Friday, 31 July 2009

Something far better than cookies and Kool-Aid

Monday, August 3, will mark a milestone in my life. Forty years ago, I made a decision that profoundly changed me. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here is the story of how I started on a spiritual journey that continues to this day. My hope is that you'll follow the same path that I did back then.

"Sharon's mom is having a Vacation Bible School in her basement. She wants me to invite everybody I know. Would you like to come?" Diane invited.

At first I felt ambivalent, remembering what happened the previous summer. "I suppose so," I said after thinking it over, "I can always go home if I don't like it."

Diane and I attended all five days of this home-based Vacation Bible School. I came expecting to enjoy Kool-Aid, cookies, and stories. To my amazement, I received a much more valuable truth in the curriculum.

Once we were settled down, Mrs. Blacklock began her lesson. "Did you know that you can have a personal relationship with Jesus?" she asked. As I had never heard that doctrine before, I listened all the more intently.

"The Bible says that we are all sinners and that nobody is good enough to go to heaven," she continued. "Going to church is nice but it won't save you on Judgment Day. Only believing in Jesus Christ will save you from going to hell."

I felt shocked. Could this honestly be true? No one told me about that before. I thought only wicked people went to hell.

"If you give your life to Jesus, he will come into you and live in your heart." This sounded impossible too. Jesus was up in heaven and God appeared uninvolved with his creation.

As she outlined how Christ died to pay for our sins and that we could be forgiven because he took our punishment, my heart stirred within me. Could this actually be true?

Then Mrs. Blacklock told the story of Nicodemus and how he was an outstanding religious teacher in Israel. Even with all his education and status, he had no understanding of what it meant to be born again. Suddenly, I realized the meaning of what Jesus said.

A few years previously, a Christian clown visited Jericho and performed magic tricks in the boys' Playroom. Along with the usual vanishing objects and interlocking hoops, this man told us how Nicodemus met Christ late one night. It was merely one of many Bible stories to me then. Now I realized that it applied to me as well.

I pondered what Mrs. Blacklock taught us all during the week. As at previous Vacation Bible Schools, I coloured, memorized Bible verses, and listened to Bible stories. Mrs. Blacklock handed out Gos-pills for correct answers. They were actually jelly beans but I savoured the play on words. Mrs. Blacklock also pretended they were vitamins as she handed them out and urged us to, "Vite 'em in to Sunday School." She then told us about her church and the fun we would have while attending it.

On Friday, Mrs. Blacklock asked us a life-changing question. "Would you like to invite Christ into your heart and accept him as your saviour?" Though I could think of no serious sins of which I was guilty, except for stealing the glass lumps, I decided I had nothing to lose. I raised my hand and said yes. Our teacher led us in the sinner's prayer and then she welcomed us to the family of Christ. Though I felt nothing dramatic happen, joy and a sense that God was pleased with me filled my heart.

I ran all the way home, a distance of a few blocks, after the school ended. "I've been born again!" I exclaimed to the family as I rushed through the front door. They all stared at me, saying nothing. Doubtless, Mom and my sisters thought I had lost my mind. I felt let down because I thought they would understand this important life-transforming decision I had made. Either nobody told me or I failed to understand that not everybody would comprehend my spiritual transformation.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Today is a sad anniversary for me. One year ago, my beloved Netherland Dwarf rabbit, Neutrino, died. Though I have four bunnies to keep me company, Neutrino had his own unique personality and charm. He lived in my house for eighty-two months, allowing me to become intimately familiar with his irrepressible character. As I wrote in my debut memoir, When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies), he had a rough start to his life. Below is an excerpt from the book regarding Neutrino's arrival at my home.

After Sunday service one August afternoon, my friend Willy strolled up to me. "I've got this little rabbit," he began. "He's in a pen with the others, but they keep biting him. The poor guy just sits in one corner of the cage while the rest of the rabbits sit in the other. He's too small to be a meat rabbit, so I was wondering if you wanted him."

I felt sorry for that poor picked-on bunny so I accepted Willy's offer. Sunday after Sunday, I waited for him to bring me the rabbit, but something always stood in his way. It wasn't until the last day of September that my church friend brought the rabbit in a dilapidated carrier. "I want the carrier back sometime soon," Willy said. That didn't bother me at all as I had other carriers which were in much better condition.

When I arrived home, I took out the bunny and placed him in the white cage, which I then moved into the living room. As I watched him exploring his new surroundings, I pondered the interesting things Willy had told me. Three church families had that poor rabbit in as many years and all lost interest in their pet. The children must have manhandled the little creature, causing him to be wary of them. No wonder he cringed and was jumpy whenever I reached out to stroke his fur. Of course, he was traumatized by the big bunnies that bit him and that could have accounted for his nervousness too.

The last family who had him called him Peewee. I despised that name because it reminded me of that children's TV show Peewee's Playhouse. Since the rabbit was tiny and his black fur made him hard to see in dim light, I called him Neutrino. In scientific terms, a neutrino is a sub-atomic particle that is nearly impossible to detect and can pass through most matter without disturbing it. I also loved the rock group Klaatu's song The Little Neutrino.
That was in 2001. A year ago, Neutrino's day started out badly. Because I used paper from the library's shredder for his litter, he refused to wet on it. My left foot found the spot on the carpet runner where he peed. I put the rugs in the washing machine and cleaned up the mess, grumbling all the while about the fact that he had to be such a brat first thing in the morning. When I looked into Neutrino's cardboard house before supper, I found that he had wet on the newspaper I'd placed there and his behind was soaked. I took a basin and cleaned his butt before placing him in his newly-changed litter. As I answered e-mails after supper, Neutrino had a seizure. Racing into the kitchen to find out what the noise was, I saw him lying on his side. The silence I heard when I held his chest to my ear told me the sad truth.

Though I still miss Neutrino, I feel that I gave him the peace and security he lacked at his first three homes. Most bunnies never receive the affection and vet care that he had. My hope is that my memoir will cause its readers to treat their bunnies as well as I did Neutrino.

Friday, 17 July 2009

"One small step" forty years ago

Forty years ago, the first human set foot on the lunar surface. To celebrate this milestone, NASA has released digitally-enhanced video of that historic landing. Here is an excerpt from my second memoir, Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), that tells of my family's experience of that exciting event.
It's an interesting fact that human beings remember exactly what they were doing during the times when historic events happen. July 20 started out as another bright Sunday morning. Diane, Linda, and I spent several hours at the creek, picking saskatoons. We saved most of those purple berries but none of us could resist eating a few. "I'm just making sure these are ripe," we told each other.
When all three of us had filled our small pails, we walked home for lunch. Diane and I had a difficult time keeping Linda, who was only four, from eating all of her berries, especially since we struggled with the same temptation.
The town was ominously silent as we headed home. The sky became overcast and not even a bird sang. Nobody was on the streets or in the yards either. "They must all be inside watching TV," Diane remarked.
I agreed and wondered aloud, "It's so eerily quiet. It's like the whole world is holding its breath, isn't it?" Doubtless, everybody was waiting for the historic moon landing to happen.
Our family ate the saskatoons for dessert, topped with condensed milk and sugar. The combination of flavours was delicious and we savoured every mouth-full.
Then we settled down to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing coverage on television. Even though the set's contrast was failing, our eyes remained glued to the screen. Walter Cronkite appeared to be on every channel and his reporting gave us the feeling of actually being at the Houston mission control.
As we watched the newscast, various experts speculated regarding what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would find once they landed. NASA installed large pads on the Lunar Module's feet in case the moon was covered in fine dust. Some scientists speculated that the lunar surface would have collected approximately fifty feet of it over the four billion years of our solar system's existence. Only the most optimistic people believed there might yet be alien lunar life.
The Lunar Module separated from the command module and began its descent to the surface. We watched eagerly as we saw on the screen how the moon came up closer and closer. As some scientists had predicted the ship might crash on the surface, I silently prayed it would land safely.
Finally the moment came and we heard those famous words, "The Eagle has landed." Humanity's first voyage to another world was a success. Then we waited as Houston made the decision to let the astronauts leave the Lunar Module. We felt thrilled as we watched Neil Armstrong descend the ladder and to hear him say, "That's one small step for man; one big step for mankind."
All of us cheered except Linda who was too young to comprehend this momentous event. We tried to explain to her that two men were walking on the moon but she still did not understand. At that age, everything is both magical and possible so why shouldn't people be on the moon?
In addition to this account, I wrote reminiscences of many other cultural events of the sixties. While I was in Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind and at home, these milestones had a profound effect upon me. I feel certain that those of us who lived through those turbulent times, and who actually remember what happened then, will enjoy my memoir. At the moment, it can be purchased for $25.00 U.S.D., plus $8.00 for shipping and handling, by sending a PayPal payment to Bruce Atchison.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Listening is the best medicine.

Listening can be the best medicine.

During my half century of life on this planet, I've found that listening can be the most helpful thing one can do. This was aptly demonstrated recently when a certain friend poured out his troubles. The only contribution I made to the conversation, apart from monosyllables, was that perhaps something in his wife's childhood made her behave as she did. This friend e-mailed me some days later and said that our talk did him a lot of good. By the way, I'm being deliberately vague here as this is a private matter between this friend and myself. I do my utmost not to betray confidences placed in me.

I can recall many times in my life when a listening ear was all I needed in order to sort out my troubles. In my upcoming memoir, How I Was Razed (And How I Found Authentic Christianity), I tell of the professionals who listened to me without an attitude of condemnation. Though the psychiatrist gave me no concrete answers, I realized that other people weren't as superior as they appeared and I wasn't such a bad person. A psychologist gave me a few insights but no real answers that I could sink my metaphorical teeth into. Even so, just having a safe place to sort out my troubles was of great help. As I told her, it's like having a clean table to dump out the contents of a bag on instead of just rummaging around in it. Everything is in plain sight but not in danger of becoming soiled. Two pastors gave more help in just a few hours than all the therapists that I had seen. I'm not yet free of past hurts but a talk show host named June Hunt suggested that I hand over my anger and my troubles to Jesus Christ in prayer. This, and writing my memoirs, has given me the most help in dealing with my past.

Either through ignorance or malice, people have given me trite advice that did more damage than good. Like the time my sister, Diane, rubbed my broken arm to make it better, these well-meaning critics caused me a lot of pain. For example, the elders at the house church that I attended, and that I'm writing about in my next memoir, admonished that my poor sight was due to ancestral sin, my lack of faith, or unconfessed sin in my heart. The legalistic attitude of these people eventually turned me against God for almost a decade. I came to realize it wasn't the Lord's fault but the bad council of people claiming to serve him. Another piece of harmful advice came from teachers and principles at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. "Ignore the bully and he'll stop bothering you," was their mantra. I suffered for years as a result of heeding them. Only after I tried to choke the bully to death did he stop harassing me. I wrote of this and other wrong-headed council in Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School).

I've heard folks joke that God gave us one mouth but two ears. There's a lot of truth and wisdom in that. If people listened twice as much as they spoke, more help would be given those who needed a friend to confide in. When people listen in order to understand, rather than to correct, it helps both parties come to a resolution or at least to a feeling of satisfaction.