Thanksgiving 2020

Canadian Thanksgiving

Did you know that Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada 43 years before the American Thanksgiving? For more interesting Canadian Thanksgiving history tid-bits, click here.

Thanksgiving and COVID-19

The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, exhorted them to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As we face all kinds of the troubles, tragedies, conflicts, divisions, injustices and sufferings in the world, how do we give thanks in all circumstances? With the coronavirus claiming the lives of so many people, and the number of cases increasing—in some places far too rapidly—daily, how can we celebrate Thanksgiving? It may be appropriate to celebrate Thanksgiving this year by offering a time and space to lament, grieve and mourn our losses—especially the deaths of loved ones, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Hopefully we can give thanks to God for the multiple ways these significant others influenced and inspired our lives. Hopefully too, we can commend them into God’s eternal care.

Pastor Martin Rinkhart, an inspiring example of faithfulness

One of my favourite thanksgiving stories provides some inspiration in that direction.

Martin Rinkhart was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Saxony, Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648. As the story goes, he was the only surviving clergyperson in 1636 or 1637, when a major pestilence afflicted the town which was so crowded with refugees and so ravaged with plague, disease, and famine that sometimes as many as 50 funerals were held in one day. Among those buried that year was Rinkhart’s own beloved wife.

Yet, in the midst of such difficult circumstances Pastor Rinkhart wrote the beautiful hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” According to one tradition, Rinkhart based this hymn on Sirach 50:22: “Now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders.” Another tradition suggests that it was originally written as a table grace for his family. In any case, the hymn was well received in Germany and has been sung on such special occasions as the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the completion of the Cologne cathedral.

Although Rinkhart had suffered much and his family, friends, parishioners and townspeople had suffered much, he was still able to offer God his thanks and praise.

A Thanksgiving exercise

As an exercise in thanksgiving, you may either individually or as a family wish to write down a list from A to Z, of all the blessings God has given each of you and then prayerfully offer your praise and thanks. You may even consider doing this each day or week or month, rather than only once a year at Thanksgiving. This exercise may also motivate you to pursue moving your thanking into acts of loving-kindness in response to what God has given you.

If the spirit moves you to share your Thanksgiving list with yours truly and other blog readers below as a comment, that would be wonderful. Thank you in advance for the same! 🙂

Those two words, Thank You, can make so much difference in so many ways!

My New Book: Praying The Lectionary Cycle B

My newest book has just been published by CSS Publishing Company. The prayers are based on Revised Common Lectionary semicontinuous cycle B. For more information, and to purchase either a hard copy or ebook, click here

Book Review: Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page

Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page

Author: Stuart McLean

Publisher: Viking & Penguin Canada Books Inc.

Hardcover, 294 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Author

Stuart McLean was a best selling author, award-winning journalist and humorist, and host of CBC Radio program, The Vinyl Cafe. Stuart began his broadcasting career making radio documentaries for CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning. In 1979 he won an ACTRA award for Best Radio Documentary for his contribution to the program’s coverage of the Jonestown massacre.

Following Sunday Morning, Stuart spent seven years as a regular columnist and guest host on CBC’s Morningside.

Stuart’s ten Vinyl Cafe books have all been Canadian bestsellers. He was a three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. Vinyl Cafe books have also been published in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

In December 2011 Stuart McLean was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was a professor emeritus at Ryerson University in Toronto and former director of the broadcast division of the School of Journalism. In 1993 Trent University named him the first Rooke Fellow for Teaching, Writing and Research. He was also honoured by Nipissing University (H. Ed.D.), University of Windsor (LL.D.), Trent University (D.Litt.), Saint Mary’s University (D.C.L.), University of Calgary (LL.D.), Concordia University (LL.D.), and McMaster University (LL.D.). Stuart served as Honorary Colonel of the 8th Air Maintenance Squadron at 8 Wing, Trenton from 2005 to 2008.

Since 1998 Stuart toured with The Vinyl Cafe to theatres across Canada and the United States, playing towns from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Whitehorse in the Yukon; from Bangor, Maine to Seattle, Washington.

Stuart McLean passed away February 15th, 2017, at age 68. McMaster University is the home of Stuart McLean’s extensive personal and literary archive.

The Genre

This volume consists of 19 fictitious short stories. The main characters, as in otherVinyl Cafe volumes are a family of four: Dave and Morley, and their two children Stephanie and Sam. The stories focus on, among other subjects: husband-wife and sibling relationships, growing up, aging, death, grief, change, historical tidbits.

McLean had the incredible gift of describing the beauty, the preciousness, the holiness of life in what others would regard as boring, mundane and far too ordinary.

Insightful Examples

Motherhood, she (Morley) thought, as she stood there between the display racks of men’s underwear, was a poorly planned journey. It wasn’t a sailing trip. It was more like a race (p. 4).” Morley’s thought while buying underwear for her growing son, Sam.

There are moments in every life when things change…forever (p. 59).” An observation in the context of an aging shopkeeper and Sam growing up and taking on more responsibility.

Jimmy Walker, from Newfoundland, loved to share tidbits of history that were forgotten by most people. “Well, the thing is that margarine was outlawed across the Dominion of Canada soon after Confederation (p.115).” Jimmy then told folks how Newfoundlanders would smuggle it into Halifax.

Commenting on the reality of children becoming more independent and parents needing to accept this reality, McLean shares the following insight in the story “Home Alone.” “It’s a tricky thing to negotiate, the war of independence. Both side approach the battlefield full of righteous conviction—but righteousness always conceals uncertainty, and conviction is never far from doubt. (p. 172).”

In the short story “Crushed,” photographer Tommy (Stephanie’s boyfriend), took pictures of crushed wildlife run over by vehicles. People thought they were artistic and poetic. However, Tommy and Dave said they made them feel sad. They didn’t regard them as beautiful as some did.

Then McLean observes: “Like poetry, you can find beauty in the most unexpected places: in a snowy wood and on the wings of butterfly, yes, of course. But in sorrow as well as in happiness. In death as well as in life (p. 259).”

I’ll tell you what I think,” said Tommy. “I think it means that beauty trumps morality. I don’t think it should be like that. That’s the way of the world (p. 260).”

Humour

McLean includes some humorous stories in this volume. My favourite one is “Yoga.” It is absolutely hilarious. Daughter Stephanie had planned on a yoga retreat with her friend Becky. However, Becky cancelled out. Stephanie then asked if her mother Morley would go with her, she had a previous commitment. So, by default, her dad, Dave went with her. The retreat had three categories: gentle, intermediate, and vigorous. Stephanie chose intermediate, and Dave chose vigorous. The attendees were given three treatments to choose from as part of the retreat. Dave chose Happy Hour, three honey-mint-refresh-colonic cocktails.

For this reviewer, “Yoga” was almost worth the price of the book!

Sermon for 8 Pentecost Yr A

Read my sermon for July 26, 2020 here: 8 Pentecost Yr A

Book Review: In Transit

In Transit: Between the Image of God and the Image of Man

Author: Tshenuwani Simon Farisani

Publisher: William B. Eerdmanns & Africa World Press Inc.

251 pages, including: Preface, Prologue, and Appendixes

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Author

At the time of writing this work, the Rev. Tshenuwani Simon Farisani served as a dean and deputy bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, and was a visiting scholar at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkley, California. He was also the subject of two films: The Torture of a South African Pastor and A Remarkable Man. He is also the author of Diary from a South African Prison (translated into German, Dutch, and French), and a book of poetry, Justice in My Tears.

The Context

This work was written in the context of the South African apartheid regime, which has parallels to the experience of segregation in the U.S.A., as well as the present situation in America, where blacks continue to be treated unjustly—especially by white systemic racism. Rev. Farisani, prior to the publication of this volume, had been held in detention four times by the South African police, without charge or trial. While in detention he had been interrogated and tortured and had suffered two heart attacks. He suffered all of this merely for preaching the gospel message that all human beings, regardless of their skin colour, are equal in God’s eyes, and are created in the image of God.

The Genre and Content

This work makes for interesting and inspirational reading due to its creative genre. It is, simultaneously, autobiography, story, history, dialogue, and lament poetry—reminiscent of biblical prophets speaking truth to power. The chapters are compiled into four parts. The following titles of the parts are: Part I Tshiuda Grows Up; Part II Tshiuda-Tshenuwani And The God Of South Africa: The Creator’s Call; Part III Tshenuwani Answers The Call; Part IV Tshenuwani’s Fourth Time In The Bowels of Hell; and Appendixes A-F, consisting of letters and documents, a meeting report, an application for Tshenuwani Farisani’s release, news releases, and letters to congregations from Bishop Serote and Dean Farisani.

Dating back to 1600, the Dutch first encountered blacks and thought them inferior to whites and viewed them as Satan’s people. The Dutch then proceeded to create an oppressive theology, philosophy, and social, cultural and political system against blacks.

Rev. Farisani’s lament poetry speaks out passionately, revealing apartheid oppression; blacks being forced off of their fertile land to a life of starvation and working as slaves for the whites; of being punished when children come to be with their parents when the latter are working for the whites on land once belonging to blacks. The Afrikaners confiscated and expropriated black land and animals, cattle and chickens, and other possessions.

Rev. Farisani remembered how he was abused and beaten by his employer and not given the wages he was promised. This happened more than once with other bosses he had as well—as it did for far too many blacks in South Africa.

The author also recalls the racist attitudes and practices of a white missionary and school teachers: “…blacks have no mental capacity to learn much of white people’s things. There is no room for both civilization and sophistication in their brains, in their whole makeup (p.74).”

In Rev. Farisani’s call from God, he relates God’s answer to him regarding politics and faith: “Politics is not a dirty game reserved for Satan worshippers; it is among the holiest of responsibilities. (p. 84).” In one important dialogue, between God, Rev. Farisani and South African government officials; the venue is a law court and apartheid is put on trial.

Readers also learn of Rev. Farisani’s description of the status quo racist attitudes at Lutheran Theological College among the whites. He struggles with his anger at the unjust apartheid system and those whites supporting it. He also recites portions of the 1984 Lutheran World Federation Assembly document against racism, which suspended white, apartheid-practicing Lutheran churches in Namibia and South Africa.

One cringes at the vivid descriptions of how several secret police plots and traps tried to convict Rev. Farisani; and his experiences of being tortured while in detention. One poem-prayer lament recalls the abusive interrogation tactics of the white “authorities” who detained him without charge—again reminiscent of prophets like Jeremiah.

After his release from his fourth detention; Rev Farisani’s “in transit” status meant that he had to apply to the government for a visa in order to do his work as Dean.

The so-called government “reforms” were merely window dressing to give the blacks and the international community the false impression that the apartheid regime was not oppressive, racist, and unjust. In the words of Rev. Farisani: “Oppressed people want shelter, food, and clothes, not political gimmicks geared to the gullible racist world which do nothing to correct the fundamental cause of their poverty: racist greed and a false sense of superiority (pp. 202-203).”

A Personal Note

I had the privilege to attend a talk that Rev. Farisani gave in Edmonton sponsored by Lutherans and Amnesty International many years ago. In the talk, Rev. Farisani related how instrumental the work of Amnesty was in contributing to his release from prison. It was this talk that, moved by the Spirit, convinced me to become a member of Amnesty International over 30 years ago now.

CLWR’s first webinar

Recently I attended Canadian Lutheran World Relief’s first ever webinar on Refugees, COVID-19 and the Church. It was quite informative. According to one of the speakers, there are around 80 million refugees in the world today. That is tragic, since many are in refugee camps where they are spaced close together, hence it is difficult to maintain the 2 metre distance. Moreover, water to wash hands, masks and sanitizer are in short supply, if available at all—so they are at a much higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. Click on the following link to hopefully view the webinar: CLWR.

Book Review: Where Is God In My Praying? Biblical Responses to Eight Searching Questions

Where Is God In My Praying? Biblical Responses to Eight Searching Questions

Author: Daniel Simundson

Publisher: Augsburg Publishing House

93 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Dr. Daniel J. Simundson, at the time this volume was published was professor of Old Testament at Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary. Dr. Simundson had previously authored Where Is God In My Suffering? Biblical Responses to Seven Searching Questions, also published by Augsburg.

The eight questions Dr. Simundson addresses are: 1. Why Should I Pray? 2. Why Is It So Hard to Pray? 3. Must We All Pray the Same Way? 4. Can I Tell God What I Really Think? 5. Dare I Ask for That? 6. What Good Does It Do to Pray for Others? 7. Does God Always Answer Prayer? 8. Does God Need Our Thanks and Praise? Professor Simundson looks at each of these questions in light of both Hebrew Bible and New Testament texts.

In addition to these questions, Dr. Simundson also addresses other questions like: How do I know God is listening? Do our prayers actually affect what God will do? Will God be angry with me for saying that?

God created us to be in relationship with him. Through prayer, we can communicate our thoughts and feelings with God. God has commanded us to pray. When we find it hard to pray, we can read the Psalter and find examples of prayer for the entire range of human circumstances.

Sin and broken relationships; our contemporary secular world; worry over speaking the ‘right’ words; feeling our prayers go unanswered or answered with a “no;” all contribute to why we find it so hard to pray. When we are unable to pray, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).

There are, of course, many different kinds of prayers for the wide array of life’s circumstances. We can be utterly honest with God in our prayers. Biblical examples of this are Job, Jeremiah, and Jesus—among others. Prayers of lament, as in the Psalter, are often the best, most honest prayers.

Professor Simundson has a helpful discussion of both the downside and upside of intercessory prayer. He cautions against manipulating God and people by intercessory prayer. One example he cites is that someone may tell you: “I am praying that God will give you a wonderful spiritual experience so that you can see the light and leave that wishy-washy church and join up with some true believers” (pp. 67-68). He also cites biblical examples of intercessory prayers: Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Jesus’ prayer for his enemies. In both cases God does what God wants—he ends up destroying Sodom and we do not know how or if Jesus’ prayer had any positive affects on his enemies.

Regarding unanswered prayer, Dr. Simundson states that it is not likely that God is angry with the person praying; nor does he or she necessarily lack enough faith. Unanswered prayer does not necessarily mean that God is uncaring either.

In the Bible, God said no to Moses, Paul and Jesus. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Paul did not have the thorn in his flesh removed. God did not remove the cup of suffering from Jesus.

According to Dr. Simundson, God doesn’t need out praise and thanks—however, God may like or enjoy our praise and thanks, as in the case of the father in the parable of the prodigal son’s return home. Our praise and thanks may also improve our quality of life by giving us joy and gratitude like the leper who was healed by Jesus. We can praise and thank God for the blessings of creation and for God’s saving work throughout history.

However, in times of great suffering, war, natural disasters, COVID-19, and so on; it may be more appropriate to cry out to God with prayers of lament. Even then, it is possible to praise and thank God; for ultimately his will and purposes shall prevail.

This little volume is beneficial to both pastors and laity (especially those who struggle with prayer) and is very easy to read—highly recommended!

Sermon 6 Easter Yr A

Read my sermon for May 17, 2020 here: 6 Easter Yr A

Book Review: How Can I Believe When I Live In A World Like This?

How Can I Believe When I Live In A World Like This?

Author: Reginald Stackhouse

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

147 pages, Hardcover

Questions, questions, questions. Human beings are curious creatures; curiosity often leads to asking questions; and questions can and do result in growth, learning and more meaningful living even when questions are not answered satisfactorily. In Jesus’ public ministry, he would teach by employing questions.

At the time of writing this volume, Dr. Reginald Stackhouse was a minister and professor at Toronto School of Theology, and formerly a Canadian Member of Parliament. In addition to the book’s title in question form, all seven chapters are also titled with a question: Chapter One: Why is This Happening to Me? Chapter Two: If You Could Be God for a Day, What Would You Do with a World Like This? Chapter Three: What Kind of World is This When the Innocent Suffer and the Evil are Rewarded? Chapter Four: Must We Just Suffer or Can it Make Us Better People? Chapter Five: Is This World a Fair Place if One Has to Pay the Price for Everyone Else? Chapter Six: Must Suffering and Death Have the Last Word? Chapter Seven: How Can a Person Make it Through a World Like This Successfully?

Dr. Stackhouse writes in a very accessible way, which engages the reader. He cites example after example of the wide array of situations that happen to humans and explanations of how they might be understood.

In chapter one, he states that the problem of evil and suffering haunted him as a pastor, professor and politician. One example is a parishioner who was given two months to live after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He cites Plato and Augustine, Leibniz and Voltaire, and then turns to the Book of Job, where he identifies six theodicies, that do not provide a definitive answer.

In chapter two, Dr. Stackhouse wrestles with questions like: What kind of God can allow the crib death of a newborn baby, and a bicycle rider on a country road to be run over by a careless driver? On the other hand, believing in nothing is not much better. In attempting to answer such questions, Dr. Stackhouse cites Justin an early Christian philosopher and martyr who found truth in the Bible as well as in the philosophy of the Greek Stoics. Their answer to suffering and evil was to “Trust nature,” and trust in providence. God ordained everything in life. By so doing, if we were God for a day, we could not do any better than God. Life events come together—in ways we sometimes shall never know—to find some kind of harmony and balance. Professor Stackhouse also turns to the cross of Jesus for an answer. “The message of the cross of Jesus can be applied to all innocent sufferers.” (p.52)

In chapter three, Dr. Stackhouse addresses the suffering of the innocent and the rewarding of the evil. Suffering does not always mean sin—nor does success always mean righteousness. One example of this given is his brother Benjamin, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and went on to live a full, meaningful life right up to the end. Professor Stackhouse also provides a thoughtful discussion of technological evil, institutional evil, and the evil of nature causing natural disasters. As people of faith, we believe in a God who suffers with us and shares our pain—that is the message of Isaiah’s suffering servant and Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.

In chapter four, Dr. Stackhouse describes how a bed-ridden parishioner cheered him up when he went to give him Holy Communion. Since evil is as prevalent in the world as is goodness, it is better that we try to learn from our suffering. He explains that a couple of ways to learn are what he refers to as “the law of compensations” and “the law of prospects.” A couple of biblical examples of these were the apostle Paul and Moses. A couple of political figures are also cited—Nelson Mandela and John A. MacDonald. The former released from prison and leading South Africa out of apartheid. The latter immigrating from Scotland poverty-stricken and becoming a Canadian Prime Minister. Jesus taught (Luke 9:23-25), that those who lose their life for his sake will save it.

In chapter five, Dr. Stackhouse unpacks the significance of the Latin word vicarius. He believes that: “Vicariousness runs through the Bible.” (p. 110) According to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, there is no greater love than to sacrifice one’s life for someone else. Human beings also need to realize their corporate identity to make sense of life. In sharing our common humanity, we are more compassionate toward others and more willing to make sacrifices and serve others.

In chapter six, violent examples like Tiananmen Square, the killing of Roman Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, and Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, raise the question of whether suffering and death have the last word. Dr. Stackhouse agrees with philosopher Immanuel Kant who believed that human life is too short to gain justice in this world. Hence, for Kant a life beyond this one was necessary to right the wrongs suffered in this world if God is just. This, of course, is a problem for those who do not believe in a world beyond this one. However, citing philosopher Blaise Pascal’s “Wager Argument,” Dr. Stackhouse makes the case for believing in an afterlife. His conviction that there is was confirmed when he made a pastoral call on a couple who lost their thirty-year-old son who died in an accident. The father, in tears, said to Dr. Stackhouse: “There has to be something.” (p. 128) What we believe about death has a significant influence on how we live our life in this world.

In chapter seven, Dr. Stackhouse speaks of how much his parents’ beliefs gave shape to his own. His parents’ faith helped them stay together as a family and cope with the hardships of the Great Depression. “Although they [his parents] never used the term “mystery” to refer to God, I can see now that was how they understood him.” (p. 139) What happened in life was also a mystery and human beings, created in God’s image are a mystery as attested to in Psalm 139, we are: “fearfully and wonderfully made.” His parents, like Sören Kierkegaard knew that to be a human being means that there will be suffering. They taught Dr. Stackhouse that one cannot expect life without troubles—rather, one can trust that God will help us to cope with them.

This volume shall be helpful for clergy, laity and academics, I highly recommend it.

Sermon for 2 Easter Yr A

Read my sermon for April 19, 2020 here: 2 Easter Yr A