Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Jesus and Christmas

My mother taught me to pray beside my bed.  We’d kneel together.  I’d clasp my hands resting my elbows on the bed. I remember this.  Talking to Jesus, with my mother.  She taught me gratitude.  She reminded me who to pray for, and told me about Jesus sacrificing his life for mine and for the whole world.
Mom was Baptist. I like to remember her and her sister, my Aunt Sally, belting out hymns  in the church, the loudest women there by far.  Their Christianity was exuberant together.  My mom and her sisters had grown up in the church. The church was their social life, their home and their place of worship.
By the time I was in school my life revolved around hockey and my friends. And my friends weren’t Baptist.  There wasn’t a Baptist church in Fort Gary.  If they were religious at all they were Anglican, Catholic or United.  I remember one was Jewish.  I don’t know if there were Buddhists or Moslems.  All that mattered was whether you played hockey or not.  Then later it was volleyball and gymnastics.  Then it was just sports and girls.
I dated Christian girls but they weren’t ’easy’.  I liked ‘easy’ girls most. Easy girls were sexy and I liked sexy. I didn’t really think they were ‘easy’.  I thought they were saints and I was a charity project.  I was so thankful.  We didn’t talk much about Jesus.
I attended church through high school and became the President of the Amalgamated Baptist Church Groups in Winnipeg.  My best church friend, Doug, became a minister.  My first room, Jon, mate was a Unitarian.  We talked a lot about God.  We talked about meaning, politics, purpose, afterlife and aliens and Vietnam.  We also talked about girls.  Breasts and legs and heavenly places.
I was raised Christian.  There were Christians all around me.  Three Christian churches within a block of my home though mom made Dad drive us to a Baptist church all of 20  minutes away in Fort Rouge.  Trinity Baptist Church.  I attended Sunday School and later sat in the church. I remember best a missionary from India and her slides one of which was an old Hindu man with banners from all the religions. I liked Sunday school when I was little and liked teaching it later as an adult.  I can’t say I remember any of the sermons of my youth. Lots of hell and brimstone.  I liked the choir though.  Trinity had it’s own pool for dunking and that provided drama..  Baptists are long on sermons and heavy on prayer.
Christmas Services were the best time of year for hope and faith and love.  Hell and brimstone gets toned down for Christmas.  Even the fundamentalist fundamentalists have some propriety. The cookies and cakes in churches at Christmas are truly sacramental.  So much love goes into them.
I attended Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in the basement of the church. We had great suppers there too. Mom and the other ladies would man the kitchen.  We’d enjoy veritable potluck feasts.  Everyone pitched in. There were picnics in the summer too. I remember the three legged races best.
But the whole world of school and sports and friends I hung out with, Garth and Kirk, and later Jamie and Wes and Keith and Colin and  later many others made up the centre of my world. Church was something on the side. Not like it had been for my mom and her sisters .  Their world revolved around Jesus.  My minister friend was like that.  I wasn’t.  I was more into the smorgasbord of life.
I began writing poetry well early, and playing guitar badly early, too.  I loved to dance and Baptists didn’t like dancing.
We joined the YMCA.  That’s Young Men’s Christian Association.  When I began organizing and running coffeehouse in high school years I’d left gymnastics and sports for the Manitoba Theatre School. That was the secular world I’d live in with dance and drama and music.  I’d found the music and lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot, the Beatles.  I was reading Al Purdy, Catcher on the Rye, Leonard Cohen  The Wise Eye Coffeehouse we organized with the YWCA girls was a secular time. But the ideas of the music of the day, those of Pete Seegers and Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary and locally the Guess Who and the Donahues were exploring the intellectual and spiritual.
When I was in school there’d been daily prayer and then time for prayer and eventually no prayer.  I learned to meditate young and martial arts was tied to a universal spirituality. But despite the Christianity of the Knights the winning warriors of WWII we never thought of Christians as martial artists as kids.  Not then. Now yes,  but not then. Then I was learning Ju Jit Su and much later Tai Chi.  My father taught me boxing and shooting  we wrestled in the Y. All those were Christian but Hollywood had already begun to rewrite history,dumping it down and taking the God out of Creation.  Telling the Lies and Bigger Lies.
At University though I was fortunate to study Bible under Dr. Carl Ridd.  He was a former basketball champion, English Literature Professor and United Church minister. I loved my undergraduate days at University of Winnipeg.  Dr. Ridd had  taken it upon himself to teach a course called “Literature of the Bible.”  It’s was one of the most moving experiences of my whole university career right up there with looking in a electron microscope and later assisting in neurosurgery and doing psychotherapy that cured neurodermatitis and stopped people wanting to suicide so bad.
I became a yogi back then too, studying Paramahansa Yoganandya who taught that Jesus was fully enlightened. The Hindu Christian belief was that of Christ Consciousness.
But really I believed ‘all we need is love’ and with love I meant passion. The women in my life, the dancer, was the most passionate and adventurous and beautiful goddess any man could hope to know.  She was  holy. Our love making was transcendent. I wanted to live in perpetual orgasm and that would be heaven enough for me.  My wives would teach me that the Song of Songs didn’t begin as a description of love of God.  The song when I was 21 fit me too. I loved Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford in the Way We Were.
Christmas was a special time though. I ‘d find myself each Christmas reflecting on Jesus.  That was before the great intellectual wine and fabulous food fest dinner parties of married life became their own Last Suppers.  We’d get together with family.  We’d have this wonderful time.  Turkey dinners with my Aunt in town. Hockey on tv. My father and brother and the dog. Opening presents under the tree.  Tobogganing in the afternoon as kids.
As adults the politics would begin, dinner at her place, Christmas eve dinners, dinner at my place,  Shrimp and Lobster dinners. Christmas day, always a tree, and tangerines,  and presents and friends, and cross country skiing.  The women were always so beautiful.  Holidays were glamorous.  We danced back then.  Viennese waltz.  The movie to end all movies was Dr. Zhivago.
Church wasn’t as competitive with the university, hospital, the ballet, the dinner party,  the theatre, the night clubs and the bar.  Even the coffeehouse was more interesting. I married sexy women and Christianity wasn’t sexy back then. It sure is today though. The women I married weren’t Christian, though one was nominally, so I would often find myself alone meditating and praying.  I’d occasionally go to church with my Mom and my Aunt.  Church and Bible were not a part of my marriages.  I’d learned to pray by my bed with my mother but now my bed was a holy temple of it’s own.   I’d pray elsewhere,  Often under stars.  I’ll forever have a fond memory of the chapel at University of Winnipeg.  Later Hospital chapels were places to go and be alone with God.  Normally I’d be up earlier in the morning meditating in my homes.
Then a Jewish atheist psychiatrist I so admired in my psychiatric residency told me meditation was harmful for the brain. I began my training under him in  psychoanalysis.  Only later I’d realize how shallow he was but I never lost my love for Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. I especially loved a play done recently at Pacific Theatre with Ron Reid , one in which C S Lewis meets Sigmund Freud.  I loved C.S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy and Mere Christianity, not to mention Narnia.    I returned to prayer and mediation but first smoked dope for a while and drank some wine.  Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.
I sailed too and it’s true. There are no atheists in fox holes or at sea. I’d not been in fox holes but I certainly regained humility and awe at sea.
Dr. Willi Gutowski and Father Fred came along like teachers do when the student is ready. .  They were living Bibles.  I read the Bible again began  praying as a good habit, not just because I needed to get out of a bad fix..  Meditation would return.  I’d spend long times silent around Christmas.  I studied  prayer at Regent College with Dr. James Houston, attended Vancouver Theological College and later St. Mark’s with my dear friend Dr. John Christensen.
Christmas carols stirred me again and I cried.
I wrote more about Jesus.  I often said that I’d found Christ as a child but only met Jesus after a third divorce and the disillusionment with the corruption in politics, hospitals and academia.  All the characters of the story of Jesus seemed so much apart of the present day.
Dr. Phillip Ney introduced me to pro life.   Herod had killed  babies fearful of the return of Christ and here the abortionist s were making a killing hand over fist sucking the life out of wombs.   Meanwhile our government’s  evil when it gave  the Order of Canada to that murderer Morgentaler.  I’d trained with a genius, Dr. Jack HIldes who introduced me to northern medicine and taught me community medicine, a true mensch of a man. He’d been given the Order of Canada and I was proud to be Canadian when  I learned that.  But the older I became the more I  found the lies stifling in the secular world.  More and  more I saw that men and women in my church were at least trying trying to be Good. There was hypocrisy. We are all human. But the Godlessness and cruelty and lies grew with the increasing persecution of Christians by the Supreme Court and Government.
I saw that  Christians at the Salvation Army were walking the walk.  My sponsors Bernie and later Hank were both Christians who would talk for hours with me about morality and virtue and God.  My other sponsor Scotty was a celtic pagan sun god worshipper. His actions were admirable.   We all just seemed to get along. My psychiatry mentor was a Moslem man of great integrity.  My psychiatrist friend was a Buddhist doctor.  We all just served.   Medicine brought use all together, even the atheists who much preferred to talk, rolled up their sleeves when the time called for it. Jesus was a healer and a teacher.  He was only a warrior against Satan.  With people he was a friend and fellow.  I learned most of my loving of service from colleagues.
So Christmas was the birth of a healer. He was also an educator.  Luke the apostle was a doctor.
I became a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Society thanks to Dr. Gutowski and Anna Borowska.  There I  met another living Gospel, Dr. Lam, a humble Chinese doctor who served as a missionary with the Evangelical Medical Association.  His example in life and his love of his wife and family were incredibly moving .  He loved music too.  I loved the drawing he showed me he’d made of Jesus.
Christmas dinners brought all these thoughts together.  My sailing buddy Tom and I would talk and argue about liberal and conservative Christianity.  I loved Bishop Michael Ingham’s ecumenicalism and Peter Elliott and his coming out,  the Rainbow Church.  We would talk for hours about sexuality and spirituality. I’d lunch every month with my Christian sponsor,  I’d join Promise Keepers and a Christian Men’s Breakfast.
I’d felt my first divorce had cut me off from my church.  You couldn’t be a deacon if you were divorced then. I was tainted and impure.   Meanwhile single and divorced women were popping up as ministers.    I’d remember the standards that had ruled for us men.  Then there were gay ministers.  Once you let the single women preach there was no restrictions.  I liked those married ministers of old  best, the disciplined ones, those who had somehow faced the temptations that were many and still maintained their marriages and family.  I grew fond of celibate priests too though frankly sex was as sacred as chocolate for me and something I’d forsaken for a year or more but didn’t think was something I’d want to forsake for life.   When divorce no longer kept me from the church then my homosexual experience and my drunken stoned escapades certainly excluded me from the church.  I felt more comfortable talking with men in a 12 step meeting than I did in church till I was older.
God never left me though. I left him. Indeed in the depth of the abyss fearing death at sea I’d prayed the Lord’s Prayer knowing I was backed into a wall where only the song Jesus Loves Me, this I know,  was kept  in reserve to keep me  from despair.  Up all night delivering babies and saving lives on call in emergency I’d had no difficulty praying for help.  I’d thanked all my teachers and all the books for helping me be of service to my patients all those years.  But here I personally was uncertain that I’d not got beyond God’s grace.  It sounds so  silly  to me today.    I love the book, “Your God is too small”.  I especially love the saying, “Get down off the cross, we can use the wood.”   God had sunk the more I focussed on myself.   “I might not be much but I’m all I think about.”
Now thanks to so many I found my way in rooms,   church basements and churches propers.  We began again to talk of God and a what it was to be a good human.  What was a good life. What was our role. What was the meaning of life.  Surely it was more than illusion or reaction or pleasure and war.  Once again I came back to the contemplation of Jesus in a manger.
I travelled to Jerusalem hearing Leonard Cohen on a taxi radio in Israel.  Hallelujah.  I sang “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem with a dozen others in as many languages in the church in Bethlehem built on the site where Jesus was born.  Millions have prayed there as we did. Like my mother taught me. On my knees.
Now another Christmas is coming round.  I’ve got a Master of Divinity on the wall now. Not a particularly good one.    I penned  a national article on my being a better doctor than I am a Christian.  I muddle along.  I’m still reading the Bible. Reading the Bible every day at meals with Willi and Anita Gutowski leaves a mark on you.  I’ve read the Bible through several times thanks to the encouragement of Prof. Ridd and Prof. Houston.  Now al this helps me in my work in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver encouraging addicts and alcoholics that there is a better life in Recovery. I am mostly giving hope and offering a Way Out.  All the medicine that I do is secondary to this.  It’s healing.  And I’m healing with those in my other clinic where my patients are dealing with depression and anxiety, grief and trauma. Many are struggling with serious physical disease and I encourage them and help them with all the education and training and experience and resources I have to give.
The story remains the same.  I was in the church plays of nativity and remember interrupting the whole show to call out hello to my brother Ron.  He  was also in those early Sunday School  plays.  He had speaking parts. Mine wasn’t supposed to be.  But when I saw my brother I just had to call out to him.. I would have  been 5 or 6 at the time.  My brother was more mature, 4 years older and always looking out for his little brother who could be quite the handful.
The tears are the same.  Each time I read the story of Jesus I cry.  I cry because of Jesus, because of the man and because of the God.  I cry.  I’m not supposed to cry. They beat me and gained me and locked me up.  They even  took away my Bible and told me not to read it but I did. I was even offered riches and high position if I’d just forget about Jesus and never mention him again.  I know parts of the Bible  by heart. I still like to read it.  It’s the stories I love and remember.  Mostly the stories of Jesus.
Of course I know that Christ consciousness filled the world with his life and death and resurrection. it’s a String Theory thing.  Nothing is impossible in the miraculous. There’s dimensions and there are dimensions.
Christ is born. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.  Hallelujah. Welcome Baby Jesus.

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