Book Review: The Remarkable Chester Ronning

ronningThe Remarkable Chester Ronning: Proud Son of China

Author: Brian L. Evans

Publisher: The University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 2013

306 pages, including Bibliography and Index, ISBN 978-0-88864-663-7, CDN $34.95, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

According to Professor Evans, Chester Alvin Ronning was an “extraordinary” and “remarkable” man on almost all counts, and deserves more public and academic recognition. This volume is one contribution that endeavours to rectify the matter at hand.

Chester Ronning was born in China to Norwegian-Lutheran missionary parents. He was trilingual, speaking Chinese, Norwegian and English. I can still remember years ago as a student at Camrose Lutheran College, meeting the elderly, dignified Ronning on campus and being amazed at how he loved to seek out the Chinese students and regale them with his stories and humour by speaking fluent Chinese.

I appreciated Evans’s emphasis on Ronning’s significant contributions as, among other things: a farmer, a provincial politician with the United Farmers of Alberta and the CCF, an innovative educator and principal, a distinguished Canadian diplomat, and a husband, father and family man.

Professor Evans underscores Ronning’s zealous commitment to Canada and the USA recognizing the legitimacy of the communist government of China. Although Ronning was a social democrat—not a communist as many of his critics branded him—he was quite sympathetic to the political activists in China among the peasants. He was also a close friend and colleague of Chou En-lai.

Having worked as a diplomat for 20 years with the Department of External Affairs, representing Canada in China, Norway and India; Ronning became widely acclaimed as an inspirational, international figure; travelling extensively in his retirement years as a much-in-demand speaker and expert on China, opponent of the Vietnam war, and other popular causes of the political left.

My only critique of Evans’s biography is that I would like to have heard more from those closest to Ronning—his wife Inga and their six children. However, Evans does include statements from and references to Ronning’s eldest daughter, Audrey Topping and her husband Seymour, who was a journalist with The New York Times, and who devoted some significant coverage on Ronning in that newspaper from time-to-time.

I would recommend The Remarkable Chester Ronning: Proud Son of China primarily to students and teachers of Canadian history.

AB & T Synod East & West Central Conference Convention

Bethel Lutheran Church

Bethel Lutheran Church

Today our ELCIC, AB & T Synod East & West Central Conference convention was held at Bethel Lutheran Church in Camrose. There were two fine, engaging  presentations made by Rev. Dr. Marc Jerry on “Word & Sacrament Ministry,” based on the ELCIC Study Guide On Word and Sacrament Ministry. 

In trying to ensure that all of our parishes and congregations are served with a ministry of word and sacrament; and with a growing shortage of ordained pastors; our ELCIC is now wrestling with a proposed new practice of licensing a layperson for sacramental ministry at a specific parish or congregation.

At the conclusion of these presentations, there was opportunity for small group discussion on various questions and issues around this proposed new practice.

In our group, among other things, three questions that we discussed were: i) would a lay person in a congregation or parish have the same respect and authority as a pastor by the congregants/parishioners? ii) What about the long-term spinoff consequences of such a practice for our clergy as well as for our seminaries? E.g. would such a practice reduce the number of clergy being ordained and prospective students going into seminary to be trained and prepared for ordained ministry? iii) What would the implications of such a new practice be for ecumenical relations and dialogues-especially with our full communion partner, the Anglican Church of Canada?

The two conferences also spent time apart from each other to carry out their respective business meetings of the conference. In the East Central meeting, there were changes made to bylaws, and resolutions approved.

Of course, there was also time scheduled in for good food and fellowship, meeting, greeting and story sharing with familiar and new folks, as well as a closing Holy Communion Service with the installation of a new dean for the West Central Conference and Council members of both Conferences.

The world is mostly silent about persecution of Christians

Image credit: Edel Rodriquez

Image credit: Edel Rodriquez

In an excellent New York Times OP-ED by Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, the case is made for an end to the world’s silence and “indifference” regarding the persecution of Christians-even the UN seems mostly mum on the subject.

WHY is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa? In Europe and in the United States, we have witnessed demonstrations over the tragic deaths of Palestinians who have been used as human shields by Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls Gaza. The United Nations has held inquiries and focuses its anger on Israel for defending itself against that same terrorist organization. But the barbarous slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Christians is met with relative indifference.

The Middle East and parts of central Africa are losing entire Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries. The terrorist group Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed hundreds of Christians this year — ravaging the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, two weeks ago. Half a million Christian Arabs have been driven out of Syria during the three-plus years of civil war there. Christians have been persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan.

Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings. Few reporters have traveled to Iraq to bear witness to the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across that country. The United Nations has been mostly mum. World leaders seem to be consumed with other matters in this strange summer of 2014. There are no flotillas traveling to Syria or Iraq. And the beautiful celebrities and aging rock stars — why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?

Read the whole OP-ED here.

All creatures great and small

Butterfly

Butterfly

This, I think, Canadian Swallowtail butterfly with part of its wing missing, reminded me of the words of Cecil F. Alexander’s hymn: “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Especially the words from stanza four: “God gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell how great is God Almighty, who has made all things well.” My wife took this photo with her iphone camera in our front yard. Even though part of the wing is missing, it could still fly.

Alma mater & church convention

From June 19-21, I attended our Alberta & the Territories Synod Convention at Camrose, held on my alma mater-then Camrose Lutheran College, now Augustana campus, University of Alberta. Those who are convention aficionados know that they can range from exciting, surprising and inspiring to boring and divisive and everything in-between. As a seasoned convention attender, I wouldn’t say this was the most exciting one I’ve ever witnessed, nor was it the most boring-rather, it was somewhere in-between. The most upbeat aspects of the convention for yours truly were: i) re-election of our bishop, the Rev Dr. Larry Kochendorfer on the first ballot; ii) the music and worship services; iii) the opportunity to visit with other colleagues and former parishioners whom I hadn’t seen for some time; iv) the keynote speaker, the Rev. Dr. Alan Roxburgh of the Missional Network, addressing, among other things, the new paradigmatic direction of Christendom in terms of what it means to be “missional,” and where God is leading the Church into the future and possible changes needed to be a part of that journey. Below are a some photos I shot of the ever-changing face of my alma mater campus.

New Performing Arts Centre to open this October

New Performing Arts Centre to open this October

Library with the young Luther statue in foreground

Library with the young Luther statue in foreground

The young Luther statue

The young Luther statue

Sign

Sign

Front shot of Luther statue

Front shot of Luther statue

Classroom building

Classroom building

Glen K. Johnson Faith & Life Centre

Glen K. Johnson Faith & Life Centre

Founder's Hall-in my day it was referred to as Old Main

Founder’s Hall-in my day it was referred to as Old Main

A wheelchair accessible elevator tower will be added to one end of Founder’s Hall.

L-R Colleagues: Rev. Ron & Rev. Dr. Gary

L-R Colleagues: Rev. Ron & Rev. Dr. Gary

Both colleagues helped carry some of our books for the book exchange table at the convention.

Colleague Rev. Howard & delegate Phyllis

Colleague Rev. Howard & delegate Phyllis

Re-elected Bishop Larry

Re-elected Bishop Larry

Synod banner

Synod banner

Elements of creation from each of our Synod Conferences

Elements of creation from each of our Synod Conferences

Synod delegates at work in session

Synod delegates at work in session

Another highlight of the convention was the celebration and recognition of those pastors who have served in the church for 25 years, 40 years, 50 years and 60 years. There were 10 clergy celebrating their 25 anniversary of ordination; 7 clergy celebrating their 40 anniversary of ordination; 6 clergy celebrating their 50 anniversary of ordination; and 3 clergy celebrating their 60 anniversary of ordination. I had the opportunity to chat briefly with the Rev. Barry Lyall, who was one of the 60-year clergy. I was amazed at his health and resilience, he told me that he still enjoys serving as a pulpit supply pastor.

 

Random thoughts on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, and 25 years after Tiananmen Square

Remembering Tiananmen Square 25 years ago

Remembering Tiananmen Square 25 years ago

This week the world—except, ironically the official government and military of China—remembers the 25 year anniversary of the tragedy that was Tiananmen Square. I can still recall in my mind’s eye the tanks rolling into TS and that infamous televised news report of one brave pro-democracy demonstrator challenging the aggressive tank. Of course, we all know who won in that encounter. The Chinese government and military managed to successfully and cruelly kill or arrest and imprison many of the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators; disperse the masses; and forbid any further gatherings to advocate for democracy on Tiananmen Square.

So here we are, 25 years later, and the more things change, the more they stay the same—especially for all peace-loving, pro-democracy Chinese citizens. The family members who lost loved ones during the pro-democracy demonstrations are unable to properly remember and mourn their dead in public. Moreover the Chinese authorities have placed gagging orders on them and censored the media as well—continuing their policy to forget that the pro-democracy demonstrations on TS even happened, and hoping that all Chinese citizens will do the same.

At precisely this juncture in the history of China the Holy Spirit enters the scene. The Holy Spirit is working and alive in the life of the church in China, with millions of members. Moreover, I believe it is the workings of the Holy Spirit who is spurring the ordinary citizens of China to be so bold as to advocate for those who lost their lives at TS or who have been locked up in prisons ever since they were arrested 25 years ago. The Holy Spirit is also at work helping these folks to remember and mourn those who died—witness the over one-hundred thousand strong vigil in Hong Kong. As much as the Chinese authorities would like to forget and tell lies about the tragedy of TS 25 years ago, the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of the people to keep the truth alive and to continue to instill in the Chinese people hopes and dreams for a better, more democratic society in the future.

Many of the Western democratic nations adopted a “free trade” policy with China with the hopes that it would lead to a liberalizing of human rights and freedoms. However today that policy does not seem to be working. The old guard and the old pro-communist ways of suppressing democracy remain as much intact today as they did 25 years ago. The West also seems to continue to be too soft and mum regarding the violation of human rights in China.

Perhaps as we celebrate Pentecost this year in the free world, we can remember China in our prayers; that the wind and fire and rivers of living water, i.e. the Holy Spirit, would act in powerful ways to bring about the changes leading China into a freer, more democratic society.

Farley Mowat dead at 92 years

One of Canada’s most popular authors and environmentalists, Farley Mowat has died at age 92, only a few days prior to his 93rd birthday. Farley was a fantastic storyteller, even though his books were non-fiction. He was passionate about the environment, as is evident in books such as Never Cry Wolf  and A Whale for the Killing. Check out this link to  a CBC television interview of his friend, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, and for other pertinent articles and videos. Rest eternal grant Farley, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him.

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