The path to Christian Science

How Tony Lobl's prayers were answered when he was a teenager and how that started his journey to Chr

Have you heard the one about the Jewish mathematician who became a Christian Scientist?

No, it’s not a Christmas cracker joke. It’s my history in a nutshell. Like Rabbi Janet Burden in an earlier “Faith Column” blog – who went in the reverse direction to me – I don’t feel I “converted” from one faith to another. I still worship one almighty God. And I still love chicken soup with matzo balls!

But at a moment of teenage despair I had a healing through prayer, and Christian Science – although I didn’t know of it then – is all about that kind of healing.

When I was 18 years old I went to see a specialist at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, as I was unusually short. He told me I would not grow significantly. I was offered hormone treatment with no guarantees, except that it would have disturbing side effects. I declined.

I had – and still have – a great deal of respect for doctors and nurses that work hard to help those in need. That night, though, the medical verdict I had received hung over my head like a guillotine poised to fall on my future. (In hindsight I recognize that many short people have proved they can have as rich and full a life as anyone, but at the time I was only aware of being desperate to be dating and I hadn’t even got close!)

That night I lay in bed in total angst. Still awake past 2am I found myself muttering “Oh God, why? Oh God, why?” This was not a prayer, but a complaint. But having had an earlier experience that persuaded me there is a God somewhere, it suddenly occurred to me to drop the “oh” and the “why” and I was left with a mind focused on God. I was praying without words. At that moment my anxiety drained away and was replaced by a deeply sweet sense of peace. I felt loved and looked after and I felt the same way the next morning when I awoke.

Everything didn’t change all at once. I started University as a cocky kid compensating for looking up at all my peers by being a bit of an exhibitionist in classes and by joining the University radio station as a presenter. Within a year, though, I had grown several inches and by the end of the next year I had grown to above average height for a UK man.

What happened? The specialist might have been wrong, of course. And my dad was convinced my growth was the result of psychologically tricking me by putting the “Tony-measuring” pencil marks higher on the wall than they deserved to be. I felt – and feel – that the prayer changed me physiologically, as well as spiritually, yet that is not a point I would argue. The one thing I know for sure is that I went from being in the grip of anxiety to feeling totally at peace in an instant, and the anxiety never returned. I wanted to know how.

Fast forward three years. My friend Sharon started up a group for Christian Scientists and another friend Frank went along and started sharing the ideas they had been discussing about an infinite God, a God who is all Love, a God who heals rather than punishes.

Then one day, shopping for clothes in Oxfam, Frank spotted a copy of Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” for 10p and offered to buy it for me. I opened the chapter on “Prayer” and I was stunned. This author was clearly someone who understood what happened me to me on that night of my healing. That’s how I felt by page 18 and there were 682 more pages…! One thing led to another and the Bible and “Science and Health” became my best friends. I joined The Church of Christ, Scientist which Mary Baker Eddy founded in 1879 to share the healing ideas of Christian Science. It currently has branches around the UK and in 80 countries of the world.

My experiences of physical healing have continued in the 25 years since, but the real joy of Christian Science to me has been the turnaround of my whole life. That’s another story for another blog!

Tony Lobl has been practising Christian Science since graduating from the University of Surrey with a BSc in Modern Mathematics in 1980. He is also a Christian Science practitioner and has been married to Jenny for 17 years.
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Why the Psychoactive Substances Act is much better than anyone will admit

Under the Psychoactive Substances Act it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess for their own consumption recreational drugs too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

From Thursday, it may be illegal for churches to use incense. They should be safe from prosecution though, because, as the policing minister was forced to clarify, the mind-altering effects of holy smells aren’t the intended target of the Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force this week.

Incense-wafters aren’t the only ones wondering whether they will be criminalised by the Act. Its loose definition of psychoactive substances has been ridiculed for apparently banning, among other things, flowers, perfume and vaping.

Anyone writing about drugs can save time by creating a shortcut to insert the words “the government has ignored its advisors” and this Act was no exception. The advisory council repeatedly warned the government that its definition would both ban things that it didn’t mean to prohibit and could, at the same time, be unenforcable. You can guess how much difference these interventions made.

But, bad though the definition is – not a small problem when the entire law rests on it – the Act is actually much better than is usually admitted.

Under the law, it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess, for their own consumption, recreational drugs that are considered too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

That sounds like a mess, and it is. But it’s a mess that many reformers have long advocated for other drugs. Portugal decriminalised drug possession in 2001 while keeping supply illegal, and its approach is well-regarded by reformers, including the Liberal Democrats, who pledged to adopt this model in their last manifesto.

This fudge is the best option out of what was politically possible for dealing with what, until this week, were called legal highs.

Before the Act, high-street shops were free to display new drugs in their windows. With 335 head shops in the UK, the drugs were visible in everyday places – giving the impression that they couldn’t be that dangerous. As far as the data can be trusted, it’s likely that dozens of people are now dying each year after taking the drugs.

Since legal highs were being openly sold and people were thought to be dying from them, it was obvious that the government would have to act. Until it did, every death would be blamed on its inaction, even if the death rate for users of some newly banned drugs may be lower than it is for those who take part in still-legal activities like football. The only question was what the government would do.

The most exciting option would have been for it to incentivise manufacturers to come up with mind-altering drugs that are safe to take. New Zealand is allowing drug makers to run trials of psychoactive drugs, which could eventually – if proved safe enough – be sold legally. One day, this might change the world of drug-taking, but this kind of excitement was never going to appeal to Theresa May’s Home Office.

What was far more plausible was that the government would decide to treat new drugs like old ones. Just as anyone caught with cocaine or ecstasy faces a criminal record, so users of new drugs could have been hit with the same. This was how legal highs have been treated up until now when one was considered serious enough to require a ban.

But instead, the government has recognised that its aim – getting new drugs out of high-street shop windows so they don’t seem so normal – didn’t depend on criminalising users. A similar law in Ireland achieved precisely this. To its credit, the government realised it would be disproportionate to make it a criminal offence to possess the now-illegal highs.

The reality of the law will look chaotic. Users will still be able to buy new drugs online – which could open them to prosecution for import – and the law will do nothing to make drugs any safer. Some users might now be exposed to dealers who also want to sell them more dangerous other drugs. There will be few prosecutions and some head shop owners might try to pick holes in the law: the government seems to have recognised that it needed a better definition to have any chance of making the law stick.

But, most importantly for those of us who think the UK’s drug laws should be better at reducing the damage drugs cause, the government, for the first time, has decided that a class of recreational drugs are too dangerous to be sold but that it shouldn’t be a crime to possess them. The pressure on the government to act on legal highs has been relieved, without ordinary users being criminalised. For all the problems with the new law, it’s a step in the right direction.

Leo Barasi is a former Head of Communications at the UK Drug Policy Commission. He writes in a personal capacity