Posts by Russell M Parkes

father | husband | mentor

Purple with rage?

Photo by Mudassir Ali from Pexels

It’s happened again. And why? I’ll tell you why: for no reason at all. It’s the clocks; stealing my daylight and pitching me headlong into the dark tunnel of winter gloom. It’s bad for my health; bad for my routines; bad for my mood, increasing my risk of yet another deep depression. As if I need another depressive episode. What are the benefits of this annual ritual? None.

For the last twenty years, I have been unable to restrain myself about its useless and harmful imposition. My self-control evaporates, my blood pressure soars, and anyone in earshot gets a salvo, as I ride my hobbyhorse into the afternoon gloom of 3 p.m.

Name me one good reason why turning the clocks back an hour benefits our nation? I’ve searched the land from north to south, and east to west, high and low, and have yet to find one compelling argument. There isn’t one.

You might counter that Scotland would be plunged into very dark mornings. That’s true, I’ve lived there. Well, the Scots want independence, let them have it, and then they can do what works best for them. And anyway, there is no particular problem with two time-zones in one country. Lots of countries have two or more time-zones and manage very well.

You might counter that leaving the clocks on GMT+1 exposes road users and school children to the dangers of morning darkness. This is an old chestnut, but a miss-informed view. Studies have shown that more school students and road users will die because we have moved the clock back to GMT than otherwise would have done if the clocks had been left at GMT+1 (British Summer Time). The reason cited is that road users and children are more alert in the mornings and prone to be tired when they travel home, thus increasing their risk to poor road-safety judgement.

There I’ve said it. What do you say? Stick or twist? Yes or no? Back or not? When will we come to our senses? I’m not hopeful for change – no one is listening, but I feel a little brighter for writing about the subject again. I’m just a rather nice shade of lilac now.

75 Years of controversy

And, the controversy continues. The argument against the use of the first atomic bomb runs on set rails. Should such a weapon of mass destruction have been used, or even made? The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was undoubtedly a terrible act. The impact on human life was beyond imagination, causing the death of an estimated 70,000-126,000 civilians and 20,000 military personnel. The military personnel were killed mainly outright, while about 50% of the civilian deaths were as a result of the blast.

Three days later a second bomb was unleashed on Nagasaki causing a further death toll of 80,000. What is not so well known however, is that the USA had an additional seven weapons in preparation with the intent of using them to make the invasion of Japan easier. The invasion plan, operation Downfall, was scheduled to start by 1 November 1945, and the bombs were to be used before the start of the invasion.

So was there a plan to drop the next bomb? Yes, there was, and the next weapon was to be deployed on 19 August 1945, though the final target had not been determined. Japan’s surrender on 15 August halted another nuclear disaster.

While the death toll is deeply lamentable, it is the injuries to survivors who evoke such passion. Their injuries were grotesque, and I do not want to see an atomic weapon used on this planet ever again.

At the time, President Truman was racked by a relatively straight forward calculation. A study of casualties for the invasion of Japan, for the American Secretary of State for War, Henry Stimson, conducted by Quincy Wright and William Shockley, estimated that the invading Allies would suffer 1.7-4 million casualties. Of these between 400,000-800,000 would die, while Japanese fatalities would be between 5 to 10 million. The timescale to bring a surrender of Japan by conventional military means puts the end of the conflict at an estimated 1946 or early 1947.

Today, the focus on the ethical use of atomic weapons rests on the number of Japanese civilian casualties, especially the burns, radiation sickness and the emergence of cancer in the years following. Whilst these effects are truly horrendous and make us squirm today at the sheer horror of it all, President Truman was focussed on the casualties of the Wright and Shockley report.

To the President, using the bomb brought the war to an end by almost two years, and spared at least 5 million lives, Americans and Japanese. What would any of us do? Save lives by sacrificing 150,000 lives at Hiroshima and 80,000 at Nagasaki or let millions die in the invasion of Japan, or do nothing?

On 25 July 1945, President Truman authorised the use of the two weapons already built and two more, then under construction, one more in August and a second that would be ready by early September if the surrender of Japan was not forthcoming.

In the aftermath of the use of the weapons, the Soviet Union (1949), Great Britain (1952), France (1960) and China (1964), developed nuclear weapons. The Cold War brought about a situation where atomic arsenals soon were capable of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The proliferation of nuclear warheads remains an issue, though two treaties exist to deter aspiring countries from gaining nuclear weapons. Despite this effort to restrain nations building bombs, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea have acquired them. South Africa is the only country that has developed the bomb and voluntarily dismantled its stockpile and renounced any nuclear weapons intention.

According to the Arms Control Association, the USA and Russia deploy approximately 1,400 weapons each, and Great Britain has about 120 warheads. To date, there around 9,500 are in active military service and a further 4,500 missiles in the process of dismantlement. What started as a means to end World War Two has escalated, something not foreseen in 1945. We are only ever a few minutes away from some presidential idiot twitching his finger over the launch button. Pray for sanity, wisdom, and peace.

COVID-19: Cultivating a Positive Perspective

Adam Graver, 22, lives and works in Hextable, Kent and is this month’s guest blogger

It’s a bit of a cliché these days, especially in my area of work (Christian ministry), that perspective is everything. Still, despite being wearied by the endless illustrations employed by well-meaning people endorsing adopting a more positive perspective on life, I do have to concede that they do have a point. When navigating the uncharted waters of lock-down and striving to cultivate a healthy mental state, the way that we digest the news and information around the pandemic is key.

Anxiety is understandably on the rise during the pandemic, according to statistics gathered by the BBC, suggesting the impacts of lock-down on daily life as a critical driver of this. One of the vital hallmarks of an anxious mindset is the anticipation of the worst-case scenario. It is certainly easy to fall into this mindset, considering the unprecedented nature of the situation that we are in. A counter for anxiety of this kind, therefore, is to set our minds on dreaming for the future instead. Let me explain how I do this.

Probably the most challenging aspect of lockdown for me is the separation from those that I love. Adopting an anxious mindset, which would probably be my default, promises many more weeks and months of this separation, and the pain that accompanies this. I question how long I can cope without seeing them, and greatly exaggerate how long this period will be. Approaching the reading of the news with this mindset, I will unconsciously reinforce this worst-case scenario in the way that I interpret what the media is saying. For instance, I will focus on the high death rates and spread of infection and interpret that data to mean that it will be a long time before I can see my friends and family. This mindset is unhelpful for obvious reasons. Early on in the lockdown, it became apparent that I needed a more positive way of thinking.

One such way in which I attempted to do this was looking at other countries, which were further on in their epidemics, and observing how their restrictions were being gradually lifted. What could this look like in the UK, and how would the restrictions easing in a similar way affect my life? What would be the first thing I would do when the restrictions were easing here? Suddenly, in focusing on the possibilities and opportunities that will eventually be opened to me when lockdown eases, my mental state is improved. I can begin to dream of how life improves, what I will say to and do with my loved ones when I see them again, and my mindset is switched from one which imagines the worst-case scenario to dreaming for the future.

Perspective is essential, and the way we think – the way we imagine the future to be is critical during these times, and stewarding our thoughts is vital for maintaining a healthy mental state.

Adam Graver

I did not want to go there

A compass in a hand

Have you ever gone where you do not want to go? Early retirement through ill health brought me to this place in 2016, almost exactly four years ago as I write. I neither saw nor wanted to go “there”. I did not know where “there” was at the time, even now a description tests my ability to write.

When Jesus said to Peter, John 21:18, “When you are old, you will go where you don’t want to go,” the statement came on the back of his restoration with Jesus, after Peter’s denials. The incident also took place after the resurrection of Jesus, in the context of new revelation. The encouragement of Peter’s restoration was tempered by the strangeness of Jesus statement.

Jesus words to Peter were first and foremost personal, spoken in the hearing of the other disciples. It was a private revelation given in the presence of others. It is at this point that the Bible falls silent on the matter, nothing further is said. As is often the case, when the Bible falls silent tradition takes up the thread and makes much of the manner of Peter’s eventual death in Rome, some thirty-five years later. And it is here that the story usually comes to a final rest.

Utterly exhausted by ministry, and never having fully recovered from a mental breakdown some six years earlier, retirement thrust me into a landscape that neither had shape nor form. I sought a road map but found none. I looked for familiar landmarks but found none, and I looked for pathways that others have taken but found none.

I might not have had a road map, but I did have a compass, one that kept me pointing to God, and in time, I ripened for revelation. But before that time came and because the familiar danglements of evangelical vocabulary had worn thin, I re-assessed much of my thirty something-years of following Christ.

At no time did God retreat from my experience, though he did stand back and let me wrestle with my emptiness. But it was not so with my relationship with the church or my first language, evangelicalism. I drifted from the church and felt alienated by my native evangelical language, both of which were in full retreat and distant. I was stripped bare of my appetite for church and lost my desire to use an evangelical vocabulary. I was trapped in the vacuum between the old and the new. We do not usually sign up for nakedness of this kind. Nevertheless, that is where I was, and I knew I had to work with what I had at that moment.

At first, I discovered that as I travelled my road, I neither understood the pain of reconstruction nor, could I see the new. There were no easy answers; nothing was ready-made. I wrestled for everything.

Once I realised that God was holding onto me, and not me holding onto God, I was able to see that God reframed my understanding of who he is, and I would not change a thing despite the personal trials I endured during this time.

Perhaps these thoughts have an application during the Coronavirus lockdown; after all, we find ourselves moving where we do not want to go. In these ‘unprecedented times,’ we should not be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.