Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas shorts

Christmas shorts

Kjell sat in inside a Salvation Army shelter on Christmas day. He could barely move, think or feel, since he just arrived off the street from the minus fifty degrees with the wind-chill. Even though he was too sick with cancer, too old to work, too poor to own a home or pay rent for some other suitable accommodation; even though he had lost his wife a year ago, and their only child was in a special needs home because of her disabilities; he was most grateful for the Sally Ann shelter and the Christmas dinner he was about to eat with the others in similar, if not worst circumstances than himself.

Sigrid had all she could do to drag herself out of bed on Christmas morning. She heard the bells ringing from the village church steeple, heralding this day of joy, peace and love. Yet she wondered where these virtues were; had she lost them forever now that she had gone through with the divorce from her abusive husband? Where was the spirit of Christmas? Suddenly she heard a knock on her door. Should she answer it? Who was it? Surely her husband didn’t know her whereabouts now, or did he? Fear and dread, mingled with a seed of hope, and a speck of courage led her to open the door. It was her pastor, the Reverend Sharon Olavstad. After wishing Sigrid a God Jul, she said, “I thought you might need someone to talk to, so here I am.” Sigrid poured out her soul to the pastor for the rest of the morning.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve/Day Collect Prayer of the Day

Holy One of heaven and earth, we are filled with awe, wonder and

Image Credit: Wm. Kurelek Northern Nativity
gratitude as we celebrate the birth of the Incarnate Jesus. May joy, peace, love and hope fill our hearts and lives on this holy day and every day as we share the Good News of your saving grace through your Son, Jesus the Messiah, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and through all ages of ages.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Canadian Supreme Court strikes down prostitution laws

The blueprint of a Judeo-Christian society has been dealt another blow by the Supreme Court of Canada: the decision was unanimous 9-0, in favour of declaring laws against the existence of brothels, open street solicitation, and making a living off of the avails of prostitution unconstitutional. I’m not a lawyer, but as I understand the ruling, the key factor in the decision was the view that the present legislation was in violation of the prostitutes’ constitutional rights because their lives were in danger.
   So, now Canada, ever moving farther away from a Judeo-Christian society, deems prostitution and the [in Lutheran tradition] Sixth Commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” no longer valid. It was Fyodor Dostoyevsky who once is quoted as saying: “If there is no God, then all things are permitted.” Well, that seems to me where we’re headed now, what is next? Will murder also be legalised?
   One of my seminary professors, many years ago, used to be fond of saying that you cannot legislate morality. Then he would site the classic case of prohibition, and how that only led to organised crime making a handsome living off of selling booze. However, be that as it may, now it seems to me the polar opposite might become true: You can legislate immorality, isn’t that what the Supreme Court of Canada has done with legalising prostitution?
   I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the pimps and johns and organised criminals are jumping up and down with glee, now they can continue their evil engagement in sexual slavery by bringing in even more, way too young boys and girls from poor nations.
   Another spin off, of course, is a further attack on and demise of the nuclear family based on monogamous marriages. Already the divorce rate is out of control, now it will likely continue to increase. Even common law couples may be more at risk if prostitutes are allowed open solicitation. The legalisation of prostitution will certainly push the issue of how to maintain long-term, committed, monogamous relationships in society. Moreover, I think children may be the real losers with this legislation, not only those being exploited as sexual slaves, but also children in families: what kind of moral-ethical behaviour and values are their parents teaching them if the parents have no commitment to a long-term, monogamous relationship? What about the healthcare costs to society? I hazard to guess that there will be far more sexually transmitted diseases or infections with the legal availability of prostitutes. God have mercy on us all! The only way out of this hell is to have a functional government that will properly, and with great wisdom and discernment, come up with new legislation within a year in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling. The ongoing challenge to society as a whole, and to people of faith in particular, is to understand the root causes of prostitution, and try to address them, to prevent [which is not likely in a sinful world as we know it] or at least minimalise prostitution in the first place by making it so unattractive that only a minority would choose it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Today, December 10, is human rights day


 Did you "Write for rights" with Amnesty International? Every year on December 10th, activists in more than 80 countries gather on their own or in large and small events to press governments to respond to a human rights concern on selected high-priority cases. Amnesty members also write letters of hope and solidarity directly to prisoners or people experiencing human rights violations. 
   Today I focussed on development and respecting our Canadian indigenous peoples' rights concerning their land. Unfortunately, it seems our federal government is more concerned with developing resources than with respecting our indigenous peoples and the environment. Sadly our nation is now a pariah on matters of environmental stewardship.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela dead at 95

Nelson Mandela was awarded a Doctor of Laws Degree at Ryerson University, Toronto in 2001 
Yesterday, December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the ripe old age of 95 years. What an incredible life he lived! Although in his early years, he certainly was no saint, in fact he became quite radical at one point, justifying the use of violent resistance against the South African Apartheid regime. 
   Mandela has been described, among other things as: The African Lincoln, noble yet humble, Father of the nation [i.e. South Africa], prophet, brilliant leader, courageous peacemaker, and so forth.  We Canadians awarded Mandela an honourary citizenship and adopted him as a member of the Order of Canada, we also named a school after him. Of course, in many respects Mandela was also not only a citizen of his own nation, but a citizen of every nation-especially regarded as such, I think because of his political giftedness and compassion for humankind.
   Without question, he was an inspirational exemplar and hero of the black citizens of his nation, and of blacks in general in all of Africa and around the globe. Yet, he had feet of clay like the rest of us, and he at times was the first to admit it. He had, in his earlier years, intimidated and bullied an East Indian leader, removing him off the stage at a public gathering. In humility that bespeaks repentance, he admitted on one occasion publicly that he had failed as, and had been a poor husband to his first wife. He also publicly spoke words of compassion rather than condemnation regarding his second wife, when he was asked about an alleged adulterous relationship with another man.
   Yet his charisma and sense of doing the right thing at the right time in a symbolic way, earned him the respect of even his worst enemies-including P.W. Botha's wife, whom he visited shortly after her husband's death. 
   I think the most significant thing we as Christians can learn from the life of Nelson Mandela is his brilliant capacity to forgive and work for reconciliation with his enemies. In this regard, he was extremely successful, and deserved winning the Nobel Peace Prize. South Africa could have devolved into a brutal civil war, however against all the odds, Mandela's brilliant leadership led the nation into a state of forgiveness, peace, justice and reconciliation. May this legacy of Nelson Mandela live on in the history of South Africa, as well as the history of humankind! REST ETERNAL GRANT NELSON MANDELA, O LORD; AND LET LIGHT PERPETUAL SHINE UPON HIM. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Calendar

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new church calendar year, with the first Sunday in Advent. We lit the first candle of prophecy and hope on the Advent wreath. 
   Another tradition that has become popular is the Advent calendar. These calendars can be quite exciting for the young children, and for the young-at-heart adults, as the little doors are opened each day and usually there is a message and perhaps a picture with some reference to preparing for the coming/the way of Jesus the Messiah. 
   For those folks who like to support the work of development, education, justice and peace for the world's poor, our Canadian Lutheran World Relief website has a lovely online Advent calendar, which I highly recommend. I think those of us who support CLWR and similar NGOs in other denominations, can be encouraged by being in solidarity with the world's poor and having the sense that we are making a difference. 
   Please click on this link to visit the CLWR Advent Calendar

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November is Family Violence Prevention Month

Here in our province, November is Family Violence Prevention Month. Earlier in the month I attended a workshop on family violence and here are a few observations. 
   First of all, I was pleased to see a decent turnout from the clergy members of our Ministerial Association. Faith communities and faith leaders need to be more involved in the prevention of family violence. 
   Second, I realise that I have, over the years, actually been
Image credit: Alberta Human Services
involved with prevention by offering pre-marital counselling sessions that emphasise effective communication and peaceful, respectful conflict resolution.
   Third, there are some excellent resources out there available to victims and their families as well as help for abusers and community organisations, including faith communities. The following bits and pieces of information reveal some insights as well as hard, cold facts about family violence.
  • Close to 100% of prostitutes have been abused as children.
  • 70% of patients in mental hospitals and institutions have suffered some abuse that has changed their brain development.
  • 27% of violence is done in homes. 
  • 16,000 women go to shelters or safe houses here in Alberta every year. 
  • In the U.S.A., family violence is the number one health risk.
  • 25% of abused women turn to drugs and alcohol. 
  • The cost to society and the health care system in relation to family violence is estimated to be in the billions of dollars, since the impact of abuse is profound in terms of mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual illnesses and diseases. 
   Prayer of Commitment: Dear God of Justice and Mercy, we the church, acknowledge today that violence and abuse exists in our midst. We the church acknowledge and embrace our abused and battered people. We, the church, acknowledge our brokenness and we come before you in repentance. We the church, commit to study the Scripture and preach the truth on abuse and injustice. We, the church, invite you to expose and end abuse in all homes, for your glory. We the church, accept your teaching on how to comfort and address both the abused and the abuser. We pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, who knew the pain of violence. Amen. (Prayer from a power-point handout at the workshop lead by a staff member of Riseup).
   Websites that offer valuable information on family violence prevention: Alberta Human Services

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Prayer of the Day/Collect Christ the King Sunday

Christ our King: Your rule is perfect servanthood and your throne is the cross. Over against all earthly rulers who abuse their power by dominating and oppressing others; you welcomed the last, the lost, and the least, and said that in your realm those who are first now shall be last; and those who are last now shall be first. May your gentle rule of loving service, peace and justice continue to come among us as we await the day when the realms of this world shall become the realm of God; in the name of Christ our King. Amen.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sociological Tidbit: Cursive Writing

Cursive Writing: I have re-blogged the following article, “States try to save cursive writing in the classroom in the digital age,” by Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press, November 14, 2013. I know that since I’ve started with using the computer, I can now type faster than I write—prior to regular computer use, the reverse was true. The quality of my writing has also diminished. However, I do have a bit of a fetish for fountain pens and the aesthetic quality of the cursive written print. I too wonder about the downside repercussions of losing cursive writing. A friend of mine, who is now a retired theology professor, told me once that he preferred to write out his books in cursive writing first, then he would use the keyboard to type them out.  What do you think dear readers? I’d love to read your comments. :-) Eclecticity

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The swirling lines from Linden Bateman’s pen have been conscripted into a national fight to keep cursive
Image credit:
writing in American classrooms.
   Cursive. Penmanship. Handwriting.
In years gone by, it helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate. But now, in the digital age, people are increasingly communicating by computer and smartphone. No handwritten signature necessary.
   Call it a sign of the times. When the new Common Core educational standards were crafted, penmanship classes were dropped. But at least seven of the 45 states that adopted the standards are fighting to restore the cursive instruction.
Bateman, a 72-year-old state representative from Idaho, says cursive conveys intelligence and grace, engages creativity and builds brain cells.
   “Modern research indicates that more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard,” said Bateman, who handwrites 125 ornate letters each year. “We’re not thinking this through. It’s beyond belief to me that states have allowed cursive to slip from the standards.”
State leaders who developed the Common Core – a set of preferred K-12 course offerings for public schools – omitted cursive for a host of reasons, including an increasing need for children in a digital-heavy age to master computer keyboarding and evidence that even most adults use some hybrid of classic cursive and print in everyday life.
   “If you just stop and think for a second about what are the sorts of skills that people are likely to be using in the future, it’s much more likely that keyboarding will help students succeed in careers and in school than it is that cursive will,” said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of K-12 policy and leadership at the University of Southern California.
States that adopted Common Core aren’t precluded from deviating from the standards. But in the world of education, where classroom time is limited and performance stakes are high, optional offerings tend to get sidelined in favour of what’s required.
   That’s why at least seven states – California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah – have moved to keep the cursive requirement. Legislation passed in North Carolina and elsewhere couples cursive with memorization of multiplication tables as twin “back to basics” mandates.
   Cursive advocates cite recent brain science that indicates the fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye co-ordination and develops fine motor skills, in turn promoting reading, writing and cognition skills.
   They further argue that scholars of the future will lose the ability to interpret valuable cultural resources – historical documents, ancestors’ letters and journals, handwritten scholarship – if they can’t read cursive. If they can’t write it, how will they communicate from unwired settings like summer camp or the battlefield?
“The Constitution of the United States is written in cursive. Think about that,” Bateman said.
All the fuss seems a bit loopy to certain members of Gens X, Y and Z – which have diverged increasingly from handwriting to computers. The volume of first-class mail at the U.S. Postal Service fell in 2010 to its lowest level in a quarter-century, just as computer use – and the keyboarding it involves – was surging. Some 95 per cent of teens use the Internet, and the percentage using smartphones to go online has grown from 23 per cent in 2011 to 37 per cent today, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2012 Pew report found the volume of text messages among teens rose from 50 a day on average in 2009 to 60 a day on average two years later.
   Pew research has also shown that educators don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. A survey of teachers of American middle school and high school students published in July found 78 per cent believed digital tools such as the Internet, social media and cellphones were encouraging their students’ creativity and personal expression.
   Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, said researchers found it surprising – given those results – that 94 per cent of the 2,462 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project surveyed still said they “encourage their students to do at least some of their writing by hand.”
Teachers gave two primary reasons, she said: Most standardized tests are still in paper-and-pencil format and teachers believed having students write by hand helped them slow down their thinking, encouraging deeper and fuller thinking during the writing process. Pew surveys of teens have found many prefer to write on the computer, which they found faster and neater, but many still use handwriting for notes, letters, journals, short stories or music lyrics – as well as for school.
   “I find it hard to think creatively when I am typing,” a high school boy from the Pacific Northwest told Pew for a 2008 study. “So I like to handwrite everything, then I put it on the computer. I don’t know, that is just how I am.”
   Kathleen Wright, handwriting product manager for Zaner-Bloser, a Columbus, Ohio-based textbook publisher, said colleges of education that have focused on “whole language” education have turned out a crop of young teachers who are unable to either write or teach cursive writing themselves.
   That has financial implications to what’s required in the Common Core. “One of the things I’ve seen over the years is the hesitance on the part of some boards to legislate specific things because it may require additional training for teachers,” Wright said. “If you specifically require things for handwriting at different grade levels, you have to provide professional development. That may be the reason why it wasn’t included in the Common Core.”
Adults unable to write cursive might think back to the experiences of Jacob Lew when President Barack Obama nominated him as treasury secretary in 2013. As treasury secretary, Lew’s signature would be on U.S. currency. But that signature looked more like a series of loops than the distinct letters in his name. “Jack assured me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency,” the president joked at the time.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Advent is coming

Advent is coming: "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood come and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." (Matthew 24:36-44)

Beginnings and endings—that’s what we become more aware of and engaged in as the church year winds down, and a new church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent. The gospel pericope from Matthew—which is selected from the first Sunday in Advent—admonishes us to “keep awake” and “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” One of the ways in which the church, in its collective wisdom, deals with such ominous texts and admonitions is by systematizing life into some sort of secure, comfortable order; by inventing meaningful rites and rituals and seasons to try to make sense of life in the face of what might cause folks to live in paralytic fear and chaos.

   Hence the church came up with the season of Advent in about the fourth century. The season’s name is based on the Latin Adventus, meaning, coming or the coming. The season originally was one of prayer, fasting and repentance—that is how the early church dealt with the admonition to “keep awake” and “be ready” for the Son of Man’s unexpected coming. Because of this threefold emphasis on prayer, fasting and repentance, the season was similar to that of Lent, and some even referred to it as “the winter Lent.”  The season also was originally longer than it is today—in Western Christendom it began on November 11, St Martin’s day, and stretched over to the Day of Epiphany, on that day candidates for baptism were baptized. In Eastern Christendom, Advent begins on November 15 and goes right up until December 25, which is forty days. In the Western church year calendar, eventually the First Sunday of Advent was considered the first Sunday of the church year. Eventually the season was shortened to the four weeks before Christmas.

   I think the more sober mood of Advent is also reflected in many of the Advent hymns, which are set in minor keys rather than major. One of the downsides of Advent is the war we clergy often have with worship committees and even parishioners over the selection of hymns for Advent—clergy, in most cases, prefer to sing the Advent hymns, while laity would much rather sing Christmas carols. Laity also seem to want to eclipse the mood and emphasis of waiting, watching, preparing and repenting—one of the perils I think of living in a life in the fast lane, instant society.   

   The Advent wreath—or in some churches log—and Advent calendar traditions originated with German Lutherans—the wreath likely goes back to the time of the Reformation, while the calendar is traced back to the 1800s. The candles on the wreath mark the weeks of Advent. The first candle symbolizes hope; the second one symbolizes peace; the third one symbolizes joy; and the fourth one symbolizes love. All four virtues which we are gifted with thanks to Jesus the coming Messiah.

   The emphasis of the season also has changed with time—the original, sober emphasis on fasting and repentance has fallen out of practice by most Western Christians. Instead the emphasis is now on the three main ways in which Christ comes to us: his first coming in the past as the Incarnate One; his coming to us in the present time through Word and sacrament and the communion of saints; and his so-called second coming sometime in the future.

   However the biblical texts for Advent do have a sombre emphasis in them, and beg the questions: Have you made adequate preparations for the Coming King of kings and Lord of lords? If Christ the Messiah-King were to come at an unexpected time, would you be ready and awake? If someone important comes to our homes, we usually “clean house” and prepare for their coming. Maybe even set out the best silverware, plates, etc., and serve up an extravagant meal. How much more then do we need to “clean the house” of our hearts, minds and lives to prepare to meet Jesus face-to-face when he comes? With all of the secular consumerism of Christmas that seems to come earlier and earlier; with so many pre-Christmas parties to attend; it seems that by the time Christmas arrives most folks have already had enough of Christmas.

   So, as Christians, how about being more intentional in celebrating Advent during Advent rather than Christmas during Advent? Perhaps during this year’s Advent season we might be
Image by Eclecticity: Amen, come Lord Jesus!
willing to consider preparing for our Lord’s coming by going out to serve those in need. Right now, the news is full of stories about the plight of the Filipinos who have lost everything after the death-dealing typhoon there. Might we open up our hearts and wallets to help them out? There are, of course, countless other causes that we can contribute to as well, both here in our city and around the globe. Who knows, in our serving we may very well meet up with the face of Christ himself?!

   Prayer: Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Protect us by your strength and save us from the threatening dangers of our sins. Have mercy upon and provide for the people in the Philippines, the Syrian refugees, and others who face sufferings of all kinds. We give you thanks for all of the blessings you have bestowed upon us. We especially thank you for your grace; may your Holy Spirit’s presence fill our hearts and minds and lives and give us the direction we need to serve you and your holy purposes; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Jewish-Christian Relations

Encountering the other – a halachic exploration

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple over at is Rabbi Emeritus of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, Australia. He has also been involved with the Australian Council of Christians and Jews. In
Image credit:
his recent paper delivered to that organisation, Rabbi Dr Apple highlights some of the historic traditions concerning Jewish beliefs and practices towards Gentiles—in particular, Gentile Christians.

   One fascinating point he makes is that originally the term “gentile” referred to someone who belonged to any people, including the Jewish people, since according to the Tanach, even an Israelite was a goy. Rabbi Dr Apple goes on to highlight Jewish trading with Gentiles on their festivals; saving the life of a Gentile; accepting a gift from a Gentile; participating in the wedding feast of a Gentile; pikku’ach nefesh [saving the life in an emergency] of a Gentile. In his conclusion, the rabbi states that one of the key questions regarding relations with the two other monotheistic religions was whether or not they were idolaters—if so, then their religions and theology were false and that would prevent them from engaging in relations with such idolaters. However: “Thanks to Menachem Me’iri and similar teachers, Judaism decided that the other monotheistic faiths fostered morality and uprightness and Jews could work with them.” You can read the whole paper here

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pray for Persecuted Christians

There have likely always been—and perhaps always shall be—persecuted Christians. No one knew this better than our Founder, Jesus himself. In his Sermon on the Mount and/or Plain, he raised the bar very high for all of his would-be followers: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12) “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Lk 6:22-23)
   What a strange upside-down world/realm Jesus describes here. I don’t know about you, but I have a difficult time rejoicing and being glad and leaping for joy when I feel or actually am: persecuted, reviled, am the subject of all kinds of evil being uttered against me falsely on Jesus’ account, am hated, excluded and defamed on account of the Son of Man. How about you? Perhaps you’re a much better, more faithful Christian than I. Jesus’ words here seem to me well nigh impossible to obey. Yet, there have been some “saints” and/or “martyrs” who have purportedly lived up to Jesus’ teachings regarding persecution. In fact, the martyrs were very popular in the ancient church; story after story has been recorded and transmitted for the edification of the faithful.
   However, of late I have become rather troubled and annoyed by the lack of coverage of the Western secular press and yes, even organisations like Amnesty International—of which I’ve been a member for about 27 years now—who seem to be turning a blind eye and/or are minimalizing the current “war and/or ‘open season’ on Christians” around the globe. According to one commentator on the subject, who claims to have travelled extensively in 53 countries that persecuted Christians; there were up to two million slain in southern Sudan by the Muslim north that even folks like the Pew Forum discount.
   Speaking of the Pew Forum, they claim that between 2006 and 2010, Christians living in 139 nations of the world—almost three-quarters of the world’s nations—faced some form of discrimination. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, state that an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what they describe as ‘situations of witness’ each year for the past decade. If that is the case, then 11 Christians are being killed somewhere on the earth every hour, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for their faith.  
   No, Christians are not living with a martyr complex. No, Christians are not fantasizing stories about martyrdom. No, Christians are not exaggerating. What is true is that stories about Christians being persecuted have been extremely UNDER REPORTED.
   In the meantime, what can you do about it? Well, for starters PRAY. Pray for Christians who are being persecuted and the families of those who have lost their loved ones because they were martyred, murdered and/or tortured senselessly. You can find information on praying for the persecuted Christians here.  You can also be informed by reading articles like this one in The Spectator

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On Turning Sixty-Two

On Turning Sixty-Two

When I was twenty-five,
I felt really alive.
Twenty-five years later,
No need for a pacemaker.
Wordle: Season

Now I am sixty-two,
Wondering where time flew.
Seasons come and go,
What you reap, you sow.

Every day is a gift,
God gives us a lift,
Whenever we freely serve,
We’re graced without reserve.

So grow old gracefully,
Like a noble oak tree,
For this day could be your last,
Tomorrow your time may pass.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reformation Sunday

Tomorrow Lutherans—and perhaps some Anglicans, since they are now in full communion with us—around the globe will be celebrating Reformation Sunday. In our tradition, Reformation Sunday is always celebrated on the last Sunday of October, marking the date, October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door, hoping to initiate a debate concerning the theology and practice of selling indulgences in
Martin Luther
the Roman Catholic Church. This event was the first among many that eventually led to Luther’s excommunication and the birth of the Protestant Reformation of the Church catholic in Europe during the 16th century.
   The contributions of Martin Luther to the Church catholic and the world are many. The following are, in my humble estimation, the most significant ones.
   First Luther, with the help of the printing press, was able to translate the Bible into the vernacular German of his day, thus making it accessible to, not only scholars, but also the common people. The implications of this are many; the most profound in terms of the larger Reformation movement was the challenge of the power and authority of the papacy. For Luther the ultimate authority on earth was the Bible-sola scriptura, not the pope. On this matter, many other Protestant reformers were influenced by and agreed with Luther.
   Second, over against “the theology of glory” deeply entrenched in the medieval Roman Catholic Church wherein it was taught that God rewarded human beings with grace only when they were able to obtain their highest, noblest good works and achievements; Luther advocated “the theology of the cross” wherein the emphasis is the precise reverse of “the theology of glory” in that it is when human beings are at their lowest, and farthest away from God that Christ’s love and grace reaches them and draws them to himself. Here Luther’s “theology of the cross” was strongly influenced by his study and interpretation of the Pauline epistles—especially Romans and Corinthians—and the Fourth Gospel Jesus, wherein the classic pericope is that of Jesus speaking of his being “lifted up” on the cross and thereby drawing all people to himself. For Luther, the “theology of the cross” always emphasises God’s initiative first and only then human response—the classic pericope in this regard is from the Johannine literature: “we love because he (Christ) first loved us.”
   Third, Luther emphasised the power, activity and multidimensional nature of the word. For him the word was extremely creative, God spoke creation into existence. God loved the word so much that the Word became incarnate in Jesus, and through him brought salvation to the world. God’s word in the sacrament of Holy Baptism is what makes the water efficacious and gives the baptised the gift of a covenant relationship with God by being baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the sacrament of Holy Communion it is again the word working in, with and under the elements of bread and wine that make the sacrament efficacious and the presence of Christ real, along with the promise of forgiveness of sin. In reference to preaching, the word works in the hearts, minds and lives of the people through the law and the gospel to create, sustain, renew, instruct and inspire faith; bringing life, health and salvation; delivering human beings from sin, death and the devil.
   Fourth, many don’t realise that Luther was also a musician. He apparently could sing and play the flute and lute; he also composed—although scholars have not reached a consensus on this—37 hymns for the Church—including his most popular, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which, I understand, some Roman Catholics even sing today. In 1524, a German hymn book of sorts was published, and thus began an emphasis on congregational singing in the Lutheran worship services. Indeed, as Lutheranism grew and spread across Europe, it became known as “the singing church.” Luther’s musical legacy certainly inspired future generations of Lutheran musicians and composers, among them some of the finest in all of Christendom, including: Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schűtz, Dietrich Buxtehude, J.S. Bach, and several of his children, Nicolai F.S. Grundtvig, Paul Gerhardt, Albert Schweitzer, and many others.
   Fifth, Luther contributed greatly to individual and family piety with an emphasis on prayer. He was known to have prayed often, counselling others to do the same. Indeed, he claimed that the busier, more demanding and stressful his day was, the longer he needed to spend time in prayer with God.
   In closing, I am including a couple samples of Luther’s prayers.
   Prayer for and increase of faith: O Lord, increase our faith. Gladly and truly I would think of you as my dearly beloved Father, and Christ as my brother. But alas, my deeds will not follow. Therefore, help my unbelief, so that I may accept your word as truth and glorify your name. O Lord, end our captivity. Redeem us, for we are the first-born of your new creation. As redemption has been perfectly and sufficiently accomplished through Christ, so may we fully and truly know and accept it. As by your mighty hand the sea was dried up by the parching wind, so let everything of our remaining bondage vanish. Amen.
   Prayer for the Holy Ministry: For God’s Counsel and Guidance: You know how unworthy I am to fill so great and important an office. Were it not for your counsel, I would have utterly failed long ago. Therefore I call upon you for guidance. Gladly will I give my heart and voice to this work. I want to teach the people. I want always to seek and study in your word, and eagerly to meditate upon it. Use me as your instrument. Lord, do not forsake me. If I were alone, I would ruin everything. Amen.1
1 Herbert F. Brokering, Editor, Luther’s Prayers (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1967).            

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

James Tenney’s Maxi Music

James Tenney was born in 1934 in Silver City, New Mexico, and grew up in Arizona and Colorado, where he received his early training as a pianist and composer. He attended the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music, Bennington College (Bachelor’s degree 1958), and the University of Illinois (Master’s degree 1961). His teachers and mentors have included Eduard Steuermann, Chou Wen-Chung, Lionel Nowak, Carl Ruggles, Lejaren Hiller, Kenneth Gaburo, Edgard Varèse, Harry Partch, and John Cage.

   A performer as well as a composer and theorist, Tenney was co-founder and conductor of the Tone Roads Chamber Ensemble in New York City (1963-70). He was a pioneer in the field of electronic and computer music, working with Max Mathews and others at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in the early 1960s to develop programs for computer sound-generation and composition. He has written works for a variety of media, both instrumental and electronic, many of them using alternative tuning systems.

   Tenney is the author of several articles on musical acoustics, computer music, and musical form and perception, as well as two books: META + HODOS: A Phenomenology of 20th-Century Musical Materials and an Approach to the Study of Form (1961; Frog Peak, 1988) and A History of ‘Consonance’ and ‘Dissonance’ (Excelsior, 1988). He has received grants and awards from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Fromm Foundation, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, and the Jean A. Chalmers Foundation.

   Tenney returned to the California Institute of the Arts in the fall of 2000 to take the Roy E. Disney Family Chair in Musical Composition, having taught there at its beginnings in the early 1970s. He has also been on the faculties of at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, the University of California at Santa Cruz and at York University in Toronto where he was named Distinguished Research Professor in 1994.

   James Tenney’s music is published by Sonic Art Editions (Baltimore) and the Canadian Music Centre, and is also distributed by Frog Peak (Lebanon, New Hampshire). Recordings are available from Artifact, col legno, CRI, Hat[now]ART, Koch International, Mode, Musicworks, Nexus, oodiscs, SYR, Toshiba EMI, and New World, among others. [Bio credit:]
   The Maxi Music video below gives one a feel for Tenney's love of percussion compositions. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Prayer of the Day/Collect for 22 Pentecost, Yr C

God of justice: Long ago a widow appealed tirelessly to an earthly judge for justice. Hear the desperate cries of the millions today who are enslaved by injustice, and quickly grant them justice; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.   

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Religion in Canada

Religions in Canada

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[Lately the 2011 Government of Canada research has become available to the public. The information below reveals some of the trends concerning religion here in Canada. I find it interesting that the survey does not include the number of Protestants and the percentage or number of each respective Protestant denomination. Why they are excluded one can only speculate: are Protestants becoming so insignificant and fragmented that they are of no or little interest to government researchers? Or are there other reasons for their omission herein?
   When I observe what’s going on with the Protestant denominations in my city, I see that the parishes are shrinking, some closing down, others consisting of mainly grey-haired members, and not able to recruit the “bust” and “echo” generations, and even my “boomer” generation is not overly interested in being actively involved in the mainline Protestant churches.
   Of course, sociologists such as Professor Reg Bibby have their theories and observations on the current trends in Canadian religion. However I think even Bibby’s research is somewhat biased—often coming out in favour of the more “conservative” denominations as the ones having the most potential for growth in the future. What I see happening in my denomination—the Evangelical Lutheran Church In Canada—is a continuous loss of membership and an increased emphasis on more liberal approaches to controversial doctrinal issues such as same-sex blessings and marriages, bio-ethics, social justice, ecumenical and inter-faith relations, as well as lower enrollment in our seminaries and a growing number of retired clergy who are living longer.
   Another growing trend in Canada is the higher number of citizens with no religious affiliation—almost one-quarter of the total population, 23.9%. In many respects, I think we are becoming one of the most secular nations in the world. For example, in some of our largest cities only one-tenth of the total population worship regularly—i.e. once per month. Then number of church marriages and funerals are also decreasing, along with an increasing number of the deceased having no funeral. Will these trends change in the future and can the mainline churches attract some of these folks? Only time will tell. What do you think of the findings of the National Household Survey? Do you consider the findings positive or negative? Your comments are most welcome.]
The NHS (National Household Survey) collected information on religious affiliation, regardless of whether respondents practised their religion.
   The largest faith in Canada was Christianity. About 22,102,700, or two-thirds of Canada's population (67.3%), reported that they were affiliated with a Christian religion.
   Roman Catholics were the largest Christian religious group in 2011. About 12,728,900 people identified themselves as Roman Catholic, representing 38.7% of Canada's population as a whole.
   Consistent with changing immigration patterns, there were growing proportions of the population who reported religious affiliations other than Christian. These religions included Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist. In 2011, about 2,373,700 people, or 7.2% of Canada's population, reported affiliation with one of these religions. This was up from 4.9% a decade earlier, as recorded in the 2001 Census.
   In 2011, people who identified themselves as Muslim made up 3.2% of the population, Hindu 1.5%, Sikh 1.4%, Buddhist 1.1% and Jewish 1.0%.
   Roughly 7,850,600 people, or nearly one-quarter of Canada's population (23.9%), had no religious affiliation. This was up from 16.5% a decade earlier, as recorded in the 2001 Census.
   Immigration has contributed to a higher share of the population having affiliation with Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist religions as well as to a higher share of the population having no religious affiliation. Of the immigrants who came prior to 1971, 2.9% were affiliated with Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist religions, whereas 33.0% of immigrants who came between 2001 and 2011 reported affiliation to one of these religions. As well, 16.0% of immigrants who came before 1971 had no religious affiliation, compared with 22.0% among those who came between 2001 and 2005, and 19.5% among those who came between 2006 and 2011.