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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CBC Man Alive Host Roy Bonisteel dead at 83

bonisteel

 

Former CBC television host and journalist Roy Bonisteel has died at the age of 83. Bonisteel hosted the current affairs program Man Alive from 1967 to 1989 and became a public speaker, writer and citizenship judge. You can read the Winnipeg Free Press news item here.

Man Alive was definitely my favourite T.V. program for several years! The show’s name was based on second century church leader Iraneus’ quotation: “The glory of God is in man [sic] fully alive.”

Roy Bonisteel was a most gracious, kind, and thought-provoking host. Over the years he interviewed a wide array of some of the most interesting saints and sinners. Too bad CBC could not find a successor to continue with the program on a permanent basis.

Roy’s book, although published in 1980, In Search of Man Alive is well worth reading. In it you can read Roy’s conversations with such people as: Malcolm Muggeridge, Elie Wiesel, the Berrigan brothers, Claude Ryan, Sondra Diamond, Gordon Sinclair and George Johnston, Barbara Ward, Robert McLure, Mother Teresa, Viktor Frankl, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Germaine Greer, and others.

My favourite chapter is “The Witness,” Roy’s conversation with Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Wiesel. Each chapter begins with a quote, here’s the opening one from Elie Wiesel: “Silence to me is the soul of the world. It is what cannot be said that is important.” (p. 49) Yet, ironically, Wiesel believes himself to be a witness, to speak of the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust. His closing words summarise it well: “I really see myself as a witness,” he told me. “I bear witness to the past through tales and story telling. I try to reach out, especially to the young and say ‘look what happened. Listen.’ It’s not that awful. It’s not to be sad about. It’s a privilege and a curse at the same time. To live today is to remember. So listen to my tales and spread them.” (pp. 55-56) True to Wiesel’s word in this conversation, I highly recommend his books, and encourage readers to visit his website here.

Thanks to the contributions of people like Roy Bonisteel, the church and the world is more liveable and sane. God grant Roy Bonisteel eternal peace.

Is there a right of return?

Sometimes we wrestle with the truth of issues for years ethically, spiritually, and politically. We live with more ambiguity than we would like as we seek to be a people of faith and life and love. Recently I came across this article, which, for me, shed light on this question, which I had thought rather ambiguous until I read it. Hope you too find the article helpful.  -Dim Lamp

Is There a  Right of Return ?

We often hear and read statements asserting that the Palestinian Refugees from 1948 now have a right to return to the state of Israel —   the so-called “right of return.”   This phrase has a good deal of superficial appeal and sounds like a benign call for justice — but upon close scrutiny it is revealed as a call for the destruction of the Jewish homeland.

The Modern State of Israel was founded to be the homeland of the Jewish people.

•           After the collapse of the ottoman Empire, the area that includes modern day Israel, modern day Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza was given to the British, under the Articles of the League of Nations, to hold in trust for a Jewish homeland. This was the British Mandate for Palestine.

•           In November1947 after World War II, the United Nations General Assembly recommended a partition of the British Mandate for Palestine into a specifically Jewish state and a specifically Arab state.  The U.N. partition plan was based on population demographics — majority Jewish areas would be part of Israel, majority Arab areas would be part of a new Arab state.

•           The Jewish Agency (the precursor of the Israeli government) accepted the U.N. partition plan. The Arab League met in December 17, 1947 however, and announced that it would prevent partition by force if necessary.  The Arab nations did resort to force, jointly attacking the new Jewish state after it declared independence in May 1948.

The 1948 War created both Jewish and Palestinian refugees

•           Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948. Over the next few days the Arab States surrounding Israel (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq ) each invaded the new Jewish state, vowing to wipe it off the face of the earth. The resulting war lasted from May 1948 until February 1949.

•               There was a lot of dispossession on both sides as a result of this war. Arab and Jewish and in roughly equal numbers. People dispute the exact numbers, but some 650,000- 800,000 Palestinians left their homes in 1947-48 and for a variety of reasons.  Some Arabs were forced out by the Israelis — especially Arabs living along supply routes and borders. Thousands of wealthy Arabs left in anticipation of a war. Once the war started some left to get out of harm’s way. Others left not to appear to be traitors. Many Arabs left after being told by the attacking Arab nations that they would destroy the Jewish state and then the Arabs could go back. Jews were likewise forced out or fled from both the Arab nations and what became the Palestinian Territories after they were seized by Jordan and Egypt.

The Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel, but the Palestinians that fled or were forced out became refugees

•           The Arabs that stayed in what became the borders of Israel became Israeli citizens. The Arabs that left, for the most part,  were never resettled and the United Nations maintained and continues to maintain them as refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and in the Palestinian Territories under a special agency created only for Palestinian refugees — United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA).

There is no such thing in International Law as a “right of return” for refugees

•           Throughout history, war and conflicts have produced refugees.  Nowhere has a “right of return” been recognized for any of these refugees.

•           Millions of people were displaced after the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.  It resulted in the largest human movement in history, an exchange of 18,000,000 Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India.

•           In November 1975, the Moroccan government coordinated the Green March invasion, and  forced Spain to hand over the disputed, autonomous semi-metropolitan Spanish Province of Sahara to Morocco.  This resulted in the creation of thousands of refugees.

•           More than 15 million Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia and Poland at the end of World War II.

•           In 1974, following a period of violence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and an attempted Greek-sponsored coup, Turkey invaded and occupied one third of the island; this led to the establishment of a separate Turkish Cypriot regime to govern the invaded area in the north and the displacement of thousands of Cypriots.

•           None of these or countless other refugees has raised a “right of return” and the International Community has never recognized such a right on their behalf.

To read the whole article go here.

On loving our enemies

Today, I read an insightful devotion in the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Night Prayer. I think it speaks to the world today—especially in light of the controversy in the U.S.A. around building an Islamic centre [some have called it a mosque] near the former twin towers of the World Trade Centre, and the proposed Koran burning by a Christian pastor in Florida. I’ve been following news coverage of these issues on the internet and have been dismayed by the number of angry people—Christian, Muslim, and others—who have threatened violent means of dealing with these issues and speak words of hatred toward one another. Instead of hatred and violence towards our neighbours and yes, even our enemies, the following words of wisdom make for a better way to live and work for a peaceful world where true religious freedom is respected in every nation.

 

   We are called to bless even our enemies. How much more should we pray a blessing on others in the Body of Christ!—especially those we disagree with, or who hold a different view from our own.

   If we ask a blessing on them it is up to God to decide what He can and cannot bless in what they are and what they are doing.

   We are not asked to understand each other first. If there are some elements in the church who really aggravate us it may be more useful to pray a blessing on them than to interact with a critical spirit. As we pray we begin to realize just how much God cares about them.

   We can pray blessings on non-Christian folk, too. It is like pouring glitter over a home-made Christmas card—wherever the glue-stick has prepared the card the glitter will stick, the rest only rolls off, and even a little of the glitter can be enough to spell out a clear message.

Sermon Christ the King Yr C

Christ the King Sunday Yr C, 25/11/2007

Jer 23:1-6

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The LORD is our Righteousness”

 

James S. Hewett tells the following story: The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal kingdom. One day he decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion asked. The bear replied, “Why, you are, of course.” The lion gave a mighty roar of approval.

Next he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “Everyone knows that you are, O mighty lion.”

Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and addressed his question: “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times, and slammed him into a tree. Then he pounded him onto the ground several times, dunked him under water in a nearby lake, and finally threw him up on the shore.

The lion—beaten, bruised, and battered—struggled to his feet. He looked at the elephant through sad and bloody eyes and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason for you to get mean about it!”1

Although some may find this story somewhat humorous, there is a truth to it similar to that of our first lesson from Jeremiah. In today’s first lesson, the prophet begins by speaking out against the political leadership of Judah. Jeremiah speaks a woe against Judah’s kings. He says they, in large part, are responsible for the sheep, the people of Judah being scattered and taken into Babylonian exile.

Indeed, Jeremiah had warned his contemporary, King Zedekiah, who was a puppet king, not to rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. However, Zedekiah did not listen, and therefore he, and the people of Judah suffered the tragic consequences—they were taken into Babylonian exile for seventy years. Like the vanity of the lion in the story who ends up being thrown around by the elephant; Zedekiah who out of vanity thinks he can throw his weight around and assert his authority; ends up being defeated by the Babylonian, King Nebuchadnezzar, and living under his authority.

However, as Jeremiah prophesied, the story did not end there. In verses three and four, Jeremiah tells us what God will do: First, he will gather the remnant of his scattered flock in exile and will bring them together to the fold. They shall return to Judah. Second, they shall be fruitful and multiply, in fulfillment of the covenant God made with his people. Third, God will raise up good shepherds-leaders over them who will shepherd them. These shepherds will not be corrupt or selfish or vain—they will genuinely care for the people.

According to Jeremiah the consequences of these liberating actions of God for the people of Judah are: they shall not live in fear any longer nor be dismayed, nor shall any of the people be missing. They shall live together in community and enjoy their freedom.

Then, in verses five and six, Jeremiah, speaking of the future, prophesied that the long-expected Messiah would eventually come. One scholar, Professor Ralph Klein, commenting on these verses, has this to say about a Hebrew word play, which underscores the important reign of the coming Messiah: The king’s new name “Yahweh is the source of our vindication” reads in Hebrew yhwh sidqenu.  This king can be seen as the direct opposite of Jeremiah’s contemporary Zedekiah, written in Hebrew as sidqiyahu.  “Yahweh is the source of our vindication” is “Zedekiah” written backwards!  The messiah’s name points to the real source of hope:  Yahweh is the source of our vindication.2 In other words, just as the name of King Zedekiah is the reverse of the coming Messiah-King, so too shall the reign of the coming Messiah-King be the opposite of Zedekiah’s reign as well as that of all previous unfaithful shepherd-kings of Israel and Judah.

Today, on this last Sunday of the church calendar year, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, also known as Reign of Christ Sunday. We Christians, reading Jeremiah’s prophecy of the Messiah-King, interpret it to refer to Jesus as our Messiah-King. In this prophecy, it is rather telling that the name of the Messiah-King is: “The LORD is our righteousness.” This name for Jesus, a righteous Branch from David’s line, also describes quite well the very function of Jesus’ reign.

Over against all other kings in history who are sinful, self-centred, and all-too-easily corrupt and unjust in the abuse of their authority and power; King Jesus, according to Jeremiah, “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

As we know from the New Testament, the wisdom of King Jesus is a different kind of wisdom than that of this world. The apostle Paul tells us that the foolishness of God is wiser than worldly wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than earthly strength. What kind of wisdom is that? It is the wisdom of Jesus Christ crucified. On the cross Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. Unlike the palaces and thrones of earthly kings, the palace of Jesus is his kingdom, which is not of this world, and consists of the world’s poor, weak and forgotten peoples. Jesus’ throne was not decorated with silver or gold or any other expensive material—rather, it was a plain, ordinary, wooden cross. That is the wisdom of King Jesus, who came to welcome the last and least first; and those who are now first shall be last and least in his future realm. Such wisdom is the reverse of all worldly kings.

Jeremiah goes on to promise that King Jesus our Messiah “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Unlike all worldly kings who can be subject to bribes and political intrigue to protect their authority and power; King Jesus shall not execute justice and righteousness on the basis of bribes or political intrigues. Unlike all other kings, King Jesus shall grant justice to the lowest of the low; unlike the case of that poor widow who kept coming to the unjust judge; King Jesus shall come to deliver his justice even before the widow states her case. Unlike worldly justice, which relies so heavily on military and political force; the justice of King Jesus shall be based on perfect peace, the non-violent shalom of God.

Moreover, combined with the justice of King Jesus, there shall be righteousness. Jeremiah says: “The LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” God sees us as righteous by looking at Jesus. Unlike all other kings, King Jesus is without sin. What he has and is—namely, his righteousness—becomes what we shall receive as a gift of grace. He is OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS because he is the only one who could ever be perfectly righteous—without King Jesus we have no hope of obtaining or achieving righteousness. To employ an imperfect example: Without a boat or airplane, it would not be possible for us to travel safely and reach a destination here from Canada over to Europe or Asia or Africa. Without Christ our King, it is not possible to be righteous—he carries us safely into the Promised Land of his realm of righteousness. This has been accomplished for us thanks to his life, teachings, suffering, death and resurrection. We don’t have to live in dread or fear of the present or the future. In the present we do see inklings of Christ’s reign as we pray: “Your kingdom come.” Today we can indeed celebrate Christ our King, confident that our future is full of hope and joy, peace and love in the Perfect Realm, which has no end. As composer G.F. Handel so majestically proclaims in The Messiah: “He shall reign forever and ever!” Thanks be to God! Amen!

1 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 312.

2 I am grateful to Professor Klein for his insightful commentary at: <http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/pentcost.htm#Christ&gt;.