Friday, January 4, 2019

Book Review: Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There
Author:Philip Hallie
Publisher:HarperPerennial A Division of HarperCollins Publishers
303 pages, paperback
Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

As the title suggests, this is the story of a southern France Huguenot mountain village, Le Chambon, and how, under the inspiration and leadership of the Reformed Protestant pastor, Reverend André Trocmé and his colleague, Pastor Édouard Theis, saved the lives of Jewish refugees during four years of the Nazi occupation of France. The title is, of course, a portion of Deuteronomy 19:7-10: “Therefore I command you, you shall set apart three cities...then you shall add three other cities to these three, lest innocent blood be shed in your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and the guilt of any bloodshed be upon you.” 
   In the context of Le Chambon, Jewish lives were in danger simply because they were Jews—not because they were seeking refuge due to any crimes that they had committed. 
   For Pastor Trocmé and Pastor Theis, their active nonviolent resistance and commitment to saving Jewish lives was rooted in their Christian faith and the biblical teachings of texts such as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ higher teaching to love one’s enemies. One other Protestant, biblical belief of the priesthood of all believers most likely helped the whole village to see their role and calling to save the Jewish refugees. 
   One example of Pastor Trocmé’s commitment to saving the Jews comes across in his following words to the chief of police: “These people have come here seeking aid and protection from the Protestants of this region. I am their pastor, their shepherd. It is not the role of a shepherd to betray the sheep confided to his keeping.” (p. 108) Pastor Trocmé spoke these words, even though he did not wish to convert the Jews to the Christian faith. Rather, he and others protected them by hiding them in various safe homes, providing ration cards and false identity cards. In some instances, they helped them escape across the border into Switzerland. 
   Another factor in the villagers of Le Chambon saving the Jewish refugees may have been their Huguenot history. As a religious minority in France—only about one percent of the population—they were persecuted, andfaced a life of struggle to keep their Protestant faith. 
   Throughout this volume, the author emphasizes the passion and spiritual strength of Pastor Trocmé. Along with his passion and spiritual strength, he was willing to take risks and implement a lot of creative means to inspire his people and save the Jews. 
   It has often been said that opposites attract—this may very well have proven true in the case of Pastor Trocmé and his wife, Magda. She was ever the down-to-earth practical ‘doer.’ She was not much for high ideals, or moral praise. Her words spoken to the author make this quite clear: “How can you call us ‘good’? We were doing what had to be done. Who else could help them? And what has all this to do with goodness? Things had to be done, that’s all, and we happened to be there to do them. You must understand that it was the most natural thing in the world to help these people.” (pp. 20-21) 
   One of the practical lessons that the Trocmés and those who helped and saved the Jews in Le Chambon was that they had to keep secret from the authorities and those citizens unsympathetic towards the Jews the details of where and how they were risking in love their lives for the Jews. In other words, they had to lie in order to do the right thing. 
   The Jewish refugees in Le Chambon made their contribution to the villagers. For example, the two who spent the war in the Trocmé presbytery Madame Grünhut and Monsieur Kohn cooked and repaired and constructed furniture; others helped with the Red Cross and at the Cévenol School; yet others helped with practical household chores like looking after the children and teaching them a new language like German, and doing the laundry. 
   After the war, Pastor Trocmé became less interested in pastoring a country parish and more interested in nonviolence on a global scale—lecturing throughout Europe and America for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The war had also changed him theologically and personally. When his son committed suicide, he no longer believed that God the Father would protect human beings from danger and harm. Instead, God suffered and was grief-stricken like human beings. He also grew more authoritarian personality-wise than he had been previously. For example, in his autobiographical notes, he stated: “A curse on him [sic] who begins in gentleness. He [sic] shall finish in insipidity and cowardice, and shall never set foot in the great liberating current of Christianity.” (p. 266)
   According to Hallie: “André Trocmé was a man of character, a violent man conquered by God, a passionate man whose respect for the Christian law of love controlled his powerful passions.” (p. 279)
   In his 1934 essay, “The Opposite of Evil,” Trocmé expressed his belief that in times of crisis, theories and predictions are a refuge for cowards. He chose to do without intellectual systems and without fear-filled predictions. He decided simply to “help the unjustly persecuted innocents around me.” (p. 285)
   Pastor Trocmé and his son Daniel were both awarded the Medal of Righteousness, and two trees were planted in their memory in the Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
   In addition to the five parts of the main body of text, this volume includes: Acknowledgments, Introduction to the HarperPerennial Edition, Prelude, a Postscript, a few Notes, helpful Sources with commentary, an index, as well as some photographs. 
  Those interested in Jewish-Christian relations will find this volume a significant reference. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Prayer of the Day-Collect for 4th Sunday of Advent Year C

God of love: We magnify you for showing mercy upon the poor and forgotten ones around the world. Your love through Jesus our Messiah came to earth to reverse the order of things and set all things right. May we follow your example Jesus of love for all people even as we pray for your coming again today, tomorrow and in the unknown future as Messiah, Saviour, Lord of lords, and King of kings; to reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Prayer of the Day-Collect for 3rd Sunday of Advent Year C

Holy One: In this season of joy and rejoicing, there are many family members, friends and neighbours in our midst; as well as countless millions of poor and oppressed people around the globe who find little joy or occasion to rejoice. May your Holy Spirit’s fruit of joy and rejoicing spread into the hearts, minds and lives of all humankind as we prepare to celebrate the coming of our Messiah Jesus; in whose name we pray.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Prayer of the Day/Collect for 2nd Sunday of Advent Year C

God of judgement and grace: You sent John your faithful messenger to prepare your people for your coming through a baptism of repentance. Grant us open ears and hearts to hear your word; and to respond with acts of repentance to prepare for the coming of your Son; Jesus the Messiah; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Prayer of the Day-Collect for 1st Sunday of Advent Year C

God of hope: Amidst all of the darkness and suffering, tragedies and disasters, fears and growing hatred, divisions and wars, help us to remain firmly rooted in the hope that only you can give us through our righteous Branch, Jesus, the Messiah. May we be signs of this hope as we prepare for your coming through the living out of our lives trusting in your promises; through Jesus our Messiah, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Brief Graveside Sermon for Jean Braim

Brief graveside sermon for Jean Velma Braim, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Isa 40:31 & Jn 14:1-6, on November 3, 2018, Camrose Cemetery.
As I mentioned earlier, one of Jean’s favourite Bible passages was Isaiah 40:31. What a beautiful passage this is too! The prophet who wrote it was living in Babylonian exile along with his people. The people of Judah and Jerusalem living in that strange land were likely rather discouraged and feeling weak, weary and faint. In that situation, God inspired the prophet to speak these words of encouragement and hope.
   Notice that the prophet starts off saying: “Those who wait for the LORD.” Much of life involves waiting. Jean had to do her share of waiting too. She had to wait for all of the blessings that the LORD gave her—blessings such as a loving husband in Bryan, all six of you children, eighteen grandchildren, and forty great grandchildren. Jean had to wait on the LORD throughout her life in various circumstances, good times and more challenging times, times during the last days of her life when she had grown weak, faint and weary. Such times are difficult, yet Jean waited for the LORD then too, because she knew that he would come and bless her. He would come and take her to himself in heaven. Now her waiting is over.
   Throughout Jean’s life she waited on the LORD for compassion to love her husband, and you her family members. She waited on the LORD in order that she could be a person of faith. Jean was faithful to her husband, and you her family members. Her focus in life was on servanthood. She served you and others in the community. She served by putting her gifts of sewing, gardening and crafts to work. She served by being involved in the United Church Women’s group. She served along with Bryan to deliver Meals on Wheels for shut-ins. She served as a volunteer in the hospital. She served as a caregiver for her siblings when they were sick by sitting with them. Jean, by waiting on the LORD found that he renewed her strength, as if she were mounting on eagle’s wings. She waited for the LORD’s strength during times when she was weak, weary and faint. In so doing, she set a fine example of faithfulness and compassion for each of you too. You and I, all of us here today, need to follow that example—to wait on the LORD for strength in all the circumstances that we encounter as we journey through life.
   One of the most beautiful word pictures that the prophet gives us in this passage is that of the wings of eagles. Have you ever seen an eagle with its wings spread out in flight? Recently I was blessed to see a beautiful eagle flying right above me with its outstretched wings. Wow! It took my breath away when I observed how powerful and graceful those wings were as they caught the air currents in flight.
   So the wings of eagles are a beautiful symbol of God’s power, God’s protection, and just as the eagle is free when it flies so gracefully, we too are set free by our God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—which brings us to the Good News from John’s Gospel.
   The words of Jesus are also wonderful words of life! His words bring us comfort and hope in times of sadness. The comfort and hope that Jesus has gone ahead of us into heaven to prepare a dwelling place for us. He will come again to take us to our eternal dwelling place.

   Jean is now in that dwelling place, my guess is that she may very well be singing there too. One of Jean’s favourite things to do at Bethany Meadows was to participate in my cottage Hymn-Sings. She just loved them! Jean found much joy and comfort in music throughout her life. In her early years, she and her sister made a 45 record. She also played the guitar and sang in choirs. Music is also one of God’s gifts. Now I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she is singing away in the heavenly choir!