Throughout the coronavirus crisis, one name has popped up several times, that of Prof Michael Levitt, biophysicist and professor of structural biology at Stanford University in California.

In 2013, Prof Levitt was a joint winner of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Martin Karplus and Arieh Warshel, for ‘the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems’.

Levitt, 73, was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and is currently a citizen of the United Kingdom, Israel and the United States.

He holds degrees from King’s College London and the University of Cambridge.

He has had a stellar career, receiving several distinguished scientific awards and scientific advisory board appointments in addition to his university professorships over the years.

He has had much to say about coronavirus.

On Monday, March 23, 2020, he gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times, with a prediction: ‘Coronavirus outbreak may be over sooner than you think’.

The LAT said that he had been adopting a measured approach throughout the pandemic since January, refuting the wild and inaccurate overestimates from the likes of Prof Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London (emphases mine):

Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist, began analyzing the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide in January and correctly calculated that China would get through the worst of its coronavirus outbreak long before many health experts had predicted.

Now he foresees a similar outcome in the United States and the rest of the world.

While many epidemiologists are warning of months, or even years, of massive social disruption and millions of deaths, Levitt says the data simply don’t support such a dire scenario — especially in areas where reasonable social distancing measures are in place.

“What we need is to control the panic,” he said. In the grand scheme, “we’re going to be fine.”

This is what he discovered about China’s experience of the pandemic:

On Jan. 31, the country had 46 new deaths due to the novel coronavirus, compared with 42 new deaths the day before.

Although the number of daily deaths had increased, the rate of that increase had begun to ease off. In his view, the fact that new cases were being identified at a slower rate was more telling than the number of new cases itself. It was an early sign that the trajectory of the outbreak had shifted.

Think of the outbreak as a car racing down an open highway, he said. Although the car is still gaining speed, it’s not accelerating as rapidly as before.

“This suggests that the rate of increase in the number of deaths will slow down even more over the next week,” Levitt wrote in a report he sent to friends Feb. 1 that was widely shared on Chinese social media. And soon, he predicted, the number of deaths would be decreasing every day.

Three weeks later, Levitt told the China Daily News that the virus’ rate of growth had peaked. He predicted that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in China would end up around 80,000, with about 3,250 deaths.

This forecast turned out to be remarkably accurate: As of March 16, China had counted a total of 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths — in a nation of nearly 1.4 billion people where roughly 10 million die every year. The number of newly diagnosed patients has dropped to around 25 a day, with no cases of community spread reported since Wednesday.

At that point, he moved on from China:

He analyzed data from 78 countries that reported more than 50 new cases of COVID-19 every day and sees “signs of recovery” in many of them. He’s not focusing on the total number of cases in a country, but on the number of new cases identified every day — and, especially, on the change in that number from one day to the next.

“Numbers are still noisy, but there are clear signs of slowed growth.”

On Tuesday, March 24, The Independent picked up on the article and had found another interview he had done for an Israeli financial newsletter on coronavirus modelling, in which he stated that he disagreed with the exponential growth formulae used in predictions, e.g. Ferguson’s, although he mentioned no names:

In an interview with Calcalist, an Israeli financial newsletter, Mr Levitt explained why he didn’t agree with models of exponential growth that many organisations were using as the basis of their predictions.

“In exponential growth models, you assume that new people can be infected every day, because you keep meeting new people. But, if you consider your own social circle, you basically meet the same people every day,” he said. “You can meet new people on public transportation, for example; but even on the bus, after sometime most passengers will either be infected or immune.”

He also thought that social distancing was a good idea:

Mr Levitt said that social distancing measures have been helpful in reducing the virus’ ability to spread rapidly.

At this point, he was studying Italy’s coronavirus numbers:

He suggested that the higher percentage of elderly people in Italy paired with the country’s vibrant social culture resulted in the explosion of cases in that country.

“Furthermore, Italian culture is very warm and Italians have a very rich social life. For these reasons, it is important to keep people apart and prevent sick people from coming into contact with healthy people,” he said.

He was rightly concerned with overloading health systems, including that of the United States:

“Currently, I am most worried about the US. It must isolate as many people as possible to buy time for preparations. Otherwise, it can end up in a situation where 20,000 infected people will descend on the nearest hospital at the same time and the healthcare system will collapse,” he said.

However, while he recommended a brief lockdown as a stop-gap measure to flatten the sombrero, as it were, he also believed that the nations’ populations were developing a natural, or herd, immunity to coronavirus:

Mr Levitt said that while isolating was an important step to fighting viral spread, he also believes a certain segment of the population may be naturally immune to the disease.

“We know China was under almost complete quarantine, people only left home to do crucial shopping and avoided contact with others. In Wuhan, which had the highest number of infection cases in the Hubei province, everyone had a chance of getting infected, but only 3 percent caught it,” he said. “Even on the Diamond Princess [the quarantined cruise ship] the infection rate did not top 20 percent.”

He said those numbers suggest that some people simply are immune or especially resistant to the virus.

It’s quite possible that some of us can build up immunity to COVID-19, because the common cold is a type of coronavirus. I’m not equating the two by any means, just highlighting that the principle could well be the same. We might not need an expensive drug — or a vaccine with who knows what in it.

On May 2, Prof Levitt gave an interview to Britain’s online magazine UnHerd, which is an excellent site. Freddie Sayers, the site’s executive editor, conducted the interview, which is just under 35 minutes long, available below and at the accompanying article:

The aforementioned article explains Levitt’s nuanced view of coronavirus. Lockdowns should be only short-term, or focussed on vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. Social distancing is important, but, even then, after a while people will ignore it. Therefore, some prior immunity or asymptomatic cases must factor in somewhere. Neil Ferguson’s Imperial College numbers are misguided, because this is not about exponential growth.

An excerpt from the article follows:

His observation is a simple one: that in outbreak after outbreak of this disease, a similar mathematical pattern is observable regardless of government interventions. After around a two week exponential growth of cases (and, subsequently, deaths) some kind of break kicks in, and growth starts slowing down. The curve quickly becomes “sub-exponential”.

This may seem like a technical distinction, but its implications are profound. The ‘unmitigated’ scenarios modelled by (among others) Imperial College, and which tilted governments across the world into drastic action, relied on a presumption of continued exponential growth — that with a consistent R number of significantly above 1 and a consistent death rate, very quickly the majority of the population would be infected and huge numbers of deaths would be recorded. But Professor Levitt’s point is that that hasn’t actually happened anywhere, even in countries that have been relatively lax in their responses.

He takes specific issue with the Neil Ferguson paper. “In a footnote to a table it said, assuming exponential growth of 15% for six days. Now I had looked at China and had never seen exponential growth that wasn’t decaying rapidly.”

The explanation for this flattening that we are used to is that social distancing and lockdowns have slowed the curve, but he is unconvinced. As he put it to me, in the subsequent examples to China of South Korea, Iran and Italy, “the beginning of the epidemics showed a slowing down and it was very hard for me to believe that those three countries could practise social distancing as well as China.” He believes that both some degree of prior immunity and large numbers of asymptomatic cases are important factors.

He also observes that the total number of deaths we are seeing, in places as diverse as New York City, parts of England, parts of France and Northern Italy, all seem to level out at a very similar fraction of the total population. “Are they all practising equally good social distancing? I don’t think so.” He disagrees with Sir David Spiegelhalter’s calculations that the totem is around one additional year of excess deaths, while (by adjusting to match the effects seen on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship) he calculates that it is more like one month of excess death that is need before the virus peters out.

More generally, he complains that epidemiologists only seem to be called wrong if they underestimate deaths, and so there is an intrinsic bias towards caution. “They see their role as scaring people into doing something, and I understand that… but in my work, if I say a number is too small and I’m wrong, or too big and I’m wrong, both of those errors are the same.

He believes the much-discussed R0 is a faulty number, as it is meaningless without the time infectious alongside.

On May 23, the Telegraph had an article about Levitt: ‘Lockdown saved no lives and may have cost them, Nobel Prize winner believes’.

Levitt had been in touch with Ferguson to tell him his numbers were (once again, as the British know) woefully out of whack:

Michael Levitt, a Stanford University professor who correctly predicted the initial trajectory of the pandemic, sent messages to Professor Neil Ferguson in March telling the influential government advisor he had over-estimated the potential death toll by “10 or 12 times”.

The Imperial College professor’s modelling, a major factor in the Government’s apparent abandoning of a so-called herd-immunity policy, was part of an unnecessary “panic virus” which spread among global political leaders, Prof Levitt now tells the Telegraph.

Levitt told the Telegraph that he was no fan of a prolonged lockdown:

“I think lockdown saved no lives,” said the scientist, who added that the Government should have encouraged Britons to wear masks and adhere to other forms of social distancing.

“I think it may have cost lives. It will have saved a few road accident lives – things like that – but social damage – domestic abuse, divorces, alcoholism – has been extreme. And then you have those who were not treated for other conditions.”

Levitt nails it with his next observation. Politicians were terrified at the prospect of a high death toll if they did not implement lockdown:

“I think that the real virus was the panic virus,” Prof Levitt told the Telegraph. “For reasons that were not clear to me, I think the leaders panicked and the people panicked and I think there was a huge lack of discussion.”

Levitt believes that COVID-19 has a natural life cycle. Lockdown did little. The virus burned out by itself:

“In Europe, I don’t think that anything actually stopped the virus other than some kind of burnout,” he added. “There’s a huge number of people who are asymptomatic so I would seriously imagine that by the time lockdown was finally introduced in the UK the virus was already widely spread. They could have just stayed open like Sweden by that stage and nothing would have happened.”

Also:

“There is no doubt that you can stop an epidemic with lockdown but it’s a very blunt and very medieval weapon and the epidemic could have been stopped just as effectively with other sensible measures (such as masks and other forms of social distancing),” he added.

Levitt thinks that the UK will have total deaths around 50,000, which looks quite possible. He’s also drawn the ire of epidemiologists, yet his forecasts have been far more accurate than theirs:

“It turns out numbers are played out very consistently when you look at all the places that have been badly hit, particularly in Europe. The token number of deaths before things stop is about one month of natural deaths, which is something like one in a thousand.”

Based on his estimates, Britain was due to suffer around 50,000 deaths in total. “A lot of things went wrong but I think the main thing is that we just needed to think and discuss things a little bit,” he added. I was told on numerous occasions ‘you are not an epidemiologist, shut up’. I don’t really care. I was just looking at the numbers. I was looking at the cruise ship, looking at Wuhan. The same number held for these places.”

A few days before the Telegraph interview took place, an article comparing Levitt’s spot-on numbers with Prof Neil Ferguson’s off-piste ones appeared in The Critic: ‘We’re all in the big numbers now’.

As its author, Alistair Haimes, says, we are now in a place to begin studying UK coronavirus deaths and statistical curves.

This is how wrong, to be polite, Ferguson’s Imperial College numbers were:

Imperial College haven’t had a good war, and after their performance in other recent epidemics perhaps they will now pass their mantle onto another team.  Preferably one that can code to levels fit for publication, never mind policy: it is increasingly awkward to hear the Prime Minister quoting their forecast that, were it not for lockdown, the UK could have been looking at half a million deaths when, at the tail-end of the epidemic, there are only 320,000 deaths worldwide.

By contrast, we have Dr Levitt’s accurate predictions, but no one wanted to know because Levitt is not an epidemiologist!

In mid-March, Stanford’s Nobel laureate Michael Levitt (biophysicist and professor of structural biology) discussed the “natural experiment” of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, a virtually perfect sealed petri-dish disproportionately filled with the most susceptible age and health groups. Even here, despite the virus spreading uncontrolled onboard for at least two weeks, infection only reached 20% of passengers and crew (an “upper bound” to infection levels?); Levitt concluded that we must have high levels of innate immunity that can clear the virus. And using very simple mathematics (not “15,000 lines of uncommented code” like Neil Ferguson) he demonstrated that the virus’s spread had never been exponential but rather has been running out of steam from day one. Who listened?

The end result is a death toll that is no worse than a bad influenza year:

If we simply move covid-19 deaths from spring to winter, the death-toll and the extent of the epidemic is put in the context of recent bad (but not dramatic) influenza years.

We have had bad flu years in the UK, and within the past two decades, but we didn’t get hysterical about them:

Remember the killer flu of 2000, and the lockdown after the Millenium super-spreader events? Me neither. Covid-19 might not be “just flu”, but that’s because there’s no “just” about flu.

According to the article, Sweden’s no lockdown strategy was that of Britain’s SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) member and our Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance:

In Sweden, Professors Giesecke and Tegnell have managed the epidemic within Sweden’s healthcare capacity without suspending civil liberties or shutting down schools or society (Sir Patrick Vallance’s “Plan A”), with no greater death-toll than our own. The Free Swedes pointed out all along that lockdown would be much easier to get into than out of: no kidding, we’re in an eel-trap.

We have no idea if the UK government looked at models that contradicted Ferguson’s. Oxford University has more realistic models, but we paid attention to Ferguson’s numbers from Imperial College. They have never been right for other pandemics, so why would he have been right about this one?

One thing the article omits is the media narrative that drove us to lockdown. Britain was going along with the Swedish model of social distancing, but the 24/7 news channels — BBC and Sky — ramped up Project Fear by asking why we didn’t have a lockdown, too.

No doubt advisers put pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, too, because everyone in that stratum of society, Boris included, will watch some BBC news every day. He probably already knew the narrative.

Hence, lockdown on the evening of Monday, March 23.

SAGE minutes actually state that the British public was so scared that they would comply:

SAGE minutes make it clear that the public was explicitly petrified in order to ensure compliance with lockdown.

Lockdown was a YUGE mistake socially and economically.

We are due to go through the worst economic disaster since the early 18th century. Years differ: 1704, 1706, 1708. Take your pick.

Questions must also be asked of Neil Ferguson. He ruined the farming industry with his past predictions. Now he’s ruined not only the British economy, but, perhaps, others where leaders looked at his unrealistic extrapolations. (The United States comes to mind.)

One could be forgiven for thinking that Ferguson has an agenda of some sort. It certainly looks that way.

Boris, his government ministers and his advisers now have to get us out of this mess, sooner rather than later.

Boris’s ‘baby steps’ won’t cut it.

They might be small in number right now, but a growing number of doctors involved in the coronavirus outbreak are wondering about the wisdom of nationwide lockdowns.

In some countries, lockdown did not make much difference to the number of deaths.

On May 14, France’s Prof Didier Raoult posted a study from Spain which showed that those who kept working outside the home were less at risk of falling victim to COVID-19. Replies follow:

Why we were told the world over to stay indoors, I do not understand. It runs counter to everything we’ve been taught over 120 years with regard to fighting epidemics:

This chart comes from another source and has more testimony about New York’s lockdown:

A doctor from Paris can corroborate that households staying indoors did get COVID-19 more often than those who did not. People were already infected before lockdown and did not show symptoms until later on.

On Tuesday, May 26, RMC — France’s talk radio station — interviewed Dr Robert Sebbag, a specialist in infectious diseases, who works at the famous Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. The interview is a little over 19 minutes long.

Sebbag worked on the COVID-19 ward and said that if one family member was admitted to hospital with coronavirus, others from the same households were also infected days later.

He said that this led him and his colleagues to believe that general lockdowns are a bad idea. He explained that politicians were afraid of the number of deaths from this novel (new) coronavirus and decided to impose blanket lockdowns:

He said that the hospital, in the early days of the outbreak, was very gloomy indeed, with a seemingly endless number of COVID-19 patients being admitted. He, his colleagues and hospital staff were worried that they would be completely overwhelmed:

He thinks that an assessment needs to be done of how COVID-19 was handled in the first half of this year. While he personally thinks masks are a good idea, he objects to the restriction on nursing and care home visits, which he says are essential for patient well being, especially among the elderly:

Presumably, care home administrators can work out a system for visiting, perhaps requiring that healthy family members and friends make an appointment before visiting.

The greater question there surrounds infected patients being discharged from hospitals into care homes. This happened in the US, the UK, France and Germany. The very real pressure on the hospitals meant that they had to discharge elderly patients before they were fully recovered to make room for new COVID-19 patients. As such, care homes were overwhelmed with infection in some cases.

People rightly wonder if we will get a second wave. Some medical experts say no. Some say yes. Others say that we have to find a way of treating patients effectively so that coronavirus is no longer a fatal disease. The honest answer at this point is that we do not know whether there will be a second wave of infections.

As lockdowns are fully lifted in the coming weeks, we will all have to take greater responsibility for our own behaviour in a COVID-19 world. I dislike referring readers to the BBC, but they did have a good article on Sunday, May 24: Health Correspondent Nick Triggle’s ‘Coronavirus: How scared should we be?’ It is well worth reading.

For a start, we do not live in a risk-free world:

Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, says the question we should be asking is whether we are “safe enough”.

“There will never be no risk. In a world where Covid-19 remains present in the community it’s about how we reduce that risk, just as we do with other kinds of daily dangers, like driving and cycling.”

We might become more dependent on our ‘least worst’ options in managing that risk:

Statistician Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, an expert in risk from Cambridge University and government adviser, says it has, in effect, become a game of “risk management” – and because of that we need to get a handle on the magnitude of risk we face.

There are two factors that influence the risk we face from coronavirus – our risk of becoming infected and, once infected, our risk of dying or becoming seriously ill.

We should also keep in mind that, for most people, coronavirus is relatively mild:

… only one in 20 people who shows symptoms is believed to need hospital treatment …

Think of it this way:

If your risk of dying was very low in the first place, it still remains very low.

As for children, the risk of dying from other things – cancer and accidents are the biggest cause of fatalities – is greater than their chance of dying if they are infected with coronavirus.

During the pandemic so far three under 15s have died. That compares to around 50 killed in road accidents every year.

In the months to come, there will likely be tests and tools, such as this one from University College London, that can help us assess our individual risk of catching this unpredictable and sometimes fatal disease.

The most important aspect, even more than the dreaded mask, is hand hygiene. Wash hands regularly and thoroughly with soap or soap gel, then dry them well. Damp or wet hands create a good atmosphere for viruses and bacteria.

Also keep hands away from the face, the best receptor for infections.

On Monday, May 25, 2020, the WHO dropped its hydroxychloroquine trials as a possible treatment for coronavirus.

The drug is one of a selection of anti-malarials which have been used successfully, under the right protocols.

In Europe, Prof Didier Raoult is the champion of this type of treatment. He has successfully used a protocol involving Plaquenil and azithromycin on his patients in Marseille. Raoult is the director of the regional institute for research on infections, the IHU Méditerranée Infection.

The medical establishment worldwide is attempting to discredit the renegade physician. The latest is the Lancet, Britain’s renowned medical journal. The results of their studies with the drug prompted the WHO to halt their trials.

The BBC reports:

The Lancet study involved 96,000 coronavirus patients, nearly 15,000 of whom were given hydroxychloroquine – or a related form chloroquine – either alone or with an antibiotic.

The study found that the patients were more likely to die in hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other Covid patients in a comparison group.

The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with antibiotics had an even higher death rate.

The researchers warned that hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials.

President Trump is currently taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure. He receives it via prescription.

The WHO advises people not to self-medicate with these drugs.

Indeed, Prof Raoult uses them only on people who test positive for COVID-19. He also runs a battery of tests on potential patients before administering the tablets. Anti-malarials can worsen pre-existing heart conditions.

His and his team’s paper was published in May:

He was delighted to see that another study using the same two drugs was equally successful. Beneath it are the results of the less successful Lancet study, which used hydroxychloroquine and macrolide, instead of azithromycin:

He is aware that the medical establishment, including France’s two most recent health ministers, Agnès Buzyn and Olivier Véran, want him out of the picture:

That’s unfortunate, because I listen to RMC during the week and the callers from Marseille and the rest of the region of Provence-Alpes Maritimes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) consider him a hero.

However, RMC’s morning show hosts dismiss Raoult and hydroxychloroquine. Now I know why. One of the station’s main shareholders also is a major shareholder in Gilead, which is working on Remdesivir, a drug used to treat Ebola. So far, Remdesivir trials on COVID-19 have not been that successful but the marketing is good, and it would be a money maker:

Last Tuesday on RMC, the WHO/Lancet news was a topic for discussion on the mid-morning show. They took a poll of Raoult’s popularity. Three-quarters of their listeners voting during the show love the man. The poll was open for another day:

One of the show’s guests said that Didier Raoult was achieving success, not talking about hypotheticals. He found it strange that few of the other studies manage to reproduce his success:

A nurse from Marseille who used to work the the professor, who is a physician, said that the others are not following his protocol to the letter. She said that, if they were, they would get the same results.

Raoult points out in the next tweet that the other studies are not using the drugs on people who actually have the disease. Therefore, results will differ:

Back to RMC. One of the panellists compared Raoult to Trump: a renegade one loves or loathes. She said that, like Trump, Raoult is trending in popularity:

Needless to say, the conversation about Raoult got heated. The first panellist said he was annoyed that his GP wouldn’t prescribe him hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. The show’s hosts, on either side of him, thought the GP was right not to do so:

A third panellist said that Raoult is resisting all the discrediting of his work — ‘He’s extremely courageous’:

Criticised though Raoult might be, America’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be doing a study on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin:

Although Raoult gives Dr Anthony Fauci the credit, I think it actually belongs to President Trump.

——————————————————————————

MAJOR UPDATE — JUNE 4: The Guardian has investigated the Lancet paper and reports that it had to be withdrawn. The WHO is now resuming its hydroxychoroquine trials.

This never should have happened to a respected medical journal.

Emphases mine below:

The Lancet paper that halted global trials of hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 because of fears of increased deaths has been retracted after a Guardian investigation found inconsistencies in the data.

The lead author, Prof Mandeep Mehra, from the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston, Massachusetts decided to ask the Lancet for the retraction because he could no longer vouch for the data’s accuracy.

The journal’s editor, Richard Horton, said he was appalled by developments. “This is a shocking example of research misconduct in the middle of a global health emergency,” he told the Guardian.

A Guardian investigation had revealed errors in the data that was provided for the research by US company Surgisphere. These were later explained by the company as some patients being wrongly allocated to Australia instead of Asia. But more anomalies were then picked up. A further Guardian investigation found that there were serious questions to be asked about the company itself.

An independent audit company was asked to examine a database provided by Surgisphere to ensure it had the data from more than 96,000 Covid-19 patients in 671 hospitals worldwide, that it was obtained properly and was accurate.

Surgisphere’s CEO, Sapan Desai, had said he would cooperate with the independent audit, but it is understood he refused to give the investigators access to all the data they asked for.

In a statement on Thursday, Mehra said: “Our independent peer reviewers informed us that Surgisphere would not transfer the full dataset, client contracts, and the full ISO audit report to their servers for analysis as such transfer would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements. As such, our reviewers were not able to conduct an independent and private peer review and therefore notified us of their withdrawal from the peer-review process”…

The World Health Organization and several countries suspended randomised controlled trials that were set up to find an answer. Those trials have now been restarted. Many scientists were angry that they had been stopped on the basis of a trial that was observational and not a “gold standard” RCT.

Mehra had commissioned an independent audit of the data after scientists questioned it …

The Guardian wrote about Surgisphere on June 3. This is shocking.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

The World Health Organization and a number of national governments have changed their Covid-19 policies and treatments on the basis of flawed data from a little-known US healthcare analytics company, also calling into question the integrity of key studies published in some of the world’s most prestigious medical journals.

A Guardian investigation can reveal the US-based company Surgisphere, whose handful of employees appear to include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, has provided data for multiple studies on Covid-19 co-authored by its chief executive, but has so far failed to adequately explain its data or methodology

The Guardian’s investigation has found:

    • A search of publicly available material suggests several of Surgisphere’s employees have little or no data or scientific background. An employee listed as a science editor appears to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist. Another employee listed as a marketing executive is an adult model and events hostess.
    • The company’s LinkedIn page has fewer than 100 followers and last week listed just six employees. This was changed to three employees as of Wednesday.
    • While Surgisphere claims to run one of the largest and fastest hospital databases in the world, it has almost no online presence. Its Twitter handle has fewer than 170 followers, with no posts between October 2017 and March 2020.
    • Until Monday, the get in touch” link on Surgisphere’s homepage redirected to a WordPress template for a cryptocurrency website, raising questions about how hospitals could easily contact the company to join its database.
    • Desai has been named in three medical malpractice suits, unrelated to the Surgisphere database. In an interview with the Scientist, Desai previously described the allegations as “unfounded

You could not make this up.

Still, it’s a happy ending. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine trials will resume, including at the WHO.

Many thanks to my reader formerdem, who alerted me to this welcome change of events in the comment section below.

Last week, I saw another tweet on this topic elsewhere last week and thought it was a joke.

Unfortunately, it’s true:

The Christian Institute has the story: ‘Kids as young as 11 told to define hardcore porn for homework’.

The assignment was given at the Church of England’s Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull. Church of England schools largely follow state curriculum (emphases mine):

Eleven to 14-year-olds at Archbishop Sentamu Academy were told to define topics including hardcore and transsexual pornography.

Local mother Mrs Taylor called the PSHE homework “completely inappropriate”, saying her eleven-year-old daughter does not need to know “things that would destroy her mind”.

Mrs Taylor said: “She was only in primary school last year living her best life, now she is being asked to search for hardcore pornography”.

She added: “Now it’s making me think what they are learning about at school that we don’t know about. We only know about this because they’re home learning.”

Coronavirus lockdown accomplished something on the home front, it seems.

A young man whose sister attends the academy said that she, too, received the same homework:

Leon Dagon, whose 13-year-old sister also attends the school, saw the homework and took to Facebook to warn parents.

He said: “Luckily I found the work otherwise she would have typed this stuff into Google and you know what would have come up and that makes me feel sick. I felt sick thinking she was going to go onto the computer to search it up.”

Well done to Mrs Taylor and Mr Dagon.

The academy tried to downplay it:

The Academy has apologised “unreservedly” for any offence caused, claiming that students were not expected to search the terms online but instead use the materials provided.

Sure.

They didn’t think that students of that age would investigate further?

What numpties.

A local vicar agrees with that assessment:

Revd Melvin Tinker, Vicar of St John Newland in Hull, told The Christian Institute: “It was naïve in the extreme to think that children wouldn’t use the internet to look up these terms.”

He continued: “The Principal has promised to ensure all materials are fully age appropriate. What does that mean? When is ‘hardcore pornography’ an age-appropriate topic for school-children at all? The answer, of course, is that it is not.”

Revd Tinker added: “The Academy needs to stop listening to the self-appointed ‘experts’ at the Sex Education Forum and start paying a lot more attention to local parents, to the wellbeing of the children and to its legal duties.”

You can hear what he has to say in the following video, which is just under three minutes long:

He says that the lessons were not required by law, even though the academy seemed to imply that, in his estimation.

While Church of England schools are required to provide lessons on relationships, pornography lessons are not included in the guidance.

Mr Tinker says that C of E schools need to pay less attention to the Sex Education Forum and more to their legal and ethical duties towards students.

Absolutely.

On Sunday, May 24, the Telegraph posted an article that brightened my day: ‘Churches must be allowed to reopen, MPs demand in letter to PM’.

We haven’t been able to attend church since the middle of March, which is also true for other houses of worship.

I am mystified as to why the House of Commons is able to social distance adequately, with alternate benches closed and designated seating, but religious leaders cannot be trusted to do the same in their places of worship.

Fortunately, 20 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, expressing their incredulity that we can go to a supermarket but not to church (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has been urged by a group of Conservative MPs to allow churches to open for prayer, weddings and funerals as soon as next month.

The 20 MPs, including former ministers and senior backbenchers, questioned why shoppers can go to a “busy supermarket” to buy food and drinks but worshippers in need of spiritual sustenance cannot currently pray in a largely empty church.

“Weddings (whether in the church porch or inside), christenings and other services are wanted; safely and soon”, the MPs said. “Ten can gather in a crematorium yet one cannot be in a church.”

The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy published earlier this month put churches and other public places of worship in the same bracket as pubs and cinemas, and said that could not reopen until July 4 at the earliest.

It added that some of these venues may not be able to open even then because “it may prove difficult to enact distancing”.

However, in a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been seen by The Telegraph, the MPs make clear that “many [of us] want further faster opening of churches and places of worship”.

They said: “We ask for clear guidance, rules removed and discretion allowed as local faith leaders stay alert and make churches, chapels and places of prayer and worship available to the faithful. Everyone understands the value of appropriate social distancing and the obligation to avoid contamination”

The letter was sent to Mr Johnson and his Parliamentary Private Secretary Andrew Bowie this weekend. It has been organised by Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley. Other signatories include Tim Loughton and Sir Bob Neill as well as senior members of the influential backbench 1922 committee of Tory MPs such as the chairman Sir Graham Brady and executive officer Bob Blackman.

The group warned Mr Johnson that “the Cabinet and you know the strength of backbench feeling”, and expressed concern that some places of worship might not even be able to open in July.

They said: “Even that may be extended by delay in publishing regulations, decisions by diocesan bishops and local circumstances.

Quoting a representative Catholic pastor, they tell Mr Johnson: “I ask you to put pressure on the Government for private prayer as soon as possible. Two-metre social distancing is easy (easier than in a supermarket) and sensible hygiene precautions can quickly be put in place.

“It seems odd that you can go for a walk, enter a busy supermarket, get on a bus, but cannot go to a large virtually-empty-for-much-of-the-time building.”

They add: “We ask that our leaders, Government and church, especially the Church of England, together find reasonably safe ways to reopen our churches for prayer, for funerals even with limited congregations and for worship sooner than July.”

That day, I heard an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on BBC News. He said he was more concerned about Mental Health Week at that time than reopening churches. It seemed an odd remark. Surely, church can help assuage mental health symptoms as those so afflicted can focus on faith, salvation and fellowship — especially during the coronavirus crisis:

At present, the Church of England has instructed clergy that they may go in to church to clean it — but not to pray! Daft.

The Archbishop of Canterbury films services in his kitchen:

However, the Bishop of London, the Right Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, a former nursing chief, disagrees …

… although she films sermons from her home:

Her flexible instruction, it seems, was a wise one, as some clergy were unhappy with Welby’s wholesale closure:

Bishop Mullally, who was UK’s chief nursing officer from 1999-2004, said priests could livestream services from within a church building if they could access it via an internal door from their home, or without leaving the curtilage of the church.

The Archbishop’s wholesale ban upset priests who felt he does not have the right to order clergy who are answerable to their own bishops.

One said: “He’s panicked and shut everything down,” while another vicar who used Zoom to conduct a Palm Sunday for a 90-strong congregation and will do so again on Easter Sunday, said: “The whole situation is ridiculous”.

That said, this Good Friday tweet appears to contradict that flexibility:

On Good Friday, London’s St Bartholomew the Great filmed a service with priest and choir:

Hospital chapels are another area of contention, as this letter to the Times, from St Bartholomew’s rector (shown in the above video), reveals. Click on the image to read the letter in full:

I like this priest. He’s eager — and rightly so — to have his congregation return:

This is amazing (as in awful):

That brought another set of replies from a curate and a gentleman in Montreal:

I fully agree with the ‘social service agency’ sentiment.

The discussion returned to Mr Walker and a random Twitter user. This is great. I’m so glad the priest took this man on:

Excellent reply.

Whenever church opens, I hope there will be a new market for those who have begun praying at home — and perhaps watching online services — during the past several weeks:

Plans are already underway to work out methods for reopening London’s Anglican churches whilst maintaining social distancing.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 7:4-6

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.[a]

—————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post introduced Paul’s preface into a discussion of our situation of no longer being bound to the law but bound to Christ.

Paul used marriage as his example. When a woman’s husband dies, she is free to remarry. So it is with us in a spiritual sense. Before Christ, believers — Paul is speaking to former Jews here — were bound to Mosaic law. However, Christ’s death and resurrection freed us from the law. We are now bound to Him individually, forever. We are also bound to Him collectively through the Church, His holy bride.

Our purpose in being bound to Him and no longer to the law is that we may produce fruits of faith for God (verse 4).

Matthew Henry has an excellent analysis of this verse. He first draws our attention to having ‘died to the law’, referred to again in verse 6 (emphases mine):

He does not say, “The law is dead” (some think because he would avoid giving offence to those who were yet zealous for the law), but, which comes all to one, You are dead to the law. As the crucifying of the world to us, and of us to the world, amounts to one and the same thing, so doth the law dying, and our dying to it. We are delivered from the law (Romans 7:6), katergethemen–we are nulled as to the law; our obligation to it as a husband is cassated and made void.

Through His death and resurrection Christ delivered us from bondage to the law, which could not save us. It could only make us aware of our sins:

It is dead, it has lost its power; and this (Romans 7:4) by the body of Christ, that is, by the sufferings of Christ in his body, by his crucified body, which abrogated the law, answered the demands of it, made satisfaction for our violation of it, purchased for us a covenant of grace, in which righteousness and strength are laid up for us, such as were not, nor could be, by the law. We are dead to the law by our union with the mystical body of Christ. By being incorporated into Christ in our baptism professedly, in our believing powerfully and effectually, we are dead to the law, have no more to do with it than the dead servant, that is free from his master, hath to do with his master’s yoke.

Our spiritual marriage is with Christ, not the law. As marriage is expected to be fruitful, so our union with Christ should be bearing the fruits of our faith, made possible by heavenly grace:

The wife is compared to the fruitful vine, and children are called the fruit of the womb. Now the great end of our marriage to Christ is our fruitfulness in love, and grace, and every good work. This is fruit unto God, pleasing to God, according to his will, aiming at his glory. As our old marriage to sin produced fruit unto death, so our second marriage to Christ produces fruit unto God, fruits of righteousness. Good works are the children of the new nature, the products of our union with Christ, as the fruitfulness of the vine is the product of its union with the root. Whatever our professions and pretensions may be, there is no fruit brought forth to God till we are married to Christ; it is in Christ Jesus that we are created unto good works, Ephesians 2:10. The only fruit which turns to a good account is that which is brought forth in Christ. This distinguishes the good works of believers from the good works of hypocrites and self-justifiers that they are brought forth in marriage, done in union with Christ, in the name of the Lord Jesus, Colossians 3:17. This is, without controversy, one of the great mysteries of godliness. (2.) That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, Romans 7:6. Being married to a new husband, we must change our way.

Under the law alone, believers could only be aware of their sins and were helpless in committing them time and time again; the law could not save them (verse 5).

John MacArthur breaks this verse down as follows:

This verse is so loaded, now. Hang on, I’m going to give it to you fast. Four key thoughts, here they come: Flesh, sin, law, death. Circle them in your Bible in verse 5: Flesh, sin, law, death. They go together. They’re all the same kind of thing. They operate in the same sphere.

The flesh produces sin, which is excited by the law, which it results in death. That’s a pathetic quartet, frankly. They are terms that describe man’s fallenness, man’s unregenerate state. They are a sad description. Let me take them piece by piece. And this is a very important statement at the beginning of verse 5, very definitive. “For when we were in – ” underline the word “in” “ – when we were in the flesh.” “In the flesh,” what does he mean by that? Well, we were really deep in it. It was our sphere of being. We were in the flesh. We were deeply in the flesh, profoundly in the flesh, engulfed in the flesh.

What is the flesh? It’s used two ways in the Bible and you must distinguish them. First, it’s used physically. And when flesh is used physically in the Bible, it has no evil connotation. Did you get that? When it’s used physically, it has no evil connotation. For Jesus Christ is come in the what? Flesh. “For the Word – ” John 1:14 “ – was made flesh.” When it is used in the physical sense, it has no evil connotation. In fact, in 1 John 4:2 it says that anyone who doesn’t confess that Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.

But listen, when flesh is used in the ethical or moral sense it always has an evil connotation. Always. When it’s used in the ethical moral sense. You find that, for example, in chapter 8, flesh is used in verse 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 13, flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh all through there. You find it in Galatians 5 at least four times. You find it in Ephesians chapter 2. And every time you find it used in an ethical moral sense, it has an evil connotation. And it is speaking of man’s unredeemed humanness. Very important. So “when we were in the flesh” is when we were unredeemed. When our being – our real personage – … living in us was engulfed in the flesh, was captive to the flesh.

Now may I suggest to you that that’s a past tense experience? I’m no longer in the flesh. That’s right. Neither are you if you’re a Christian. You say, “How do you know that?” I’d thought you’d ask. Look at 8:4. Verse 4 says we’re not to walk after the flesh. Then verse 5. “For they that are after the flesh – ” now there’s another phrase that’s just the same as “in the flesh.” The “in the flesh” and “after the flesh,” folks, are the same thing. “They mind the things of the flesh.” That’s their world, their sphere. “But they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be fleshly minded is death; to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the fleshly mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

With Christ as our Redeemer, we are no longer dead to sin in the law. In our union with Christ, we do the right things to please Him and God the Father, as divine grace and the Holy Spirit enable us so to do (verse 6).

MacArthur explains that Paul is referring to the fruits of faith here, not the erroneous works-based salvation:

Because of Christ we bear fruit. May I remind you that this is not a command, this is a statement of fact? It could read, “in order that we bring forth fruit.” We do. There’s no such thing as a no-fruit Christian. Salvation has a product. Because of a transformed life, we bear fruit unto God. Now carry that back to the question at the beginning of chapter 6. When you preach a grace salvation, and you ask people to come to Christ by grace through faith, and they don’t have to do anything to earn it, and you’re under grace, and sin abounds grace much more abounds, does that lead to sin? No it doesn’t because chapter 6 says that if you’re truly transformed you produce holiness, and chapter 7 says if you’re truly married to Jesus Christ you will bring forth fruit unto God. Just the opposite is true.

The great theologian, [Charles] Hodge, wrote, “As far as we are concerned, redemption is in order to produce holiness. We are delivered from the law in order that we may be united to Christ. And we’re united to Christ in order that we may bring forth fruit unto God.” He goes on to say, “The only evidence of union with Christ is bringing forth fruit unto God. As deliverance from the penalty of the law is in order to produce holiness, it is vain to expect that deliverance except with a view to the end for which it is granted.”

In other words, if you’re saved, you’re going to produce fruit unto God. What is fruit? Well, we’ve studied this in the past. Two things: Attitude and action. What’s attitude fruit? Galatians 5:22-23. “The fruit of the Spirit is – ” what? “ – love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith meekness, self-control.” That’s attitude.

What about action fruit? Hebrews chapter 13. “The fruit of your lips praise unto God.” Philippians chapter 4. The fruit of a loving heart, a gift sent to the apostle Paul. Philippians talks about the fruit of righteousness. Any righteous act, any act which glorifies God, is fruit. Any right attitude or right act is fruit. And when Christ transforms your life, and you are dead to the law, and you come alive to God, it is not just because of a past historical event, it is because of a present living Christ, with whom you are one, and in whom He produces fruit unto God. He is the vine and we are the – what? – branches. And the vine produces the fruit through the branches.

So the question of 6:1-2 is again answered. Salvation has a product, but the product isn’t abuse, and the product is licentiousness, and the product isn’t libertinism, and the product isn’t license, and the product isn’t sinfulness, thinking you’re going to get forgiven for everything you do because of some transaction that’s made. The product of true salvation is chapter 6, holiness; chapter 7, fruitfulness, and fruit unto God. That means fruit that glorifies God.

As I am writing this on Pentecost Sunday, here is a closing thought from MacArthur on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives:

This, of course, is the work of the Holy Spirit We still serve the law In fact, we serve it better than we could before we were redeemed. Because we serve not the letter of the law but the spirit.  We no longer are slaves to a legal set of values and rules in order to gain favor with God, but we now serve God out of love because He’s granted us salvation We are free, free to serve God, not free to serve ourselves.  We did that before.  We aren’t legalists serving the letter, but in newness of spirit we serve Christ. 

So somebody asks the question.  If we’re free from the law as Christians, is the law binding on us?  The answer is no and yes.  It is not binding in the sense that our acceptance with God depends on it.  It is binding in the sense that our new life seeks to serve it.  You see, the law couldn’t save you because you couldn’t keep it.  Now that God saved you, the law can’t condemn you, and for the first time in your life by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can keep it So we’re not under the law condemnation but we serve God’s law out of the depths of a committed heart.

Is the law important?  Oh yes.  Can we say with the psalmist, “O how I love Thy law?”  Oh yes.  Even though it can’t save us?  Yes.  Even though it would condemn us?  Yes.  Because Jesus Christ has born that condemnation and by planting within us the divine nature has enabled us to keep that very law And we don’t serve it externally, but out of newness of spirit.

So, we’re dead to the law in the sense that it could save us or condemn us.  But listen, people, we are more alive to the law now in terms of serving it to the glory of God than we’ve ever been

Paul has much more to say about the law and sin, to be continued next week.

Next time — Romans 7:7-14

Pentecost2Below are the readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Pentecost, the final Sunday in Eastertide, is regarded as the Church’s birthday.

The first Pentecost coincided with the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which explains why there were so many witnesses to the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples, as we will see in the reading from Acts 2 below:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

The following posts have more on this important day in the Church calendar:

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Outside of the Psalm, the readings below have more than one option.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Option One

If this is not read as the first reading, it must be chosen for the Second Reading/Epistle.

This is the dramatic account of the Holy Spirit descending on the 70 disciples in Jerusalem. Many onlookers saw this, as the Jews had gathered for the Feast of Shavuot:

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Option Two

The Holy Spirit rested upon two men in the Israelites’ camp, and they began to prophesy. Far from silencing them, Moses wished there were more like them. Note that 70 elders received the Spirit, just as there were 70 disciples who received Him at the first Pentecost.

Numbers 11:24-30

11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

11:30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Psalm

David praised God’s majesty and power, present in all of His creation.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Option One

If the aforementioned passage from Acts 2 has not already been read, then it must be read as the Epistle.

Option Two

If the passage from Acts 2 has been read, then this option will be the Epistle, wherein Paul describes the great power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some, e.g. tongues, miracles and healing, were particular to the Apostolic Era, which established the early Church.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel

Option One

This encounter between Jesus and His disciples took place just after His resurrection.

John 20:19-23

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Option Two

Jesus spoke these words during the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Note that John explains the Spirit would not descend until Jesus returned to Heaven, glorified.

John 7:37-39

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Pray for continuing grace so that we may make all use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Have a blessed Pentecost!

Soon after the Houses of Parliament returned after Easter recess on April 22, 2020, both installed a ‘hybrid’ system allowing participation in the respective chambers (Commons or Lords) as well as online via videoconference.

The House of Lords was operating entirely remotely, as Lord Fowler led proceedings from his home in the Isle of Wight.

As most of the British public were still working from home, MPs and Lords took the decision to set a good example by doing so themselves.

I’m not sure what is happening with the Lords, but, on Wednesday, May 20, the Commons voted against renewing the ‘hybrid’ system on their return after Whitsun (Pentecost) recess on Tuesday, June 2.

The technical teams and associated staff from the Palace of Westminster did an excellent job of setting up both Houses with their hybrid systems of holding debates, which ended up being short speeches rather than exchanges of points of view.

Below are two photos of what the House of Commons looked like: sparsely populated, to say the least.

As Britain begins to return to work in stages after lockdown, the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, would also like more MPs in the chamber.

This did not go down well with MPs in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Scotland is still in lockdown, and transport to and from Northern Ireland is difficult during the coronavirus crisis.

Rees-Mogg said that arrangements would be made for MPs who still had to work from home. He did not give details but said that more information would be forthcoming during Whitsun recess.

Rees-Mogg brought up the unsatisfactory, yet necessary, nature of the hybrid system the preceding Wednesday, May 13. Hansard records what he said then in response to the Shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz (Labour), excerpted below (emphases mine):

I want to answer what the right hon. Lady says about Parliament, because what she says is important and fundamental to us as a democracy. The Government’s advice is clear: work from home if you can. As you have made clear, Mr Speaker, many members of the House staff will be able to continue to work from home, even with the House of Commons operating in physical form. Indeed, very few additional Clerks will need to be present on the premises, Members’ staff will be able to continue to work from home, and the overwhelming majority of the House community will be able to continue to work from home—the exception being Members of Parliament themselves. Why is that? It is because the Government’s advice is that if you need to go to work, you must go to work.

We see in this Parliament—in this House today—the ineffectiveness of scrutiny in comparison to when the House is operating in the normal way. We have no flexibility of questions. The questions are all listed in advance, with no ability for people to bob, to come in and to join in the debate; no cross-cutting of debate; and no ability to advance arguments or take them forward. We simply have a series of prepared statements made one after another. That is not the House of Commons doing its proper duty and playing its proper role of scrutiny of the Government.

Then there is the other side of it: where are the Bill Committees? How are Bills progressing? What is happening to the legislative agenda that the Government were elected on in December? Or do we just ignore our constituents, ignore the voters and not get on with a proper democratic parliamentary system? The idea that our democratic system is not an essential one—is not the lifeblood of our nation and is not how the Government are held to account at a time of crisis—is one that is surprising. It is extraordinary that it should be held by Opposition Members; that they should not wish to be here, challenging the Government and holding them to account; and that they wish to hide behind a veneer of virtual Parliament, so that legislation is not progressed with. We have heard it from the Scottish shadow spokesman, when he says that a virtual Parliament is a second-rate Parliament. He wants us all to be second rate, whereas I want us all to be first rate—to get back to being a proper Parliament because democracy is essential. What we do is essential. Holding the Government to account is essential and delivering on manifesto promises is also essential, and that is what I hope we shall be able to do after we come back from the Whitsun recess, in line with what is happening in other parts of the country.

Aye, there lies the rub: delivering on manifesto promises. Can anyone say Brexit? Nearly everyone opposing a return to the Commons is a Remainer.

Social distancing will still be in place when MPs return, as Rees-Mogg said on May 13:

The Chamber is marked out for social distancing. We can get 50 people into this Chamber, which, it has to be said, is often as many as are here for an ordinary debate. It is only on high days and holidays and Prime Minister’s questions that the Chamber is bursting at the seams.

As you so rightly said in your statement, Mr Speaker, there is no change to the social distancing advice. There is no change to the advice to Members’ staff to continue to work from home. The numbers coming into this estate are a fraction of what they normally are, because we have no tours, we have no commercial banqueting and we do not have the thousands—sometimes, tens of thousands—of people who come in every day.

On Wednesday, May 20, this is what the House of Commons looked like during Prime Minister’s Questions. Boris Johnson is at the despatch box. Labour leader Keir Starmer is sitting opposite:

That meeting must have been contentious, because Karen Bradley, the Conservative MP who chairs the Procedure Committee, spoke remotely in/to the Commons on Wednesday afternoon:

She did not look happy. Nor did Valerie Vaz.

This is a fuller view of the Commons during coronavirus lockdown:

Guido Fawkes reported on the May 20 vote (emphases in the original):

MPs have just voted 350:258 in favour of abolishing the virtual parliament on the June 2nd. A majority of 92…

UPDATE: Some of Guido’s more pernickety proceduralists are taking umbrage, so he is happy to specify that whilst MPs did not directly vote in favour of abolishing the virtual parliament, that was the effect of how they voted.

This division was, in fact, a Labour amendment to a motion of the house to try and allow a vote on whether to keep the hybrid parliament. MPs rejected the vote meaning the Government will now be able to proceed as they wish without a vote. Thus the hybrid/virtual parliament fades into the history books…

At least for now, anyway.

Rees-Mogg also said that social distancing would be in place for voting (i.e. divisions):

Regardless of the outcome, hats off to all those who worked so hard and so quickly behind the scenes to get MPs — and Lords — connected to each other from their own homes. This was an historic first and, even with remote voting, worked well as a temporary measure.

After over two months — the evening of March 23, 2020, to be precise — Britain is gradually coming out of lockdown.

Since late March, very few of us have bothered with our personal appearance unless we’re on video conference calls every day.

Even MPs, part of the population on such calls, have let themselves go with hair and beard growth.

However, the time is coming when as many Britons as can will have to return to work. For many, now’s the time to clean up.

On Wednesday, May 20, the British brand, King of Shaves, recently trended on Twitter with #BringBackTheShave, which provided the nation with a chuckle or two.

Their 24-hour ad campaign, in association with the creative community One Minute Briefs, was a serious one, though, as the winning entrant received £250. Nothing to sneeze at in these difficult times:

These were my two favourites, both by creatives who work in the advertising industry:

I cannot speak of the King of Shaves product line personally, but they get rave reviews — and are 30% off to keyworkers and NHS staff:

They also have shave gel for ladies.

Well done!

Even better, their products are also made in Britain.

—————————————-

UPDATE:

There were two winners.

This entry:

And this one:

Well done to both!

May the clean-cut look survive well into the future!

It’s hygienic — and looks sharp (unless you’re in the Royal Navy or know how to properly maintain a beard).

The following British coronavirus version of Rudyard Kipling’s If– (original full text here) with regard to coronavirus brought a smile. I hope it does the same for you.

It’s a comment that Steven Brook left on a Spiked column by Brendan O’Neill: ‘What Neil Ferguson’s booty call tells us about modern politics’.

I’ve added a few grammatical edits to this witty take on the virus:

If – by Mr Kipling

If you can lose your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you for not panicking sooner.
If you can hide your doubt, judgement and perspective and put your faith in experts like Piers Morgan
If you make no allowance for other considerations, the economy or unintended consequences.
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting for a vaccine that is unlikely to turn up.
Or meekly accept being lied about, because the mainstream media don’t deal in facts any more.
Or being hated, don’t even think of cutting the public funding to the hatemongers.
And yet don’t look too normal, nor talk too wise, just put your critical faculties on one side and show you care …

If you can dream of a multicultural paradise but ignore the reality of a fragmented rudderless society
If you can think, then, for God’s sake, hide those thoughts, or you will look cold and heartless.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, having beaten the virus but wrecked the economy.
And treat those two impostors just the same; who needs a healthy economy anyway?
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by the BBC to make a trap for fools, but you’re too scared to deal with that nest of vipers.
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, the family, freedom of speech, education.
And stoop and failed to build ’em up because you imported third rate tools from China:

If you can make one heap of all our national wealth
And risk it on Prof Ferguson’s model which forecast that 121% of the British population would be dead by Easter.
And lose, because Imperial College has a long history of getting things completely wrong and start again at the beginnings.
And never breathe a word about our loss because no one takes responsibility for previous panics (and, for goodness sake, don’t publish the grooming report).
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew not to strangle Robert Peston even though he richly deserves it.
To keep having press conferences long after they have become utterly pointless.
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘You do realise that Common Purpose runs the UK?’

If you can talk with the public while selling out your nation to the globalists
Or walk with the Davos crowd — but still pretend to have the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you because you burnt the photos of you with the lady boy.
If all men count with you, but George Soros particularly;
If you can fill the unforgiving news cycle
With sixty seconds’ worth of calm reassurance,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, which, sadly, is a lot less than it used to be.
And—which is more—you’ll be a modern politician, old chum.

It nicely sums up the past two (and a bit) months here in England.

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