Reformation Day

Tomorrow-October 31-is officially Reformation Day among Lutherans and other Christians around the globe. In some places, it is now a statutory holiday. Reformation Day is no longer monopolized by us Lutherans; now it is a day to celebrate the progress made, by God’s grace, toward Christian unity. So as we sing the famous hymn attributed to Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” may we sing with all of the diversity in unity and unity in diversity that makes for a richer, fuller faith and life for all.

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Historic votes, Lutherans elect two African-American women bishops

A synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made history Saturday (May 5) by electing the denomination’s first female African-American bishop. One day later, a synod 900 miles away elected the second.

First, delegates chose the Rev. Patricia A. Davenport for the office of bishop in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a synod that includes Philadelphia. Then on Sunday, delegates voted for the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld, a pastor in Beloit, Wis., to become bishop-elect for the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.

Read the whole article here.

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: http://www.stephengpost.com and http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org

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.”

Book Review: Where Was God?

wherewasgodWhere Was God? The Lives and Thoughts of Holocaust and World War II Survivors

Author: Edited by Remkes Kooistra

Publisher: Mosaic Press, Oakville, Ontario, 2001

204 pages, ISBN 0-88962-757-6, CDN $20.00, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

This volume, as the title suggests, is both a history and memoir of Holocaust and World War II survivors, edited by Rev. Dr. Remkes Kooistra. It is based on oral interviews of survivors, conducted by Rev. Dr. Kooistra and others. It is dedicated to the nation of Israel in memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

Rev. Dr. Kooistra, a Dutch survivor of World War II, was a theologian, linguist, sociologist, professor, chaplain and pastor. He was educated in the Netherlands, graduating from the Dutch Reformed Church seminary at Kampen, and earned a doctorate in theology and sociology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He was pastor of congregations in both the Netherlands and Canada. He also taught at various post-secondary institutions, and was chaplain at the University of Waterloo.

The work consists of three parts: Part I provides the Dutch historical context and briefly traces the history of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism over the past 2000 years. Part II consists of the actual interviews and stories of the Holocaust survivors. Part III is titled Beyond Survival, and includes Rev. Dr. Kooistra’s reflections on his life during the war years.

Volumes of this nature of course are usually very somber and emotional. It is not easy to re-live and tell the story of such horrific events—one can be re-victimized and re-traumatized by such a process. Even readers who have not survived such cruel experiences as those interviewed here may feel somewhat traumatized; as one of the recurring themes is the senseless violent acts committed against the Jewish people.

From a historical perspective, this is a valuable work, since it provides readers with an inside view of how Dutch Jews were persecuted and deported by the Nazis; as well as how Dutch citizens hid and helped their Jewish people survive.

In relation to the volume’s title, those who survived provided a wide range of answers concerning their understanding, doubts, confusion, etc., of the question, “Where was God?” during the Holocaust.

Here is a sample of one survivor couple, Jack and Miriam Somer. When answering the following questions said: Do you still believe in God? Miriam answered: I do, but I don’t understand God. Was the holocaust a punishment from God? Jack answered: A punishment for little children? I can’t believe this. Miriam answered: I don’t know. Punishment for what? There are enough guilty people among us. The Nazis are not the only ones. The whole world is guilty. We all let it happen. Should we all be victimized by a holocaust? (p. 138)

This volume is a worthwhile read for those interested in Holocaust and World War II history as well as Jewish-Christian relations.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today, in 1945, Lutheran pastor, theologian, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the age of thirty-nine years by the Nazis. There is some evidence that he had favoured a pacifist way of life. However ethically, after wrestling with the situation in Nazi Germany, he believed that under certain circumstances violence was necessary in the resistance of evil in the political realm for the greater good of society. So he involved himself in a plan to kill Hitler, and eventually he and others were discovered by the Gestapo, imprisoned and executed by the Nazis.

   Two of my favourite passages from Bonhoeffer’s writings are from his The Cost of Discipleship and Letters & Papers from Prison.

   Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

   Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a [person] will gladly go and sell all that [s]he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all [her or]his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man [or woman] will pluck out the eye which causes [her or]him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves [her or]his nets and follows him.

   Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man [or woman] must knock.

   Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a [person their] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life. The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., Twentieth Printing, 1978), pp. 46 & 47.

And his beautiful poem, “Who Am I?”

   Who am I? They often tell me/I stepped from my cell’s confinement/Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,/Like a squire from his country-house./Who am I? They often tell me/I used to speak to my warders/Freely and friendly and clearly,/As though it were mine to command./Who am I? They also tell me/I bore the days of misfortune/Equably, smilingly, proudly,/Like one accustomed to win.

   Am I then really all that which other men tell of?/Or am I only what I myself know of myself?/Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,/Struggling for breath, as though hands were/compressing my throat,/Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,/Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,/Tossing in expectation of great events,/Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,/Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,/Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?/

   Who am I? This or the other?/Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?/Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,/And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?/Or is something within me still like a beaten army,/Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?/

   Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine./Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! Letters & Papers from Prison (London & Glasgow: Collins Fontana Books, Seventh Impression, August 1965), p. 173.

Daily Prompt at The Daily Post @ WordPress.com

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/daily-prompt-global/

 

“Think global, act local.” Write a post connecting a global issue to a personal one.

One could write a lot on this theme, however I believe it begins with the love of God towards us and all of creation. God loves us more than we are able to comprehend and God loves creation, delighting in its beauty, complexity and diversity.

   Since we are created in God’s image; since God is love; since we have been loved and are loved by God; we can respond by also loving God, one another and caring for the whole creation. One of the most important ways we do this is by living peaceful lives.

   The book of Isaiah gives us a beautiful vision of perfect shalom-peace; of a world where weapons of war are turned into tools for peace—spears into pruning hooks and swords into ploughshares; a world where we shall no longer know—or engage in acts of—war anymore; a world where even natural predator instincts will not exist and enemies will live in peace and love together. Jesus epitomised this vision while dying on the cross and praying for his enemies: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

   When we live with the vision of shalom-peace, then we endeavour to: love God and our neighbour and yes, even our enemies, solve conflicts through respect and honest dialogue, be responsible stewards of creation by reducing our carbon footprint, planting more trees and gardens, supporting local-grown economies rather than exploiting cheap labour with appalling working conditions in the two-thirds world, slowing down to smell the flowers rather than living in the fast lane, caring for, respecting and protecting the most vulnerable in our midst including the elderly, differently-abled and children, working to support freedom, democracy, education, healthcare, along with the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter and meaningful work for everyone in the world. A tall, perhaps naïve, and impossible order, yes, and for human beings alone impossible, however with God’s help and activity, all things are possible.

Evelyn Underhill’s letter to a friend

In our devotional reading this morning from Lent With Evelyn Underhill: Selections from her writings, the following bits of advice from a letter to a friend are rather arresting and honest, telling it like it is, letting the chips fall where they may:

All this preoccupation with your own imperfection is not humility, but an insidious form of spiritual pride. What do you expect to be? A saint? There are desperately few of them: and even they found their faults, which are the raw material of sanctity remember, take a desperate lot of working up. The object of your salvation is God’s Glory, not your happiness. Remember it is all one to the angels whether you or another give Him the holiness He demands.

So, be content to help on His kingdom, remaining yourself in the lowest place. You have tied yourself up so tight in that accursed individualism of yours—the source of all your difficulties—that it is a marvel you can breathe at all.

As to the last crime on your list, however, ‘dislike of pain’….Even the martyrs, it has been said, had ‘less joy of their triumph because of the pain they endured.’ They did not want the lions: but they knew how to ‘endure the Cross’ when it came. Do not worry your head about such things as this: but trust God and live your life bit by bit as it comes. There. God bless you.

I find Underhill’s words to be rather more like accusatory law than grace-filled gospel. She seems to me so “in your face,” yet there is perhaps a bit of humour and tongue-in-cheek here, is there not? What do you think? If you were Evelyn’s friend and received such a letter, how would you respond?