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  • On Prayer Letters

    Today I was reading a list of prayer requests on the blog of someone I know.  I was taken aback by the, let's be generous, lack of thought in what was identified.  I am happy enough to pray for safe travel, but that flights won't be disrupted by (quote) 'impending BA strikes or volcanoes'??!  So, is it OK for other people's flights to be disrupted instead?  'That we will all have a good time,' well I hope you do, but beware what you pray for... what might 'good' mean in this case?  Having a ball or growing in understanding?  I'll pray for the latter, but don't see why anyone is entitled to the former, sorry.

    Then there was the request for the 'Spirit of the living God to fall upon the people and country' which sounds ever so holy but means what precisely?  Surely if God is omnipresent, and if 'the Spirit blows where it wills' then God is already active before we ask.

    To be fair, these are selected from a (much) longer list, most of which is more helpful, but the point remains: prayer should not be 'please God bless me/mine thus and so'.  Some of my best conversations have arisen sat waiting for delayed planes/trains/coaches, some of the yuckiest experiences have turned out to be the most important... God has a habit of answering in ways we don't anticipate.

    All of which reminds me of this prayer:


    I asked for strength that I might achieve;
    I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

    I asked for health that I might do greater things;
    I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

    I asked for riches that I might be happy.
    I was given poverty that I might be wise.

    I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
    I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

    I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

    I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

    I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I had hoped for.

    Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered;
    I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

    — Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier

  • BBC Documentary, Life and Death

    Last night I watched the BBC documentary based at Addenbrokes Hospital in Cambridge that followed the stories of three people with horrendous brain injuries following road accidents.  In an age of high-tech medicine and the ability to 'interrupt' or 'reverrse' death three real families faced the unthinkable... would a loved one live or die; should a loved one live or die; could a loved one live or die.  One, as it happens the youngest, died, the other two survived with varying degrees of major disability.

    The programme raises lots of questions and offered few answers.

    As I watched and marvelled at the skill and care of the medical professionals, I couldn't help wondering what it all cost, not because I didn't think these people deserved a chance, but because the NHS is so stretched financially.  It's the old chestnut question of utilitarian ethics: what is the  greatest good for the greatest number?  Is it better to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds (I am guessing) on one person or a few hundred on lots of people?

    As I watched and marvelled at the skill and care of the medical professionals, I couldn't help thinking that when the NHS began no one could have conceived of such complex intervention as is now routine.  I wondered how much a publicly funded health service has actually allowed skills to develop that might not have done otherwise?  So many 'routine' treatments and procedures have emerged in the last half century.  Even a few years ago all of these people would have died on the day of their accident.

    As I watched and marvelled at the skill and care of the medical professionals, I couldn't help wondering how those involved balance what is best for the patient and what furthers their research interests.  It must be tempting when a really interesting case comes along to get excited about that and so forget that this is a real person with real relatives.

    As I watched and marvelled at the skill and care of the medical professionals, I couldn't help noting what a contrary society we now are, where some people demand the 'right to die' and other people cling fiercely to life despite all odds.  A society where, whatever area of life and health you consider there are conflicting 'rights'...

    As I watched and marvelled at the skill and care of the medical professionals, I couldn't help pondering the idea of 'playing God,' as one person in the programme observed, and how we are happy (bad word but can't find a better one) to do so when it suits our desires.

    As I watched and marvelled at the skill and care of the medical professionals, I couldn't help wondering what difference faith makes in all of this.  Not so much in which decision is made, but how.  Not so much in the outcome, but how people face it.  Not so much in the immediate, but on the long term

    The documentary ended with some delightful footage of one of the three sitting in a chair surrounded by his family, eyes shining and a hint of a smile on his face; it had begun with the same family saying their goodbyes as they prepraed to withdraw life support.  Before the accident this man had evidently said he would not wish to live like this, now he seemed able to appreciate the life he had.  It would be easy to draw naive and glib conclusions, and no doubt some will.  One online commentater said 'there was no miracle.'  No?  I guess it depends what you need a miracle to be.

    It was a programme that made me think - probably not the best thing to be doing late at night - and for that I am glad.

  • Connections

    matt baggott.jpgThe news today has been of violence in Northern Ireland, and the chief constable was interviewed.  Matt Baggott was a friend of many small Baptist churches in Leciestershire.  He preached at D+1 and he came to speak at 'Thing in a Pub' in Dibley.  He is a hardworking police officer who always brings his faith into his work.  I am sure he prays with and for both Catholics and Protestants in NI.

    I thought he looked tired when I saw him on TV.  The seriousness of his task, and his commitment to do it well, will take their toll.  NI is blessed to have him; I pray he will be given wisdom and courage for the task ahead and that he and his family will be able to enjoy the love of the many wonderful people in that land.

  • Another Hymn

    This morning I'm playing 'hunt the hymn' for the service built around Acts 15.  I found this one, which I probably won't use, but seemed to speak into a wider context where churches are full of people who are hurt and who cause hurt, where real life takes its toll and where, despite or through it all, God chooses to work.  I like the honesty.

    Lord, you have seen your church's needs;
    our clamour you have heard:
    at every point make known your mind;
    apply to us your word.

    When leaders argue, workers fail,
    and faithful saints lose heart,
    grant to us all your peace, your strength;
    your love to us impart.

    When illness strikes or loss invades
    or ranks are thinned by death,
    then come among us with new hope
    and with reviving breath.

    When Christians are in rival groups
    and churches torn by strife,
    make us repent, be reconciled,
    and so restored to life.

    We plead, O Christ, that when you come
    you will find faith on earth;
    one church awakened by one truth,
    alive by one new birth.

    Christopher Idle from Philippians 1 and 2 © Christopher Idle/Jubilate Hymns Ltd CM

  • A Hymn

    Last night's service included this hymn, which seemed to speak into the world we inhabit...


    The one who longs to make us whole

    Is waiting to embrace

    Our broken lives, so we can know

    The power of healing grace.

    God's love surrounds our suffering,

    And keeps us through the night;

    God helps us bear our deep despair

    Till we see morning light.


    The one who saves us from ourselves

    Is waiting to release

    Our hearts from chains of self-reproach

    And failure to find peace.

    When harmful habits leave us bruised,

    Distraught by inner pain,

    God comes to us through trusted friends,

    And help us hope again.


    The one who understands our need

    Accepts us as we are;

    And, like a loved one, welcomes us

    When we have wandered far.

    God never says we come too late

    To be forgiven, free

    But promises we can become

    The self we're meant to be.


    Edith Sinclair Downing, (c) Edith Sinclair Downing

    Sources: Church Hymnary (4th Ed) or Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise

    DCM; set tune (CH4) Third Mode Melody, Tallis