Let’s Face It, The Best Health Service Is Always Free

I read a recent news article about a French lady, Isabelle Dinoire, who in 2005 became the first-ever person to undergo a face transplant. Isabelle’s tale is a truly horrifying one; allow me to quote the BBC website as I tell it to you.

“In a fit of depression in May 2005, Isabelle took an overdose of sleeping pills in an attempt to end her life.

“She awoke to find herself at home, lying beside a pool of blood, with her pet Labrador at her side. The dog had apparently found her unconscious, and desperate to rouse her, had gnawed away at her face. The injuries to her mouth, nose and chin were so extreme that doctors immediately ruled out a routine face reconstruction. Instead they proposed a ground-breaking face transplant.


“Dinoire’s delight at her new face, however, quickly turned sour. She was completely unprepared for the attention her case brought her. Pursued by the media, harassed by passers-by and curious onlookers, Dinoire spent months after the operation hidden away at home, not daring to venture out.

“Nowadays, people still recognise her around town, but the attention is “not as brutal” as before, she says.

“”With time I have got used to my own face. This is what I look like, what I am like, who I am. If people stare at me insistently, I don’t care any more, I just stare back!” she says, with a hint of a smile.

“But has her personality changed as well as her outward appearance? “No” she replies quickly, “I am the same, just with a different face.””

I found this account of Isabelle’s life fascinating, first and foremost because it reminded me of the 90’s film “Face Off” starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, but also because this is a suicidal woman who, in one dramatic evening, had her life turned into a living hell but has come out of her ordeal with a more positive mentality than previous. Her case is fairly unique, and here’s why.

1. Her suicide attempt worsened her appearance, yet her desire to end her life has gone. Dinoire went from having a “normal” face and feeling suicidal to having a scarred, misshapen and transplanted face but being happy to declare that she is comfortable with who she is. The general trend is that the more distinct your abnormalities are, the more depressed you become about them. Yet when Dinoire was made to appreciate where true beauty lay, she realised that maybe this life is worth a shot. Let’s pray that any inclinations towards suicide would subside.

2. Everyone knows who she is and what she tried to do, yet she pities them rather than herself. She found herself dealing with tormentors, bullies and sneering onlookers, people who took great amusement in her obvious misfortune. How does she respond? “I just stare back,” says Isabelle. “I don’t care any more.” Through her reaction to both her situation and to the attitude of those around her, she’s able to practise incredible grace and forgiveness. What a great example Dinoire is of how we mustn’t let the words and actions of others dictate the sort of person we become.

So, Jonny, it’s an interesting article but that doesn’t really explain why are you discussing it on your blog. Let me fill in the cracks. As I read through this article I started drawing parallels between this woman’s ordeal and the Christian life. They weren’t all direct parallels, but there were several thought-provoking admonitions littered between the lines. Here are three Christian lessons that I drew from this article:

1. It’s human nature to allow curiosity to dictate our actions, regardless of whether we intend it to. Sadly this can often see us imposing ourselves on others unintentionally. All too often we become the curious onlooker-turned-tormentor that Dinoire talks about – we want to know why A broke up with B, why H wasn’t singing at church in the morning, or – in this case – how this lady came to look so peculiar. It’s just a habit – we’re all on a knowledge trip, aren’t we? We live in a sea of curiosity, but maybe it would be good for us to swim up to the surface for a big gulp of perspective every once in a while.

2. When we become Christians we are different, with just the same face. That is to say, when we find our transformation through Christ, something inside us changes that makes us new, beautiful, gracious and hopeful people. Isabelle Dinoire tells us about how she’s remained the same person on the inside despite her change of face, and it’s great that she’s not allowed her operation to be a stumbling block, but when we walk with Christ we gain much more than that. The Scriptures tell us [Galatians 4:6] that “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”  Everything about us apart from our face changes [unless you’re a “shave-once-a-month” kinda guy].

3. The medicines of this world, whilst brilliant, do not compare with the miracles of God. The most advanced transplant available to this woman still left her physically scarred. Medical treatment is great, and it’s developed a remarkable amount in a very short space of time, but this article serves as a reminder that science’s best efforts pale into insignificance when compared with the supernatural feats of an almighty God. I’m referring to resurrections, the removal of lepresy, the curing of blindness and the healing of cripples. I’m also talking about the most significant healing that has ever occurred, and the only one that holds eternal significance – the removal of our sin, through Jesus’ death on the cross. Just like the NHS, this particular health service is free. Unlike the NHS, it comes with the rather generous freebie of a life in heaven with the God of the universe for the rest of time.

Beats a free bottle of shampoo and a box of tissues.


A Brighton Diary

For those of you who were unable to be in attendance, or are simply curious to know what we got up to, here’s a breviloquent review of the recent Portsmouth Christian Union Weekend Away to Brighton.

Patrick and I arrived several hours before the rest of the group. We were welcomed to our home for the Weekend, Holland Road Baptist Church, by a friendly Church Manager [Sean]. He showed us the ropes, threw a few health and safety guidelines our way and got us very excited about the prospect of boiling hot water on tap. Tour over, it was time to set about making last-minute preparations for what promised to be a very exhausting but also very exciting weekend. We still had a couple of hours to burn before folk started arriving, so Patrick and I [hand-in-hand] decided to venture out into the uncharted depths of Hove.

We set off in the vague direction of the County Cricket Ground, hoping to find a place for us all to stand and watch their Saturday night fireworks display without having to pay the £10 entrance fee. A fifteen minute loop around the stadium was sufficient exercise to find a chink in the Cricket Ground’s armour. Between a block of flats and a row of houses, a view of the playing field was afforded to us. It would, we reasoned, have to suffice. We made the short walk back to Holland Road and settled down on sofas for a game of chess. For the record, I won.

James and Nick arrived about an hour later in James’s car, and promptly absconded in search of the local supermarket. Their brief: purchase enough sustenance to feed 30 hungry mouths for two days. I was rubbing my hands with glee in anticipation of Nick’s culinary delights. He is quite the cook. Anyway, the main group [having missed their initial train] arrived a little later than expected so we greeted one another with a brotherly kiss [or not], dumped our bags and headed straight to the meeting hall. After the initial welcome, I invited our speaker for the Weekend – Gareth Leaney, from UCCF – to come up and bring us the first of his three messages from the book of Jonah. Gareth was a blessing to us throughout the Weekend, and I think we unanimously agreed that his teaching was both challenging and refreshing.
We wrapped things up with a time of prayer, and spent the rest of the evening playing games and getting to know one another a little better. I hit the sack early [1am] in anticipation of a long day ahead.

As foreseen, Saturday was indeed a busy day. The Committee and I were up at 7.30am to pray and run through the plans for the day. Breakfast was followed by our second meeting, in which we looked at Jonah 2.

“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”

I used the 90 minutes before lunch to rush into the town centre, purchase additional underwear [I was a pair short for the Weekend!] and pick up a couple of other bits and bobs. After lunch the more industrious members of the group got their heads down and set about working on various bits of Uni work. The majority of us meandered down to Brighton seafront – not a patch on Portsmouth, but worth a visit nonetheless. It was at this stage of the proceedings that pop music’s latest sensation, the aptly named “Wrong Direction“, were subjected to their first official band shoot. I’m utterly convinced that there’s a Wrong Direction-shaped gap in the music industry…

5pm signalled the beginning of our final meeting of the Weekend. Gareth talked to us about Jonah 3 & 4, and we were able to enjoy a healthy time of discussion. We were challenged to share our thoughts on how we could individually and collectively aid the effectiveness of the Christian Union in its mission to share Jesus’ name with the rest of our University.

“Let everyone call urgently on God.”

We thanked Gareth for the sacrifice of his time [and his sanity], and bade him farewell. I am still debating whether his questionable decision to wear a pink cardigan around Brighton for the day was extremely bold or extremely foolish. Gareth was adamant that it was red, but I daresay that some of the Brighton residents may have thought otherwise.

One of the disappointments of the weekend was that there were no major injuries. Ben Putt, the chap I worked for at Gaines Christian Youth Centre, used to run camps with the view that “if no-one ends up in hospital, it’s a poor weekend.” Whilst I am sure that Ben was joking [and so am I], I fully empathise with what he’s saying. Far too often do we wrap ourselves and those for whom we are responsible in cotton wool, when really there’s a lot of fun to be had in flying by the seat of our pants. I was placing my hope of an injury in two things: the evening Fireworks display, and the ensuing quiz that I’d prepared.

We arrived at our viewpoint about 30 minutes before the fireworks were due to kick off. As anticipated, the crowds were starting to gather [due to this being the only location from where the fireworks could be properly seen for free]. We passed the time by singing songs, recounting endless tales of firework displays bygone and debating the legality of lighting sparklers in a public place. To be honest, the display itself was ridiculously long. I’m not sure if the Cricket Club felt some sort of obligation to make their fireworks last as long as their sport, but when they eventually came to some sort of halt after 45 minutes we promptly decided that we didn’t want to find out. They might, I thought, just be stopping for tea.

If they were stopping for tea, I’m confident that it can’t have been better than what we ate. There is something profoundly gratifying about having 30 portions of Fish and Chips delivered to your doorstep, especially when they’re obtained at a significantly cut price. Nothing can quite beat the gratification of their consumption, though. When we were all fed and watered, we turned our attention to the evening’s final event. The quiz turned out to be a deeply intellectual affair. Whilst Paxman’s job is probably safe, I’m optimistic that a CU quiz team would give Portsmouth’s University Challenge team a good run for their money. The only bitter pill was that the person from Wimbledon wasn’t able to identify Court Number One of the All England Tennis Club. The team called “In Wilson We Trust” pulled off a fine victory. No surprises there.

As is natural and proper, bedtime was followed by breakfast time – bacon and sausages, courtesy of Nick and a couple of others. I decided that an hour would be needed to tidy and clean the place up, with the aim being that we’d be out of the church by 9am. 8:45, and the last speck of dust settled in the hoover bag. Lavatories were sparkling, carpets were spotless and bags were neatly [!] stacked downstairs. The church service started at 10:30, so we trooped off to the nearest Starbucks and lounged about on their sofas with an array of fancy drinks at our fingers. I don’t think the coffee shop staff knew quite what had hit them, but it was probably one of their more profitable Sunday mornings for a while.

“I really enjoyed the church service, but would have liked to be slightly more awake” – Catherine Orr. In hindsight, probably a fair review of how the rest of the morning went, and one that I can definitely associate with. I should probably clarify that our state of fatigue was not a reflection of the quality of Holland Road’s service – it was actually right up my street! I’d seen 3am as being a reasonable time to retire on Saturday night, so credit must go to Marla-Joy for constantly pointing things out that kept me both awake and amused. I’d like to reiterate my thanks to Holland Road for accommodating us – it really was an ideal venue.

We rounded off the Weekend in fine fashion – a full Sunday Roast, followed by a short time of prayer and thanksgiving. Feeling that time had flown by far too quickly, and wishing that we had a longer period of time to spend together, we left the Church and caught the train home. Actually, that should read “we caught the train, the bus and then another train home” because Southern Rail, in their infinite wisdom, decided that Sunday afternoon would be the ideal time to perform repairs on the line. When it comes to use of public transport, I’m about as useful as a deep fat fryer in an ice cream factory, so it was definitely thanks to God that we were able to make it back to Portsmouth without any disasters or delays. In fact, we had the added bonus of occupying the whole top story of the double-decker bus, so [being good Christians] we decided it was the ideal opportunity to break out in choruses from “Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat.” I’m not sure what the other passengers made of the whole ordeal, but we found it to be rather amusing and passed it off as evangelism.

I’d like to extend particular gratitude to the rest of the CU Committee for putting in so much time and effort, and helping things to run so smoothly. I’d also like to offer my thanks to Nick and James who were instrumental in making the kitchen work so efficiently, Andy for running the Powerpoint, Hannah for being a willing driver and everyone else who in some way contributed towards making the Weekend such an enjoyable time. Harriet also demands thanks for constantly nagging me to finish this post.

Praise the Lord for his goodness and his mercies that he poured out on us, and for drawing us all closer together as a CU.


Maybe we should all be a little more Amish

For all its bad press, the USA is a remarkably beautiful country. We [the Wilson family] recently returned from there, having spent a delightful three weeks holidaying in various parts of the country. We spent 5 days in Philadelphia, mid-hurricane, and it was great to catch up with old friends who are dotted around the city. We then flew to Denver, rented an RV and spent 2 weeks touring the Rocky Mountains and several National Parks, The Grand Canyon included, en route to Las Vegas. It came as a relief that we only had to spend one night in “Sin City” – interesting as it was, it was also a very depressing place to stay.

Whilst in PA, we had the chance to visit Washington DC [where we saw President Obama]. We also enjoyed a trip out to Lancaster County, home of the Amish people. I enjoyed every day of our holiday, but I think this was probably the most memorable of the lot; not because of any incredible event that took place, and definitely not because the scenery was remarkable [we have our fair share of fields in England]. I just found the Amish people to be a very interesting case of extreme living – technology is readily available to them, yet they choose to stick to less conventional and more traditional methods of travel, communication and medication.

I’m unsure what to make of the Amish. I disagree with a lot of their interpretations of scripture, and as far as I could tell most of their principles had double standards. I was amused to see a woman tie up her horse-drawn wagon outside her house whilst jabbering away to someone on her mobile. Yet I can’t help but feel slightly attracted to their way of life, and I definitely think that it wouldn’t hurt for a lot of Westerners to take a few leaves out of the Amish peoples’ book. I can’t see much wrong with living a life of simplicity, starting from humble beginnings and living in a modest homestead. I’d like to think that Christians would sooner take that lifestyle than one where material wealth and possessions are the focal point of our being. I also believe that, as followers of Christ [who suffered the ultimate suffering and humiliation], we would be more than willing to give up all worldly things we hold dear and live a simple life. Here are some points on which I agree with the Amish:

1. We need to be responsible stewards of our planet. There is no doubt that the Amish take exceptional care of the world they live in, that they have a minuscule carbon footprint and that they probably get pretty annoyed at everyone else burning gaping holes in the Ozone layer. If we all lived like the Amish, we wouldn’t even know there was an Ozone layer to worry about! Sounds refreshing to me.

2. Self-indulgence is a sin. 1 Timothy 6:17 is probably the passage I would normally turn to in this instance. That’s not to say that God doesn’t want us to enjoy the things he’s made for us! We just need to discern the point at which we stop serving God and start serving ourselves. The Bible consistently makes it clear that, when it comes to it, it’s better to give everything up and follow Christ fully than to cling onto the things of the world and follow Christ with half-heartedness

3. Horses are more fun than cars. I think life would be a lot more enjoyable if we still rode everywhere in a horse and cart. Admittedly the Amish seemed a miserable bunch, but I’m confident we could make things work.

So I’ve blown the Amish trumpet pretty loudly so far, but unfortunately they wouldn’t allow me to use a PA system so I’m going to voice my disagreements a little more vigorously. I am partially sympathetic with their ideologies, but on the whole they annoy me. Here’s what I have against their philosophy:

1. They are a cult, and not a branch of Christianity. The Amish people believe in salvation by works – that is, a person’s life is weighed up by God when it reaches its culmination, and if God declares them to have met his “standards” then they spend eternity in his presence. The catch is that no-one’s quite sure of what standards they are required to meet, so from a young age the Amish find themselves imprisoned in a vicious society that requires perfection for fear of being insufficient. It’s a message that completely contradicts that of the gospel.

2. They have a selfish attitude. Surely people who live in such an extreme way have an important reason for doing so? And if the Amish really believe that they are enlightened in their beliefs then it is surely appalling that they’re not doing anything to convince others of [what they believe is] the truth. Christians believe evangelism to be an essential part of their faith – once you’ve heard the good news, it’s only natural that you want others to know about it too. Yet the only visible sign of “Amish Evangelism” was a collection of leaflets in a shop that explained what it meant to be Amish, and I have a feeling that they were more heavily aimed at the tourist trade than anything else.

3. They’re a moody bunch! I struggle to remember seeing a single Amish person who took joy in what they were up to. Folk scowled at us as we drove by them in their carts, the lady behind the shop counter seemed immune to my attempts to strike up conversation. They didn’t seem to have much to be cheerful about. The sermon preached at my church last Sunday was on Philippians 4, where we read that we are to “Rejoice in the Lord always”. What the apostle Paul means by this is that we are to be filled with joy and thankfulness when we receive blessings, and be filled with comfort and strength when we don’t like our situation. We are to draw upon the Lord and be reflective of his glory and grace.

I do think that we should all be a little more Amish though. They do get some things right.


Larry Kineman is a hero

I’d like to start off by wishing Larry a happy 60th birthday! It was great to enjoy your company and your food yesterday – thanks!

Those who know him will agree with me when I say that Larry Kineman is a fantastic man. He is unique in many ways; his sense of humour, his innate ability to positively transform the atmosphere of a room, his generosity towards others and his [sometimes unhelpful] love for food. He also has some fantastic stories to tell, a truth that will be affirmed by anyone who has heard the tale of the childhood friend who released a 10-foot python in his school.

These are all great qualities, and they stem from the best thing about Larry which is that he truly loves and enjoys his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Larry lives to serve – it’s what he’s in England to do and it’s what he’s best at. I know he won’t approve of me writing too much about him, so I’ll leave you with a fantastic picture of Larry with son. If Mike grows up to be anything like his father then he can afford to be pleased with his efforts.