Just recently I was recalling to someone my childhood family doctors. They were Drs Kerr Brown and McNeish. They practiced from their houses in Deniston in Glasgow. Once, when I had earache, I was taken down to see them. I already had almond oil put in the offending orifice, then before venturing into the winter evening a piece of new flannel embalmed my head. Next went my woolly balaclava. And finally my pride and joy – my red school cap – surmounted the whole ensemble!
No wonder when I arrived at the surgery, Mrs McNeish who acted as the doctors’ receptionist – Oh Graham what a lot of hats you’ve got on.
Somehow, back then, infant ailments were treated more simply. Somehow life seemed in general less complex. Somehow knowing what do was easier.
Well to some degree the information explosion and the knowledge economy has increased life’s intricacy. Since these have brought in a greater understanding of the physical world around us, the society in which we live and even of our own personalities and biology. Also, the constant stream of news and views bring a multitude of opinions to our attention. Moreover, powerful pressure groups such as politicians, businesses and charities vey hourly for our ears, eyes and available neurons
And whilst it is laudable to be well informed, if we are not careful we run the risk of falling into the trap of Naaman ’s syndrome.
And what is that?
Well, in the end of the day, we have to admit that Naaman the General in Old Testament was a powerful, rich and probably imposing man. He wasn’t in the habit of going third class. So when he heard that his not just life threatening but socially excluding disease could be cured practically for nothing he was outraged. Such cures are for the peasants, he surely deserved something better, something more sophisticated or at least more expensive. It was as if he was blinded to the pure and simple truth. He could not see the obvious before his very eyes.
Here then is the Naaman syndrome! And it is to believe that good things must be expensive or complex. You get what you pay for we hear said often. Alternatively, if it is straight forward it must be biased, if it is cheap it is invariably nasty; if it’s free it must be rubbish.
So how do we live in a world where we are bombarded complexity and yet still see the pure unvarnished truth of its cure?
When Matt Taylor comes on the box with his BBC forecast, have you ever thought that weather forecasters have the coolest toys? They have satellite “eyes in the sky.” They can track off-shore flows and coastal disturbances, high pressure systems and low pressure cells, the rise and fall of the jet stream and even see rain on radars.
Added to that, television weather people have the most interesting screens to work with, with all kinds of magic features to make this or that bigger and smaller. Forecasting then the weather is complicated and growing more so with the years. Yet the truth is living with the weather is not.
Since in the last few month parts of this country have been under water, parts of this country have had a drought and parts of this country have been swept away by gales. All the meteorological explanations and predictions in the world don’t change the simple truth. For the uncomplicated truth of how to deal with the weather is:
If you are in a flood zone—get to higher ground.
If you need water – ship it in.
If there is a gale coming, lash things down.
If it’s too warm – stay still and enjoy it!
No matter how complex the weather system then, your best response is simple and straightforward. Indeed, the most complicated part is doing the simple.
Something similar was the thinking of Jesus when he sent out his disciples. They went out with the simple truth that the Kingdom of God is near. Despite the theological complexities then, all that people need do was see it. They went out to proclaim that God’s will being done is the way to a better world. Despite all the religious regulations then, it was simply a matter of lives following that will. They went out to exclaim that the reign of God is here. Despite all the political controversies then, the only unsullied way is the doorway of Christ Jesus.
There then is a masterly rejection of the Neman syndrome!
There is a perfect lesson in the engineering principle of Kiss – keep it simple, stupid.
There is a perfect illustration of the unpretentious action of a man with an unsightly rock in his garden.
Because, there is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the centre of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking.
A neighbour asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvellous likeness of an elephant?”
The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like an elephant!”
And so when we try to come to terms with boulder-like complexities of 21st Century Britain – let us chip away with the chisel of the gospel. When we are beset by global conflicting arguments, reasons and explanations, let us see the simple actions decided by God’s will. When are tried to the limit by inner conflicts, let us do the obviously pure.
For then we cure ourselves, shape ourselves and bless ourselves into the most beautiful of shapes – the shape of Jesus himself.