Thursday, September 26, 2013

VICO: Have you heard of them?

The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra, have you heard of them? I hadn't until today. While checking out contemporary Canadian composers online, I discovered the video below. They are an amazing collection of professional musicians and composers, who have been composing and performing for over a decade now. The creativity of our Canadian composers and musicians is very much alive and flourishing. Hope you enjoy the video.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Of shrewd managers, prophets, injustice, and the way we are
Image credit: Unknown artist, found at: 

 This past Sunday's gospel, Luke 16:1-13, includes the parable of the shrewd manager. It is one of Jesus' hardest parables to hear and to preach. Here is this crook who doctors up the books and swindles his master, and exploits the debtors to boot, making them beholden to him at a later date (in a blackmail-like position) should he need to resort to such a measure. 
   Then in my morning devotion time, I read from the prophet Amos. He, like most, if not all the biblical prophets was given an almost impossible call-to preach justice among the complacent, self-centred Northern Kingdom aristocrats, who pampered themselves and entertained themselves to death while laying in their ivory beds. All of this wealth gained by robbing the poor and endlessly exploiting them. 
   We preachers of today, how do we handle such texts? Do we go the route of the televangelists and avoid such texts by focussing solely on "the gospel of health and wealth," which is not gospel at all? Or do we let fly like Jesus and Amos and "let the chips fall where they may?" 
   Whatever we do, the truth is the truth, we all are indicted in the lifestyle we lead-at least here in the Western world. Our wealth and self-indulgent lives are no better than the ancient Israelite aristocrats. We too exploit the weak and the poor endlessly by making whole nations into our slave labour camps in order to extract mother nature's resources for our high-tech devices, toys, gadgets, computers, etc. 
   In our sinful, exploitative state, one day, as singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn so astutely observes in one of his songs several years ago: "the word mercy is going to have a new meaning when we are judged by the children of our slaves." 
   So the question for us all, in relation to our sinful, exploitative state is: how, when and can we repent, not merely as individuals, rather as a society and civilization, and return to the LORD our God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Inuit Artifacts Returned

Inuit artifacts originally taken by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen during his expedition of the Northwest Passage have been returned to Nunavut, Canada.
While Roald Amundsen was in Nunavut from 1903 to 1905 to learn about cold-weather living, in preparation for his historic South Pole expedition, and to traverse Canada's Northwest Passage, he also aimed to learn about the Inuit way of life. In doing so, he collected everyday objects that made up Inuit life, which caused tension between him and his crewmates. "They complained about it in their different diaries," Tone Wang, head of the exhibits department at the University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History, commented to Postmedia last August. "They said 'he's going completely crazy: he's stuffing this tiny boat with ethnographic materials.'"
Upon returning to Norway in 1906, Roald Amundsen gave his collection of over 1,000 Netsilik Inuit artifacts to the University of Oslo's Museum of Ethnography, known today as the Museum of Cultural History. It is 16 of these artifacts that will make the centerpiece of the new Netsilik Cultural Centre in Gjøa Haven, Canada set to open this October. A collection of everyday tools, hunting equipment and clothing, the artifacts arrived earlier this year in July. While there have been ongoing talks about repatriation of these artifacts, the delay has been the lack of proper preservation facilities in Nunavut. At the new Netsilik Cultural Centre the artifacts, which are made up of a variety of materials including bone, antler, wood, metal, sinew and skin, will all be stored with the proper seal, climate and lighting.
Despite taking many artifacts, Roald Amundsen is rare among North American explorers in his ability to have created a long lasting positive connection with the Netsilik Inuit that continues to this day. Because of this relationship, while Norway continues with repatriation of Inuit artifacts, Nunavut is moving to repatriate their own Amundsen artifacts back to his homeland.

To learn more about Roald Amundsen's life consider reading his autobiography, My Life as an Explorer.
Source: Viking e-post, September 15, 2013.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dag Hammarskjold, Peacemaker

Today in the world of Lutheran Christendom, we remember and celebrate "one of ours," former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold.
   Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold was born July 29, 1905 at Jonkoping, Sweden, the son of the Prime Minister. He studied law and economics at the universities of Uppsala and Stockholm and taught political economics at Stockholm, 1933-1936. He joined the Swedish civil service in the Ministry of Finance and subsequently became president of the board of the Bank of Sweden. From 1947 he served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was responsible for dealing with problems of trade. In 1951 he was appointed Minister of State with the functions of deputy Foreign Minister. 
   In 1951 he was chosen vice-chair of the Swedish delegation to the United Nations and was made chair in the following year. On April 10, 1953, following the resignation of Trygve Lie of Norway as Secretary General, Hammarskjold was elected for a five-year term. In September 1957 he was unanimously elected to a second five-year term. During his first term he had to deal with the end of the Korean War, problems in the Middle East, and the crisis over the Suez Canal. 
   The Belgian Congo became independent June 30, 1960, and civil war followed. Hammarskjold sent a United Nations force to suppress the violence. On a mission to President Moise Tschombe of the province of Katanga to negotiate a cease-fire between the United Nations and Katanga forces, Hammarskjold was killed in a plane crash September 18, 1961, near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. 
   Hammarskjold surprised and bewildered the world when a manuscript entitled Vägmärken (Markings) was found in Dag Hammarskjöld’s apartment in New York. The manuscript consisted of short diary-like notes, prose and haiku poems, which he himself described as “a sort of white book concerning my negotiations with myself — and with God.” (Hammarskjöld 1963, p. 5). Markings was published as a book in 1963. He effected in his life a remarkable combination of the contemplative life with a life of action in the world. Working out his faith in service of humankind, he strove to learn more about the nature and the work of God. As he wrote in Markings (p. 122), "In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."
   In 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts “to create peace and goodwill among nations and [sic] men.” (Jahn 1961). Ambassador Rolf Edberg received the prize as a representative of the Hammarskjöld family.
   Here are a couple of trademark quotes from Markings, which give us a sense of Dag's spiritual roots and resilience: Written in 1953: "-Night is drawing nigh-" For all that has been-Thanks! To all that shall be-Yes! Not I, but God in me." 
   And in 1954, this beautiful prayer: 
   "Thou who art over us,
    Thou who art one of us,
    Thou who art-
    Also within us,
    May all see Thee-in me also,
    May I prepare the way for Thee,
    May I thank Thee for all that shall fall to my lot,
    May I also not forget the needs of others,
    Keep me in Thy love
    As Thou wouldest that all should be kept in mine.
    May everything in this my being be directed to Thy glory
    And may I never despair,
    For I am under Thy hand, 
    And in Thee is all power and goodness.
    Give me a pure heart-that I may see Thee,
    A humble heart-that I may hear Thee,
    A heart of love-that I may serve Thee,
    A heart of faith-that I may abide in Thee."
   The following prayer is also appropriate on this day of remembering and celebrating Dag's life and legacy: Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image. Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression. Help us, like your servant Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold, to use our freedom to bring justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
   Sources for this post are: 
Philip H. Pfatteicher, Festivals and Commemorations: Handbook To The Calendar In Lutheran Book Of Worship.
Lutheran Book Of Worship
The Dag Hammarskjöld website, which consists of the following: Introductory page, Biography, Video and Audio, Photos, Quotes, Literature, and Links: 
Readers may also wish to check out this most interesting blog, where you can listen to three pieces of music composed by the Swedish pianist, jazz musician and composer, Anders Widmark, who has set some of the pages of Markings to music:


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chief of Sinners?

Cartoon credit: Agnus Day  
I like the irony in this cartoon, although I'm not sure I understand the humour in it. This is tomorrow's epistle lesson, wherein the apostle Paul gives himself the "honour," or "privilege" of being regarded as the "chief of sinners." I get the concluding remark regarding self-centred, and its irony. Luther, of course, defined sin as being turned in upon one's self. So does not being called "chief of sinners" epitomize that reality? Why did Paul want that honour or privilege? Was it because he had an overly guilty/shameful conscience, as some commentators try to make the case for? I'm doubtful of that, since he describes himself in Philippians as a very zealous, and advanced Torah-keeping Jew, so I don't think he'd be filled with a guilty/shameful conscience. Or perhaps is it that Paul just simply has an overly big ego or super-ego and needs/craves attention? Or related to that, is it because he insists on having authority as an apostle over those whom is is supposedly "serving," i.e. the Gentile congregations?  The phrase "chief of sinners," may very well be an honour/privilege of every human being, since we are all equals in God's eyes and presence - i.e. we are all sinners, and we are all in need of forgiveness, mercy and grace, and in Christ, recipients of the same. So, in that sense, Paul is not of a higher rank of class or status than any other human being.
   All in all, I think Paul is a rather "loner," "maverick" apostle - who ironically seems to insist in his own correctness theologically and the claim of authority to buttress that correctness; yet, ironically, in Galatians, he doesn't seem to have a lot of respect for the authority of the other apostles, since it was at least three years before he went to visit the apostles Peter and James in Jerusalem. In this same letter, Paul records a dispute with Peter regarding the latter's dietary habits, which Paul thought hypocritical. However, we don't have Peter's side of the dispute, so is Paul merely running Peter down, taking a cheap shot at him in order to exonerate himself and his authority? It's hard to come to a clear conclusion. 
   When all is said and done, regarding Paul's life and work however, I think we are left with the sense of irony and paradox that he does come across on the negative side as being patronizing toward the Gentile congregations, self-centred and overly heavy handed, and an advocate of women being submissive to men in marriage and in church leadership roles, while at the same time seeming to rethink that view in Galatians by stating there is neither male nor female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, all are equal/one in Christ, and, of course, in terms of his theological reasoning powers and creativity, he is likely the most sophisticated of all the New Testament authors, with the exception of the author of the Gospel of John. One wonders where or how far Christianity would have gotten without Paul, since he was instrumental in founding many of the Gentile congregations in the Mediterranean world.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The World's 50 Most Unusual Churches

Churches, as in buildings, reflect the culture of the people around them. Huffington Post Canada has come up with a collection of 50 of the world's most unusual churches. I enjoyed viewing this most interesting collection, which displays the creative process of artists around the globe who designed these architectural edifices. 
   However, I would have appreciated the rationale behind the choices made in this collection. I notice too that not one Canadian church was chosen - disappointing. I would be curious to know your thoughts on these churches, do you have a favourite? Do you think others should have been chosen? I'd love to read your comments.
   I do find the Ethiopian church carved out of solid rock rather unusual and interesting. I remember reading about these churches some years ago, and think one reason for building them out of rock and in the ground was because Christians in Ethiopia were persecuted at the time.
   You can view the collection here.   

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Prayer of the Day/Collect for 16 Pentecost, Year C

God who makes all things new: You call us to regard those as our sisters and brothers, and parents who follow you by counting the cost of carrying the cross. May we listen, watch and follow wherever you lead; through Jesus our Messiah, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Short Story: Jacob the sixth generation "PK"

He is a sixth-generation "PK," that's short of preacher's kid, coming from a long line of clergy ancestors, including a famous Scandinavian hymn writer-bishop. Of course he was raised in the good graces of mother church: baptized the first week of his life on Easter Sunday, attending worship services every Sunday and on special festivals with his parents, Sunday School, Confirmation on Pentecost Sunday, involvement in a youth group, choir, a special youth service trip building a school in a two-third world country, and loving, supportive parents. All of this, so his parents had hoped, would facilitate his faith-formation and maturity process. 
   Alas, then the shocking news came like a sharp knife to the heart. Jacob had written his parents a letter of farewell. Farewell not only to them, but also to everything they held near and dear, their rock-solid Christian faith and traditions. "What went wrong? What happened to our son that he'd do such a thing?!  They had hoped he would enter seminary and go into parish ministry. What is Jacob doing?! How could he become a Muslim? Is this for real, or a terrible dream?!" they lamented, crying, agonizing over this most horrible news.
   You see, Jacob had fallen in with "the wrong crowd" in college. In his religious studies class at the University of British Columbia, he'd met up with a few Muslims. They'd had their in-class debates and rivalries. Jacob was one of the strongest Christian debaters, and the Muslim students knew it. In fact, it took all of them to win a debate with only this one articulate and vigorous, Christian debater-infidel. 
   So what did they eventually do? Well, they decided the diplomatic tact. They befriended him. One day they invited him to attend an "information night" at their neighbourhood mosque. Jacob accepted the invitation, thinking he might have more opportunity to convince his classmates and other Muslims of the truth of his Christian faith. 
   When he arrived however, Jacob was in for a surprise. First, there was music and eating. Then he began to feel a bit drugged and passive. Had they doped up his food or drink? Then this strange looking imam entered the room and began his long 2 hour lecture. One point after another about how Christianity was inferior to Islam. Then the showing of three YouTube videos in a row. Followed by speeches by his Muslim classmates. The anti-Christian rhetoric exacerbated and Jacob's head was swimming now, being polluted with Islamic  radical jihad ideology. This continued all night, until this Al-Qaeda cell had successfully brainwashed and recruited this infidel Christian, Jacob. 
   In the morning he wrote his letter to his parents, and the cell group recorded his renunciation on video, sending it to YouTube for the world to see. 
   Next, Jacob and these cell group members went to Afghanistan to be trained in an Al-Qaeda camp. A month later, Jacob and the other cell group members were ready to enter Syria and terrorize Christian communities there. 
   They entered a mountain top village where Christians had lived for centuries. Then without asking any questions they opened fire. Jacob fired his rocket launcher into a small house, demolishing it. He then went to see the damage. He saw a mother with three young children-all dead. The mother still had her Bible in one hand. The Bible was opened up to Matthew 5:43-48. Jacob began to read: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven..." 
   Jacob took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and immediately realised what he had done. So he began his prayer: "Father, forgive me, and..."    

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Canadian Composer Hildegard Westerkamp

German-born, Canadian composer, Hildegard Westerkamp is able to "push the envelope" in many of her compositions. After she finished her music studies, she became interested in the study and composition of environmental music. She is a composer, educator, and radio artist. Her compositions include urban and rural wilderness soundscapes, along with children and adult human voices, with noise, silence, music, media sounds, and sounds of different cultures. There is music in our environment every day, Westerkamp helps us realise how that music can be recorded to inspire our lives, and make us more aware and appreciative of the creative, life-giving nature of our environment. I've chosen to share two of her works one a YouTube, the the other an audio sound clip, called Harbour Symphony, consisting of boathorns, which you can listen to here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sociological Tidbit: Canadian Short Films

Many Canadians are not aware of the talent we have been gifted with in the field of short films. They/We should be, as over the years on television, we've often watched numerous National Film Board shorts, which were shown between other regular scheduled programming. The NFB, in my humble opinion-even more so now in an age of visual media high tech-is one of our under-rated/under-appreciated national treasures. In a humble effort to promote that premise, I hope you enjoy viewing the following "Short of the Week New Media 2013 Awards Winner: Bear 71, by Jeremy Mendes and Leanne Allison. It's not a YouTube, however you can watch it by clicking here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Famous quotes on peace and justice

The news is full of reports on the situation in Syria these days, especially after the alleged use of sarin gas by government forces against its citizens, killing hundreds. The U.S.A. is ramping up its war rhetoric, threatening to intervene militarily. If they do decide in favour of military intervention, I think that will have devastating consequences, and could lead to a larger, Middle Eastern War, rather than remain contained in Syria. If those who decide to use violence to prevail politically would focus more on nonviolent peace and justice conflict resolution, then they would hopefully realise that war is not an option. The following quotes, I think, demonstrate that peace with justice is possible among peoples who desire the common good.
   Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin. – Dwight Eisenhower
   Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. –Isaac Asimov

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon on 2 Cor 12:9
   Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality--not as we expect it to be but as it is--is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love. –Frederick Buechner
   One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one. –Agatha Christie
   If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies. –Moshe Dayan
   The longer we listen to one another - with real attention - the more commonality we will find in all our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions. –Barbara Deming
   At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by human love. Always decide, "I will combat it with human love." If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it. –F. Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov  
   Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. –Dwight Eisenhower
   When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, ALWAYS! –Mohandas Gandhi
   Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Without justice, there can be no peace. –Martin Luther King, Jr.