Friday, August 24, 2018

Brief Book Review: One Who Believed True Stories of Faith

One Who Believed: True Stories of Faith
Author: Robert B Pamplin, Jr.
Publisher: Newberg, Oregon: Christ Community Church
213 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The author of this volume, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. is a pastor, businessman, and farmer. He has written a number of books, and has earned eight degrees.
   In the introduction, he states the purpose of this work: “These mini-biographies dramatically describe the life of practicing Christians, living and deceased, and the impact faith had on their lives. Many of the subjects were—or are—prominent individuals whose accomplishments have made them of interest as a story. Others are individuals who may not be well known, yet their story is remarkable.” (p. 3)
   The volume consists of sixty mini-biographies of Christians from a wide range of backgrounds, denominations, nationalities, etc. Two of my favourites are Corrie ten Boom and Johann Sebastian Bach. Dr. Pamplin notes that the ten Booms hid persecuted Jews during World War II, and were sent to a concentration camp where both Corrie’s dad and sister died. It was Corrie’s faith that kept her going: “The ground upon which I build my faith is not in me, but is in the faithfulness of God.” (p. 63) Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the greatest composers of all time. He was a devout Lutheran, and dedicated much of his life’s work to improving church music with his compositions for organ, choir and congregational singing. Of course his St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion bear witness to Bach’s deep faith in Christ, “…works considered by some to be the most marvelous masterpieces ever written.” (p. 176)
   This volume is an easy read, and would most likely inspire Christians of all ages, and perhaps be of interest to some non-Christians as well.

   At the end of the work, there is a Credits section, listing over fifty sources upon which the mini-biographies were based—material worth consulting for further reading.     

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Brief Book Review: Notes From Underground

Notes From Underground
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Translated and annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Publisher: New York: Vintage Classics, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
130 pages, plus Forward and Notes

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

First of all, I shall preface my review by stating that I have read other Dostoevsky novels and appreciated them immensely—especially The Brothers Karamazov. However, Notes From Underground, I regret to say, is not in that category.
   I do not doubt Dostoevsky’s genius as a writer, and his knowledge of the works of other Russian and European novelists, poets, and philosophers—several of whom he makes reference to in Notes From Underground.  
   Dostoevsky begins by informing his readers that there are two parts to his work, an introduction to the main (unnamed) character, and the character’s notes. Dostoevsky claims the work is fiction, yet this reviewer thinks at least some of it is biographical.
   So who is this character, hero, or more likely anti-hero? He begins by describing himself as ‘sick,’ ‘wicked,’ and ‘unattractive.’ He goes on to say: “I’m forty now. I used to be in the civil service, I no longer am. I was a wicked official. I was rude, and took pleasure in it.” (p. 4) Then he suggests he is the opposite of all that, and ends up being what sounds to this reviewer like a nihilist: “…no, I never even managed to become anything: neither wicked nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect.” (p. 5)
   Most of the novel dwells on his existential self-centredness. He comes across as being so self-absorbed that he is unable to understand, show empathy and compassion for other human beings. He is up and down and all around: one moment totally obsessed with his own thoughts, emotions and motives, the next moment filled with suspicions and criticisms of everyone. In the depths of his being, he is so conflicted, confused, and disturbed that nearly everything he actually does turns out sour and alienates himself from everyone else.  

   Having said that, there are some paradoxes in the novel, which ring true for readers. This is my favourite, since I think Dostoevsky may be alluding to the suffering of Jesus and his call to all would-be disciples to bear their cross if they are to follow him: “And in fact I’m now asking an idle question of my own: which is better—cheap happiness, or lofty suffering? Well, which is better?” (p. 128) Be that as it may, six out of ten stars.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Clergy Comment column

Here is my article published in the August 2, 2018 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column. PLEASE NOTE: This is my last Clergy Comment column, since sadly, the Camrose Canadian will publish its last issue next Thursday, August 9, 2018. L
   Justice. It’s been said that justice is not for just us, which reminds me of the song “Justice” by Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn: “Everybody loves to see justice done on somebody else.” If justice is only for just us, then the question arises does everybody else live with injustice? Bruce Cockburn’s lyrics may have the nuance of dreading justice because it might involve something we don’t want.
   What is justice? Can we live without it? If we observe and analyze the news from around the world, it appears that there are far too many nations that justice is denied to way too many people.
   According to biblical scholars, the Hebrew word tsedeq is mentioned some 119 times; and the feminine form tsedaqah is mentioned some 159 times in the Old Testament. The two words have a variety of meanings: moral uprightness, righteousness, holiness, honesty, integrity, legal rights, good government, fairness, equality-including economic equality, innocence, prosperity and salvation. In the New Testament, the Greek word dikaiosune is mentioned some 92 times. It has a similar meaning as the Old Testament words.
   There are, of course, at least two kinds of justice. God’s justice, which reflects God’s nature, and is usually impartial, all-inclusive, and very concerned about the poor and vulnerable, widows, orphans, and foreigners. Human justice, at its best, endeavours to strive for a justice that reflects God’s justice, however it shall always be influenced by our sinful condition and hence be imperfect, proximate, and provisional—determined by socio-economic-political and ideological agendas. 
   As a people of faith, in response to God’s grace, and the just ways that God and other humans have treated us, we are given our mission: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)
   Justice is not for just us, it is for everyone. It involves the practical living out of our lives with compassion towards all; seeing every human being as a brother and a sister created in the image of God.