Brief Book Review: Islam What Non-Muslims Should Know

Islam: What Non-Muslims Should Know

Author: John Kaltner

Publisher: Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, Augsburg Fortress

136 pages, ISBN: 0-8006-3583-3, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

At the time of writing this little volume, John Kaltner was Associate Professor of Religion at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee. The author provides a cordial, brief overview of Islam.

As the fastest-growing religion in the world, Professor Kaltner appeals to his readers to become more knowledgeable of Islam; to go beyond the often mis-information and stereotypes presented by the Western mass media; to realize that Islam is a diverse and complex faith, just as is Christianity and Judaism.

The volume contains a Preface, six chapters, and concludes with suggested Resources for further reading and study. The chapter titles give readers a sense of the book’s movement: 1. Islam Is a Diverse and Complex Faith, 2. Islam Is a Religion of Orthopraxy, 3. Muslims Respect Judaism and Christianity, 4. There Is No Institutional Hierarchy in Islam, 5. There Is No Clear Separation between Religion and Politics in Islam, 6. Jihad Does Not Mean “Holy War.” At the end of each chapter Professor Kaltner includes Questions for Discussion, which would make this volume an accessible source for study groups or introductory courses.

Readers will learn, among other things: some of the history of Muhammad, the difference between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims, the five pillars of faith, additional popular practices of faith, the different attitudes among Muslims concerning non-Muslims, terms such as ka‘ba and hijra, ijtihad and ijma, hadith and ummah, and that the three largest Muslim populated countries are not Arab nations, they are Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

The sections on Western influence and Islam, Reformism, social activism and the distinctions between greater jihad and lesser jihad are helpful for non-Muslims.

The suggested Resources include brief annotations for further reading and study.

 

 

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.

Together in Christ: Lutherans & Catholics Commemorate the Reformation

As both Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and perhaps some of the other denominations of Christendom celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, there are several events and projects that have been undertaken, and/or will come into fruition. Below is the first introductory video by Lutheran pastor and professor, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Anderson. The series of videos are titled: “Together in Christ: Lutherans and Catholics Commemorate the Reformation, 2017.

Book Review: Leaving North Haven

leavingnorthhavenLeaving North Haven: The Further Adventures Of A Small-Town Pastor

Author: Michael L. Lindvall

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

251 pages, ISBN 0-8245-2013-0, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

In this sequel to Good News From North Haven, the Reverend Michael L. Lindvall continues to tell his heartwarming stories of many of the characters in his first novel.

The Reverend David Battles has now served Second Presbyterian Church for some ten years. He hadn’t expected to stay that long. He has learned much in those ten years. Yet, it is with a humble heart that he observes: “In these last ten years, I have come to know that I know less than I once did, but I do know this, just this: to see anything that matters, you must always bring two things to your looking—attention and love” (p. 23).

One character readers may remember is Minnie MacDowell, who had a fall and broke her elbow, was suffering from Parkinson’s and believed she was dying. On at least three occasions, she had gone through the ritual of having Reverend Battles ask her the question, “Are you prepared to die?” Then he was to read the twenty-third Psalm and pray the Lord’s Prayer. After this, she was to close her eyes turn her head to the window and pass away (p. 25). This ritual reminds me of a parishioner of mine who asked me every time I visited her: “Pastor, why am I still here? Why doesn’t the Lord take me home?”

The Reverend Battles, reflecting on if it was time to move on after ten years has this to say: “The town has come to be an unlikely home for us, but we can hardly stay forever. The hard truth is that in a year or two, maybe five on the outside, the church won’t be able to pay a minister a full-time salary.” (p. 38). This reality, of course, is an all-too-familiar one for many a mainline Protestant clergyperson serving in a rural and small-town parish.

In one of his adventures Reverend Battles thought he’d shot a ten-point buck deer. He had placed his gun triumphantly on the antlers, and one of the Wilcox brothers was about to take a picture when the buck suddenly came to life, got up, and ran away with the gun still in his antlers.

Then there is the young boy, James Corey, who is fascinated by a momma killdeer.

There is also the prophetic-like eccentric, Ivar Johanson, a bachelor, everyone is curious about his mysterious building project of Redi-Mix cement and chicken wire.

In the concluding chapter the Reverend Battles is celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, which was also his last Sunday at Second Presbyterian. Something surprises them and gets them laughing on that solemn day.

Those who love the culture and tales of small-towns and their churches will enjoy this novel. Clergy and laity alike will laugh, cry, and be edified by these tales of God’s loving grace.

Book Review: Over The Mountains

Over The Mountains: A Story Based on The Second Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren and other contemporary records

Author: Compiled by Eileen Robertshaw

Publisher: Walden, NY: The Plough Publishing House, 2012

184 pages, plus maps and an addition entitled: The Hutterite Mission Machine by Dean Taylor & Jake Gross

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

I’ve not read much Hutterite history. However my sister and brother-in-law who own a business, have numerous Hutterite colonies as their customers. A Hutterite customer gave this volume to them, and they passed it on to me.

Over The Mountains chronicles the life of Hutterites in the eighteenth century from Austria and eastern European countries such as today’s Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Rumania, and Ukraine. As the title suggests, it focuses on a flight of a group of Hutterites from Transylvania from the persecution and conversion tactics of Delphini, a Jesuit priest, sent by Empress Maria Theresia to do away with the Anabaptists. The flight was from Transylvania over the Carpathian Mountains into Wallachia, contemporary Rumania. Later they would emigrate from Rumania to Vishenka, Ukraine and Radicheva, Russia.

The work highlights a recurring cycle. The Hutterites because of their beliefs in communitarian living, based on Acts 2:42-47, pacifism, and re-baptizing those who were baptized as infants; they were regarded as heretics by other Christians, were persecuted, and invading enemy Turks plundered and destroyed their property. They were offered the opportunity to recant and return to the Roman Catholic and sometimes Lutheran churches. When they refused, they were imprisoned, even beaten, children were taken from their parents, and families were separated from one another. The Hutterites then sought out other countries where religious freedom would honour their way of life. Princes and other wealthy landowners from such countries would promise them religious freedom, and then they would immigrate. Whenever the civic or religious authorities of that land began to persecute them; or a war tax was imposed on the Hutterites; or they were expected to serve in the military; or the land on which they lived was disputed because of war; the recurring cycle would begin again.

One of the developments amongst the Hutterites was an underground communications system whereby one or more would secretly travel to visit their imprisoned family or community members, and then return with news as to their circumstances.

Periodically there would be disagreements in the community whether or not to observe all of Sunday as a day of worship and rest; and what type of prayer was permissible.

According to The Hutterite Mission Machine, Hutterite missionary ministers met in 1527 at Augsburg, Germany for what came to be known as the Martyr’s Synod. At this meeting, the focus was on evangelism and missions; and the missionaries divided up certain regions of Europe and agreed on where each missionary would go. Of the 60 missionary ministers who attended the Synod, only two were still alive five years later.

This is an interesting fact for at least two reasons. First, it underscores the priority and commitment to missionary work among the Hutterites in the Reformation era; as well as the courage and faith of the 58 missionaries who were willing to be martyred for what they believed was the work Christ had given them. Second, it is quite a contrast with contemporary Hutterites here in Canada, who seem to have given up on evangelism and missions.

This volume would be most beneficial to those interested in eighteenth century Hutterite history.

 

 

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.