Medicine For People!

December 2016

The Angelus by Jean-Francois Millet 

Season of Renewal

Governments can only decree a holiday; we the people give it life. We give the most life to this national holiday most Americans call Christmas or Hanukkah, a time of remembrance and renewal.

While the original Americans celebrated many religions, a minority of modern Christians claim rights to take over the whole shebang. On that topic let me suggest that we not accept self-identification as Christian. Let Ted not claim to be a Christian; instead, let his neighbors decide that yes, he behaves with love and concern for others, or no, he does not.

Still, as I write this newsletter in Texas this December 2016, let me write about renewal and love while using the word Christmas, and you fill in Hannukah or winter solstice or the term of your choice.

So, Christmas. At this point, our nation struggles to maintain its fitness for the term Christian. Among nations, we too often behave as befits our own narrow interests. We have no national mission, unless it be to consume as much as we can while giving in return as little as possible. As an example, we pour carbon into the atmosphere with almost no concern of the consequences for peoples far away, such as the Bangladeshis who face hunger, disruption, and excess death from rising sea levels.

Would that we could adopt a national mission that Jesus would understand. We could resolve to care for each other. We could resolve to bend our efforts towards international policies to improve prosperity in other nations. We could hold up self-discipline and integrity instead of the superficial and selfish glitz highlighted in our popular media.

Today, however, let me hold up the ways that Christianity has served us well for 2000 years.

The Roman gods lived remote from us; the God of Abraham involved himself in the human world with laws and covenants.

Roman gods did not forgive. The Christian god did. In the words of Fred Rogers, you are perfect just the way you are. Of course, that's only in the spiritual sense. You'd better stay active, eat well, and watch your weight!

Romans felt they always had to be on their toes. The Methodist god had died in payment for our human shortcomings. My parents assumed this was true, and that my own shortcomings would not prevent me from reaching in my goals. I could relax, trusting my parents and their belief in God and in me.

The Romans did not think they could influence the world of the gods. Christians were encouraged to pray, to live right lives, and thus to bring the spiritual world here to earth. Even today, I measure a person's spiritual attainment by their degree of worry. The anxious evangelical worries that god will punish them if they aren't trying to sell the product. The mature religious person knows better and can relax; God surely knows we have given ourselves plenty to worry about and therefore doesn't need to pour more worry onto us.

Rome had Mars, their god of war and domination. Christianity teaches an honest humility.

Let us this Christmas give thanks to the millions of people who lived the Christian ideals, and who thus made this a better world. We needn't blind ourselves to the actions of those who proclaimed but did not live Christian ideals. Such people lived in all times. Examples from medieval Europe, as just one example, would include arrogant monarchs, the vainglorious Crusaders, the corrupt Roman Catholic curia, the inquisitors of Spain and so forth. Alongside them millions of common Europeans lived lives of love and humility to make life bearable for those around them. Christian concepts of acceptance helped soften and transform the misery of their lives.

Looking at more modern times, Catholic nuns gave their lives in service as nurses and teachers. Men in religious vocations gave similar lifetimes of devotion to pastoral work and teaching. That a few of these people violated the trust given them takes nothing away from the million or more who gave so much to our nation.

In conversation, we like to categorize ourselves and others as Christian, Jew, Moslem. But really! How inaccurate! Each of those labels readily subdivides. Christian: Catholic, Protestant, Quaker, Episocopal, 39 flavors of Lutheran in the US alone. Moslem: Sunni, Shia, Kharijite, many more. Face it, everybody has their own individual religious views. And why should it be otherwise? We each have our own individual soul, spirit, or call it what you will. And we each see god or God, Yahweh, Allah, the Buddha, Pan or Jehovah a little differently. Of course each of us has our own religion!

My parents attended Methodist and Episcopal churches as I grew up. They often discussed the sermon in the car on the way home. They didn't buy every bit of doctrine. They had their own mission. As I understood it, that mission was that my father served in the military to protect our country. My mother and the rest of us contributed to our family. Each of us was supported by the others as we moved every two years from one naval base to another. We were part of a larger family in Texas which would support us if needed, and very much vice versa. And by the church's teaching, we rightfully concerned ourselves with those in need around the world. We belonged to many tribes, from near and small to large and distant.

My parents enriched my childhood years with wholeness born of opposites.

They gave me discipline, and then they ordered us to go outside and play!

They lived with both purpose and with self-awareness. To use an analogy from my father's Navy, one hand for yourself; one hand for the ship.

Though I resisted, they persisted in demanding that I follow their dicta without reservation. Obedience was not enough; we boys were required to appear to enjoy doing so. Failure in this was signaled by a predictable 'you need to show a better attitude about this.'

Where is the wholeness in this, you ask? As I grew into adulthood, faking it turned into making it. Ordinary tasks became to me as experiments, investigations, and sources of pleasure. How can I find enjoyment in washing these dishes? How can I find, for the umpteenth time, reward in hearing the story of another small variation of arthritis? How can I explain once again how this completely common illness works?

Dishwashing, I can now tell you, has a charm of its own. Please god, you have discovered this. The person telling me the story of their arthritis has real pain, pain distressing enough to come to see me, a heartbreaking trust that I might be able to help them, and may, when they and I least expect it, teach me something I really need to know. And in telling this latest sufferer about their specific instance of this common illness, I may discover some truth about it that has eluded me up until now, may find a better way to apply the English language to this particular topic, and may save my own soul.

Attitude, my friends. Attitude. Buddha could not have taught it better than my parents did.

One Human's Wishes

In this season of birth and renewal, let us celebrate the return of the sunshine. Whatever your personal religion, let me join with you as we together negotiate the truth of nature's (and civilization's) heartless uncertainties and our need for some shelter from the storm, some kind of protection from this chaos, however flawed and temporary that shelter might be.

Let us work together for a better human world. We humans have made up all the rules and customs anyway. We can change them.

story: 

Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.