Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christian Christmas Dinner Party

Christmas is a special time of year in Canada.  Here there. is an uncanny juxtaposition of the darkest time of year with the coming of the light.  Commercial jingles and angels singing. I’d just been to Lucia Frangione’s Funky Christian play, Holy Mo and Ron Reed’s annual night of song and humorous, wholesome, unusual Christmas stories coupled with songs and music of inspiration and good cheer. The extraordinary meaning of the time was slowly building in me. This was despite the increasing burden  of  work and the mundane along with family, friends,  aging and death.  It was thus this year of our Lord, 2016.
John phoned me early this week to invite me to another of his marvellous dinner parties. It was good to hear his voice. I always look forward to being with him.  
The roads were icy.  My little black Miata sports car slid some seeking traction, accelerating  down the roads, gracefully avoiding collision with other cars sliding by.  Vancouver, gripped by an arctic cold front, was struggling to manage.  The vendors Christmas lights on Granville street were bright and cheerful. Here and there a Kitsilano house had decked itself out in holiday spirit.  4th was downright festive.  I stopped to pick up some last minute cupcakes for the occasion.
John’s house has bit of Hobbit abode feel to me. I ‘ve been coming here so long that I remember when all his sons were home, sons that now have grown older into fine young men making families of their own.  Parking on the street,  walking up the sidewalk onto the veranda, announcing myself with a  knock on the door, I entered without waiting to be let in.  Despite 60 years of living there are very few homes outside of my family's where I feel as welcome in this world. That speaks to me of the love of this family and this home. I know I am not alone in that feeling of wonder.
“Come in, Bill. It’s so good to see you,” shouted John  as I stepped into the warm.  Helen was already there taking off her heavy overcoat, her cheeks flushed red with the weather..
“Hello, John. You look wonderful, Helen,” I said. Helen and I  hung up our winter wool overcoats together stuffing mittens, scarfs and togues in sleeves, leaving shoes at the door.
No sooner were we done than Caroline, John’s new assistant came though the door with James..
“Welcome, Jim, Welcome. Come in.” said John, moving his wheel chair deftly back to make room.
“Thank you, don’t worry I will, “  saidJames,  slapping his gloves together, smiling face beaming.
“I hope you’re keeping yourself warm,  I know Rita would want you to be. “  I said.
“Oh thank you, I am. She would, you know. Look at this heavy sweater I’ve been wearing,”  It really was suited to the cold.
Then John and Caroline made sure that everyone had something to drink, coffee as always for me, juice for Helen and James.
“I’ve just been to Japan and then came back to fly to Seattle but they lost my bags not on the trip to Japan but on this little hop cross the border. Three days without my suitcase. They’re making a recording of forty two hours of my lectures in this recording studio on a little hill.  But the ice was so bad on the road that we couldn’t get up the hill to the recording studio till the second day I was there.  It’s really been a trial.” said James. “Have you been doing any travelling, Helen."
“I’ve just come back from Australia. I received a call that my Dad was in hospital.  He’s had pancreatic cancer. I was hearing that he had days or weeks but insisted on speaking with the doctor who said it might only be days or hours.  ‘So if I wanted to come  I really should come now. ‘ he told me.  I hopped right on a plane.  By the time I landed in Australia I heard he was going down. They said he couldn’t speak  but he could still hear.  They put the phone to his ear and I said, 'Hold on Dad, I’m coming.'  It was a whole other flight to get there.  y brother picked me up at the airport and rushed me straight to the hospital. Dad was alive and not able to speak but I knew he could hear me. The doctor said "heheld on till I came:.  And he passed on in the morning. I really was so glad to be there.”
Jim sat beside Helen on the couch. John in his motorized wheelchair sat in front of her. I was on the other couch.  A kind of protective circle of brotherly men sitting in silent prayer.
“Since Rita passed I’ve felt so much more closer to heaven knowing she is there,” said James, softly.
“My brother died last month.” I said, “ I’ve been  flying back and forth every couple of months this last couple of years to be with him and his family.  We talked into the morning about childhood mostly. He had pancreatic cancer as well.  By the time he died it was as though we’d caught up with all we’d had to say, even what had been unsaid. "
Just then Caroline came in the room with a tray of hot buttered soups, “Please come to the table and have something warm after all the cold."
We  gathered around the table, John at the head with Jim and Helen on either side and me beside James.  The table festive with red napkins and spriggs of green sparky ornaments for the Christmas season. John had the Christmas tree up with ornaments and lights on b the front window.  It was like my childhood home at Christmas. All the trappings. ds.
“Have you been travelling this year, John?" asked James.
“I’ve just come back from a month in Australia.  It’s always a whirlwind visit.  I feel like a rockstar when I go. All my family there want to see me and I’m taken about to everyone’s house to meet their children. My sister is there. It’s really a wonderful time.  Tough with the chair and all but so much love and fellowship.I need to come home for a rest after all."
John asked James if he would say Grace and we and the food were blessed this Christmas by James prayer.
The soup was delicious.  John’s favourite. Buttersquash. Caroline said.
“What took you to Japan?” John asked.
“My daughter  lived there but I was invited to speak at a Methodist conference. It was on science and faith.  I’ve been so amazed at the work in my life these days. I was only saying how much we needed a leading physicist who was also a man of faith to witness our Lord.  Christianity and science go very much together but there’s been too many of these people who don’t understand that. I feel that this time calls for men of science to express their faith to counter the ignorance.  Just as I had said that I met this Japanese leader in the field of quantum physics who was there as a Christian.  He told me that he’d felt just the same."
Before teaching Christian studies as one of the founder professors of Regent College, James had taught geology at Oxford.  He actually continued to teach at UBC in the department of geology early days of Regent.
“But what is truly remarkable is,  I learned that,  just as UBC has been given 30 million to make it a centre for physics,  the new head is announced one of the  greatest quantum physicists of our day,  he also happens  to be a deeply spiritual man. I find that so uplifting.”
“You may recall  when we began Regent we had a vision not just to teach Christianity for pastors but rather to also help men and women who were learned in their own fields to be equally learned in their faith."
Jon and I had studied Christian spirituality with James over several years, delighting in his evening courses.  We  attended these after long days of clinics.  We’d catch a pizza coming home and talk late into the night about matters of history, anthropology, sociology and theology as well as our chosen fields of medicine and psychiatry. Jame’s courses were so inspiring. The questions he raised opened up our own fields to us as well as deepening our faith.  The conversations late into the night that followed were sometimes as exciting as the classes.  
“What of your mission,?” asked Jim of Helen.  Helen, her long black haired, a contrast to John’s thinning grey hair, my marginally thicker grey and Jim’s white hair, the youngest at the table by far, looked lovely in her red Christmas jacket.  She proceeded to tell us of her work in Sudan.
“The rebels are still fighting. When I was there a man from one tribe had been killed and the discussion was of what to do about it. Retribution was the norm. The pastor asked if anyone could think of any alternative.  An eye for an eye is so entrenched in that culture. It was some time before a young man said we might let it go and forgive as our Lord taught. But we’d be seen as weak  countered another in the church. The pastor asked, would that be so bad. And everyone thought about that."
“It’s like our Lord coming as a child so vulnerable. I find as I get older I am more taken by the Child Christ.  Our Lord coming into the world so tiny and yet God.” said James.
“That’s just what the question lead too,” continued Helen,”Women began asking about what would happen to the children.  The man who had died had two children and a wife.  There were so many children from wars who were wandering about without parents.  20 came into the village as I was there from other villages. It’s often hard to know where some of them come from.  The killing happens and they run or wander off from where their parents have been killed.  It’s heart breaking to see these little 3 and 5 year old children sometimes alone but usually with another child may 6 or 7 or a teen walking with them looking for someone to feed them or take them in. The Red Cross is there but they’re over run and the churches are doing all they can.  I really see a need for helping the children. I feel the Lord is calling me to this.  When I came back I approached my church to help me with this.  Everyone is keen to. I hope to go back in the spring to set up a house with a house mother maybe for these children as a transitional place till we can find relatives to get them back to their villages."
"I was asked to come to do reconciliation workshops with the people,” said Helen, " Which is what I was there for but the plight of the children seemed so much more that I’ve begun this second mission. The reconciliation workshop was as much a success as can be hoped.  It was the rainy season when I arrived and getting off the plane there were a hundred children waiting for us singing hymns they’d practiced for days, standing in the knee high mud. The tents that had been set up for the dinners were leaking and everything was mud. The women were cooking in the mud but we sat down to eat and this was the first time many of the men had done anything but try to kill each other. After we heard that some had said that maybe they could come together and talk . And that was the start we’d all be praying for.  It’s just a little start."
“Well we were all concerned to hear you were on the ground in the war, we are so glad you’ve come out safe.” said John.
“There wasn’t actually a war going on this visit.  Not like last when we had to cancel our meetings because shots were being fired and troops were coming into the area.  I’d had to fly out that time as they were afraid for my safety. Because there’s rebels all around it’s never totally safe for the people but this time there was no incident.  It’s just by the children without their parents that you know how much killing has been going on."
 “I’ve been studying the Syrian and Coptic Christians,”I said. “I’ve  just read some books about it, surprised at how large and extensive Eastern and Southern Christianity was before the Islam invasions There were thousands of churches throughout the middle east.  Now there’s hardly any Christians since the Muslims forced conversion or killed all opposition, leaving so very few. We just heard of more persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt their churches being burned down and dozens of Christians killed by Muslim Brotherhood or their sympathizers.  The eastern and southern Christian community was so very much larger than the Roman and western elements."
Jim added, “And very important for our understanding of Jesus’s divinity. It was the Syrian bishops that challenged the Roman notion that Jesus was divine when he performed miracles but human when he told parables.  The Syrians would have none of that insisting he was wholly human and wholly divine all the time.'
  “i was so impressed to be at their monasteries in Cappadocia  when I visitted Turkey a couple of years ago, “ I said.  . They were so contemplative and had such a great set of cave homes among the fairy spirals.  But they had also built the vast underground city with underground churches in the time of the Muslim invasions.”
“There really is such persecution of Christians. I would be so happy if our Prime Minister would consider more the Syrian Christians refugees who are even now being persecuted in the camps where the fleeing Muslims are still continuing to persecute them.” said James
"But not the Suffi’s.  I have just learned that one of the Suffi scholars is in all manner of difficulties because he’s published a book about the two sides of Mohammed. Mohammed was initially very conciliatory and inclusive of Christians and Jews and tolerated many views until he took up the sword.  There was this almost schizophrenic change in the man.  Muslims are killing as many muslims as they kill any other.” continued James.
“I’m actually blessed to have many Muslim patients who are the most incredible people from all over the middle east.  They ‘ve taught me as much about the differences.  The Jihadists are mostly Sunni like ISIS but more specifically the Wahhabi sect which has been promoted by the Saudi Monarch.  The Shiites are the second group that make up Iran."
"That was the spiit at the time of  Mohammed’s uncle”.
"Yes, but there’s also the Ismaelis who seem mostly to be a loving community more interested in business and trade and less interested in anything ideological or divisive. But there’s also the Berbers and other groups in North Africa. and elsewhere who are considered as much infidels by the Wahhabi’s as Christians are.  I saw the Suffi’s dancing in Capadocia.  I really was moved by their mystical traditions."
"So very spiritual,” said John.
By now Caroline had brought forth, huge plates of Chicken, carrots, yams and pees.  Everyone having passed around the trays loaded with food, very much  enjoying the meal and conversation.
“i had the most extraordinary experience, a real blessing of the Lord. It’s a bit of a story but please bear with.It’s worth hearing the ending. When I was teaching at Oxford I had been in charge of a Latin and South American division in the department of geology so I had gone theire for a conference back in the 70’s. It was in Bueneos Aires. I met my cousin there and we really did enjoy each other.  He was fascinated with film and had a rich prayer life and loved his family as I. His son was the age of my middle daughter and we planned to have an exchange for a time of the two of them when they were 12, his son coming to Oxford to live a while with us and my daughter going to Buenese Aires to live a while and study with them.
The only thing is a year or so later they simply disappeared, all communication stopped and I couldn’t learn what had happened or if they’d just had a change of heart.  But then  a couple of years back I had a call from a woman in Buenes Aires who’d learned that there was a Dr. Houston at Regent and wondered if I was the one who’d taught at Oxford previously and come to Buenos Aires. Well I described the house were I’d met my cousin in Buenos Aires and she exclaimed that I was describing their family home. I asked whatever happened to my cousin and this is what I learned.
It was the time when the Nazis had influence on the president and governmen. There  it was called the Time of Disapearances. The government would take people in the night and they’d simply disappear. There were dissenters but mostly they were rich people who they’d demand a ransom for but if they didn’t get it they fly the people out over the Atlantic and dump them out of the planes. It was an awful time.
 My cousins son at 12 years old was kidnapped but being a very smart young lad had escaped. He’d  gone to a light in the distance which turned out to be the home of a catholic couple who asked him if he had the phone number of his father. With that they’d phoned his father. His father came  and got his son and then they’d driven all right out of the country to Paraquay where they’d been hiding ever since.
Well last year, the last of Nazi leadership had fallen  and they felt safe to come home. So we’ve been in touch again. And my son and I were in San Paulo Brazil at a conference for Businessmen of Faith when they showed up having driven a couple of thousand kilometres over often horrible roads to meet us. My son with two sisters and many female cousins now met his first  and only  male cousins and they had a wonderful time together , two men of deep Christian faith. That cousin, the son of my cousin has become a great film maker in his country too.  Now they’re coming up to Canada next summer, the young families to share to gather with us older folk in attndance.”t
“That really sounds like a movie,” said Helen.
 "There may ben bee a movie.” said James smiling.   “ But because of the topic of the conference in Brazil was Businessmen and Faith. I was able to invite them onto the stage at the confrence there and they shared their witness and faith in the kidnapping and exile.  It really was very moving.
Now what  I mean by Child Centred Christianity is that I feel the child of Christ is been reborn within us everyday as we practice the presence of Christ.  We are healing wounds of childhood within as we reconcile ourselves with God.
I had a couple of students who shared with me that their marriage was dead so I don’t know why I said it but i told  them, you must separate for six months before getting back together and seeing if it really is.  The woman had said ‘whoopee I’m going to Paris’ but I said no , you must go home to your parents for six months to see how they kept their dead marriages alive. While they did that and the woman learned that her father had said his marriage had died many years ago but that he’d simply stayed for his family . He had a a wonderful reconciliation with his daughter then approached his wife and said that hey must work harder on reconciling their differences to help their daughter with her marriage. And this they did.  She returned six months later having the deepest relationship now with her father  and even deeper relationship with her mother. The husband had returned home and talked with his parents only to have his mother take him aside and share with him the secret she said, “I’ve never told anyone , not even your father.”  Well , it turned out that she’d become pregnant as a young scholar and the minute it was known the university had assisted her in travelling to another country supposed for advanced studies but simply as a place where she was alone for most of the year hiding where no one could see her or know her until she had the baby she gave up for adoption. It was much later she met the father of her son and they’d been married.  She told her son how much weight she’d felt lifted from her shoulders being able to tell him this.  He returned with his relationship with mother more alive. The couples relationship much closer and they found their love again. I told them Christ is being reborn within us every hour and every day.  I just received a card from them thanking me for their continued life together and their children this Christmas.  Christmas is a wonderful time to be reminded of the continual renewal we have with ourselves with faith "
We were all silent for a while after this,  Caroline brought me more coffee and you could hear the sound the stirring of the spoon.
John shared then that he felt at times his body was struggling with renewal and  we all laughed. John always makes such light of his misery he has in his  wheel chair.  “I struggle with the pain and feel my life is made up of separate and different  complete domains which all can be working well or any one part can be difficult and therefore affecting the others.  There's this body of course, the pain and limitations I experience.  Then there’s the machine world  I have around me,the machines I must depend on , this chair, my special bed, the car I have with it’s lift and controls , the lift to get me out of the house, and the computers and phone I use to communicate.  When the body isn’t feeling like it’s breaking down something in my machine world is going wrong. Then there are the people who assist me around the clock with the caring for the needs of the body and the needs of the machines.  When all of these are working well I can  then most enjoy my work and my family which are the other major parts of my life.
Recently though I had another upheaval with my assistant up and leaving without warning. I’d never had that. I felt despite the interviews and references there was something wrong , that she wasn’t meant for the work as an attendant , I guess it was confirmed when she left without warning because I’ve never had that .  All the many other people I’ve had help me have waited at least until we could have a replacement who could be trained. I felt quite desperate all alone and helpless. It’ s a terrible feeling this sense of dependence I live with all the time but it can become even more horrible at times like this.  I was blessed that my sons interrupted their lives and families and work and came to pick up the pieces. They  all pitched in and  and carried me through until Caroline came.  She’s so caring and such a relief really. I have former attendants who allied to help me but now Caroline is in charge and we’ve arranged that someone else will ensure that there are back ups should this ever occur again.  It really is a time for prayer."
"Do you think of retiring?” asked James.
"I really enjoy my practice and my work.  It’s like my family in some ways.  But there’s something else I enjoy and that’s my life alone in my room in prayer and medtiation. I like to be alone exercising this body as little as I can, doing prayer and contemplation. I like that time.  I’m trying to write a book  too and I feel I never have the time for that. I thought I’d get some done when I went to Australia but it was this wonderful whirlwind insteadf I thought when I got back I’d have time but then this problem with being abandoned by the attendant arose so then all my work and family time seemed more of a chore even though they’re so important to me because I miss the time alone in prayer and contemplation then.   I ‘m discussing retirement now ,maybe even selling the family home, so I can have more time for myself and time alone with God, time to exercise this weary body, time to write . I’ve always given so much to others and found it so hard to say no. It’s something about being a doctor that we have this problem. I know it’s an issue throughout my profession but it’s just so much more poignant now for me in this chair as I get older and I think how little time there is left and I wonder if I can’t make more time for myself, something I’ve never really seemed to do."
 What a crew we were, Helen a young fifty, me an apparently young 60 and John a young seventy  a James a young 80.  Children would think us old but we didn’t think of ourselves that way.  But the time did seem more important now and we talked about time and purpose and meaning and God some more. We h talked of death and life , rebirth, faith,  work and retirement. The whole human cycle seemed to have been covered.  
"How is your work going?” James asked me.
"This epidemic of death in the DTES because of fentanyl has been disturbing. When I started working in addiction in the mid 80’s my patients in the detox were in their 50’s. We didn’t see heroin addicts having problems mostly until their late forties and fifties.  But now the opiate addicts are in their 20’s and all my patients have known a kid whose died recently from fentanyl. It’s put in the cocaine so when a person injects it they die from the fentanyl that’s been mixed in the drugs.  It’s even in the marijuana in the DTES and they’re dying from that. "
"I don’t understand why Prime Minister Trudeau is pushing for more access to marijuana,” said James.
"I agree we already have the highest incidence of marijuana abuse in children and teens in the western warld. We know its not good for growing brains .But more and more it’s the gateway drug for other drugs, more than alcohol was.  The drug pushers who the Canadian legal system doesn’t really discourage  are sprinkling the fentanyl in the marijuana to get the kids hooked. I know that the rich and elite like Justine Trudeau aren’t the ones hurt by his careless vote buying policies and all those wanting the short term profits. .  There’s a lot of scientific reasons for people wanting to be careful about anything that increases the use of the drug. Even the the police just want time till a means to detect it in impaired drivers is found.. I know researchers seeking the equivalent of a breathalyzer . .We don’t want more schizoprehncis which happens when there’s greater access to marijuana.  More users and more incidence of a lifetime medical illness that costs a fortune for the state not to mention the lost dreams for the child and parents.
What’s so cognitively dissonant for me today is that I’m drug testing professionals who only smoked marijuania, they didn’t hurt anyone, but there’s the Prime Minister who admitted to smoking marijuana when he was a teacher and when he was an MP.  He’s not being drug tested and frankly he looks stoned or hung over a lot to me , someone who really does know.  I can’t help but think there’s a terrible double standard."
“I just thought he was too young,” said James..
"He spends money and parties more like an adolescent than he does like a grown man,” said Helen.
" But what of Trump and Hillary.” I asked.
“Im thankful to see the Christians he’s appointing,: said James,   “Excellent men in their fields having high standards and men of deep Christian faith. It’s reassuring to me as a Christian after the corruption that surrounded the Clintons. "
"I was just in Hong kong and met this retired government official. He’s a man of deep faith.  He’d been the man who took on the job of cleaning up the corruption i the Hong Kong Police. He’s agreed to meet with the new government in Brazil because their problem has been the corruption  there.  There’s a woman there and she’s had several assassination attempts because she won’t go along with the corruption. The people there in this  new government process really want to change the way the government runs and get rid of the corruption.  Now this  Hong Kong man’s agreed to come out of retirement to help them.  I love the way things come together for good like that."

"That’s why I think Trump may be good for the world, businessmen focusing on trade and working for the people. That’s what the government's primary job was and it seems they’ve been too distracted by all manner of other concerns that will simply resolve when business and trade is going well and making everyone successful without corruption. There’s reason for law and order. When people feel they will benefit from the work and effort and that their community will benefit from their work and efforts then everyone benefits."
 "I just couldn’t accept Hillary as a lawyer believing a third trimester baby had no rights just because it was in the womb.” I said, " Killing a 8 or 9  month old viable child by abortion is no different from killing a child in a house and saying that it’s okay because it’s not outside.”"
Helen shared how she liked Trump too,  “I just couldn’t stand all the lies that Hillary told.”  Truth is important to Christians.
We talked some about politics and more about family.  Helen talked more about her time with the children in Sudan and her prayers to return.
Caroline brought in the cake which James had brought.  She also brought in my cupcakes but the John’s sons will have to eat them because everyone preferred the cake which was truly delicious. There was a humorous moment too when Caroline put out the venison pate I’d brought as gifts for John, Helen and James.  I’d made it from the liver of the deer I’d shot.  “Half butter and half liver, so it’s really a diet food.”  I said.  Caroline and Helen laughed, saying they’d both thought it was ‘chocolate mouse’ to have with the cake.
We exchanged gifts then.  James gave me his book, “I believe in the Creator” and gave a couple of his other books to John and Helen. John gave me a book on Kierkegaard while Helen had baked us all cookies.  I had to admit I hadn’t made it out to buy a book and didn’t know what John and James hadn’t read so this year got them each a "travelling book light.”
We were all happy that John had been able to stay up that late.  But it was late and we got up from the table and hugged each other wishing each other love of the Lord and health in the New Year.  What a warm house it was.  We bundled in overcoats and winter boots to leave.
I had the honour of driving James home.  He loved getting into my little Mazda Miata sportscar.  I think it took him back to his youth in Oxford.   I drove like I had a national treasure in my car trying not to think of all the crashes I’d been in.  I noticed that James, true to his faith trusted in the Lord and showed no fear whatsoever.  






1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good stuff