River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Anglican Newsletter

September 2007

Keith looks at thee use of statistics to mislead readers and then talks about the Harvest Festival scheduled for our local churches

I am writing this on 16th August. I have been watching the news and was interested in the way we use statistics to mislead - possibly unintentionally, but nonetheless effectively. The past few days have seen a growing weakness in the world's stock markets following the collapsing of the mortgage markets in the USA. By the time you read this, it may all be forgotten or we may be facing real and serious economic consequences for what is, as I write, still only a financial crisis.

What caught my attention was the showing of a graph of the rise in prices on the UK Stock Exchange from 2002 to 2007. The line started in the bottom left corner and finished just below the top right corner. The left hand scale was either not shown or was too small for the casual viewer to see. So the price range shown was probably between about 5,000 and 6,000. The picture would have been very different if it had shown the whole of the left hand scale from 0 to 6,000. The slope of the line in the top of the diagram would have looked far less steep and impressive. BUT, the killer was in the next diagram, which showed the movement in the graph in the very recent past. The rectangle was the same size and the graph line moved from top left to bottom right - ie the mirror of the first diagram. The implication was that the Stock Exchange had lost in a few days, weeks or months all that it had gained since 2002. I don't know absolutely for sure because I do not follow movements on the Stock Exchange, but I am reasonably sure that the left hand scale in the second picture was very, very limited - say, 5,900 to 6,200.

This is boring stuff for most of us. But the reality is that we can make movements seem large or small by altering our perspective. We do this all the time as a matter of our normal living. We see the problems of today and looming up tomorrow so largely, when in the bigger scheme of things they are not so bad. Who remembers all the daily disasters of life ten years later - although at the time they were overwhelming? The peaks and the troughs of the Stock movements look steep and violent as they present them on the News but if they showed them over longer time scales and with a full value scale from Zero upwards, some of them would be invisible - almost flat. Perspective is everything! (Does this mean that everything is relative and there is no absolute truth? I don't think so!)

This is the season for Harvest Festivals in our Churches. My garden this year has produced massive gooseberries and early juicy blackberries. The apple tree seemed very short of blossom earlier in the year, but seems to have a pretty good crop of fruit rapidly ripening now. Many farmers and growers will be delighted with the crops that this season has brought and we can rejoice in a marvellous harvest. Others, of course, have seen their crops blighted by disastrously heavy and violent rain and floods or their flocks and herds destroyed as a result of bird flu or foot and mouth. We have to temper our delight for the successful with commiseration for those not so fortunate - especially those whose livelihoods have been totally destroyed.

Of course, most of those who have had a bumper year will see poor years as well, just as those who have had a bad year will see good years to come. We are lucky in this climate (whether as it was or as it changes) to have pretty good years every year on balance and across the board, unlike those parts of the world where continuous years of drought can destroy the whole of a national economy, or where earthquake and flood can really bring an area to its knees.

I am always critical of graphs that do not show the full time scale and the full value scale because they make too much of transient ups and downs. By the same token I do try to stand back and look at the ups and downs of my life and those of my community against as broad a spectrum of time and some 'real' valuation of their meaning as I can. I find that this leaves me able to take real pleasure in the good things, like a new grandchild, and to take the knocks pretty philosophically.

I believe that this optimistic way of looking at life is what Jesus asked us to adopt. There are many beautiful passages in the Bible and I make no excuse for quoting one of them now. Interestingly, this is not an especially Christian passage - it should appeal to everyone.

"Therefore, I say unto you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?

Look at the birds of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them . . .

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. . . . .

So do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we wear?' . . . your Heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you.

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

[Gospel of St Matthew ch 6 verses 25-34]

'Tomorrow' here is not, of course, the 24 hours which follow next midnight. Nor is it meant to be as far away as the Spanish 'manana'. To be positive and hopeful is not meant to be short-sighted or careless.

Its sunny outside my window and I can hear the birds singing. I have to try hard to remember the heavy rain yesterday. I am not too bothered about the forecast of rain tomorrow. Both the sun and the rain have their place and both are necessary. Neither is evil, both are good, both can cause damage, but usually only if we abuse them. I can be miserable with good reason and no excuse. Or I can be content and happy, perhaps with little reason, but with every excuse. It is a matter of intention and decision not of accident.

Letting tomorrow worry about itself is not to ignore it, it is to be aware that whatever the morrow will bring is part of a much bigger story. What that story is is up to me, not to accidents of weather or fate. Having a good life is in the mind, not in the bank account - is in the quality of that life, not in its quantity. Plan to die happy whenever it comes, not simply to live as long as possible. 'Miserable as sin' is an expression we all know. The correct expression is actually 'Miserable is sin'!

Be at peace. Pax vobiscum as they would have said some centuries ago.

Licensed Lay Minister

Keith MacLeod

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