Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dr. Christiensen, Dr. Houston, and Helen Miller

For years now I’ve had the honour of dinner with Dr. John Christiensen and Dr. James Houston.  Helen Miller, a former Regent College student and a Christian missionary with the Padang Lutheran Relief Society has been present as well. Until last year we had the pleasure of Dr James Houston’s  beautiful wife, Rita ’s company too.  Others have sometimes been there but those are the core participants. The conversation between Dr. Houston and Dr. Christiensen shines.
Dr. Houston still teaches at Regent College where he once served as the Chancellor.  Dr. Christensen was the UBC Professor of Psychiatry who focused on  Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.  Helen attended Regent College and being an Australian expat knew John who himself had spent a youth among sheep and roos. The two of them  occasionally lapse into quaint reminiscence of growing up among poisonous insects and reptiles and bigger than life Australian characters.
But mostly it’s a joy just to listen to Dr. Houston and Dr. Christensen share and explore the depth of the human spirit and the depth of the human psyche.  They both see man and woman as truly interrelated with God and the relations of the trinitarian god in man.  As James speaks of the historical dialogues between man and God and the development of covenant and faith  so John speaks of the inner development of trust and the child becoming adult and the struggles at various stages. “It all begins with the child being held and the mother’s first gaze into the eyes of her child.”   Dr. Houston says, “it all really began when God first entered his kingdom in Jesus with love”.  The journey is so much and timing and patience so central in the spiritual journey as in therapy.
Outside in Vancouver it was dark and raining. Helen’s car had broken down at the Burrard Street Bridge and unable to get a taxi she’d bussed part of the way only to catch a taxi for the last part of the journey.   John’s Christmas tree was up with Christmas lights shining.  The room warmed with friendship and laughter.
Dr. Houston had just returned from Brazil where he was meeting with government  business and church leaders. He lectured often on relationships, his son and he developing ideas of the Christian character as they contributed to business.  He  told of his long history with South America and described the early days when Nazis had vied with socialist extremists for dominance  in different countries.   Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are changing today as the people seek a new identity that will serve them in the future.
Dr. Houston had also just been in the Faroe Islands.  Dr. Christensen laughing admitted he’d had to look it up in the atlas before dinner. The Faroe Islands had been of such strategic importance in WWII because the Nazi submarines could have wrecked greater havoc from there on Allied shipping had not  an early detachment of Allied troops  been sent to secure the fjords.  Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both who Dr. Houston knew from his days teaching at Oxford, were involved in communications in those early days.   Now it’s an amazingly modern community with great underground tunnels connecting islands and people.  Half the year in sunshine and half the year in darkness.  Yet artists because of the unique setting and talent are known the world over.
Last year Helen had been in Sudan working with local preachers and chiefs on reconciliation attempts when fighting had broken out again nearby and she’d had to leave.  People had naturally been concerned for her safety but she’d not had to flee, perse but it had been a timely retreat.   Such atrocities  kept occurring in Sudan. Yet the people keep returning to rebuild communities devastated by war.  The uncertainty and fear were everywhere, said Helen.   She is going back again this spring struggling to raise money to help the children. She has a web site, Childlike,  describing both the faith she has as a Christian and the displaced and orphaned children.
Of course the meal was delicious.  Chicken and potatoes all followed by Helen’s Pavlova cake. It was the conversation as always that was a joy to hear.  Dr. James Houston has the most extraordinary memory.  He’s written countless books.   John had brought out Dr. Houston’s  early book on Transformative Prayer.  It had moved us all so much.  We’d all studied Christian spirituality under his tutelage at Regent .He is still teaching today.   Spirituality is in  relationship.  He asked in the most psychological way when it was that we’d experienced the first breech in trust in  relationship, how this affected the work we did in life and where we felt closest to God today.
The company was so erudite as well. References to books and writers spiced the conversation.  I invariably have weeks of reading that follow these dinners.  Dr. Houston had brought Gail Dickenson’s moving poetry book. John was reading Richard Rohr and Thomas Merton again. I gave Dr. Houston a copy of Sister Iglesias, the story of the first Angel of AA , the nun nurse who had worked with Dr. Bob.  We laughed together at the struggles writers faced but had over come. Dr. Houston was  again bringing an august group of the greatest scholars together for a project close to his heart, the Christian Identity.   John had written about his accident and the spiritual experience that followed,  Helen had nearly finished her stories of her time in Africa but couldn’t complete the ending.  (Probably because it’s so very much ongoing). .
With the Paris Talks on the Environment going on , Dr. Houston shared that he’d written a paper on Environmental Ethics in early days telling us of his first meeting with Dr. Suzuki.  Environmentalism was always a Christian concern.  though in Christian terms it is simply called ‘stewardship’.
They all are so supportive of my difficult work with those suffering addiction, the slavery, the false promise and deceit of the false self versus the joys of recovery and return to the true self.
We discussed the Moslem refugees, the Moslem religions, and the spirituality of the Suffi’s. Dr. Houston spoke so highly of the discussions between the leaders of the monotheistic religions and how they were working to find common ground.He lamented the difficulty others had understanding the divinity of Jesus.  The idea of God truly entering his creation so humbly is such a stumbling block for those who see God as mostly above and less from within.
As always I am moved by these evenings leaving with more questions of myself and the direction of my life. Talking with Helen I was lifted up by her call to missionary work.  “We’re working on peace there in the Sudan. It is so important that people who once fought can sit and eat together. So much begins from the sharing of a meal."
As I drove home in the night after dropping off Helen, I felt truly blessed to know such loving friends whose lives have been so devoted to the care of others and the celebration of Christ.
Dr John ChristensenDr James Houston

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