Quick review: The First 48 Hours

The First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First RespondersThe First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First Responders by Jennifer S. Cisney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a volunteer ambulance chaplain, I was given this book by my senior chaplain (thanks Paul!), and I am very glad to have read it. In two words: highly recommended.

Before I describe why, however, there is one bugbear to note – questionable use of the Bible.

I’ve often seen that Christian books dealing with counselling or other personal helps tend to read their pastoral situations back into texts of the Bible, and thereby determine what they think a particular Bible verse means.

So here we read of disciples, ‘Struggling with direction, full of doubt and fear, they believe they are alone’ (p.20) – this sounds more like one of the authors’ crisis care situations than an accurate portrait of Matthew 28:18-20. Yes, there are elements of this, but not as much as is claimed. And so Jesus’ closing words (‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’) become comfort. There is, undoubtedly, an element of comfort. But also of challenge: the one with all authority has given a command and is with us!

This is important because the Bible word lives and is powerful. When Christians adopt powerful emotional ties to wrong interpretations, it’s an unstable help. One of the authors mentions how Hebrews 12:1 is a great comfort to him after his father’s death: believing that the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ witness us, rather than bear witness to the faithfulness of God (p.120). I could not help but think he will be painfully discomforted when someone points him to a more accurate reading of Hebrews 12.

Noting this point, though, I still highly recommend this book.

It has a clear focus on the first stages of helping people in crisis. It has helpful definitions (for example, the difference between critical event and crisis). And it is so very realistic – speaking of the first 48 hours as a first aid-type involvement. That is, first responders don’t need the advanced skills of fully-trained psychologists or psychiatrists.

With presence, sensitivity, compassion, one’s own life experience, and a few fundamental skills caregiving is possible.

The First 48 Hours names these skills, as well as illustrating them with real life examples. Perhaps most importantly, it generously encourages Christians to provide this type of crisis care.

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Advice for school scripture teachers

NSW government schools’ ‘scripture’ (more formally, Special Religious Education) is where students receive instruction in a faith given by members of that faith.

I spoke recently at a scripture teacher commissioning, and we looked at Mark 12:13-17. I suggested that it’s OK that Jesus sparks controversy and difficult questions – Jesus is more than capable of facing any challenge thrown his way. The task of Christians, I think, is simply to be publicly amazed at Jesus.

The task of Christians, I think, is simply to be publicly amazed at Jesus.

I finished with four bits of advice for being a scripture teacher in a government school. Perhaps they apply to any Christian in any position in any school. What do you think?

  • In schools, be present as a visible and available representative of Christians and churches. Representing us is a serious matter. Don’t let us down!
  • In schools, be present as a Christian in a existing vibrant community. Each school has its own real community of people and values. Be a Christian who can understand that culture, appreciate it, and contribute to it
  • In schools, be present as a speaker for Jesus Christ and about Jesus Christ. Jesus’ influence on our society is great, therefore Jesus repays serious study by everyone. Schools teach and learn – so teach clearly that people may learn. Some learners will turn to Jesus. Fantastic! We don’t, however, control people but we do control our teaching
  • In schools, be present for all: Christian and non-Christian; interested and uninterested; enquirer and mocker; student, staff or family


If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter

The above heading is a famous quotation from Blaise Pascal. It is regularly invoked as an appeal to write better, not longer. This well-written page looks at the origin of this quotation, and similar statements over the years.

The attribution to Pascal dates to 1657.

I recently came across a very similar statement by John Donne.

Sir, you are used to my hand and, I think, have leisure to spend some time picking out sense in rags; else I had written less, and in longer time.

This is from a letter to Sir Henry Goodyer, in October 1622. (Source.)

I don’t know how or when this letter became public, so do not claim Donne influenced Pascal. But it’s interesting that Donne was earlier.



Don’t do good

If you find something good to do, please do not do it. It could be an awful mistake.

I’ll give you an example: would you stand up to protect someone’s privacy, especially their medical privacy? I certainly consider medical privacy a good thing!

But try out this report:

Dr Mourik said he would not invite the protesters [to a forum] because “they are not interested in women’s privacy”.

“They believe protection of the baby’s life is worth invading people’s privacy over,” he said.

Mourik wants to move protesters away from the Albury clinic that completes abortions, to protect privacy. Those protesters, without breaking any law, believe something as petty as protection of the baby’s life. How foolish!

If we automatically move to protect privacy we might thereby support killing babies in the womb. To support one good can destroy another good. Which one would you choose?

There are plenty of cases when good things compete, and only one good can succeed. Freedom is good, but we judge some crimes require imprisonment. Opioid drugs are powerfully helpful, but we agree that their distribution needs strong restriction. Speech creates culture, but we know the need for anti-libel laws. Good versus good, and the best should prevail.

There’s a second place in which good is a bad idea, and this is much more common. We shouldn’t do good when we can do better. This is not when good competes, but when goods compare.

For example, you find two charities working in a famine zone, but which do you choose? If their main difference is how much goes on administration and advertising (25% versus 10%), I’d say go for the latter. They’re both good, and they don’t cancel one another out, but one is better.

Comparison and choice of the better seems to be behind Paul not taking Mark on mission with him (Acts 15:38). The choice of what is best time management is every Christians’ duty (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5). And doing the better thing, even when painful, is fatherly – for both human and divine parents (Hebrews 12:10).

Tragically, so many fellow citizens frantically chase a good that is far from the best. And Christians are as affected as any other group!

Instead of peace with God and love for neighbour we choose: comfortable housing, a career path, educational or sporting ‘success’ as our kids’ priority, travel, and all the temporary things of this world.

So here’s my advice: When you find a good, do not do it, but consider instead what is best. Make best use of the time, because the days are evil.



Quick review: Catch-22

Catch-22Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like a book that’s listed as a classic, you’re simply following the crowd. But if you dislike the listed classic, you’ve got no taste. Catch-22.

If you enjoy the writing in a novel that narrates awful events, and even looks somewhat amoral, that must make you unfeeling. But if you dismiss a novel that refuses to hide the grizzly nature of life, you’re still unfeeling. Catch-22.

I wanted to read Catch-22 for some time, because it’s a classic. And reading it created my own cases of Catch-22 – the ‘catch’ that is impossible to escape, no matter what you do.

Here are two examples of my catches: the humour is enjoyably off the wall-but I kept wondering if black humour is merely stylish cynicism; there’s great compassion for this world of suffering-but I hated the way women (in particular) were treated in the book.

Catch-22 is so well known that there’s no point me recounting its content or themes, you can find great summaries on the web. So here’s my take on the whole theme of the book: this life is a crazy yet hopeful struggle.

The crazy struggle is everywhere, especially war: horrible deaths, innocent suffering, racketeering, apathy, selfishness, … And Heller captures all this and more.

It’s the hope in Catch-22 that surprised me. The lead character, Yossarian, has most of his friends die. One death in particular is referred to again and again, with increasing detail until we read the whole awful story. I expected a bleak conclusion. Yet Catch-22 ends with the excitement of an unexpected survivor, and a crazy plan for Yossarian to survive. (And in this edition, Heller’s 1994 preface confesses that he could never kill Yossarian.)

How odd that the novel of honest hopelessness cannot give up on hope. Paradox-22, anyone? The persistence of hope even when people don’t know why: people will always need the hope-filled news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

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Science causes natural theology

In the mid seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes identified that science does not undermine theology. Rather, science tends towards (problematic) natural theology.

Curiosity, or love of the knowledge of causes, draws a man from consultation of the effect, to seek the cause; and again, the cause of that cause; till of necessity he must come to this thought at last, that there is some cause, whereof there is no former cause, but is eternall; which is it men call God. So that it is impossible to make any profound enquiry into naturall causes, without being enclined thereby to believe there is one God Eternall; though they cannot have any Idea of him in their mind, answerable to his nature.

From Leviathon, Chapter XI.


The plain sermon

And, turning on the TV, he heard this message:

Blessed are you rich, for you are kings.
Blessed are you who are full, for satisfaction lasts.
Blessed are you who laugh now, for everything is good.
Blessed are you when people love you and say good things about you, because a good name is its own reward.

But woe to you poor, for you don’t interest us.
And woe to you hungry, because you deserve it.
And woe to you who weep, for you’re dragging us down.
And woe to you who when people hate you and revile you, because human judgement is always right.

I say to you who hear, niggle your enemies, do havoc to those who hate you, curse those who hate you, and gossip about those who abuse you. From the one who strikes you on the cheek, withdraw, and from the one who takes away your cloak, get recompense. Be wary of everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods, get a good interest rate. And as you wish others would do to you, insist on this standard of treatment.

What an appealing instruction! So encouraging, as it agrees completely with my heart. (Unlike this stuff.)




ANT+ commissaire tool

OK, here’s my cycling race idea for anyone interested (Garmin, power-meter manufacturers?): an ANT+ tool to aid the job of running a bike race, or any bike event.

Criterium du Dauphine Libere stage 1 - 2012This photo (from a Cyclingtips page) shows a common way of communicating with riders in a race: blackboard and chalk. The information might be the time gap the leading group has to those following, though any useful information could be jotted down.

My idea is to use the modern fancy cycling computers to communicate important information directly to riders.

Many bike computers (like mine, a Garmin 510) can be programmed to have many different data screens. The rider can program what they want to see (before riding!) and swipe to find the most relevant page (while riding).

Importantly, heaps of these computers use the same radio communication system, ANT+. This connects a range of data devices: speed sensor, cadence sensor, heart rate monitor, power meter, etc.

I reckon there’s a place to design a device to communicate with riders. The devices could travel on the yellow motorbike, in the car of the commissaire (cycling referee), or in team cars. Or it could be fixed to a set point, like the start-finish line of a circuit race. Then, when riders come into range, they get direct updates relevant to the current race situation.

This can help them race – they know the time gap between leaders and main field. It could also help safety – commissaires could notify about dangerous conditions, race neutralisation, distance to feed zone, etc. I guess it could also be useful for non-race rides too: mass participation rides like Amy’s Gran Fondo, or the Great Victorian Bike Ride.

This would not replace other communication, because not all people have the appropriate bike computer, but would supplement what already happens.

Just an idea. Knock down its silliness, or take it and run with it – I just wanted to suggest it!



Magical science

At end of year and Christmas there are the usual articles to show the silliness of Christianity, the imaginary existence of Jesus, and all other predictable targets. They’re always paper thin arguments, but are gobbled down as readily as the 500th chocolate-covered yuletide treat.

(For example, see this puff piece from The Conversation, but don’t miss the riposte.)

Today I want to point out one such article, one that also wonderfully illustrates one of the common modern scientific follies.

What is magical thinking? (and its picture) pretends to be about Santa Claus. Magical thinking is the “tendency to infer causation between seemingly related stimuli”, and may be seen when people “happily accept impossible explanations”. One such impossible explanation: Santa.

Magical thinking is the “tendency to infer causation between seemingly related stimuli”, and may be seen when people “happily accept impossible explanations”

Being familiar with the way of things, I knew this piece would really be about the non-existence of God. Hiding behind a convenient quotation (“It wasn’t me!”), the author needles “mainstream religion” for “hypocrisy” – calling believers in the Bible hypocrites for bagging the silliness of Scientology.

By inference – what a clever way to write, perfect deniability! – Bible belief is associated with a refusal to grow up, denial as a coping mechanism, and seeing the world as we want it to be.

The trouble is, the author herself, in the guise of science, demonstrates one of the most common types of magical thinking. There’s an increase number of people using untestable evolutionary-psychology claims. It’s pseudo-science, because it’s beyond testing. It’s a just so story – like ‘how the kookaburra got its laugh’ – but the author would be offended if you pointed out that she’s just propagating a myth.

Here’s the relevant paragraph:

From an evolutionary point of view you can see how important making these links have been to our survival. Being able to figure out what precedes what, and develop some method of prediction, can allow us to develop some control over our environment.

How does one test this? It’s magical science, an explanation after the facts. It assumes as true both cause (magical thinking) and effect (its evolutionary sense).

There’s nothing wrong with telling myths, when told honestly. There’s something seriously wrong with telling a myth and pretending it is science: that’s just a power-play and a lie.

So beware of scientists, and particularly psychological scientists, offering magical explanations for the world. It’s happening more and more frequently.

If the Jesus of Christmas is to be explained away it must be on the right terms: history and theology. As for me, I’ve well-convinced of the real life and ministry of the real Jesus, and of the real truth that the living Lord Jesus rules all things.



Quick review: Bike!

Bike! A tribute to the world's greatest racing bicyclesBike! A tribute to the world’s greatest racing bicycles by Richard Moore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This has flashes of being a great book on racing bicycles, but often disappoints.

It consists of many short entries on a series of famous brands. They might be bike manufacturers (Bianchi, Flandria, etc) or component makers (Reynolds, SRAM, etc). There’s also the occasional special two-page spread for more detail: such as Coppi’s 1952 Bianchi after the chapter on Bianchi.

That’s all good, an accompanied by plenty of fine illustrations. But the whole is let down by poor execution.

For a start, the number of contradictions within the text shows sloppy proof reading. Within two or three pages you can read three different start dates for some companies. Are any of them correct?

The editors also made a lazy (non-)decision about units of measurement: everything is listed in both miles and kilometres. This makes for awful reading in sections where four or five racing distances are listed in the one sentence.

Further, for a book about classic cycling brands, I think it was a poor decision to include some ‘up to date’ recent technology – poor because they aren’t classics. The spread on Mark Cavendish’s Specialized Venge just reads like a press announcement from three years ago.

I enjoyed this book, but I don’t trust it as a source of information. Hence, two stars.

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