Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Daniel Silva,The Secret Servant New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2007, 385 pp.
Once again, in the tradition of his The Confessor and The Messenger, Daniel Silva has written a brilliant, racy spy-thriller. Silva’s complex plot and impeccable research, along with his flair for storytelling are bound to captivate readers.
In this novel, Israeli spy and art restorer, Gabriel Allon continues to be the main protagonist. Follow Gabriel as he works with other intelligence personnel and high ranking government officials (including Presidents, Prime Ministers, and others) throughout continental Europe, Great Britain, the United States and the Middle East. This time he comes very close to losing his life at the hands of members of The Sword of Allah, an Egyptian based, yet international jihadist Islamic terrorist group.
There are many scenes and incidents in this novel that address the contemporary world’s battle against Islamic extremists; who will stop at nothing to impose sharia law on non-Muslims. In this cruel, twisted reality, no means are forbidden in order to achieve the desirable ends—including the murder of parents who themselves may be devout Muslims, yet clearly condemn the terrorist activities of Islamic extremists.
It is with the deepest passion and most clear-headed analysis that Silva describes the practical, political, as well as the moral, ethical and spiritual dilemma facing the Western world today. He raises important questions like: How can the West fight this terrorism without becoming like the enemy? In the fight against terrorism, do hatred and violence not breed hatred and violence, and do those so deeply entrenched in it not lose their own souls? What are the limits of freedom in democratic societies? What is the role of religion in endorsing and preventing terrorism?
Silva’s message, like that of biblical prophets such as Jeremiah and Amos, is a warning of the Western world’s impending destruction by Islamic extremists. According to Silva, writers such as Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept and Melanie Phillips, Londonistan are correct in describing the present dilemma and crisis facing continental Europe and Great Britain.
Daniel Silva’s concluding warning is very sobering: “Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton has estimated that Europe will have a Muslim majority by the end of the century, and Zachary Shore, in his thoughtful study of Europe’s future titled Breeding Bin Ladens, stated that “America may not recognize Europe in a few short decades.” Whether Europe will remain a strategic ally of the United States or become a staging ground for future attacks on American soil is not yet known. What is clear, however, are the intentions of al-Qaeda and the global jihadists. Mohammed Bouyeri, the unemployed Dutch-Moroccan immigrant from Amsterdam who murdered the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, stated them unambiguously in the manifesto he adhered to his victim’s body with the point of a knife: “I surely know that you, O America, will be destroyed. I surely know that you, O Europe, will be destroyed. I surely know that you, O Holland, will be destroyed. (p. 382)”
Daniel Silva is an author to be read by people of all three monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with his analysis and conclusions; we shall certainly be challenged to think more deeply about our own views, beliefs and practices concerning the most pressing contemporary issues he raises in his novels; and then, hopefully, respond appropriately. For that we owe Daniel Silva our deepest gratitude. As a Christian, violence and hatred are not the answer; only love of one's enemy, and peace with justice can break the downward spiralling of violence and hatred.
Overcoming Life’s Disappointments Harold S. Kushner, A Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2006, 174 pages Hardcover
Harold S. Kushner is Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, where he resides. The Christophers, a Roman Catholic organization, have honoured him as one of the 50 people who have made the world a better place in the last half century. Religion in American Life chose him as the clergyperson of the year in 1999. He is the author of the popular best-seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and eight other books.
This most recent work by Rabbi Kushner is certainly on the same level of excellence as his previous books—easy to read, yet chalk-full of practical wisdom and creative insights that are bound to appeal to a wide-ranging audience. The rabbi has an incredible gift of choosing topics of interest and developing them in a down-to-earth and pastoral fashion.
For Rabbi Kushner, the life of Moses is the quintessential prototype, from which he draws many invaluable lessons. Moses had to face numerous disappointments as God’s chosen leader of the ancient Israelites—everything from constant criticisms to out-and-out rebellion. After being instrumental in: leading his people out of Egyptian slavery; receiving and transmitting the Mt. Sinai Covenant; providing for his peoples’ hunger and thirst and journeying with them in the wilderness; Moses is denied the privilege of entering the Promised Land. A leader who complains that he is not an eloquent speaker; a workaholic who (reading between the lines) has a rather strained relationship with his wife Zipporah and distant relationships with their sons Gershom and Eliezer—yet a man of God who is given the gifts and resources to overcome life’s disappointments because he refused to allow his disappointments to define his true identity and life-purpose.
According to Rabbi Kushner: “Perhaps failure and disappointment can teach us that we may fail at one thing, we may fail at several things, but that does not mean that we are failures as people.”
Every human being faces disappointments and brokenness in life—whether it be struggles in school, failed marriages, losing a job, living with disabilities, being afflicted with a chronic disease, the tragic death of a loved one, and the list goes endlessly on. However quoting singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”
Through our disappointments, failures, tragedies and sufferings, like Moses, we can become more humble, forgiving, kind and faithful people. For example, Rabbi Kushner cites the Jewish tradition of hesed shel emet, “authentic kindness.” “It refers to a good deed done in the knowledge that it will never be reciprocated.” Moses had many opportunities to remain disappointed, angry and bitter. However he chose to end his life as Israel’s leader not by scolding or being envious of his people, but rather, by blessing them and radiating gratitude.
Ever the gifted teacher, Rabbi Kushner shares his wisdom based on biblical narratives, personal experiences, Talmudic tales, and anecdotes from a wealth of other sources. This is as it should be, since he fittingly dedicates this volume to three of his teachers. Overcoming Life’s Disappointments shall likely instruct and inspire readers from many backgrounds for years to come.
He Could Not Do Otherwise: Bishop Lajos Ordass, 1901-1978 László G. Terray, Translated from the German by Eric W. Gritsch Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997 171 pages, $36.50, Paperback
Without question, Bishop Lajos Ordass served the Lutheran Church in Hungary during one of its most difficult periods of history—when the Nazis occupied Hungary, and afterwards the rise of Communism in Eastern Europe. In light of this, the title is an apt one, suggesting the deep-seated struggle inside the church as well as of the church with the powers of the state—somewhat reminiscent of Luther and the Reformation.
This reviewer was rather unsatisfied with Terray’s biography; mainly due to its lack of life-enriching anecdotes. The facts and key events—based partially on Ordass’s own autobiography, Small Mirror for Great Times—shaping Ordass’s life were presented and periodically analysed. However, what remain largely missing are heart-warming stories that provide personal, concrete evidence of a life lived and that made a difference in the lives of others.
Although Ordass faced many sufferings, hardships and persecutions during his life; and certainly these experiences tested his faith to the utmost; there seemed to have been times which he was perhaps too single-minded and unbending; consequently his confrontative rather than diplomatic leadership style resulted in the alienation of others and much resistance and rejection. However, this reviewer hastens to add that such single-mindedness and willingness to confront others may also be commendable marks of honour and courage, combined with speaking the truth in love.
Even though Ordass attempted to maintain contacts with the Church universal through organizations like the Lutheran World Federation; he had a very limited success; since the Communist-influenced church and secular press slandered and censored him. Indeed, in spite of the fact that Ordass was elected to executive positions within the LWF; the Communist government refused to allow him to travel widely abroad.
In his stormy ministry, he was deposed as bishop twice; interrogated by both church and secular Communist authorities; severely criticized in the press; placed on trial and convicted of crimes against the state; imprisoned and placed, for a time, in solitary confinement. All of this and more reminds one of the many sufferings of Jesus, the apostle Paul, the prophets, and other saints and martyrs down through the ages.
The words of Jesus are especially apt: “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.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
The readers of this volume will find the section “Sources and Literature,” (an annotated bibliography), and the “Chronology” helpful. However, rather than the “Index of Names,” a general or additional subject index would have been more beneficial. Readers interested in Eastern European church history and ecumenism will likely appreciate this biography.
Six Lives: A Memoir Dow Marmur Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2004 212 pages, $26.95, Paperback
Dow Marmur was most recently known as senior rabbi of one of the world’s largest Reform synagogues, Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, which he served from 1983 to 2000. Holy Blossom Temple, with its six to seven thousand members, is perhaps the most influential Reform synagogue in Canada.
The first thing about this book that caught this reviewer’s attention is the title; it is an apt description of Rabbi Marmur’s life journey. The chapter titles also reveal the author’s distinct pilgrimage: “Poland: Beginnings, Soviet Union: Exile, Sweden: Refuge, England: Vocation, Canada: Challenge, and Israel: Homecoming.”
Although Dow Marmur was born in Poland, an only child, he and his parents fled the Nazis to live in the Soviet Union Republic of Uzbekistan for five years. Life was very difficult there, exiles like the Marmur family had to steal food in order to survive. Dow, although a young boy at the time took on an adult role in his community, since he had learned the Uzbekish language quite well and served as an interpreter.
After World War Two, the Marmur family moved to Sweden, where Dow’s parents settled for the rest of their lives. His parents were secular Jews, therefore not overly happy when Dow decided to move to England, where he studied for the Reform rabbinate at London’s Leo Baeck College. However, prior to this move, Dow met and married Fredzia Zonabend, a Holocaust survivor of Ravensbruck concentration camp, who, with her family, also had settled in Sweden.
After Dow completed his studies at Leo Baeck College, he served as an ordained pulpit rabbi of two Reform synagogues in London. These were happy and fulfilling years, where the Marmurs raised their three children and they resided for more than a quarter century.
After this, the Marmurs were up to the challenge of moving to Canada where Dow served Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple Reform synagogue. It was not an easy move for their children. Both daughters eventually chose to move back to England and pursue careers in palliative care nursing and acting. Their son made aliyah and lives in Israel, where he is a rabbi and dean of a Reform theological college. Under Rabbi Marmur’s leadership, Holy Blossom Temple was able to successfully navigate through several conflicts and changes—including new liturgies and worship books, practicing kashruth, wearing headgear, revitalizing the youth and offering significant educational programs for members of all ages, becoming involved in social activism through projects like Out of the Cold for Toronto’s homeless, and engaging in interfaith dialogue with Christians and other faith traditions.
After serving Holy Blossom Temple as senior rabbi for seventeen years, the Marmurs realised that it was time for a change, so they officially retired and made aliyah. They now reside for half of the year in Jerusalem and in Canada for the other half-year.
As we journey along with Rabbi Marmur, we learn of his survivor’s guilt, his persistent feelings of inadequacy and struggles with identity. He observes that there are basically two kinds of rabbis—cat rabbis and dog rabbis. Cat rabbis are introverts; they prefer a life of solitude and scholarship. Dog rabbis are extroverts; they prefer to be in the limelight and serve people well. Although Rabbi Marmur spent most of his rabbinate in the synagogue, he claims that he appreciates times of solitude, reading a good book.
In order to compensate for his inferior feelings, Rabbi Marmur became a workaholic—deeply involving himself with several high-profile international Reform organisations, writing a few books, teaching courses in Judaism in a Toronto theological college, and engaging in interfaith dialogue and social action projects. This was all in addition to his full-time duties as senior rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple.
One thing this reviewer appreciated about the memoir was Rabbi Marmur’s determination to write with honesty—his “tell it like it was/is” style, yet without rancour, is most commendable. He tells of synagogue members, who, at first, adamantly opposed his leadership, only to eventually, by the grace of God, change their hearts and minds and become his loyal supporters. Rabbi Marmur confesses that while some have praised him as a courageous leader who held to his deep convictions; as well as a distinguished preacher and teacher; he describes his courage more as the fear of failure than anything else. Speaking of confession, the last chapter he pens is titled “Afterthoughts,” and is very much in the genre of a confession where he honestly examines some of his motives determining the path of his life. A final chapter, written by his wife titled “Coda “My Luck” by Fredzia Marmur,” rounds out the memoir. Fredzia makes the point that had it not been for her work and support, and in numerous cases, the sacrifices she made, husband Dow would never had been able to pursue many of his involvements as rabbi of three synagogues.
Throughout the memoir, one can see God’s grace working in and through people and events, filling Rabbi Marmur’s life with countless blessings. The last two sentences of his chapter “Afterthoughts” are very telling: “Mine has indeed been a rich and rewarding life. I thank God for it daily.” (p. 199) Hopefully those who read this memoir can say the same thing.
The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom Of The Twenty-Third Psalm, Harold S. Kushner, A Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2003, 175 pages, $29.95
Almost everyone who reads the Twenty-third Psalm loves it. There is something universal about this psalm that appeals to everyone. Jewish and Christian clergy—including myself—often recite this psalm from memory at deathbeds and during funeral and memorial services. There is something inspirational, powerful and comforting in the words of the Twenty-third Psalm that touch us more than almost any other biblical text.
Harold S. Kushner’s ideas for this book grew out of his forty-plus years of experience as an ordained rabbi. It also grew in response to questions like: where was God during the tragic events of September 11, 2001? His reading of the Twenty-third Psalm led him to the conclusion that when such tragedies occur, we are reassured that we don’t have to face them alone—God is with us. Rabbi Kushner also wrote a doctoral dissertation of the history of the Book of Psalms. Commenting on his best-loved psalm, the rabbi admits: “I have been drawn to the Twenty-third Psalm throughout my adult life.” (p. 12)
The structure of this book is quite straightforward, Rabbi Kushner devotes a chapter to each of the lines of the psalm—in the original Hebrew only fifty-seven words. The prose is geared towards a popular rather than academic audience—although there are a few exegetical gems that would certainly interest the clergy and biblical scholars. For example, the rabbi points out that in the English translation of the line “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” the word follow in the original Hebrew is a forceful verb, which more accurately could be rendered pursue. The sense here is that goodness and mercy shall run after and find us wherever we go.
Although there are particular concepts of God—such as omnipotence—that this reviewer differs with from Rabbi Kushner, nonetheless it would be foolish to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The rabbi has many a wise and healing story to tell and learn from, as the subtitle of this volume suggests.
Chapter thirteen, “My Cup Runneth Over,” in my humble opinion, is by far the best of them all. Indeed, this chapter alone is a mini-book within a book. Its title is a very apt description of the chapter’s contents—full to overflowing with deep and inspiring wisdom. The thematic focus of this chapter is on gratitude, described by Rabbi Kushner as “the fundamental religious emotion.” (p. 145) Gratitude, observes the rabbi, makes all the difference in the world in how we view the world and live in it. Readers learn in this chapter what prevents people from being grateful and how to change that by practically living out and expressing our gratitude in response to the gifts God has given us.
All in all, a worthwhile read, appealing to folks of nearly every age and background. Rabbi Kushner’s stories, gleaned from theological giants, the arts, sciences and the classics of world literature, tug at the heartstrings, make the reader laugh and cry, instruct and inspire those seeking practical ways to live out their faith traditions.
Whose Bible Is It? A History Of The Scriptures Through The Ages, Jaroslav Pelikan, Viking, 274 pages, $36.00 Hardcover
Jaroslav Pelikan, Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, recent winner of the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences, past president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is an internationally acclaimed scholar and author of many books, including his five volume The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Jesus Through the Centuries, and Mary Through the Centuries.
Professor Pelikan cites two major reasons for writing Whose Bible Is It?—to insist that the familiar, so-called messianic prophesies in Isaiah chapters seven, nine and fifty-three may be interpreted equally legitimately by Jews and Christians; and secondly, to answer the following question asked by his Slavic-speaking aunt, Vanda Olga Brazlova, several decades ago: “Tall me, vot do you tink of Bible?”
According to Pelikan: “The history of Jewish-Christian relations, and then the history of the divisions within Christendom, is at one level the history of biblical interpretation.” (p. 4) The Jewish Bible canon (not a gun, but meaning “rule,” an “official” list or table of contents) excludes the New Testament. Moreover, Protestant and Roman Catholic Bible canons differ—the former excludes the Apocrypha.
It is most instructive that in the beginning God spoke first, before the Bible was written down. Speaking today remains important in transmitting the biblical faith. For Jews and Christians, oral tradition profoundly shaped the written word and still is important via oral reading of the Bible, singing psalms, and preaching sermons.
The Jewish people refer to their Bible as the Tanakh—which is an acronym for Torah, the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch; Nevi’im, the books of the prophets; and Kethuvim, called the writings, including books like the Psalms, Proverbs and Job.
According to Pelikan, the Tanakh was written over the span of about 1,000 years; from Israel’s exodus out of Egypt, around 1,300 BCE to shortly before 400 BCE, when Ezra and the people of Judah returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. In his chapter, “The Truth In Hebrew,” Pelikan provides brief outlines of the central themes contained in each book of the Tanakh, along with each historical setting. The final canonization of the Tanakh took place about 90 or 100 CE at the assembly of rabbis in Jamnia under the leadership of Rabbi Akiba. Eventually the Jews of Alexandria, Egypt translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek—since some Jews could no longer read or speak Hebrew, some Jews also wanted Gentiles to be able to read the Tanakh in Greek. Pelikan also explains the differences between Talmud and Targum, Haggadah and Halakah, Mishnah and Midrash.
Pelikan helps the reader appreciate the complexities of translating the Bible from one language to another. He points out that there are not always equivalent words available to communicate the biblical language into English. The tenses in Hebrew are quite different than the English or other Indo-European languages. Hence, in Latin, Psalm 121:2 is translated in the perfect tense; whereas in a Jewish Publication Society Version of the same verse, it is translated in the present tense; and in the King James Version it is in the future tense.
Pelikan walks us through the four traditional medieval methods of interpreting the Bible: literal, allegorical, moral, and the anagogical—in contemporary language, the latter is referred to as the eschatological. He also discusses the influence of ancient Greek and Roman culture on Christian humanists in the age of the Renaissance, resulting in more accurate Greek, Latin and Hebrew Bibles, with an emphasis on philological and grammatical precision; and the emphasis on the doctrine of Scripture alone in Reformation times over and above papal primacy.
In the Enlightenment, scholars like Reimarus approached Scripture from the historical-critical method and was sceptical about authorship, history, miracles, and the divinity of Christ. On the other hand, there were musicians like J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel who inculcated piety through their compositions like the St. Matthew Passion and Messiah, which were based on Scripture thus promoting its salvific message.
Pelikan also describes how cultures influence biblical translations, doctrines and practices. For example, Ulphilas, 4th century “apostle to the Goths,” omitted the books of Kings in his translation of the Bible, since he thought they encouraged war and violence—which did not require encouraging among the violent Goths. In everyday English speech, we employ phrases from the Bible like: “There is no new thing under the sun,” “The powers that be,” and “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
In the 20th century, the Bible inspired some of the finest works of literature: Archibald MacLeish’s play J.B., based on Job; Toni Morrison’s 1993 novel Beloved, based on the Song of Solomon; and Thomas Mann’s 1929 massive four-volume epic, Joseph and His Brothers, based on the Joseph narrative in Genesis.
For Pelikan, the Bible is one long love letter, meant to be read and reread throughout the life journey, revealing ever-new insights and inspiration. According to Pelikan, the question of his book’s title is presumptuous and perhaps even blasphemous. The Bible as God’s Book, God’s Word, is not possessed by anyone.
While the average layperson will likely find this volume difficult reading, it will prove beneficial for the biblical scholar or church historian.
Bob Dylan Chronicles: Volume One New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004 Hardcover, 293 pages
This first in ostensibly a series of volumes is a worthwhile read for the Dylan aficionado. It covers a lot of familiar ground, while at the same time there are a few surprises. On the familiar side are stories of: Dylan’s small town Minnesota roots, his quintessential mentor, Woody Guthrie, his motorcycle accident, his life as a naïve, upstart musician in New York City’s Greenwich Village, his fascination with eccentric, historical figures worthy of a ballad, his thought-provoking yet ever illusive poetic turn of phrase, playfully bouncing back and forth from text to subtext. On the surprise side is an intimate reference to the influence of Dylan’s wise maternal grandmother who taught him “to be kind because everyone you’ll ever meet is fighting a hard battle.” Other surprises for this reviewer were Dylan’s scanty information about his wife and children—he doesn’t even mention their names!—and silence concerning how his Jewish roots and purported allegiance to Christianity shaped his music, perhaps that’s coming in a future volume.
Chronicles reads much like an unedited, animated, living room conversation with Dylan. His mind is fertile and racy—moving at whirlwind pace, telling countless tales of musicians and events that influenced his life and music. Discover how John Hammond signed Dylan on with Columbia Records. Learn of the tension between Dylan and the media who were forever creating him into an “icon,” “legend,” “mythological hero,” and “the conscience of a generation;” whereas Dylan himself felt rather vulnerable; merely wanting to live an ordinary life singing and writing folksongs to provide for his wife and family. Enter into a studio with Dylan as he and others eat, sleep, breathe, and relentlessly analyze and refine his music to the nth degree before arriving at a satisfactory recording. This and much more entertains, provokes thought, inspires the heart, and heightens the reader’s appreciation for Bob Dylan’s gifts as an accomplished singer-songwriter, philosopher, sociologist, storyteller and poet.
Overall, Bob Dylan Chronicles: Volume One is an enjoyable read—although, ironically, Dylan’s life story may have come across more smoothly if editorial work had arranged the material into chronological order instead of Dylan’s free flow style, which jumps around rather randomly. Oh yes, to set the ambiance, you may wish to accompany your reading with a few of Dylan’s records, cassettes or CDs. Visit the web site at: www.bobdylan.com.
Daniel Silva, The Confessor New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Putnam Inc., 2003, 401 pp.
Written in the genre of a classic spy-thriller, Daniel Siva’s novel is a compelling page-turner. Silva’s complex plot and masterful character development, combined with a fast-paced adventure makes for a captivating story.
Israeli professor, Dr Benjamin Stern, devotes a sabbatical to write a book—which he shall never complete—on Pius XII, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Jewish people during World War II. When the Vatican discovers Professor Stern intends to publish information indicting the Vatican for its collaboration with the Nazis during the war, all hell breaks loose. Crux Vera, a secret society within the Vatican, involving a high profile cardinal among other shady antagonists, hires a professional killer who murders Professor Stern in his Munich apartment. The killer also believes he now possesses all of Stern’s manuscript and research documents.
When Stern’s friend, Gabriel Allon, an Israeli spy and art restorer learns of the professor’s murder, he is determined to track down the killer and recover the stolen documents. In one intrigue after another, the hunters and the hunted travel throughout Europe to do their bidding for good and for ill.
The surprising, and perhaps most redeeming protagonist in the novel turns out to be the pope, Paul VII, successor of John Paul II. Paul was elected as a “pope accidental,” rendered a harmless soul, who would uphold the status quo. Surely he had no intentions of rocking the boat to change the traditional teachings and practices of the Church, did he? Paul’s destiny however was significantly different from that of the Vatican’s traditional power brokers. At the risk of his own life, Paul is single-mindedly committed to improving and healing the estranged relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish people. Consequently, his public address at a synagogue in Rome, and his conversation with Gabriel Allon are pivotal encounters shaping the denouement of the novel.
Here we are drawn into the universal conflict between truth and falsehood, evil and good. The Confessor becomes a confession in more ways than one—attesting to the enduring Judeo-Christian virtues of truth-revealing freedom, justice, mercy and love.
After the novel concludes, author Silva points out that the Vatican’s secret archives still remain closed; preventing historians from examining and revealing the whole story of what went on during World War II. The Vatican has refused to answer forty-seven questions submitted by a team of Jewish and Christian scholars who were given access to only some of the documents on Pius XII and the Vatican during the Second World War. The scholars therefore stated that their work was incomplete. In a closing remark addressing the current situation, Silva writes: “The evidence of Europe’s new anti-Semitism is all too visible in Rome, where members of the Jewish community pray each evening in a synagogue surrounded by heavily armed carabinieri units. (p. 400)”
Recommended reading for those interested and involved in Jewish-Christian relations.
Leo Goldberger, Editor, The Rescue Of The Danish Jews: Moral Courage Under Stress New York & London: New York University Press, 222 pp., including index; and David P. Gushee, The Righteous Gentiles Of The Holocaust: A Christian Interpretation Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 258 pp., including index, ISBN 0-8006-2838-1, $20.00 CDN
The first of these volumes, edited by Leo Goldberger, himself a rescued Danish Jew, is by far the most interesting in that the story is told from the first person perspective by the contributors.
The Danish government had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, hoping to remain neutral during the Second World War. However, this was not Denmark’s destiny—as the Nazis invaded and occupied the country in 1940. Yet, the Germans did permit the Danish government to rule the country with some compromise concessions to the former. Interestingly enough, the Jewish community in Denmark was able to live much the same as before the Nazi occupation, without facing persecution, largely due to the Danish government and King Christian X; who made it known to the Germans that all Danes were equal under the rule of Danish law, hence antisemitism and anti-Judaism would not be tolerated.
The situation deteriorated in late September of 1943, when a courageous German diplomat, Georg F. Duckwitz intercepted a top secret telegram, which revealed the Nazi plan to round-up, arrest, and ship the Jews to concentration camps. Mr. Duckwitz leaked this information to the Danish government, and from there the warning was spread to the whole Jewish community. Then ordinary Danes from all over the country began to act in a most unified effort to rescue and save the Danish Jews. Gentile Danes among other things: risked their lives, provided hiding places, food, even finances, as well as the boats and sailors to rescue and save the Jews by navigating over to nearby neutral Sweden.
When the rescue operation was completed, some 7,200 out of the 7,800 Danish Jews had been successfully transported as refugees over to Sweden. The remaining Jews were captured mainly by the Gestapo and shipped to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where most of them remained and survived until the end of the war—thanks to Danish care packages and constant inquirers about their circumstances.
In the “Personal Narratives” section of this volume, Leo Goldberger tells the story of his family’s rescue and the two morally courageous, Christian Danes most instrumental in the Goldberger family rescue mission. Fanny Arnskov, a member of the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom did most of the rescue planning and arranged for the necessary contacts; while Henry Rasmussen, a Lutheran Pastor provided the funding—about 20,000 kronen. Professor Goldberger further underscores the latter Dane’s ethical integrity by stating: “And though it was ostensibly a loan, I should add that Pastor Rasmussen refused repayment after the war. (p. 162)”
It is also most noteworthy that when the war was over, the Danish Jews returned to Denmark and found their property as they had left it prior to their taking refuge in Sweden. Moreover, they were also able to return to their work and enjoy full rights as Danish citizens.
All-in-all, by rescuing some 7,200 Jewish lives, ordinary Danes proved to be most extraordinary in practicing the Great Commandment of loving God and loving neighbour—even if that meant the ultimate sacrifice of risking and losing one’s own life. Professor Goldberger sums it up very well on his dedication page: “To Those Thousands of Danes for Whom Heroic Acts Were Ordinary Choices.” An added feature of this volume includes a brief, yet helpful, annotated list of films produced on this important subject.
Professor David Gushee’s volume is mostly an academic treatment of the subject. He cites study after study and compiles his data by analyzing it critically to reach his measured observations and conclusions. Indeed, The Righteous Gentiles Of The Holocaust reads much like a doctoral dissertation, replete with 51 pages of endnotes and 18 pages of bibliography, plus indexes of biblical references, modern authors, and the rescuers. The most problematic factor from this reviewer’s perspective is that Gushee would have likely benefited much more had he interviewed rescuers and those rescued first hand, rather than relying so heavily on secondary sources.
Nonetheless, Professor Gushee’s volume shines while focussing on the ethical—or lack thereof!—factors among Gentiles during the Holocaust. The quintessential question for Gushee is: Why did so few Gentiles offer assistance to the Jews during the Holocaust and what motivated them to act accordingly?
The author then cites six faith motivations: i) A sense of special religious kinship with Jews. Gentile Christians recognised and celebrated common roots of their faith in the Hebrew Bible. Christians also emphasised that Jews are God’s chosen people and therefore a blessed people, in serving and loving them, Christians are serving and loving God. ii) The remembered experience of religious persecution. This was especially so for the French Protestant Huguenots, who were persecuted as a tiny minority for three hundred years. Over 3,000 French Protestant lives were lost on the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572. French Protestants thus had compassion on the Jews who were a persecuted religious minority like themselves. iii) The incompatibility of Nazism and Christian faith. Some Christians regarded Nazism as an anti-Christian ideology; Bonhoeffer and Barth were among them. They said loyalty to Hitler was a violation of the First Commandment; God is God, not Hitler. iv) The equality and preciousness of every human life. This was emphasised by several denominations and their leaders. Here is one example from the Confessional Synod of the Old Prussian Union: “The right to exterminate human beings because they belong to…another race, nation, or religion was not given by God to the government. The life of men [and women] belongs to God and is sacred to him. (p. 133)” v) Biblical teachings on compassion and love. Here Professor Gushee cites texts like: Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 7:12; 22:34-40; 25:31-46; and Genesis 4:8-10. vi) Christian commitment and spirituality. This, according to the author—a Baptist ethicist and minister—involves the realm of personal religious experience. For example, some Christians believed God was speaking to them by giving them an opportunity to rescue or help particular Jews. In the words of a Dutch rescuer: “There was never any question about it. The Lord wanted us to rescue those people and we did it. (p. 142)”
Ultimately, The Righteous Gentiles Of The Holocaust is a compelling confession to the Jewish community of how miserably Gentiles failed to help them under such horrific, evil circumstances; as well as an appeal to contemporary Christians to be re-educated and re-learn the rudimentary teachings of Jesus—with a view to the few righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust as exemplars.
Harold S. Kushner, Living a Life That Matters: Resolving The Conflict Between Conscience And Success
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001 Hardcover, $33.00 CAN, $22.00 U.S., ISBN 0-375-41063-5, pp.158
Harold S. Kushner, Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, Religion in American Life’s 1999 Clergyperson of the Year, is the author of several best-sellers, including When Bad Things Happen to Good People. In that tradition, this volume is destined to be a classic work for Jews and Christians who are interested in the field of practical ethics.
Kushner has been a rabbi for over thirty years, the student of spiritual giant Abraham Joshua Heschel, and an astute reader of the classics of Western literature, psychology and sociology. Consequently, this is not so much a work displaying new and uncharted territory, as it is a thoughtful exposition of timeless truths made palatable for contemporary readers.
In eight chapters, Rabbi Kushner weaves the biblical narrative of Jacob together with the different stages of the human life-cycle and universal moral-ethical issues. He begins by observing that we live in two worlds—work and commerce, and faith and spirit. The former exists on the principal that one is honoured and successful if one works hard to earn it based on a clear set of standards and criteria. The latter is different; it underscores the unconditional acceptance and love of God towards humankind as a gift, without our earning it. In Rabbi Kushner’s view, human beings need both “father love,” the former, and “mother love,” the latter to live in a holistic way.
Over the centuries, Jews and Christians have been divided concerning the doctrine of human beings, based on their diverse exegetical conclusions of the so-called “fall” and “Original Sin” of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Rabbi Kushner speaks of the two-thousand-year-old fable of yetzer ha-ra: translated from the Hebrew as “the evil impulse” or “the will to do evil” but rendered by Kushner as “the will to selfishness.” Legend has it that the yetzer ha-ra was once captured and locked up because it was believed that then people could live a perfect life. However, soon they discovered that without the yetzer ha-ra, no one opened up their stores for business, no one married and no children were born. Human beings, they learned, need a balanced measure of the yetzer ha-ra in order to be selfish and aggressive or competitive enough to keep the world going. Rabbi Kushner maintains that human beings get into trouble when they emphasise “total depravity” or “total goodness/sainthood.” We are a complex combination of both goodness and evil, selfishness and unselfishness. Living a life that matters involves reaching a healthy balance between the two. This is one of the great truths integral to the narrative of Jacob wrestling all night with the angel. Both Jewish and Christian exegetes have offered several answers regarding the angel’s identity. However, Rabbi Kushner has his own insight—he believes that the angel is Jacob’s own conscience. It is after he wrestles with his conscience that he journeys towards living a life of integrity and peace, resolving the inner conflicts within his soul.
In his years as a rabbi, counselling Holocaust survivors and victims of sexual abuse, Kushner has learned that most of these people do not desire to take revenge on their perpetrators by inflicting physical harm. Rather, what they ultimately need for healing and wholeness is to overcome their feelings of powerlessness suffered at the hands of their perpetrators. This is accomplished if they are able to hold the perpetrators publicly accountable for the horrible wrongs they have committed. In such a process, survivors and victims gain new power and dignity—especially if their perpetrators admit their wrongdoing. Rabbi Kushner observes that by publicly bringing these perpetrators to justice and holding them accountable for their crimes, the survivors and victims are actually helping to restore humanity back into the perpetrators by acknowledging that there are moral, ethical consequences for exercising their free will. Furthermore, there is also a personal benefit for the survivors and victims: in seeing their perpetrator’s vulnerability and helplessness, they no longer need to take revenge by getting even. Kushner suggests that this is a very important motif in the Joseph narrative when he as Pharaoh’s Prime Minister exercises his power and authority by revealing himself to his brothers after setting them up and detaining them. Instead of getting even by taking revenge against them, he chooses to identify himself as their brother, and inquire about Jacob his father.
In the end, what Jacob and hopefully all of us eventually learn is that we do not have to win by causing others to lose. Living a life that matters is not about wealth or becoming an honoured international celebrity. Rather, it is making a difference in the everyday, ordinary events of loving-kindness and the decisions that we make, which may have profound consequences not only for us personally, but for others in ways that we may never see or know.
Whether it is a discussion on how God speaks and reveals God’s Self to humankind; or grappling with moral dilemmas within the workplace, church and synagogue and the family; or counselling youth and the elderly; or discovering the ultimate meaning of our lives by living with integrity as messengers of shalom; Rabbi Kushner draws us into a dialogue not as indifferent observers, but as active participants. This volume shall be a valuable resource for years to come for students of ethics, as well as for clergy and members of churches and synagogues.
More Answers To Questions Of The Spirit Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka
Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press in Canada & Niagara Falls, New York: Mosaic Press in U.S.A., 2002, $20.00 CAN, $15.00 US ISBN 0-88962-788-6 163 pp.
Dr. Reuven P. Bulka is Rabbi of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa; host of local radio and TV programs; a regular contributor to the Ottawa Citizen; a leader and activist in various charitable and religious organisations; an author/editor of 32 books and over 100 articles.
This is the second volume of a project undertaken by Rabbi Dr. Bulka and the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, published first as a series titled “Ask the Religion Experts.” The idea to publish Rabbi Dr. Bulka’s pieces as books was initiated with the profits designated to the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre Foundation.
Although the answers Rabbi Dr. Bulka supplies herein are rather brief—usually one or two pages—and by no means intended to be exhaustive; nonetheless, they are written with care, in the form of very accessible prose, most insightful and thought-provoking. Indeed, due to the engaging, conversational nature of this work, many readers may be “hooked” into reading the entire contents in one sitting!
The volume contains acknowledgements, an introduction, and is divided up into two parts: “World of Religion,” and “Religion in the World.” Each part consists of ten subsections, addressing topics such as: God, prayer, forgiveness, the hereafter, money matters, marriage issues, moral concerns, and the environment. There is also a concluding reflection and information about the author. Here is a small sample of the nature of some of the questions: Why do you believe in God? Why are there so many different kinds of houses of worship within the religions? Can Satan be forgiven? Is it a sin to be rich? Are there any lessons to be learned from the recent “collapse” of the high tech market? Recently, Holland passed a law legalizing doctor-assisted suicide under certain conditions. Should Canada follow suit?
Rabbi Dr. Bulka’s practical, down-to-earth wisdom and compassion are written large in this volume—hence, everyone from the academic, to clergy, to the laity shall benefit from this publication.
Pioneer Icelandic Pastor: The Life of the Reverend Paul ThorlakssonBy George J. Houser, Ph.D. Edited by Paul A Sigurdson The Manitoba Historical Society, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1990 229 pages, including bibliography Hardcover The author and editor of this volume have done a reasonably thorough job in presenting—for the most part—a balanced, well researched account of the Reverend Paul Thorlaksson’s life and work. Drawing on sources from: the estate of Dr. Paul H.J. Thorlakson, the manuscript collection of Iceland’s National Library, the National Archives of Canada, and the Icelandic Collection, Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba—as well as numerous pertinent books and newspaper articles published in Icelandic, Norwegian and English—the author and editor present a wealth of material. The volume follows Paul Thorlaksson’s life from childhood to adulthood in Iceland and North America. We learn of the hardships of Iceland and how, through a chain of events, Paul immigrates to North America. Then, we a provided with an account of Paul’s travels in North America; his education at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis; his orthodox Lutheran theology; his letters addressed to a variety of people back in Iceland; and his controversies with other Icelandic immigrants who oppose him theologically as well as in practical matters concerning immigration and a suitable geographic location to establish an Icelandic settlement. Paul was taken under the wing by Norwegians in Wisconsin. He appreciated their hospitality and was willing to learn agricultural methods from them. He recommended other Icelandic immigrants to spend their first year or two with the Norwegians for this purpose. However, for this and for Paul’s cordial association with the Norwegian Synod; he became the subject of controversy and criticism by other Icelanders. According to the author and editor, with Paul, common sense always prevailed. Paul—unlike others—did not exaggerate the conditions of life in the new world to deceitfully entice Icelanders to immigrate. His reports were balanced; always encouraging his fellow citizens back home to make up their own minds; without coercion or the often hyperbolic propaganda of the railroad companies, governments and other immigrants in the new world. In fact, when some Icelanders tried to promote the development of an Icelandic settlement in Alaska; Paul opposed them. He believed such a settlement was doomed to failure not only because of the harsh climate and geography—but also due to the far distance from Iceland and the fear that communication with the homeland would be cut off; resulting in the gradual loss of Icelandic language and culture. The proposed Alaska settlement never materialised. As time went on, Paul was also critiqued for not establishing an Icelandic settlement in the United States. After travelling to several locations, he was reluctant to begin an Icelandic settlement until he was assured of a large tract of land located in one area—rather than interspersing Icelanders in mixed communities. Paul wanted to keep them together—believing by so doing they would be more likely to preserve their language and culture. In 1875, Paul was ordained in the Norwegian Synod, and then he served a four-point Norwegian parish in Northern Wisconsin. In the same year, Paul organised the first Icelandic Lutheran congregation in North America at Shawano, an Icelandic settlement in Wisconsin. We are also taken on the journey of Icelandic settlers who established New Iceland (Gimli, Manitoba); landing at Willow Point on October 21, 1875. By then, the weather was cold and the settlers were poorly equipped to cope with the elements: food was scarce and of a poor quality and shelter consisted of small, hastily constructed shacks. After two or three more years of winter hardships; Paul seriously wondered—out of compassion for the settlers, wishing to alleviate their suffering—whether a new Icelandic colony ought to be established elsewhere. He, with the support of other Icelanders in New Iceland, pursued this further in the U.S., and again were berated by others in New Iceland. According to Houser, Paul’s motives were grossly misunderstood by his critics. Even though Paul was criticized for being too narrow-minded and dogmatic—subscribing to a literal interpretation of scripture and the necessity of creeds and confessions—he nonetheless, to his credit, remained on very friendly terms with his theological opponents, Unitarian minister Bjorn Pjetursson and poet Stephan G. Stephansson. For those interested in North American Icelandic history during the 1800s, this will be worthwhile reading. However, for those wishing more details on the New Iceland colony in Manitoba—they will likely be disappointed.
What You Thought You Knew about Judaism: 341 Common Misconceptions about Jewish LifeReuven P. Bulka Northvale, NJ & London, England: Jason Aronson Inc., 1989 436 pages Hardcover Reuven P. Bulka is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, who at the time of this publication (1989), was serving Congregation Machzikei Hadas, in Ottawa. In addition to receiving his Ph.D. in Logotherapy from the University of Ottawa in 1971, Rabbi Dr. Bulka has written numerous books and articles. This book is—overall—a real gem. Rabbi Dr. Bulka’s prose is most straightforward and insightful. He divides the contents into seven parts, and each part contains two chapters. Each of the 341 misconceptions is briefly stated, usually in one sentence. Then the rabbi often provides the reader with the origins of each misconception; followed by a corrective statement or exposition, which is frequently filled with practical wisdom and insight. Here are a few examples: “Judaism does not discourage converts, but it also does not seek to find them. No one is condemned for not being Jewish. The Judaic accent is on universal righteousness.” (24) “When a Jew marries a non-Jew who converts, it is an intermarriage. However, from the perspective of Jewish thinking, a non-Jew who converts to Judaism is a Jew, plain and simple. After legitimate conversion, it is a case of one Jew marrying another Jew, and it is not an intermarriage.” (27) According to Rabbi Dr. Bulka, the weekly Shabbat—not Yom Kippur—is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. A couple of criteria employed to reach this conclusion are: a) the difference of punishments for violating Shabbat and Yom Kippur, and b) the number of Torah readers for both days—on Yom Kippur there are six readers, whereas on Shabbat there are a minimum of seven. Divorce is not a sin when the husband and wife are granted a get—i.e., a religious divorce, which is considered a mitzvah. In practice, it is almost impossible within the traditions of Judaism to carry out capital punishment. This is the case because the guilty party needs to be warned of the crime’s consequences by two witnesses prior to committing the crime. Two witnesses must be present at the scene of the crime. It is not permissible for relations or friends to be witnesses of the perpetrator. If the testimony of one witness contradicts another witness, then the case is dismissed. When Rabbi Dr. Bulka comments on Christianity in relation to Judaism, one wonders whether he, ironically, is actually presenting misconceptions of Christianity. For example, it is not accurate to state, that for Christians: “Materialism and pleasure of any sort was renounced;” (363) and that Christianity rejects “the absolute oneness of God.” (364) Indeed, Jesus did not renounce material possessions per se—but the wrongful (i.e., idolatrous) use as well as selfish and careless stewardship of them. As for pleasure, Jesus provides wine at a wedding celebration in Cana. As for the oneness of God, Christianity certainly holds to a monotheistic stance. According to the author, Abraham was not the first Jew. Abraham was a Hebrew translated from the Hebrew Bible word Ivri. In the Torah, no mention is made of the Hebrew word Yehudi, which in English is rendered Jew. In Judaism, thirteen is not a superstitious, bad-luck number. There are thirteen attributes of God and thirteen primary maxims for extrapolating Torah. For the righteous or just (tzedek) Jew, charity (tzedakah) is mandatory, not voluntary; the required amount is ten percent of one’s income. This volume also cites the sources consulted for each chapter; and provides a helpful glossary, bibliography and index. It is an informative, instructive read for both Jews and Christians--providing a wealth of information in almost every aspect of Jewish faith and life. It would also be helpful for us Gentile readers to access a similar volume focussing on the numerous branches of Judaism.
The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and IsN.T. Wright Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999 202 pages, Hardcover N.T. Wright is one of Fortress Press’ showcase authors, publishing two works so far in a proposed six-volume series: The New Testament and the People of God, and Jesus and the Victory of God. These works have enjoyed considerable acclaim in the contemporary “Third Quest” of the historical Jesus. The Challenge of Jesus relies heavily upon Wright’s former two volumes, and evolved out of lectures delivered at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship gathering in Chicago during 1999, with the theme: “Following Christ/Shaping our World.” Wright believes that the historical quest for Jesus is “nonnegotiable,” and holds the promise of a renewed Christian discipleship and mission. He is critical of the endless, often sensational pop-culture takes on Jesus, masquerading as accurate historical quests. In the present quest, Wright distinguishes three camps. First, the skeptics, following W. Wrede, mainly comprised of the Jesus Seminar; and holding the view that we can know very little about Jesus, since the gospels are theological fiction; second, those following Albert Schweitzer and focusing on first-century Jewish eschatology, mainly comprised of Sanders, Meyer, Harvey, Wright himself, and others; and those following Martin Kahler, less concerned with the historical Jesus and more focused on the Christ of faith and the post-Easter church, mainly comprised of Luke Timothy Johnson. I found Wright’s research and presentation quite engaging, but observed what I consider the following weaknesses and lacunae. First, after mentioning his debt to Albert Schweitzer, nowhere in this volume—unless I overlooked it—does Wright quote directly from Schweitzer’s classic work, The Quest Of The Historical Jesus. Although Wright claims to have found weaknesses or lacunae in Schweitzer’s work, and improved upon it—I’m neither clear nor convinced that Wright has done anything of the sort. It would have been way more helpful had Wright provided his readers with direct quotes from Schweitzer and then showed the readers where he differs and why from Schweitzer, but alas, this is not the case. Second, I’m rather confused about Wright’s methodology. He claims—and I commend him for this—to take first-century Judaism very seriously as the locus for understanding and presenting an accurate historical Jesus. Yet, as he makes his case for Jesus as: God’s presence returning Israel from exile/exodus, God’s Messiah, Shekinah returned to Zion, new living Torah and Temple, etcetera; he relies heavily on the use of symbols and riddles in the gospels. For example, the parable of the sower is interpreted as a symbol or riddle marking the return from exile/exodus for all would-be followers of Jesus. This approach is problematic for at least two reasons: a) symbols and riddles are ambiguous and multidimensional. Hence they lend themselves to a host of meanings/interpretations/applications. That is fine for those with the gift of creativity, but what about the rest of humankind? Is the Messiah only welcoming those with the savvy and knowledge of an expert symbol interpreter and riddle solver? I’m not convinced that Wright’s conclusions are correct. b) It seems to this reader that Wright’s exegetical and hermeneutic methods may have led him in a direction which he himself most likely wants to avoid—namely, old-fashioned replacement-supercessionist theology dressed in the clothes of contemporary language. As most of us know, this is a dangerous road, which pits Judaism against Christianity, and all too often degenerates into antisemitism and anti-Judaism. In reading Wright, I detect this albeit subtle animosity towards first-century Judaism, for having missed the meaning and message of Jesus, and failed to believe in him as Messiah. Third, one is left rather puzzled by the language Wright employs to explain the divinity of Jesus. He critiques traditional Christology for its lofty and distant God, which tends to lead, in his view to a docetic Jesus. Then he speculates that Jesus “knew he was God” in the sense that he had the knowledge that he was loved by his family and closest friends (121). What he seems to end up with is a Jesus who had a vocation, which led him to believe “he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to Scripture only YHWH himself could do and be” (122). Does Wright’s discussion of Jesus’ divinity move us beyond Jesus as an eschatological prophet? Is it not possible to make similar statements about the other prophets of Israel? According to Wright, Jesus’ resurrection poses a serious problem particularly for skeptics and non-Christians. Why, he asks, would the first followers of Jesus employ the language of first-century Judaism, yet mean something quite different? First-century Judaism believed that when the Messiah came, he would defeat pagan powers, rebuild the temple, and establish his rule of justice and Shalom among the Jewish people, as well as over the whole cosmos. (For Wright, Jesus did accomplish all of this albeit through the use of symbol and riddle in particular, thus most people misunderstood his true meanings, messages, and purposes, and many still do today as well). Jesus was crucified by the ruling pagan power, he never rebuilt the physical temple, and after his death and resurrection, injustices, evil, wars, etcetera still prevailed in the cosmos. Why then would the first-century, mostly Jewish followers of Jesus still believe in him as Messiah and bear witness to his resurrection to the ends of the earth? Why would they not abandon their belief in Jesus as Messiah, just as the rabbis—according to Wright—had done around A.D. 135? Or why did they not seek out a descendant from Jesus’ family to be their Messiah, as some Jews had done with Judas the Galilean in A.D. 6 and his descendants? According to Wright, Paul in I Cor. 15 makes his case for Jesus’ resurrection as a fulfillment of the Scriptures, therefore as already risen and not a soul or spirit or angel—as many first-century Jews may have believed when a righteous person or martyr died. Wright comes across as a tad too certain when he critiques the translators of the RSV and NRSV who render Paul’s terms as “physical body” and “spiritual body.” Does he have an “inside track” access to the first-century resurrection of Jesus that he can speak with such emphatic certainty concerning “noncorruptible physicality” and “a [transformed physical] body animated by God’s Spirit”? (143-44) Rather than speculate on these Pauline terms as Wright and others are inclined to do—is it not best to accept the terms in an open-ended way and admit that the resurrection of Jesus remains a holy mystery of our faith, which transcends our linguistic capacities? This reviewer did however appreciate Wright’s critique of those who interpret Jesus’ resurrection as visions or hallucinations or a resuscitation of the body. In chapter seven, Wright wrestles with modernity and postmodernity, exegeting Psalms 42 and 43, along with Luke 24 as instructive pericopes guiding contemporary Christians in their practice and mission. After reading this section, I wonder why he chose these pericopes, while not even mentioning, for example, Isaiah 52 and 53. He suggests that the best solution to our dialogue with postmodernity and the hermeneutic of suspicion is the love of God, which continues to heal humankind and the cosmos, and be creative. In his concluding chapter, Wright regards John 20:1, 19 as the central message of Jesus’ resurrection—namely, that God begins the new creation, the first day of the week. Wright comes to the conclusion that we need to live by a hermeneutic of trust rooted in love, rather than the postmodern hermeneutic of suspicion. In love Jesus knows us and we know him as Messiah. In love, we continue his work and mission of the new creation constantly breaking into the cosmos. When speaking of love, I wonder why Wright makes no reference to Paul’s hymn of love in I Cor. 13, would it not support his case for the primacy of love in Christian discipleship and worship, mission and stewardship? This volume is the product of a scholar with integrity and passion, it stimulates and provokes, comforts, disturbs, and instructs.
Five Pennies: A Prairie Boy's Story
Calgary: Fifth House Publishers Ltd., 1999
162 pages $14.95 CDN
I consider it a privilege to read and review this memoir of Pastor Archie Morck, who confirmed me while he was serving St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Archie served as a pastor of many Lutheran parishes across Canada for over 30 years. He was also president of the Western Canadian District of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church, and vice-president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada. Daughter Irene Morck, in this her fifth book, retells her father's stories in an entertaining and informative fashion.
The stories are salted with wit, humour and love. Learn more about repairing the barn roof at 40 below zero due to falling cows. Discover the mysterious identity of "the gopher man." Laugh at the appropriate attire worn by Archie on the occasion of removing a dead skunk from the chicken coop. Meet friendly Uncle Carl, the general store proprietor in Dickson, Alberta. Celebrate an old-fashioned Danish Christmas with Alberta immigrant pioneers. Witness the blood, sweat, and tears of clearing land with horses and pulling out tree roots. Find out how to turn peanut brittle into a laxative. Journey along with Archie as he pursues the dream of further education and ordination in the Lutheran church. These, and many more heart-warming tales provide the reader with "a slice of life" growing up and living on the western Canadian prairies during the first half of the last century.
For anyone interested in the history of Danish-Canadian Lutheran pioneer life, this book is a must read!
W. Gunther Plaut
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986
Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut is a most gifted man. He was ~ among other things ~ the rabbi of Holy Blossom (Reform) Temple in Toronto for nearly twenty years; as well as author of numerous scholarly works on the Torah; novelist; and a social justice activist. His deep insights into humankind; based on his wide range of life experiences; his love of the Jewish people and deep commitment to Judaism; all shine through in this most gripping novel.
The Letter is an excellent spy-thriller, which moves like a whirlwind from one fascinating encounter to another ~ there is never a dull moment here! The setting of the novel is WWII Europe and the U.S.A. The main protagonist is a woman, German-born Jew, Helga Raben. She falls in love with a German soldier, Rolf Baumgarten, who hates and resists everything that Hitler and the Nazi ideology represent. Rolf, along with several other high-ranking German army officers, plot to kill Hitler.
However, on the Russian front, Rolf is separated from Helga and loses contact with her. Helga then falls in love with an American embassy man, Ken Driscoll. Together they secure false documents and flee Germany into Switzerland. In their possession is a letter from Hitler, to one of his top generals, with the order to kill all European Jews (Hitler's "final solution").
The novel has many fast-paced passages of episodes involving espionage activities of both the Germans and the Allied forces. Helga is always on the run, keeping one step ahead of German spies. She also continues courageously ~ against much resistance from Jews and Allied leaders ~ to spread the message of Hitler's antisemitic plans and atrocities. In the end, all is well for most of the protagonists in the novel. There is also and interesting twist in the closing plot of the story involving Ken Driscoll, in particular.
This novel is so brilliantly written that it becomes next to impossible to remain an observing bystander. The characters are so real, that one is captivated by their lives, almost as if one was right there, in the thick of things with them. The novel celebrates the resilience of the Jewish faith and the integrity of righteous Gentiles. I highly recommend The Letter ~ especially to everyone with an interest in Jewish-Christian relations.
The Man in the Blue Vest and Other Stories
W. Gunther Plaut
New York: Taplinger Press, 1978
W. Gunther Plaut is a Jewish rabbi and thus story teller "par excellence." He has written several scholarly works ~ including a commentary on the Torah ~ in addition to his fiction and his two volume autobiography, Unfinished Business and More Unfinished Business.
In this volume of short stories, he weaves several most engaging tales together into a remarkable tapestry of exquisite beauty. The stories present an array of characters from a variety of social, political, religious and geographical backgrounds.
One of Plaut's favourite themes that resurfaces in nearly every story is the surprising, transforming nature of Divine Providence, working in often quirky, desperate or humorous circumstances. I would recommend the volume to all lovers of stories.
Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
New York: Riverhead Books, 1996
xxx + 336 pages, CDN $30.95
From the opening dedication page (“For everyone who has never told their story”) to the three closing pages of “Acknowledgements,” this volume is indeed a veritable treasure trove. The author is steeped in the grand Jewish tradition of storytelling ~ her grandfather was an orthodox Jewish rabbi.
The title of this work is certainly an appropriate one, since Dr Remen has the gift of articulating the pearls of wisdom through the telling of her own and others’ stories, as if we were all gathered round a kitchen table. The authenticity of the storyteller ~ and the stories themselves ~ comes shining through for several reasons. Without doubt the most significant reason though is that the author speaks out of the context of her own suffering as a person with Crohn’s disease, who knows how it feels like not only to practice medicine as a physician, but to be a patient, who has survived several abdominal surgeries and learned the cultural ethos of the North American healthcare system. As a challenge to the focus of physicians to be competent and an expert in their profession ~ which tends to be the primary philosophy of most medical schools ~ the author insists that there has to be something more if medicine is to be truly healing and holistic. Dr Remen’s something more is the gift and skills of being a person of empathy; of being able to look at more than the physical reality of the person through the process of bio-chemical analysis and treatment; of coming alongside people emotionally, socially, and spiritually; in short, of being storytellers and storylisteners and thereby facilitating the healing process in holistic ways.
Out of her sacred life experiences and medical practice, Dr Remen has compiled this volume’s stories with the following section- titles and themes: “Life Force,” “Judgment,” “Traps,” “Freedom,” “Opening The Heart,” “Embracing Life,” “Live and Help Live,” “Knowing God,” and “Mystery And Awe.” I appreciated how the author was able to mine several common motifs in the stories from her own and other faith traditions with care, love and respect.
I commend this volume to all with an interest in promoting the advancement of humanitarianism and faith in the field of medicine, following the example of physicians like Albert Schweitzer.
Recently I watched one of the most profound movies that I’ve seen for several years, Hawaii, Oslo, directed by Erik Poppe. The movie is filmed in Oslo over the course of twenty-four hours. In an ingenious, beautiful fashion, it presents a few simultaneous plots with numerous characters, meeting in a final, pivotal scene. I liked absolutely everything about this movie. The soundtrack reminded me a lot of composer Philip Glass’s works. The actors were superb. The cinematography was nothing short of brilliant. The storyline was extremely creative and well thought out. The theological and ethical motifs were provocative, leaving the viewer with ample opportunity to reflect more deeply and draw his or her own conclusions.
One of the themes woven intricately into this masterpiece is that of the theological and ethical circumstances human beings of all walks of life find themselves in as their lives unfold. It is a movie reminiscent of the dialectical tension between the predestination of Psalm 139, and the everyday human choices posed by Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn’s song Tried And Tested, on his You’ve Never Seen Everything CD. We live, it seems, between the truth of the psalmist who wrote: “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed,” and Bruce Cockburn’s song: “Tried and tested/Tried and tested…(among a litany of other things) /By the need to take sides/By the weight of choice.” Throughout the movie we come to empathise with the characters caught between predestination and the exercise of difficult human choices.
The main (there are others) Christ figure of the movie is a man named Vidar, who runs a hostel in Oslo. He is a dreamer of dreams revealing the future as a prophet of old. One of his dreams is about a hostel resident named Leon. Leon is about to celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday with an old girlfriend Åsa, (Leon and Åsa had many years before made a pact to see each other again), only to be sidetracked in another plot with his brother, Trygve, who is let out of prison for the occasion and has a radically different birthday agenda in mind.
A second plot involves a mother and father of a baby boy born with a rare and deadly heart condition. An Oslo physician decides it would be morally and ethically unjustifiable and irresponsible to do surgery on the baby. The father refuses to accept the doctor’s decision and, in desperation, does everything he can to make arrangements to travel to the United Sates for surgery to save his son.
Two young brothers act out their grief over the death of their father, the abandonment of their mother, reluctantly agree to attend their father’s funeral, and fear the prospect of being separated vis-à-vis adoption by foster parents. The mother of these two sons attempts suicide for a second time, and is rescued by an ambulance driver, who, with the urging of Vidar, visits the mother in hospital.
Ever since biblical times, Jews and Christians have studied, wrote and debated on, and struggled with the question of predestination and human free will. Is everything in life predestined? Or is everything in life a matter of exercising free will? Are the two mutually exclusive or paradoxically inseparable? Do other possibilities exist? Without giving away the other twists and turns of the storyline and the pivotal ending, I highly recommend readers see Hawaii, Oslo—I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, since the storyline and characters are as real and believable as each one of us and the lives that we live. Ultimately, this is a movie about God’s grace, love and redemption.
Before you see this movie, you may wish to read once again Psalm 139, listen to Bruce Cockburn’s song Tried And Tested; and if you’re overzealous, dig into the works of Luther, Calvin and Erasmus debating the legitimacy or not of predestination and freedom of the human will.
Luther 2003-2004, USA & Germany, Rated PG-13, 113 minutes, colour, English. Directed by Eric Till. Produced by Alexander Thies, Brigitte Rochow, Christian Stehr, and Dennis Clauss. Written by Bart Gavigan and Cammille Thomasson. Starring: Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther, Claire Cox as Katherine von Bora, Bruno Granz as Vicar and Pastor-Confessor Johann von Staupitz, Sir Peter Ustinov as Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, Alfred Molina as Johannes Tetzel, Uwe Ochsenknecht as Pope Leo X, Mathieu Carriere as Cardinal Cajetan, Jonathan Firth as Girolamo Aleander, Torben Liebrecht as Emperor Charles V, Marco Hofschneider as Brother Ulrick, Jochen Horst as Andreas Karlstadt, Benjamin Sadler as Spalatin, Lars Rudolph as Philip Melanchthon, Doris Prusova as Grete, Maria Simon as Hanna, Anatole Taubman as Otto, Christopher Buchholz as Von der Eck, Jeff Caster as Matthew.
In the opening scene, lightening is flashing all around Luther as he pleads for his life to be spared, and if granted, vows to become a monk. As a monk in an Augustinian cloister, Luther suffers from much spiritual, mental and emotional agony—anfechtungen—viewing God as an oppressive Judge and fighting with the devil. The father figure, and Pastor-Confessor Johann von Staupitz, reassures Luther that Christ is a merciful Saviour. Von Staupitz sends Luther on a pilgrimage to Rome, when he arrives, he is appalled by the sale of indulgences and veneration of relics.
Once Luther returns back to Germany, there follows a series of significant events, beginning with the nailing of 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door, in the tug-of-war between Luther and his supporters and the Roman authorities. Luther becomes a doctor of the Church; proceeds to teach at the University of Wittenberg; grows ever more proficient in his exegesis of the Bible and a steadfast advocate of reforms for the Church; gains the love and respect of citizens from many walks of life as his translation of the German Bible is published and distributed throughout the nation. Impressed by Luther’s courage and insights, Frederick the Wise receives Luther who presents the Elector with his new translation of the Bible—although this scene is historically doubtful. Even Cardinal Cajetan becomes increasingly sympathetic towards Luther and his reforms.
The acting in this movie is absolutely superb and the reconstruction of events are quite authentic for the most part, although artistic license is evident—replete with elaborate costumes, filming of scenes in Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic, stirring music, and little details like displaying artist Lucas Cronach’s paintings in Elector Frederick’s palace.
All-in-all, Luther comes across as an intensely driven and devoted reformer, prepared to face the outcome of his unwavering loyalty to Christ and the Scriptures over against Pope Leo X’s excommunication and Emperor Charles V’s banishment of the reformer as an outlaw. He is also compassionate towards the ordinary person on the street—including a poverty-stricken mother with her handicapped daughter. One of the more moving scenes was Luther’s painful, pondering of the tragic deaths—although the movie has inflated the numbers—during the Peasant’s Revolt. Historically, Luther harshly criticized the Peasant’s Revolt.
However, the movie was not without its surprises. For example, one wonders why Luther’s close friend, Philip Melanchthon plays such a minor role. One also wonders why the director and producers chose to cover only twenty-five years of Luther’s life from 1505 – 1530, omitting many significant events in the 16 final years of the reformer’s life. The movie fails to portray Luther the musician, Luther the husband, father and family man, or Luther the salty philosopher-theologian of the Table Talks. That said, nonetheless the astounding performances of Luther’s “Here I stand” speech at the Diet of Worms in 1521; along with the reformer princes’ courage by defending their ultimate loyalty to God and Scripture before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg; and the wit, humour and political manoeuvring of Elector Frederick are definitely worth the price of this movie. Ultimately, this movie will be loved more as a popular drama than an academic, historical documentary.
Heavens Above! Directed by John & Roy Boulting, (UK, 1963) Black and white, 105 minutes Starring: Peter Sellers as the Rev. John Smallwood, Cecil Parker as Archdeacon Aspinall, Isabel Jeans as Lady Despard, George Woodbridge as the Bishop, Ian Carmichael as the other Rev. Smallwood, Bernard Miles as Simpson, Brock Peters as Matthew Robinson, Eric Sykes as Harry Smith, Irene Handl as Rene Smith, Miriam Karlin as Winnie Smith, Mark Eden as Sir Geoffrey Despard.
The young and naïve Rev. John Smallwood (Peter Sellers) does a superb job playing the vicar of a small town Church of England parish. He is called to the parish by a mix up with the other Rev. Smallwood—the latter having been recommended to the bishop by Archdeacon Aspinall. The naïve Rev. Smallwood shocks and surprises everyone and rocks the proverbial establishment boat of both the parish and the main employer of the town—the aristocratic Despard family. Rev. Smallwood, sadly is run out of town by the citizens after he tries to practice his Christian faith modelled after the authentic teachings of Jesus by welcoming and including everyone into the parish. Although he does touch some people’s hearts and lives—especially that of Lady Despard’s—ultimately the sinful human nature of the community wins out over the vicar’s emphasis on self-giving love of neighbour.
The movie is an excellent study of and satire on the British class system as well as the power-play dynamics at work among members of a parish council. Clergy especially should benefit from viewing and reflecting on this particular motif. Themes: Racism and racial acceptance, love one another as Christ has loved us, social justice, the power of sin, fools for Christ.
The Pawnbroker (USA, 1964) English, Black and White, 116 minutes Directed by Sidney Lumet Starring: Rod Steiger as Sol Nazerman, Brock Peters as Rodriguez, Jaime Sanchez as Jesus Oritz
Holocaust survivor, Sol Nazerman is a pawnbroker in Harlem. His is a most agonizing life. Losing his family to the Nazi concentration camps, he continues to relive the evil and horrors of the Holocaust through flashbacks, which are triggered by everyday events (today this is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). In an effort to find some refuge from his inner hell, Sol attempts to wear a hard shell on the outside—showing no care or interest or emotional attachment towards others or life in toto.
However, as he brushes up against the sufferings of Hispanics and Blacks in Harlem, slowly Sol begins to reveal his humanity and compassion. He refuses to exploit a most desperate Black prostitute. He takes on a fatherly role and teaches his helper in the pawnshop several tricks of the trade. He also eventually shares some of the long, oppressive history of the Jewish people. Then, in a bungled attempt to rob and kill Sol, the helper saves Sol’s life, but loses his own. Sol remains with his helper in his dying moments and even touches his blood-ridden body. The blood on Sol’s hands becomes a powerful symbol of solidarity with and love for his fallen friend.
This is an excellent film documenting the long-term consequences of living as a Holocaust survivor. The numbness, the soul-wrenching hurt, the raw pain and despair, the “survivor guilt,” the existential dissonance are all here large as life. This film would serve well as an educational resource for Jewish-Christian dialogue groups.
A few themes in the film include: Suffering, surviving the Holocaust, sacrificial love, race relations, Jewish-Christian relations.
Music Of The Heart (1999, 2 hours 7 minutes, PG) USA, directed by Wes Craven, with Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan, and Angela Bassett.
Themes: Vocation, love of neighbour, universal nature of music, overcoming obstacles, hope.
This movie is based on the true story of single parent, Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), who, against all obstacles, pursues her vocational dream of teaching violin to children in an inner-city school. Roberta faces resistance from teachers, parents, and students alike. However, with sheer perseverance, and a deep love for the children and the music, Roberta’s program and teaching talents produces successful and popular results. Several of her students gain enough confidence and inspiration to further their education and develop promising careers—including her own two sons. Nonetheless, after ten years of teaching, the school district authorities threaten to eliminate Roberta’s program due to budget cutbacks. Roberta decides to fight back and discovers that several others—including world class professional musicians—support her cause and agree to perform a fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall.
Music Of The Heart is a contemporary story that epitomizes the values of faith—namely: courage, risk, trust in the resilience of the human spirit under very difficult circumstances, love of one’s neighbour, hope for the future, living an authentic life by pursuing one’s vocation, the divine holiness and inspiration of music to unite people of every class, creed, race and culture. Highly recommended! One last bit of advice—don’t forget your box of Kleenex.Jerusalem (1996, Swedish, with English subtitles) Starring: Maria Bonnivie, Ulf Friberg, Lena Endre, Pernilla August, Olympia Dukakis. Directed by Bille August and Jorgen Persson. Produced by Ingrid Dahlberg. This movie has the aura of an Ingmar Bergman production, with a series of twists and turns in the plot and thought-provoking motifs. It is based on the novel by Selma Lagerlof, and portrays Swedish peasant life around the turn of the 20th century. Christian viewers of this movie will likely be interested in the themes of: mainline versus apocalyptic-sectarian faith, authority and power, discerning the truth, suffering and sacrifice, love and forgiveness. I highly recommend Jerusalem because of theological grist for the the mill that it provides.
Wee Willie Winkie (1937, English, 100 minutes) Starring: Shirley Temple as Priscilla Williams (Private Winkie), C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Williams, Cesar Romero as Khoda Khan. Directed by John Ford, based on a story by Rudyard Kipling.The setting of this movie is 19th century British-occupied India. Shirley Temple and her widowed mother (June Lang as Joyce Williams), travel to India to live with grandfather/father-in-law, Colonel Williams. At first, the British outpost is an oppressive place, ruled with an iron military fist. Priscilla is a most curious, precocious child. After a series of adventures, she wins the hearts of everyone by challenging prejudicial assumptions of both friends and enemies. Her innocent, yet challenging questions are instrumental in helping Colonel Williams and Islamic freedom fighter, Khoda Khan to see the senselessness of violence, leading to a negotiated peace between the two enemies. Themes: the peaceful kingdom (Isaiah 11:1-9, especially verse 6), reconciliation transforming enemies into friends, children and God’s realm (Matthew 18:1-4), courageous love ( I John 4:18). Recommended for family viewing. The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1991, USA, 88 minutes, rated PG) Starring Richard Kiel as Eli Weaver and Noley Thornton as Amy Wilson. Directed by James W. Roberson. Eli Weaver, “the giant,” lives like a hermit on thunder mountain, due to the hostility, gossip, and rejection of the local townspeople, who, without evidence, accuse him of murdering his parents. A young girl, Amy Wilson, seeks to turn the tables by befriending the giant–learning that Eli was innocent of the tragic deaths of his parents. Eventually, she succeeds in winning his heart, and Eli agrees to visit the townspeople again, only to be rejected and cast out a second time. However, Amy and her brothers persist in keeping their friendship alive with the giant. Through a series of suspense-filled events, which are totally misunderstood by the townspeople, a lynch mob erroneously hunts down Eli. However, the truth is revealed in the nick of time, and Eli is instrumental in capturing the real criminals, associated with a travelling carnival. The townspeople, finally accepting the truth, regard Eli as a hero. Eli, in several respects, comes across as a Christ-figure in the movie: suffering many hardships from the rejection, scorn and derision of the townspeople, reminding me a little of William Butler Yeats’ “rough beast” exterior, contrasted with the biblical tender, gentle Jesus who loves and welcomes children. Themes: How destructive hasty judgments and gossip can be to an individual’s reputation (Matthew 7:1ff., James 3:5ff.), think before you speak and act, external appearances are often very deceptive and have tragic consequences, God’s and Christ’s love for the outcasts of society (Matthew 11:19, Luke 15, etc.), risking one’s life and loving others (John 15:12ff.). Highly recommended for family viewing.
The Straight Story (1999 Directed by David Lynch, Written by John Roach (III) and Mary Sweeney. Starring: Richard Farnsworth as Alvin Straight, Sissy Spacek as Rose Straight and Harry Dean Stanton as Lyle Straight).In this heartwarming tale, based on the life story of a self-described stubborn, old retired World War Two veteran, Alvin Straight; we encounter many important, theological as well as practical life lessons. Alvin has not seen or heard from his estranged brother Lyle for ten years. At that time, they had parted company by exchanging, what Alvin describes as “unforgivable words” with each other. One day, Alvin receives a telephone call informing him that Lyle just had a stroke. Alvin himself is afflicted with old age and his own health problems. However, he realizes that this may very well be his last opportunity to see has brother Lyle. So, with an iron will and profound determination, Alvin prepares for and embarks on his long journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin. His mode of transportation is a 1966 John Deere garden and lawn tractor, with a trailer in tow—since his vision is impaired and he no longer possesses a driver’s license. Along the journey there are several adventures, touching on the following themes: welcoming strangers as if they were Christ himself; loving one’s neighbour; growing old with grace; preparing for death; saying our good-byes and bringing closure to our lives and the lives of those who really matter to us; facing our sufferings and hurts instead of dealing with them through addictions; the priority and value of strong family relationships; reconciliation and forgiveness. This is an excellent movie for church and senior citizen discussion groups.
Looking for Richard (1996, USA, 112 minutes, rated PG-13) Starring: Alec Baldwin, Al Pacino (Richard III), Aidan Quinn, Winona Ryder, and Kevin Spacey—with appearances from Sir John Gielgud, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Kevin Kline. Produced by Michael Hadge and Al Pacino. Directed by Al Pacino.This movie—based on Wm. Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy Of King Richard The Third—is an American endeavour “to make Shakespeare more accessible for the masses,” in particular, the North American audience. It takes us behind the scenes with the actors, director and producers. They travel to various locations to rehearse and shoot the movie. They interview English Shakespeare scholars to delve more deeply into the play’s plot. They engage in several heated debates and dialogues concerning how to perform and interpret the play—hence, providing the audience with a running commentary of each scene. All-in-all, even though we lose the continuity of Shakespeare’s original because of behind-the-scenes details; Looking for Richard does succeed in helping the audience to understand the play’s plot. Indeed, Shakespeare was—and perhaps still is—one of England’s best theologians vis-à-vis the theatre. Al Pacino has done a fine job in portraying Richard III as: “evil incarnate,” a villain of villains. For those of you who have forgotten, the story occurs shortly after the Wars of the Roses, which divided the house of Lancaster and the house of York. The house of York prevailed. England was in dire need of healing and reconciliation after the ravages of civil war. However, it was destined for further political instability and intrigue. Looking for Richard provides us with an inside view of the deceitful darkness of Richard’s soul—as he stops at absolutely nothing in his mad pursuit of England’s throne. As the story unravels, Richard successfully employs every cunning, underhanded scheme at his disposal in order to accomplish his evil end. Old Queen Margaret, widow of Henry VI, pronounces a prophetic curse, which becomes tragically self-fulfilling—as we witness the death of King Edward IV and the subsequent murders of Edward’s immediate and legitimate successors—all coldly calculated by Richard. He ascends the throne by lying to, betraying and murdering everyone in his way. However, in the end, Richard meets his “just desserts” at the hands of Henry, Earl of Richmond—afterwards Henry VII. Theological themes: The abuse of power, betrayal, thou shall not kill, thou shall not bear false witness against one’s neighbour, violence and bloodshed breed more violence and bloodshed, evil, sin.
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