Rumours of Glory Book Review

bruceRumours of Glory: A Memoir

Authors: Bruce Cockburn & Greg King

Publisher: Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014

530 pages, including Acknowledgments & Discography, hardcover

CDN $34.99

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Ever since Bruce Cockburn’s first album released in 1970, I confess that I’ve been attracted to his music. Over against so many singer-songwriters who focus on, and cannot seem to mature beyond the superficial and trivial and “what sells,” Bruce Cockburn is amazingly challenging and inspiring. I find his lyrics quite brilliant and profound, as well as poetic and prophetic. He often speaks out against the evils and darkness in the world today, advocating for the world’s poor, oppressed and forgotten.

There is a wonderful irony and paradox at work in his life and music, in that one has the sense of Cockburn not intentionally setting out to be an international celebrity—yet he is likely more popular, honoured and famous than many of his contemporaries who have long been forgotten or are minimally remembered and celebrated today.

In this memoir, Cockburn recalls his early years growing up in Kingston and then Ottawa, where his dad was a medical doctor; his parents never expressed much emotion, and were only occasional attenders of worship services in the United Church. Cockburn comments: “Ours was a secular household, in spite of the exposure we all had to the surface ideals and imagery of Christianity” (p. 17).

Bruce speaks a bit of sibling rivalry in the early years, he being the eldest of three brothers. He also mentions his early month-long summer camps in the wilderness—perhaps an influence on his music in later years as some of his songs reflect a love for and respect of creation.

In the pages of this memoir, Cockburn speaks at length on: his music and many influences from a host of genres, including of course the 60s and 70s rock and folk musicians such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, his relationships with those closest to him, including his first spouse and several other girlfriends and partners, the process of working with several significant people to record and produce his albums, the political situation in Canada and around the globe, the environment, his encounter with Christ, other Christians, and the Christian faith, his views on religions, his experiences as a world traveller, especially to many poor nations, his work with several NGOs including Amnesty International, among more various and sundry subjects.

A surprising tidbit about Cockburn for this reviewer is that he enjoys guns and shooting them at gun clubs and/or firing ranges. Even though he is a peace-loving human being, he does not consider himself a pacifist. In his own words: “I honour nonviolence as a way of being, and as a political tactic, but I am not a pacifist” (p. 2).

One of the themes that keeps resurfacing is that of Cockburn’s relationship with and response to God or what he refers to as the Divine. All-in-all, Bruce Cockburn is a difficult person to categorize—if I had to describe him in some categorical manner, it would be within the tradition of Christian mysticism, with universalistic inclinations, that encounter the Divine/God through the beauty and tragedy of creation in all of its forms, which connects everyone and everything. His concluding words sum it up well: “It’s recognizing that from the first to the last we are all one in the gift of grace, and that if we hold this gift dear we can be whole again” (p. 525).

I highly recommend this volume to those with an interest in Bruce Cockburn’s music or wish to learn more about him and his long and prolific career.

Sermon for 25 Pentecost Yr B

Read my sermon for November 15, 2015 here: 25 Pentecost Yr B

Sermon All Saints Day, Yr B

Read my sermon for November 1, 2015 here: All Saints Sunday Yr B

Sermon for Reformation Sunday, Yr B

Read my sermon for October 25, 2015 here: Reformation Sunday Yr B

Spirituality & Wholeness Workshop 2015

On September 11, 2015, I attended a Good Samaritan Society Workshop with keynote speaker Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., titled: “The Good Samaritan and the Giver’s Glow: The Paradox of the Simple Act of Giving.”

Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D. is the best-selling author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, in addition to Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, and his work with Alzheimer’s outlined in The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer’s Disease: Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying. Dr. Post has worked at the University of Chicago Medical School, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and is currently at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he is the Founding Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. Dr. Post has received the Pioneer Medal for Outstanding Leadership in HealthCare from the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network and the Kama Book Award in Medical Humanities from the World Literacy Canada.

In 2001 he founded the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, a free-standing non-profit whose goal is to research and distribute knowledge on selfless love. You can visit his website at: and

Dr. Post gave four talks, with the following titles and outlines: “Rx: It’s Good to be Good” Dr. Post introduces his philosophy of intentional giving. Discussing the positive effects it has on happiness, health, creativity and longevity.

“The Ten Ways of Love, Giving and Flourishing” Learn a simple way to apply the philosophy of intentional giving in your everyday life, using the ten ways to love.

“Who Benefits From Compassionate Care?” Dr. Post shows how resident care as well as their health improves with compassionate care and how living with the philosophy can prevent depression and burnout in healthcare professionals.

“Hope, Love and Caring for the Deeply Forgetful” Discover how applying compassionate care can help caregivers to recognize enduring self-identity within those with dementia. Discuss the ethical issues involved in caring for individuals with various forms of dementia, through the stages from diagnosis to dying.

One of the opening bits of information that Dr. Post shared with us was artist Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule.” He pointed out that it consisted of people from various racial and religious backgrounds and ages. Observing their faces, one is given the impression of a sense of peace and well-being. Such outward reflection of peace can also influence the well-being of others.

Dr. Post pointed out that the words medicine and meditation come from the same root medi, which means balance. Life and health is about balance.

The biblical concept and practice of love is now being confirmed by scientific research. According to Michael McCullough in Beyond Revenge, 2008, “When we help others we cannot maintain a vengeful attitude.” According to P. Wink & M. Dillon, In the Course of a Lifetime, 2007: “300 pre-teens in the Bay area followed every ten years since the 1920s. The one third who identified contributing to humanity as important were healthier and happier 50 years later, protected from depression & some physical illnesses.” In AA: The Big Book, p. 20: “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help their needs.”

Dr. Post said that research has been done on the cause of Schizophrenia, and it is now being viewed as connected with experiences of separation anxiety. He mentioned that environmental changes can cause separation anxiety—for example, when a person graduates from school and moves into a workplace.

President Abraham Lincoln suffered from melancholy and depression, and once said: “When I do good I feel good: When I do bad I feel bad.” Dr. Post pointed out that, from his own experiences, it does not necessarily follow that when you do good or love others or propose projects for others to do good and love others that it will go easy for you. People will resist you and crosses still find you.

One of Dr. Post’s favourite definitions of care/love comes from Harry Stack-Sullivan: “When the happiness, security and well-being of another person matters to you, you care for that person. When these things are as real or more real to you than your own, you love that person.” According to Stack-Sullivan: “Love cures mental illness.”

In study by Howard Brody & Franklin G. Miller, “Lessons from recent research about the placebo effect,” in The Lancet, Vol. 375, 2010, pp. 686-695: “a warm interpersonal relationship independently” adds “substantial therapeutic benefit” in the placebo effect. According to WB Malarkey, DK Pearl, JK Kiecolt-Glaser, R Glaser, “Influence of academic stress and season on 24-hour concentration of ACTH, Cortisol and Beta-endorphin,” Psychoneuroimmunology, Vol. 20, 1995, pp. 499-508: “Abrupt dismissive interactions elevate stress and slow wound healing.”

According to JW Mack, et al. “End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life,” J of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 28 (no. 7), 2010, pp. 12-3-8: “Compassionate communication with family members whose loved ones are dying decreases anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and decreases use of the ICU at the end of life.”

During Dr. Post’s discussion on healthy aging and Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention, he suggested that the following factors may be significant for some: Diet (fruits, vegetables), exercise, social and intellectual engagement, avoid protracted stress (possible role of spirituality), walk peacefully with friends to a Greek restaurant (i.e. the Mediterranean diet) and then hit the library to read and meditate.

In Dr. Post’s “Alzheimer’s & Grace,” First Things 2004, he offers the following wisdom: “As caregivers, we should talk even to the most cognitively disabled, calling them by name (which, sometimes surprisingly, may come). We should speak with a warm and calm voice, with a joyful facial expression, bending down to make eye contact, communicating with them rather than around them. We can use pictures, music, hymns, Scripture, poetry, meaningful symbols, and short simple prayers.”

I agree with Dr. Post 100% on these practices. It has been my experience as a chaplain working with Alzheimer’s and dementia residents that they respond the best with music. Often music calms them, reduces fear and anxiety, gives them peace and contentment, and even helps them to express themselves verbally in a more lucid way. As Martin Luther once said: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”

Brief thoughts and quotes on humility and faith

Today, as I came across the two quotes below, it got me thinking a bit about the importance of humility and faith.

I wonder, if we could turn back the pages of history when religions legitimized violence, hatred and war; if instead those who were such certain advocates of these had been more humble in their faith in God and practice of their faith whether much of the darkness of religious history would have been avoided and humankind may have moved a bit closer to perfect shalom; a more concrete manifestation of the realm of God; of God’s will being done on earth as in heaven.

I wonder too, if, as we look at all of the troubled spots in the world today; whether a greater mixture of humility and faith would turn around the violence and evil that seems so prevalent in far too many places; carried out with the pretext of knowing God and knowing and doing God’s will in the name of God and of what is believed to be the only true faith. I wonder…

“Those who believe they believe in God without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, not in God Himself.” –Madeleine L’Engle

“Men [and women] never do evil so completely or cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” – Blaise Pascal

Sermon for 10 Pentecost Yr B

Read my sermon for August 2, 2015 here: 10 Pentecost Yr B