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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Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s echoes of New Labour

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through bold policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s strategy was so successful that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness.

But, as some say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh; when you make, as you will, bad decisions; when the list of enemies grows long; when you’ve simply had your time; you’ll fall like all the rest. Only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. The debate on 21 May between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of a sure outcome – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. That is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’être is independence; everything else is just another brick to build the path. And so its education reform cannot be either brave or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions, or parents.

The same goes for the NHS, and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature – is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: “It’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs.”

Yet the voters show signs of wearying. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren.

So, during the debate, it was Nicola Sturgeon, not the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, or Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs.

There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use food banks (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster). “I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish government],” Claire Austin told the panel. “You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS.” She delivered the killer line of the evening: “Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you . . . in this election?”

The list of reasonable criticisms of the SNP’s governance is growing. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off. Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried Middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nationalists’ constitution explicitly prohibits SNP elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. Although total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing.

The word “cult” has long dogged the SNP. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning, but this has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage door at times). After the debate, Claire Austin found herself at its mercy as the Nats briefed – wrongly – that she was the wife of a Tory councillor. The SNP branch in Stirling said, Tebbitishly, that if she was having to use food banks, “Maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?”

Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, was forced to apologise for spreading “Twitter rumours” about Austin. The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but it hasn’t gone away – it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated: they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party.

I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall, it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, and its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly exasperate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and many signs that things will get worse.

How then do you arrest your fall? The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed it. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed. 

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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