Mixed messages

I was listening to national radio on the way home the day before yesterday, when I heard the Vice-Chairman of NICE (the government’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) flying the flag for greater regulation of food manufacturers. He is Prof Simon Capewell, a public health physician from Liverpool University, and he has been appointed to NICE since my retirement. It was good stuff – he knows what he is talking about, and isn’t afraid to challenge powerful industries and governments serving vested interests. We need more like him.

But hearing his name took me back to the last time I heard of him, nearly half a century ago. Specifically it takes me back to an August evening in 1967, when I was fifteen and he would have been about eleven. We were both at a Bible Class camp in South Wales – I think Simon had come up with a small party from Devon. Anyway, after supper he had been performing his statutory childhood duty of deliberately annoying the older kid (me), and I performed mine by giving chase and play-fighting him. Which was fine, until in his enthusiasm to better me he got a scissor grip on my neck and inadvertantly strangled me into unconsciousness.

It’s hard to know whether I was anywhere near death, but I did have a near-death experience (as I later realised – I’d never heard of such things at the time). The descriptions I later read of such things were strikingly familiar. Anyway, the long and the short of it (quite short, in reality) was that I returned to the Pembrokeshire soil with a sense of disappointment at how grey and lifeless everything was compared to where I’d been.

Since then, it’s been interesting to hear the to-and-fro between those who blame anoxic nerve discharge or endorphins for near-death experiences, and those who construct theology on them. The usual case of presuppositions tending to constrain scientific explanation. Did my experience form any kind of foundation for my spiritual life? No – spiritual foundations come through the Holy Spirit, not suffocation. But it did give me, from the age of fifteen, an innate sense that if the near-death experience was like that, the real thing might not be entirely unwelcome.

Which leads to a slight dilemma – should I take Simon’s professional and professorial advice to purge any transfats from my diet and prevent my premature demise, or should I tuck into them suicidally on the basis of the earlier lesson he (involuntarily) taught me? Certainly it’s not always our academic achievements by which we most affect the lives of other individuals.

Either way, it’s good to know the boy done good. Maybe I contributed to that by not dying on him when he was at an impressionable age.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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