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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“It feels like a betrayal”: EU citizens react to Jeremy Corbyn’s migration stance

How do Labour-supporting European migrants in the UK feel about their leader wanting to control EU migration?

“This feels a bit different from the man I had campaigned for,” says Eva Blum-Dumontet. “It felt like he was on the side of the group that matters, regardless of whether they were actually going to make him gain voters or not. He was on the side of what seemed right.”

Blum-Dumontet is a 26-year-old EU citizen who has been in the UK for five years. She works as a researcher for a charity and lives in north-east London’s Walthamstow, where she is the local Labour party’s women’s officer.

She joined Labour just before the 2015 general election, and campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn during his leadership bid that year. She spent one and a half months that summer involved in his campaign, either phone banking at its headquarters at the Unite union building, or at campaign events, every other evening.

“When he suddenly rose out of nowhere, that was a really inspiring moment,” she recalls. “They were really keen on involving people who had recently arrived, which was good.”

“Aside from the EU, I share all of his views”

Blum-Dumontet voted for Corbyn in both of Labour’s leadership elections, and she joined Momentum as soon as it was set up following Corbyn winning the first one in 2015. But she left the group two months ago.

She is one of the roughly three million EU citizens living in the UK today whose fate is precarious following the EU referendum result. And she doesn’t feel Corbyn is sticking up for her interests.

Over the weekend, the Labour leader gave an interview that has upset some Labour-supporting EU migrants like her.

Corbyn reiterated his opposition to staying in the single market – a longstanding left-wing stance against free market dominance. He added that his immigration policy “would be a managed thing on the basis of the work required” rather than free movement, and, in condemning agencies exploiting migrant workers, he said:

“What there wouldn’t be is wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry. You prevent agencies recruiting wholescale workforces like that; you advertise for jobs in the locality first.”

Corbyn also emphasised that Labour would guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in Britain – including the right of family reunion – and that there would still be Europeans working here and vice versa. But, for some in his party who hail from Europe, the damage was done.

“I feel like he’s now trying to signal more and more that he’s not on all sides, he’s on the side of people who are just scared of migrants,” says Blum-Dumantet, who will nevertheless stay in the party to try and change the policy. “The idea that he is willing to engage in this whole dog-whistling immigration fear feeling is a bit disturbing.”

She stresses that, “aside from the EU, I share all of his views”, but adds:

“I feel like he’s chosen his socialist utopia – and I don’t mean that as a bad thing; I’m a socialist as well – over the reality of the concrete lives of three million people. For us, this is not about some abstract ideal, it’s about our lives, whether we can get jobs here, whether we can stay here. And for the sake of his ideal, he’s sacrificing that. That does feel like a betrayal.”

***

Other EU migrants who initially supported Corbyn also feel let down. Sabrina Huck, the London representative of Labour’s youth wing Young Labour, moved here from Germany in February 2014.

Having joined the party that year, she voted for Corbyn in the first leadership election, “particularly because of things like being an internationalist, talking about migrant solidarity”.

Huck, 26, who lives in south London and works in public affairs, began to change her mind about him she discovered his Eurosceptic views. “It’s kind of my fault because I didn’t really do the research properly on him, I guess!” she laughs.

“I understand the argument that we have put downward wage pressure on some jobs”

Now, she feels “disappointed” in Corbyn’s comments about “wholesale importation” of workers. “The way he articulates himself – it doesn’t sound like what I wanted to hear from a Labour leader, particularly somebody who’s been a proud internationalist, proud migrant rights campaigner,” she tells me.

“I think the way he was making his point about wages was laying the blame way too much with workers and not with the bosses, basically.”

Huck notes that Corbyn is against the single market because of his socialist view of the EU as a “capitalist club”, rather than concern about borders. But she feels he’s using “the immigration argument” to sound mainstream:

“I feel like he’s using it as an opportunity to further his own ideological goal of leaving the single market by tying that to an argument that goes down well with the Leave-voting public.”

***

However, other Labour-leaning EU migrants I speak to do not feel Corbyn’s genuine motive is to bring immigration down – and are more understanding of his comments.

“I appreciate and understand the argument that we have put downward wage pressure on some – particularly blue collar or poorer paid – jobs, that is the nature of mass migration,” says a 29-year-old Czech who works for the government (so wishes not to be named), and has lived here since 2014. She believes his comments were made to “appeal to the hard left and Ukip types”, and has left the Labour party. But she adds:

“I can understand how communities suffering through a decade of stagnant wage growth and austerity are looking for a scapegoat, easily found in the form of migrants – particularly in a country where minimum wage and labour protections are so weak legislatively, and so poorly enforced.”

She also is sceptical that a “mass deportation” of EU migrants from Britain is likely to happen. “The optics are too bad, at a minimum,” she says. “It would look too much like the 1930s. What would the government do? Put us all on boats back to Europe?”

“I kind of shrugged off those comments and they didn’t bother me massively”

“I think they [Labour] are feeling their way around the issue [of Brexit] and are listening for public sentiment,” says Agnes Pinteaux, a Hungarian-born 48-year-old who moved to Britain in 1998. “But reconciling their hardcore Brexit support, those who just hate immigrants, those who want ‘sovereignty’, and those who want Brexit ditched altogether is going to be impossible.”

“I think the debate about the ethics of free movement of labour is a legitimate one, but it has to be rooted in human rights and dignity,” says Anna Chowrow, a 29-year-old third sector financial manager who moved from Poland to Scotland in 2007, adding:

“I was thrilled when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour leader, and I have admiration for his principled approach. [But] I am in disbelief that these comments – akin to ‘British jobs for British workers’ – were made by him. The dehumanising language of ‘importation’ and ‘destruction’ is beyond disappointing.”

***

Finding EU citizens in Britain who are entirely sympathetic to Corbyn’s comments is difficult. Forthcoming defenders of his stance are hard to come by, suggesting that it’s a minority view among Europeans living in Britain. But there are some who continue to back him.

“I like Jeremy Corbyn’s authenticity. He comes across as genuine and honest, and I agree with most of his ideas. Contrary to the majority of politicians, he’s actually not afraid of coming across as a human being,” says Teresa Ellhotka, 24, who moved to the UK from Austria in 2016 and works in PR.

“His ideas and visions are, in my opinion, still very progressive”

“I kind of shrugged off those comments and they didn’t bother me massively,” she says of Corbyn’s stance on EU migrants. “My mind about Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t changed drastically as his ideas and visions are, in my opinion, still very progressive and I admire that he is dedicated to change but in a human way, and doesn’t suggest fighting fire with fire – as many other politicians, and people, seem to do.”

Ellhotka admits to being “a little surprised, as I did not expect this stance from him at all”, but feels there has been “so much back-and-forth” on the issue that she’s stopped worrying about what politicians say.

“Nobody seems to know what exactly is going to happen anyway.” The only thing, perhaps, that all politicians – and their voters – can agree on.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.