Book Review: Finding God At Harvard: Spiritual Journeys Of Thinking Christians

Finding God At Harvard: Spiritual Journeys Of Thinking Christians

Author: Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Editor

Publisher: Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers

360 pages + Index, ISBN: 0-310-21922-1

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Editor, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, served Harvard graduate students as a chaplain and started the Harvard Veritas Forum, which inspired the publication of this volume.

The work contains ten chapters and a concluding Epilogue: A Taste of New Wine. Each of the chapters addresses a particular subject and is written by students and professors studying or teaching in that field. The format of each chapter is as follows: A list of authors and titles of each essay in the chapter, one or more quotations complementing the chapter’s subject matter, a brief introduction to each author, followed by his or her essay.

The wide array of subjects and authors makes for an interesting, informative and, on occasion, inspiring read. Although most of the authors either attended or taught at Harvard, not everyone did—for example; two of the most prophetic and challenging essays are by Mother Teresa and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn’s was an address he gave at Harvard in 1978; the year Harvard awarded him a doctorate in literature. Here are a couple of quotes, the first one is a sober reminder that freedom is not always what it seems on the surface: “Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life—and it even adds a number of new ones.” (p. 99) The second one takes aim at the consequences of the West’s emphasis on human rights: “The West has succeeded in truly enforcing human rights, but our sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.” (p. 100) Mother Teresa addressed the 1982 Class Day exercises at Harvard College. One of the most inspiring quotes in this volume is by Mother Teresa on love: “For God, it is not how much we give but how much love we put in the giving. That love begins at home, right here.” (p. 317)

To further the interest of would-be readers of this work, here are a few more quotes from various authors: In “My Search for the Historical Jesus,” Todd Lake makes an excellent point concerning an historically erroneous statement in the Koran concerning the crucifixion of Jesus: “The fourth sura of the Koran, for example, suggests that someone else was crucified in Jesus’ stead. However, this conjecture was written six centuries after the eyewitness accounts in the four Gospels, much too late to have any historical value.” (p. 45)

In an excellent essay by a seasoned professor of medicine at Harvard, Armand Nicholi Jr., “Hope in a Secular Age,” the author cites several research projects of depressed open-heart patients and their either high likelihood of not surviving or the more lengthy recovery period than those who have hope. “A noted physiologist, Dr. Harold G. Wolf, writes: “Hope, like faith and a purpose in life is medicinal. This is not a statement of belief but a conclusion proved by meticulously controlled scientific experiments.” (p. 118) As a chaplain and pastor, I definitely agree with this conclusion.

Ruth Goodwin, after seeing the magnitude of human suffering in Ethiopia, in her essay, “In Sorrow, Joy,” writes: “I became angry. I became angry because only a few care enough about the suffering of others for it to make a difference in their lives. Some appreciate the agony and injustice many have to endure in this world; few act to change it.” (pp. 220-221) However, she eventually realized that life cannot be motivated by anger; rather, it is Christ’s love that gives life and heals. “I am no longer angry, but I still grieve over suffering and injustice. I now know, however, that it is only love which will ultimately overcome it.” (p. 221)

Elizabeth Dole, reflecting on the life and purpose of Esther’s divine calling, in her essay, “Crisis and Faith,” finds instructive parallels in her life: “Yes, the story of Esther is actually a story of dependence. It is a story not about the triumph of a man or a woman but the triumph of God. He is the real hero of this story. And in the same way, I have come to realize there can be only one hero in my story, too: God in Jesus Christ.” (p. 243)

In her “Epilogue: A Taste Of New Wine,” editor Kelly Monroe Kullberg provides an outline of the origins of this volume as well as that of “The Harvard Veritas Forum,” and the struggles on her own journey of faith in the Harvard Divinity School. “Ironically, all seemed tolerated except that for which Harvard College was founded—Truth for Christ and the Church.” (p. 248) Christians are definitely up for the challenge, and can survive and thrive in an intellectual environment like Harvard.

I recommend this volume as a worthwhile read for atheists, agnostics, seekers and people of faith. By way of one wee closing critique, I don’t know who decided or how the process worked in deciding the title of this book—however I adamantly disagree with it. God is The One who finds us, not the other way round!

 

 

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Today-January 27, 2018 is Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yad Vashem Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

I took this photo in 2014, when we visited this museum. It was a most moving and informative experience.

Today is Yom HaShoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day to remember the millions of Jewish people across Europe who perished in the concentration camps of the Nazis. A day to listen to those survivors who are still bearing witness to their experiences in the face of the evils of the Shoah. A day to strengthen our resolve to end all hatred and anti-Semitism. A day to realize that no matter what colour our skin may be, what country we were born in and now live in, what language we speak, God is the Creator of us all, loves us all, and in response to this love, calls and gifts us to love one another. A day to pray to God to help us all to continue to grow in this love in thought, word and action.

If there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day Service or event in your community, I encourage you to attend.

Christmas and New Year Greetings

Last night we had the privilege of attending G.F. Handel’s Messiah, with members of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and the Rosa Barocca – Chorus & Baroque Orchestra, directed and conducted by Claude Lapalme. The Peter and Jeanne Lougheed Performing Arts Centre concert hall was filled to capacity—and for good reason, almost three hours of ‘heaven on earth’ music, celebrating the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

I have seen Handel’s Messiah several times, and heard it on record, cassette and CD a host of times—yet I never get bored or tired of it. There’s always something beautiful about it that so movingly proclaims ‘the holy’ and fills one for an all-too-brief time with the joy, love and peace of God in the midst of a troubled and all-too-often evil world that would rob us of every God-given gift. I wonder what would happen if every human being in this world—regardless of how well or how poor they could sing or play—would sing and play Handel’s Messiah together, if the intercession in the Lord’s Prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” would become more incarnate in and through the music to such a profound extent that all hatred, terrorism and war would vanish forever.

This time round, Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter nine, verse six, keeps playing in my head: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.” (NRSV) He is the one who is coming to set all things, all peoples, right with the world.

Here is Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra with the Tenebrae Choir. I love some of the expressions on Colin’s face, he seems captivated by the joy of this marvelous music.

Wishing all of you, my readers, a very blessed Christmas and Happy New Year!

Brief Book Review: Making Sense of the Cross

Making Sense of the Cross

Author: David J. Lose

Publisher: Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress

187 pages, ISBN: 978-0-8066-9851-9, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

At the time of writing, the Rev. Dr. David J. Lose held the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is now the President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Making Sense of the Cross is written in very accessible prose—actually it is a conversation between an imaginary professor and student. In Lutheran pedagogical style, it takes the catechetical method of questions and answers.

The contents of the work are as follows: Acknowledgments, Introduction, Chapter 1: A Man Hanging on a Tree, Chapter 2: Portraits and Perspectives, Chapter 3: Ransom and Victory, Chapter 4: Substitution, Satisfaction, and Sacrifice, Chapter 5: Example and Encouragement, Chapter 6: Event and Experience, For Further Reading.

After focusing on the different and unique material of each gospel, especially their Passion Narratives; Professor Lose reviews the three theories of atonement. The theories are: the Classic theory, also called the Ransom theory and the Christus Victor or “Victorious Christ theory, made popular by Swedish theologian Gustaf Aulén; the substitution or Satisfaction or Sacrifice theory by Anselm in the eleventh century, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury and then revised by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, and tweaked further by John Calvin in the sixteenth century; and the Christ as Moral Example or Christ the Exemplar or the Divine Example theory by Peter Abelard, who was born some fifty years after Anselm.

Dr. Lose examines each theory and highlights their strengths and weaknesses. He employs four questions to analyze each theory: i) What is God like? ii) What’s broken about the relationship between God and humanity? iii) How does Jesus’ cross repair what’s broken? iv) What picture of the Christian life is given? (p. 84)

After finding each theory wanting since they are merely theories; Professor Lose turns to event and experience in his final chapter. Herein he draws a lot on Pauline theology; emphasizing the scandal of the cross; as well as the all-encompassing love of God in Christ on the cross. The motifs of dying and rising for Christian daily living in relationship with Jesus is what sets us free to love, serve and forgive one another—hence carrying out the ministry of reconciliation in response to Jesus’ reconciling work on the cross.

Students, laity and adherents of non-Christian faiths who are not familiar with the theories of atonement will benefit from this volume. It shall also serve as a helpful review for more seasoned pastors and scholars, and inspire further conversation and study. To compliment this work, one can order from Augsburg Fortress a Leader Guide and DVD.

 

 

Book Review: Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body

Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body: Spiritual Leaders Unfold the Strength & Solace in Psalms

Author: Edited By Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, CSW A Project of the Jewish Healing Center

Publisher: Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing

115 pages, ISBN 1-879045-31-1, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

In the “How To Use This Book” section, the purpose of this little volume is stated: “This book is intended to help you—struggling with illness or helping someone who is—derive spiritual healing from Psalms” (p. 11). Accordingly, the focus then is on what the late 18th century, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov referred to as the ten “healing psalms,” they are: Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150. Readers will find helpful, practical suggestions on how to use these psalms.

In the “Introduction” chapter, Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub provides an overview of who Rabbi Nachman was, and the ten different kinds of songs found in these ten “healing psalms.” Each song has a corresponding Sefirot… “of the Kabbalah, the mystical attributes through which the Creator brought the universe into being. These Ten Sefirot are called “Direct Light,” shining from the Creator to the world” (p. 19). For example, one type of song is called a Niggun, “Melody,” and its corresponding Sefir is Hessed, “Lovingkindness.” In “Notes To Introduction,” there is a list of all ten Songs and corresponding Sefir.

Ten rabbis from four denominations—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstruction—each write one of the chapters; providing a wide range of insights and approaches to these psalms.

The structure of each chapter is as follows: A Hebrew and English translation of the psalm, along with a commentary on it.

For this reader, the most helpful chapter was by Rabbi Maurice Lamm, commenting on Psalm 105. Rabbi Lamm offers several insights regarding the importance of songs and singing to facilitate communion with God and healing if not of the body, then of the mind and soul. For example: “The word shir, meaning song, also derives from shur, meaning insight. When we sing we raise our souls to God, and we gain insight into Him” (p. 83). I think this emphasis on singing songs regardless of our situation is most timely in our day and age, since very few people seem to sing anymore—one wonders if they are the poorer in health as a consequence.

In addition to this volume’s chapters, there is information about each of the contributors, suggested resources for further reading, helpful organizations, information about the Jewish Healing Center, and Jewish Light Publishing and several of their publications.

 

 

Rabbi Sacks’s commentary on Leonard Cohen’s song

One of my favourite contemporary Jewish scholars and rabbis is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In this brilliant commentary on Leonard Cohen’s recent song, shortly before he died, “You Want It Darker,” Rabbi Sacks points out several references in the song to the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish tradition. The moment I heard Leonard Cohen’s song, I was astounded by it’s sobering tragedy and beauty. Although Cohen dabbled in other faiths, I think he died a faithful Jew. He was a contemporary Job, having lots of unanswered  questions of God, and facing suffering, and moved by the suffering and evil in the world to continue writing songs and singing them, and in the darkness and hatred of the world, letting light shine and love reaching out to make a difference in the lives of others. In his lover’s quarrel with God, he could still die singing Hallelujah.

2017 Nordlys Film & Arts Festival

Program cover of the Nordlys Festival

Program cover of the Nordlys Festival

We attended, for the first time ever, the 8th annual Nordlys Film & Arts Festival here in Camrose at the historic Bailey Theatre downtown. The word Nordlys is Norwegian for northern lights-aurora borealis.

Although we didn’t purchase the all-inclusive pass, since we were unable to attend Sunday’s offerings, we opted for a Friday pass, which included the opening ceremonies and two films, as well as music from local musicians Stephen Olson, and Tigs & Whisky.

The first film, entitled “Pawn Sacrifice,” originated from the USA in 2016. It’s executive producer was former Camrosian, Dale Armin Johnson, who was present for the film and a Q & A afterwards. The film is described as a “Biographical Drama,” telling the story of American chess prodigy, Bobby Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire. “Pawn Sacrifice” is a thoughtful study of the narrow line between genius and madness. The film intersperses clips dating back to the Cold War 1970s of Fischer and others, as well as borrowing music from that time from musicians such as Credence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane. The film is both a reasonably accurate portrayal of superpower rivalry in the Cold War period as well as a statement about the tragic destiny of a chess genius.

The second film was “Ida,” originated from Poland, and described as a “Drama.” Ida is a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland. The film follows her life journey as she meets up with an aunt who travels with her to discover that she is Jewish and her parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation of Poland. A rather sad, sober, and tragic film in every respect.

On Saturday we purchased tickets for the afternoon Alberta Short Docs. They were absolutely marvellous! I was thoroughly impressed with three of the seven short docs.

My favourite short doc was the first one, “We regret to Inform You…,” directed by Eva Colmers and Heidi Janz. The film highlighted how narrow and exclusive government bureaucrats can define and apply their criteria regarding who is or is not eligible for disability funding. The film features a day in the life of Ph.D. scholar Heidi Janz, and is a legitimate critique of government policies regarding the differently-abled.

The second short doc was entitled “The Grasslands Project: Life Out Here.” It focussed on four ranching and farming women in southern Alberta, portraying their life and times. The film addresses themes such as the role of farm and ranch women,  isolation and the need to improvise and be independent as well as neighbourly in order to survive, the freedom, beauty and joy of the open prairie rangeland, and more.

My third favourite short doc was “Classic Camera.” The title is actually the name of a camera store in Edmonton. The store is run by an 85-year-old gentleman, Wally Franiel. The store is full of non digital cameras and equipment from bygone days, although some still choose to use these old cameras. Wally is a wonderful eccentric, who enjoys telling many a tale.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Nordlys festival, and hope to go next year as well.