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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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition