Thoughts on moving, mortality, aging

Thoughts on moving, mortality, aging

The old English bard, William Shakespeare, speaking through the Chief Justice said in Henry IV, Part 2: “Have you not a moist eye, a dry hand, a yellow cheek, a white beard, a decreasing leg, an increasing belly? Is not your voice broken, your wind short, your chin double, your wit single, and every part about you blasted with antiquity, and will you yet call yourself young?” And in the same play, through Hastings, said: “We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.”

This past week, I spent a couple days moving my mother into a senior’s apartment. It was quite a chore, having to downsize her into smaller quarters, and for her to give up and let go of some valued treasures, as well as her pride in being independent. Her philosophical/theological commentary on it was: “Nothing stays the same, life is full of changes.”

On the upside, the family members, including yours truly, have much less anxiety over her safety and the opportunity for her to live in the senior’s community with various social programs, meals, and even regular, weekly worship services. For that we are most grateful.

However, the downsizing and move into smaller quarters is a reminder to me anyways, of our mortality, the aging process, and preparation for death. Even though commercials selling products like “Oil of Olay” promise eternal youth—we know deep down in our souls that we are mortals, grow old, and eventually die. The necessity of downsizing also reminds me of two things. First, we are a materialistic culture and place way too much value and status in our earthly possessions. Second, as Jesus said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-2; Lk 12:32-34) As we all know, one person’s treasures is another person’s junk—and vice-versa. What/Whom do you treasure?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on a proverb and a definition

Thoughts on a proverb and a definition

Recently, I came across this proverb. Its origin is variously attributed to Jewish, Hungarian and Swedish roots. Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach; those who cannot teach, teach teachers.

The proverb communicates much scepticism, cynicism, even hostility about learning and education. If the proverb is by and large true, then most of our educational institutions and students in them are in big trouble. I think the opposite is likely true. Most teachers teach because what they can do is worth sharing with others. Those who teach teachers share their wisdom because they have a passion for learning and education.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 

The above definition of insanity is attributed to Albert Einstein. I realise that in the world of science the ability to repeat an experiment over and over again and come up with the same results is the method employed to verify and legitimise factual evidence of the experiment. However, in the world of music and religion, (this may also prove true in the world of economics too) the opposite has been true. Listening to some of the old master composers and their most famous compositions do, in fact, produce different results. I know they do for me anyways—take for example, J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the first time I listened to it, didn’t impress me all that much. However, the more I listened, the deeper my appreciation grew on me for this majestic organ work. The same is true with regards to reading and study of the Bible. One can read and study a familiar or even unfamiliar pericope, and each time, one’s appreciation grows, as something new and different comes out of one’s reading and study. In both cases the composition and pericope are the same, however different results come out of them on different occasions. Thus most musicians and people of faith are quite sane in expecting different results from doing the same thing over and over again. 

 

Four Portraits

Four Portraits

Recently I’ve been doing some scribbling with my watercolour pencils. Here’s what I came up with.

 Adam KraftAdam Kraft (1440-1507), was a master Nuremberg artist-craftsperson, one of his finest works, the tabernacle, is inside St Lawrence Church, Nuremberg. He portrays himself as a kneeling servant with stonemason tools at the foot of the tabernacle. I toured this church in 2007, the tabernacle is breathtakingly beautiful!

 Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), was also a Nuremberg artist, most readers will remember his famous work “Praying hands.”

 Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546), one of my favourite theological heroes, here depicted during the time as a professor at Wittenberg, ca 1532.

 John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564), the popular Geneva-based reformer.

Flowers

Flowers1This year has been great for flowers in our part of the world. I especially enjoy the beauty of these pansies, my favourite flower.

Flowers2

My wife has done a fantastic job in nurturing these flowers in our front yard this summer.  They add joy and peace to life.

Thank You God of all creation for the beauty of flowers and bless those who care for them.

Book Review 3 Cups of Tea

 

Book Review: Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time

New York, Toronto, London, et al: Penguin Books, 2006

349 pages, including index, ISBN 978-0-14-303825-2, CAN. $16.50

American Greg Mortenson, a trained nurse and mountaineer, failed to climb the summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world. His serendipitous descent landed him in a remote Pakistan village named Korphe. The villagers, Shiite Muslims, took him under their wing and nursed him back to health.

Village chief, Haji Ali, offers Greg the following words of wisdom: “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,” he said laying his hand warmly on Mortenson’s own.” (p. 150)

In return for the hospitality and kindness offered him by these village people, Mortenson makes a promise to build them a school. Other Westerners had made them promises before, which had never come to fruition. Greg’s promise was different. Mortenson’s promise was like a fertile seed sown or a pebble causing significant ripples in quiet waters. The more committed Mortenson is to building the school in Korphe, the more his compassion, determination and vision grows. Working day and night, Mortenson makes all kinds of sacrifices—as do his wife and children—to build over fifty secular based schools in the remote mountain villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This was Mortenson’s answer to the fight against Islamic terrorism. Greg has a special concern for the girls of these villages, providing them equal access to education. Many Muslims from various traditions agree with Mortenson and out of one person’s love of the Muslim neighbour grows the Central Asia Institute.

For those readers in the Western world who are subject to the media bias of the stereotype that all Muslims are violent and anti-Western; Three Cups of Tea is an excellent antidote. Mortenson and Relin tell a beautiful story of these remote village Muslims and their love of the non-Muslim, Western stranger, who becomes an honored guest, and, after the third cup of tea, a respected family member. Ultimately, this book is about how one person of good will can make a huge difference in the advancement of deeper understanding, friendship and peace between Muslims and non-Muslims. Three cups of tea served by a Muslim to a non-Muslim has made a world of difference.

Sermon 6 Pentecost Yr B

(DEAR READERS: In the next several weeks my sermons shall not be based on the Revised Common Lectionary).

6 Pentecost Yr B, 12/07/2009

First in a Series of Sermons

On The Parables of Jesus in Mark

Mk 2:18-22

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Introduction, fasting & feasting, old & new”

 

Today, as I often do during this longest season of the church year; I am going to digress from the appointed Bible passages in order to begin a new sermon series on the parables of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. So, for starters then, we ask: What is a parable?

Biblical scholars have come up with several definitions. The simplest definition may be as follows: A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly message. Another definition runs like this: A parable is a very short story with a double meaning—the surface or literal meaning and the deeper or symbolic meaning. Here is my attempt at a definition, which is a bit longer: A parable is a word-picture story with a zinger of a message. The parable is cast in creative language; often born out of a conflict situation; designed to surprise the hearers and lead them into deeper thinking followed by appropriate action. A parable may or may not include an interpretation.

Parables are found in both Testaments of the Bible, and were a common method of teaching employed by Jewish rabbis. In addition to Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, you likely remember the parable that Nathan told King David about the poor man and his only little ewe lamb in 2 Sam 12; or the song-parable of the unfruitful vineyard in Isaiah 5.

The Greek for parable is parabolé. Etymologically, a parabolé is simply a comparison, a putting of one thing beside another to make a point.

G.K. Chesterton, who was a master of the apt illustration, once gave some sardonic advice about the limitations of parabolic discourse. He said that if you give people an analogy that they claim they do not understand, you should graciously offer them another. If they say they don’t understand that either, you should oblige them with a third. But from there on, Chesterton said, if they still insist they do not understand, the only thing left is to praise them for the one truth they do have a grip on: “Yes,” you tell them, “that is quite correct. You do not understand.”

To put it simply, Jesus began where Chesterton left off. In resorting so often to parables, his main point was that any understanding of the kingdom his hearers could come up with would be a misunderstanding. Mention “messiah” to them, and they would picture a king on horseback, not a carpenter on a cross; mention “forgiveness” and they would start setting up rules about when it ran out. From Jesus’ point of view, the sooner their misguided minds had the props knocked from under them, the better.

In any case, speaking in parables was second nature to Jesus, and it quickly became the hallmark of his teaching style. Clearly then, if we want to hear the actual ticking of Jesus’ mind, we can hardly do better than to study his parabolic words and acts over and over—with our minds open not only to learning but to joy.1

So let us now take a look at our first parable in Mark’s Gospel, which is actually a triad of parables lumped together on fasting and feasting, along with the theme of old and new, found in Mark 2:18-22. The parables also are found in Matthew 9:14-17 and Luke 5:33-39, but more about that later.

The parable begins with a question put to Jesus about the fasting of John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples—why do they fast while Jesus’ disciples do not fast? In Jewish tradition, the only required fast was on the Day of Atonement. However, more strict Jews fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays; although this practice was not a requirement.

Jesus answers the question by saying that it is not proper to fast at a wedding feast in the presence of the bridegroom. In Jewish tradition, a wedding often lasted for about a week. For many poor Jews, it was the most joyous celebration of a lifetime. The week long wedding feasting was the highlight of their life. Who would want to fast during a wedding celebration? Fasting at a wedding would be about as ridiculous as wearing nothing but a swimming suit outside in minus 40 degree temperatures.

Of course, the deeper meaning here is that the bridegroom refers to Jesus himself and the wedding party feasting with the bridegroom refers to Jesus’ disciples with Jesus during the time of his life in this world. In the Jewish tradition of the First Testament, the wedding language is also employed and refers to God and his covenant with the Israelites. So the overall message here is that while Jesus the bridegroom is with us he comes to give us joy and we celebrate his presence among us. That is why in Christian worship we sing hymns, which express our deepest joy in Christ. What a joy and privilege it is celebrating Christ’s presence among us.

Now we turn to Jesus’ words addressing the theme of old and new. He gives two down-to-earth examples. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.” The new unshrunk piece of cloth reminds me of times when I’ve bought new shirts; tried them on in the store; liked them; bought them; brought them home; and washed them. And guess what? The shirts don’t fit—they’ve shrunk. According to Jesus, new unshrunk cloth is too strong for an old well-worn cloak. The threads and fibres of the old cloak rip even more as the new patch shrinks after a wash. Old and new don’t always work together well. A one-hundred-year old man or woman is not going to run a full-length marathon. In fact, they might not even be able run period. Yet, go back when they were twenty-five-years-old and they might have won an Olympic gold medal.

Jesus goes on with the same theme of the old and new by saying: “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

In Matthew and Luke, we discover there are some variations. What strikes me though is that in Mark, the point comes across as an instruction of how to store new wine properly and the consequence if one fails to do so. In Matthew, the additional words “and so both are preserved” provides a purpose for storing the new wine. The implication being that preservation is necessary for the drinking of a high quality wine. In Luke, verse thirty-nine communicates more explicitly, what Matthew communicates implicitly—namely that everyone who drinks old wine prefers it to new wine.

Now historically, this parable has been interpreted allegorically, something along these lines: The old wine and wineskins symbolize the Jewish people and God’s covenant with them or the Torah and Judaism. The new wine and wineskins symbolize the Church and the new covenant or Christ and Christianity. The exhortation not to mix old with new is practical—the fermentation process of new wine expands the wineskins and old skins that have been stretched to their limits can only expand so far, then they will explode. However, is there also a theological point here? Is this exhortation not to mix the old with the new a hardening of positions between church and synagogue? Or is it a reflection of the Torah teaching forbidding certain mixtures? For example, according to the Torah you would not mix certain kinds of fabric for clothing or certain kinds of foods like dairy products with meat, they had to be separated and eaten separately.

It is interesting—and I believe instructive for both Jews and Christians—to note that in the parable, in all three versions, both the wine and the skins seem to be valuable. If that is true, then we can make the case for valuing both the Torah and Judaism, the Jewish people and their covenant—and the Church and the new covenant, Christ and Christianity. Indeed, thanks to Judaism, the Torah has been preserved and remains God’s Living Word. The same is true of the Church concerning the new covenant and the Gospel.

Finally, Luke’s additional conclusion to the parable in verse thirty-nine is, if interpreted along these lines, a remarkable compliment to Judaism and the Torah. According to Luke, Jesus concludes by saying: “And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’ “

So, it would seem that in certain matters the old and new do not mix, and the new is superior to the old. In other matters, the reverse is true, the old as in wine, is superior to the new. Jesus calls us to think deeply about the old and new. What of the new do we need to accept and celebrate? What of the new do we refuse? What of the old is good and do we need to honour and keep? What of the old needs to be left behind? One thing is certain, Jesus loves us whether we are old or new or in-between; and one day, God shall make all things new. Amen.

1 Cited from: Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., the Zondervan Corporation, 1985), pp. 8-11.

 

 

Brief Musings on the ELCIC National Convention

Brief Musings on the ELCIC National Convention

After almost a week since the closing of our ELCIC national convention at the UBC campus in Vancouver, here’s my brief “take,” pro and con.

As numerous delegates and dignitaries intimated, national conventions of a church body as small as the ELCIC has the atmosphere of a family reunion. And, like family reunions, the upside is that we all get to see each other and catch up on what’s happening in our lives—old friendships are renewed and new friendships are born, this is koinonia at its best, and a taste of the realm of God coming in the present tense. However, sin, the age-old nemesis, is an all too present reality, with sibling rivalry in high gear and devolving into sibling hostility.

As far as the “official” proceedings went, I lament the absence of two old-timer experts on parliamentary etiquette and constitutional expertise—Professor Vincent Eriksson, and the Rev. Dr. Lo Schwabe. I think, had they been present, we may have avoided a whole lot of procedural wrangling and chaos, accomplishing far too much anger, frustration and the overall sense of accomplishing precious little. I don’t think the proceedings helped to heal the distance between alienated clergy and congregations and the national leadership of our denomination—and that is a sobering, sad reality to take away from a convention with a theme of “signs of hope.”

Speaking of hope, and signs of it, I think I walked away renewed in hope vis-à-vis my interactions one-on-one, and in small groupings at coffee breaks and mealtimes than anywhere else. I do have hope for this church on a parish level and in what Luther called the mutual consolation of the brethren (and sisters). Here I think the parables of Jesus on such minute elements as mustard seeds, yeast and salt are instructive—the realm of God is often hard to see, starts out small, but grows almost invisibly all around us. The far away parish in outer gopher gulch Alberta is a sign of the realm of God—we should never forget that, because many, maybe most of our members originally grew up in parishes like that!

A couple of final upside thoughts: First, I loved the opportunity to visit Regent College’s fine bookstore, and made a few purchases. I was quite impressed with the bookstores quality and quantity of inventory. It’s a good place to “get lost” for an afternoon. Second, I did enjoy and appreciate some of the fine music in our daily worship services. Our congregation is “musically challenged,” so the opportunity to sing new hymns, and listen to a choir accompanied by guitar, percussion, keyboards, strings, flute, etc., was a real blessing for yours truly.