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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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.