundant fruitfulness
Everyone sitting under his own vine and his own fig treeSeated in heavenly places in Christ; nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
Promised LandNew Creation

Hope as a foundation

For thinking about your country

While I’m familiar with hope as a quality applied to persons (and myself) the idea of applying it to whole nations is refreshing.

 

…[Hope] makes an individual or a group, or even a nation, producers in their own drama, and not merely actors repeating the lines set  by others or by some mysterious fate.

The Christian undestanding is that hope is an essential … state of mind for all human beings…

..[Hope] makes an individual or a group, or even a nation, producers in their own drama, and not merely actors repeating the lines set by others or by some mysterious fate.

Francois-Xavier, Cardinal Nguyen van Thuan, wrote an account of more than a decade in prison in Vietnam after the Communist takeover of te south in 1974. His is a testimony of hope, despite torture, solitary confinement and a near certainty of death in prison, forgotten by the majority of the world. He was sustained by the presence of Christ, by Mass said each day with a grain of rice and enough rice wine to hold in the palm of his hand . He was sustained by the story, the narrative of hope that centre on the resurrection of Christ and his living presence with us now. He was not destroyed by circumstance, or a sense of fatalism, but neither did he have a false hope of survival, a vain optimism. The story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the  most powerful narrative shift in world history, enabling a small and scattered group of disciples full of despair to set a pattern and style of life that conquered the Roman Emprie without violvence.
(Reimagining Britain, pp 25, 26, 27)

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