Ash Wednesday

AshWednesdayCrossYesterday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of the season of Lent. I participated in an ecumenical service last evening. I was designated to explain the meaning of the ashes and do the imposition of ashes on the clergy, as well as help administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It was a wonderful service held at the local Anglican church, with clergy representing the Anglican, Church of God, Lutheran, United, and Ukrainian Catholic churches.

In dialogue with the Ukrainian Catholic priest prior to the service, I learned a couple of things that surprised me. First, they do not use ashes in their Ash Wednesday services—for them Lent actually begins on Monday two days prior to Ash Wednesday. Second, the colour for Lent in their tradition is not purple, but red, since the latter is regarded by them as a penitential colour.

Ashes in the Western churches are important, since they symbolize our mortality, as well as combined with sackcloth, were associated with repentance in biblical times.

We were blessed and privileged to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed and all baptised Christians were welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The Anglican priest lead us in the beautiful Ash Wednesday penitential liturgy and he, along with two other clergy—one Lutheran, one Anglican, a visible sign of our full communion—were co-presiders at the Lord’s Table. The Church of God pastor began with an opening introduction, highlighting God’s mercy, and sharing information on a Canadian Food Grains project which our community supports. The United Church minister led us in the offertory prayer. The Ukrainian Catholic priest offered the closing benediction.

It was a very moving and humbling experience to have been there and help with administering the sacrament. It was also a small sign of the unity of Christ’s Body expressed in the rich diversity of our respective denominations.

As the World Council of Churches emphasized years ago, “doctrine divides, service unites,” so in our community, we joined together contributing our offering to the Canadian Food Grains Bank in service of those in need.

We left the worship service in silence; recipients of God’s mercy and grace, and given new opportunities to share the love of Jesus in thought, word and deed with those in need in our community and around the globe.

Book Review: Good News from North Haven

goodnewfromnorthhavenGood News from North Haven: A Year In The Life Of A Small Town

Author: Michael L. Lindvall

Publisher: New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, A Crossroad Carlisle Book, 2002

189 pages, ISBN 0-8245-2012-2, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Reverend Michael L. Lindvall was born and grew up in small-town Minnesota. He developed a love for the stories told by folks living in such communities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the stories he tells in this novel are set in North Haven, Minnesota and, at the very least, are implicitly autobiographical. The storyteller in this novel is Reverend David Battles, the minister of Second Presbyterian Church—and Lindvall himself is a Presbyterian minister.

The novel begins with a brief history of First and Second Presbyterian congregations—the former lost their building to a fire, and most of the members subsequently joined Second Presbyterian. As the novel unfolds, Reverend Battles is keen to tell what he refers to as “tales of grace” revealed in the “things that happen” in daily dramas (p. 19).

In his compelling narrative style, Lindvall introduces us to a host of eclectic and eccentric characters—similar to the sinner-saints we clergy meet in our parishes. There are: the “intractable, intransigent, unmovable…iron butterfly” Alvina Johnson, who is skeptical about this year’s Christmas Pageant after directing it for four decades; the inactive Roman Catholic barber who confides in Reverend Battles about growing up with an abusive dad; Reverend Battles learning that the little things in life like reading a bedtime story to one’s kids and kissing them good night are important “…because the mark a man or woman makes on this world is most often a trail of faithful love, and quiet mercies, and unknown kisses” (p. 37); Carmen Krepke the rebellious young biker-woman who had a vision of Jesus; the wise patriarch of Second Presbyterian, Angus MacDowell; the single-minded boat-builder Lamont Wilcox, and many more.

The novel is also worthwhile for its humorous stories of Reverend Battles’ “short trip” on Easter Sunday while climbing the stairs to the communion table with the offering; Reverend Mitchell Simpson’s comments which he thought were spoken in private, but were heard by the congregation because his cordless microphone was turned on, when he thought he had turned it off; when soprano choir member, Emma Bowers’ spiked high-heeled shoe got tightly lodged into the heating grate, when choir member, Elsie Johnson was “raptured” during a recessional hymn, and more.

The final heart-warming story is the baptism of single mother, Tina Cory’s son, James; the whole congregation “stands with” James during the baptism as an act of love, acceptance and grace.

I highly recommend this delightful novel to the general reader, and especially to the clergy who serve in small-town and rural churches. The Reverend Lindvall shares a great deal of his folksy wisdom, insights and humour in these stories that instruct and inspire.

Sermon for 2 Epiphany Yr C

Read my sermon for January 17, 2016 here: 2 Epiphany Yr C

Middle East Christians Deserve Refuge

[The Western media seems to devote only minimal coverage to persecuted Christians and Jews in the Muslim world. I am most grateful for the following op-ed, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal, as well as in a Simon Wiesenthal Center e-Newsletter, focusing on this reality, suggesting that the situation is of “genocidal” proportions, and even the UN refugee camps may very well be unsafe for Christian refugees—hence the urgency to prioritize the protection and reception of Middle East Christian refugees in “safe” Western countries. To advocate for this cause, I have decided to re-blog the entire piece here. For yours truly, a pressing question arises for us here in Canada: Will our federal government also intervene to accept as many Middle Eastern Christian refugees as possible, in light of the fanatical, Islamist militants who seem determined to commit genocide against them? –Dim Lamp]

Mideast Christians Deserve U.S. Refuge*
Hunted by ISIS, afraid to enter refugee camps, they are undercounted and desperate for help.

By ABRAHAM COOPER By YITZCHOK ADLERSTEIN

Donald Trump’s bizarre proposal to bar all Muslim immigrants from the U.S. has overshadowed a more legitimate concern regarding religion and immigration: Middle East Christians who are desperate to escape the genocidal campaign against them by Islamic State.

Islamist terror attacks like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., have underlined the need for more and better vetting of refugees from the Middle East who seek safety in the U.S. But with tens of thousands pushing at the gate, who should to get first preference?

In our view, as rabbis, any immediate admissions should focus on providing a haven for the remnants of historic Christian communities of the Middle East. Christians in Iraq and Syria have been suffering longer than other groups, and are fleeing not just for safety but because they have been targeted for extinction. In a region strewn with desperate people, their situation is even more dire. Christians (and Yazidis, ethnic Kurds who follow a pre-Islamic religion) have long been targeted by Muslim groups—not only Islamic State, or ISIS—for ethnic cleansing. Churches have been burned, priests arrested.

In the worst cases, Christians have been tortured, raped and even crucified. Mosul, Iraq, which was home to a Christian population of 35,000 a decade ago, is now empty of Christians after an ISIS ultimatum that they either convert to Islam or be executed. In Syria, Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of the Church of Antioch, said in 2013 that “entire villages” have been “cleared of their Christian inhabitants.”

Unlike some others, Middle East Christians have nowhere else to go. As a result of turmoil not of their making and beyond their control, these Christians are the region’s ultimate homeless. Should some sort of peace ever return, the likelihood is that maps will be redrawn, carving up the pie among larger ethnic groups. There will be no place for Christians among hostile Muslim populations.

The animosity toward Christians is illustrated by a horrific incident earlier this year off the Italian coast. In April, Italian police investigating events on a boat that had departed from Libya said 12 Christian refugees who were attempting to cross the sea to Europe were thrown overboard by Muslim migrant passengers, and drowned.

The U.S. can do much good for Christian refugees. Their religious heritage establishes an important basis of commonality in the many Christian communities in our country.

When Secretary of State John Kerry announced in September that the U.S. will accept as many as 100,000 refugees by 2017, many of them Syrian, the State Department provided a list of more than 300 agencies in 190 locations that would assist on the local level. Of those agencies, no less than 215 are Christian. It makes sense to play to the strengths of those agencies.

Success in dealing with the first wave of immigrants will help build bipartisan support for other refugees from the Middle East to come to America.

Tragically, present policy does not take into account the uniquely precarious situation of displaced Christians. Instead of receiving priority treatment, Christians are profoundly disadvantaged. For instance, the State Department has accepted refugees primarily from lists prepared by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, which oversees the large camps to which refugees have flocked, and where they are registered. Yet endangered Christians do not dare enter those camps.

George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in the Telegraph in Britain in September that a similar protocol in the U.K. “inadvertently discriminates against the very Christian communities most victimised by the inhuman butchers of the so-called Islamic State. Christians are not to be found in the UN camps, because they have been attacked and targeted by Islamists and driven from them.”

U.S. missteps and missed opportunities in the region contributed to the crises that disproportionately affected Christians. America’s policy should immediately be amended to include these refugees at the top of the list. Opening America’s doors to them first is the right thing to do.

Rabbi Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Adlerstein is the center’s director of interfaith affairs.

*From UK-based think-tank POLITEIA:
Wednesday 23rd December: This week over 60 MPs and peers wrote to the Prime Minister to ask that the crimes against minorities in Syria should be treated as genocide. That letter echoed another warning by Prince Charles that Christian communities in the Middle East were ‘being targeted like never before by fanatical Islamist militants intent on dividing communities that had lived together for centuries’.

In America, two Rabbis from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish Human Rights NGO have now added their voice to the policy discussion, calling in the Wall Street Journal for the State Department to admit these refugees to the US. … In a discussion based on this article, Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein explain why Middle East Christians present a special case for humanitarian concern.

 

Christmas 2015 Greeting & Poem

 

 

 

Nativity Lights

Nativity Lights

Divine Incarnation

 

Divine Incarnation

you come to every nation,

from Syrian refugees,

to the homeless who freeze.

 

Divine Incarnation

you come to every nation,

to lovingly give them peace,

and by making wars cease.

 

Divine Incarnation

you come to every nation,

not only now at Christmas,

since each today is blessed.

 

Divine Incarnation

you come to every nation,

you created galaxies,

yet in flesh came to be.

 

Divine Incarnation

you come to every nation,

you in the stranger or friend,

serving you to the end.

-24/12/2015 © Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

Sermon 2 Advent Yr C

Read my sermon for December 6, 2015 here: 2 Advent Yr C

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.