What we lost

Not entirely as expected

New Years day
Nick Kenrick@flickr

The collapse of civilisation is, on current evidence, greatly exaggerated.

In the UK, teenagers are sobering up, youth courts are closing, fewer children are getting pregnant, crime is falling. Establishment hypocrisy and bullying (some of it ascribed to the church) is being exposed. Casual racism and discrimination are being challenged and people who were formerly above the law now seem to be being thrown in jail. And unlike my dad or my grandad, neither my son nor I have been obliged to serve the country as a soldier and, like them be shot at, shelled or gassed.

It may not last. But across the world (hard though it may be to believe), a smaller proportion of humanity is being killed by conflict, childbirth, childhood diseases, or mosquitos than in any human memory, living or collective.

An inconvenient grace

This is awkward in some church circles, especially in Europe and the West, where a story of national decline is as familiar as the story of Noah’s Ark:

  • Fewer people have a Christian outlook
  • God-centred morality is being replaced by harm-centred morality
  • National law is diverging from Biblical reference points.

The losses of living faith are I think real–witness the hulking, empty churches that surround us and once did buzz with people at least some of whom actually believed. But these losses of faith have happened in the middle of rising prosperity and health.

What then has been lost? May I suggest (among many things too complicated for me to understand) it is the shelter from the storm?

Shelter From the StormIt’s what happens the typhoon hits. In my observation people who don’t know Jesus don’t do too well when crises and losses come.  It’s like they haven’t anywhere to go, no one to lean into when great sorrow pours down from the sky or erupts within bodies or families.

This is so massively, incomparably different for those of us in churches and with faith in Jesus. We are just as angry, just as confused, just as wretched, but unjustly held and undeservedly loved. And superrationally happy.

That’s the loss.

The arms of love that comfort me would all mankind embrace.

 

What I learnt from nearly dying

Where in your sickness is the meeting place between really wanting and quietly knowing? Invest there.

Sunshine and shower...I’ve done time in Addenbrooke’s isolation ward in Cambridge (mysterious tropical diseases); Intensive Care (both Addenbrooke’s and nearby Papworth); and the high dependency unit at the Heart Hospital in London. And that’s just counting the wards with one-on-one, high intensity, or barrier nursing, not the ordinary wards for the merely tediously sick.

Between 2009 and 2013, I nearly died three times. I’ve met loads of people who have faced much worse, and I am humbled by their courage. What I have to say is nothing special. I felt panic and fear and I still do sometimes.

I did learn some stuff though.

  1. There is a sort of detachment as your life fades away. When my heart stopped and the crash team started electrocuting me, which hurts a lot, I remember still being me. There was still a me in there, despite the crowd around me, and the draining oxygen, and the deteriorating consciousness. Unscientific but interesting.
  2. It helps you sort out what you want. I have spent months convalescing, with my wife kindly trashing all my emails. It is wonderful. I realized that many parts of my career were not really worth the bother, and I’ve been able to refocus since.
  3. Take charge. I found I wanted just two things: my family, and my writing. I also found (a) I wanted them so much and (b) I was confident I was going to get them back, and see good days again.  At the time I had an illness that kills 70% of those it infects, even in Western Intensive Care units. This is worse than getting Ebola. Yet I was so sure I was going to live that I was determined not to die. I think that’s key in chronic illness. Not only, ‘what you really really want?‘ but ‘what are you confident you will receive?‘  Some people are desperate to live but don’t think they will (and they don’t). Other people are oddly confident in something — for example that will see their daughter’s graduation. And they do. Their faith heals them. What’s God got in his hands for you? Where in your sickness is the meeting place between really wanting and quietly knowing? Invest in that place, I would suggest. And if, deep down, you know you’re going to die, take charge of that too. Don’t let people soft-soap you.
  4. The love of others is astonishing. My family were like this, as were others, including some of the medical staff. I still find it hard to think about that; I do not have the capacity for it; like staring into the sun.
  5. My Christian faith helped. I am a Christian and in the happy position, irritating to many people, of being convinced that God loves me. In our dark times, I found myself exposed to the relentless goodness of God. He prepares a table for me in the midst of my enemies. Blessed are the broken. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. He is my friend and it will be all right. That’s a good lesson.

This isn’t meant to be a book plug but…

Six weeks after I left hospital I started writing this book, about how the Christian faith worked for me in good times and bad. To me, it is one of the best things I’ve written, it has sold a lot of copies–relatively–and people seem to have enjoyed it. It’s available in various formats and you do bulk orders too.

I have made it FREE to people with Kindles and other e-readers. Please help yourself, tell your friends, and if you want to help out, perhaps you could write a review.

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Price: - - - -

 

I’ve also put up an audio version  free as a set of readings on YouTube.