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All You Need is Love: The Beatles Fifty Years Later

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird 

I remember when my older sister Ginny bought her first Beatles record in 1963. Listening to this strange new sound, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Before I knew it, I too was singing “All you need is love.” Little did I know that I was in the middle of a cultural and musical revolution.

One of the most enjoyable books that I have recently read is Mark Lewisohn’s biography The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1: Tune In. Lewisohn’s book gave me new insights into what made these four unknown Liverpuddlians into the unforgettable Beatles. I had no idea that the Beatles were originally a Skiffle band modeled after the No. 1 Skiffle artist Lonnie Donegan, who sold over a million copies of ‘Rock Island Line’. Paul McCartney commented: “(Donegan) was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No. 1 in the charts, and we studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.” Skiffle music, using guitars, washboards and the tea-chest bass, was big in North America in the 1940s. In the 1950s, there were around 40,000 UK Skiffle bands. The Skiffle bands became so popular that you couldn’t purchase a guitar in the UK. John Lennon’s first guitar had to be shipped from Durban, South Africa, where Skiffle and Rock had not yet caught on.(1) His Aunt Mimi, who raised John, ironically said: “The guitar’s all right for a hobby but it won’t earn you any money.”(2)

Lewisohn showed how each of the Beatles came from very difficult family backgrounds. The Beatles were raised in mixed Catholic/Protestant families, except for Ringo who was raised in a Protestant family. Church did not have a huge impact on the Beatles, though they sang in the early days at church fairs. John Lennon was fascinated throughout his life by crucifixes, the greatest symbol of God’s love. George Harrison said: “The only thing that came across to me in the church was these oil paintings of Christ struggling up the hill with the cross on his back. I thought, ‘There’s something going on here.’” (3) Paul McCartney failed an audition to become a choirboy at the Anglican Cathedral through deliberately cracking his voice. Paul also abandoned music lessons after four or five weeks, when he was given homework.(4)

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?, the Bible asks. Can anything good come out of Liverpool?, many asked. Liverpool, the birthplace of the Beatles had been devastated by the World War II bombing. Poverty was rampant. Black soot covered everywhere. Fifty thousand Liverpool houses had no bathroom or inside toilet. Youth unemployment was higher in Liverpool than anywhere else outside of London. Violent youth gangs controlled the streets. Almost one-third of the population, 200,000 people, left Liverpool looking for a better life. In 1962, the UK Home Office report identified Liverpool as England ‘s worst for drunkenness with arrests.(5)

John Lennon was known as a Teddy Boy, and seen by some as a delinquent. Lewisohn said that “John Lennon could be a horrible drunk, shedding the humour that vitally checked his roughest edges to become verbally abusive and physically aggressive, an unadulterated, obnoxious pain in the backside.” (6) His girlfriend Cynthia Powell said of John, “His attitude was extremely ‘Don’t look at me’—but he wanted to be loved.”(7) “We knew we could make it,” said John. “We dreamed of being the British Elvis Presleys, and we believed it.”(8)

Richy Starkey, later Ringo Starr, was the last one to join the Beatles. At age six, he was in a near fatal coma for ten weeks and a year in hospital after contracting peritonitis. Ringo experienced a further long spell in hospital at age fourteen, after pleurisy turned into tuberculosis.(9) Ringo’s health challenges led him on a lifelong search for love and for God.

For several years, the Beatles remained undiscovered. Thanks to the influence of Chuck Berry, the Beatles morphed from Skiffle to Rock. John Lennon said of Berry “He’s the greatest rock ‘n roll poet. When I hear rock, good rock of the caliber of Chuck Berry, I just fall apart and have no other interest in life. The world could be ending if the rock ‘n roll’s playing. It’s a disease of mine.” (10) Their biggest break happened when the Beatles began to play extensively in Hamburg, Germany. Lewisohn calculated that the total time spent onstage on their first two German visits was 918 hours: “the equivalent of 612 90-minute shows in just 27 weeks.” As the most experienced rock band at the time, says Lewisohn, Hamburg toughened their voices, seasoned their characters, enriched their personalities and strengthened their voices. (11)

Virtually all of the early Beatle songs were about searching for love. When the single Love Me Do came out in 1962, said Ringo, “the whole of Liverpool went out and bought it en masse. They were proud of it: a group from Liverpool. It was fantastic.” (12)

From there, their fame exploded through the UK and around the world. Recently Ringo at the Grammy Museum in LA, admitted: “I have found God…I stepped off the path there for many years and found my way [back] onto it, thank God.”  Finding God has enabled Ringo to give up his sixty-cigarettes a day and move away from alcohol and drug abuse: “I feel the older I get, the more I’m learning to handle life. Being on this quest for a long time, it’s all about finding yourself.”(13) Ringo discovered that the love of God changes everything. Because God is love, all we need is love.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

(1) Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1: Tune In (Crown Archetype, New York, NY, 2013), p. 115.

(2) Lewisohn, p. 224.

(3) Lewisohn, p. 65.

(4) Lewisohn, p. 62.

(5) Lewisohn, p. 738.

(6) Lewisohn, p. 162.

(7) Lewisohn, p. 228.

(8) Lewisohn, p. 537.

(9) Lewisohn, p. 453.

(10) Lewisohn, p. 169.

(11) Lewisohn, p. 398, John Harris,

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/02/beatles-tune-in-mark-lewisohn-review

(12) Lewisohn, p. 720.

(13) Andrew Hough, The Telegraph, Feb 3rd 2010, “The Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr admits: ‘I have found God’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/the-beatles/7142630/The-Beatles-drummer-Ringo-Starr-admits-I-have-found-God.html


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WordPress now tells me which countries my visitors are coming from…

2012-02-09 to Today (350,744 visitors so far)

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3,774

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Destiny

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Many of us enjoyed the Valkyrie movie which showed the courage of those who sacrificed life and family to put an end to Nazism.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, though not mentioned directly in the movie, was instrumental in the Valkyrie plot to stop Hitler.  Martyred for his faith just 23 days before the Allies liberated Germany, Bonhoeffer’s last poem and his Barmen Declaration are printed in the ‘Lutheran’ hymnbook.[1]

Coming from a highly educated, aristocratic family, Bonhoeffer shocked his family by deciding to become a pastor.[2] Bonhoeffer was spiritually impacted by his Moravian Brethren ‘nanny’ Maria Horn who introduced him to the practice of having daily devotions.[3] After earning his doctorate at age 21, Bonhoeffer moved to the United States where he encountered African-American gospel music and preaching at the 14,000-member Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, NY.  The Abyssinian Church was led by Dr Adam Clayton Powell Sr, the son of slaves whose mother was a full-blooded Cherokee.  Dr Powell told a powerful story of his conversion to Christ from heavy drinking, violence and gambling.[4] Bonhoeffer was deeply moved by Dr Powell, saying “…here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God…the black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision.”[5]

Moving back to Germany in 1931, Bonhoeffer warned people about the dangers of Nazism, but many brushed off his prophetic statements as alarmist.  The Nazis worked carefully to first silence and then take over the Churches in Germany, birthing a movement called the German Christian Movement which discarded the Old Testament, putting the swastika at the centre of the cross.[6] At the Berlin Sports Stadium in 1933, in front of 20,000 supporters, the cross was denounced as ‘a ridiculous debilitating remnant of Judaism, unacceptable to National Socialists.’[7]  Nazis believed that it was un-aryan to let Jesus take our sins on the cross.

 Bonhoeffer responded by forming the Confessing Church movement which rejected racism and hatred of others. The Confessing Church started five seminaries/centres for training future pastors. Many Confessing Churches were firebombed by gangs of Hitler Youth.  On December 1935, the Nazis declared the Confessing Church to be illegal. They forbid the Confessing Church to hire employees, send out newsletters, take collections, or train students for ordination.[8] In 1937, the Nazis banned worship services from being held in unconsecrated buildings, homes or in public meeting halls.  It also became illegal to pray for anyone who had been sent to prison.[9]  Many Confessing Church pastors ended up in prison.

In 1938, Bonhoeffer quietly contacted Admiral Wilhelm Canaris who was involved in the German resistance movement. As the leader of the Abwehr Intelligence, Canaris was seeking for a way to remove Hitler.[10]  After the annexation of Austria and the destruction of over three hundred synagogues and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses on the night of Kristallnacht, Bonhoeffer was persuaded to return to the United States. His friends were sure that Hitler was about to destroy Bonhoeffer.  He had no peace in the USA, knowing that Germany needed him.  Bonhoeffer opened his bible to the verse: He who believes does not flee. After only four weeks, he embraced his destiny, taking the last ship back to Germany.[11]

After the invasion of Poland and then France, Bonhoeffer was now required to report regularly to the police. He was forbidden to speak in public or publish books.[12] In 1943, while working for the underground, Bonhoeffer fell in love with and became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer. Three months later he was arrested by the Gestapo.   “Your life would have been quite different, easier, clearer, simpler, had not our paths crossed,” he wrote to her. But Maria stayed faithful to Bonhoeffer to the very end.[13] While in Tegel Prison, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Church is only church when it is there for others.” One of the guards, Sergeant Knobloch, tried to smuggle Bonhoeffer out disguised as a mechanic. But Bonhoeffer rejected the escape plan in order to protect his fiancée and family.[14] A British fellow prisoner said later that ‘Bonhoeffer was all humility and sweetness with a deep gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.’[15]

After Bonhoeffer was hung at Flossenburg, the prison doctor reported: “In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”[16]

I thank God for the courage of Bonhoeffer that he sacrificed his own life in order to make a way forward for others. Bonhoeffer was truly a man who embraced his destiny.

 

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


[1]Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 1906-1945: martyr, thinker, man of resistance, T&T Clark, 2010,   P.xxii

[2] Valkyrie’s Forgotten Man: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, March 20th 2009,  http://bit.ly/dMqnb8

[3]  Schlingensiepen, P. 10, 228, 382 “chapter 1 ft 6 “the Moravian Losungn ( watchword for the day), the daily devotions book, played an operant part in Bonhoeffer’s life and is still widely used today.”

[4] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy , Thomas Nelson,Nashville, P.108

[5] Valkyrie’s Forgotten Man: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, March 20th 2009,  http://bit.ly/dMqnb8

[6] Valkyrie’s Forgotten Man: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, http://bit.ly/dMqnb8

[7] Metaxas, P.193, P.290 Himmler told Moni Von Cramin: “As an Aryan I must have the courage to take responsibility for my sins alone.” He rejected as ‘jewish’ the idea of putting one’s sins on someone else’s shoulders.

[8] Schlingensiepen, P. 193

[9] Schlingensiepen, P. 205

[10] Valkyrie’s Forgotten Man: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, http://bit.ly/dMqnb8

[11] Valkyrie’s Forgotten Man: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, http://bit.ly/dMqnb8

[12] Valkyrie’s Forgotten Man: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, http://bit.ly/dMqnb8

[13] Valkyrie’s Forgotten Man: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, http://bit.ly/dMqnb8

[14] Schlingensiepen, P. 359

[15] Schlingensiepen, P.369

[16] Metaxas, P.464


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Dr Louis Pasteur: Sacrificial Servant of All

By the Rev. Dr. Ed HirdDr Louis Pasteur

My family and I watched an Academy Award-winning movie which reminded me that every one of us owes an enormous debt to Dr. Louis Pasteur.

Just think of pasteurized milk and honey, making food safe for our families to eat and drink, thanks to Louis Pasteur.

Think of our children whose lives are safe from rabies transmitted by ‘mad dogs’, thanks to Louis Pasteur.  Think of our wives and mothers who need not fear death from infection during childbirth, thanks to Louis Pasteur.  Think of the sheep, cattle and chickens that we can safely rely on for our food supply, thanks to Louis Pasteur.  No wonder that Pasteur’s name is better known than any other scientist who has ever lived.

Louis Pasteur is a living reminder that anyone who wants to make a difference in life is bound to face bigotry and opposition.  The most narrow-minded usually turn out to be those who pretend to be the most open-minded and inclusive.  Pasteur was maligned as a murderer and a menace to science.  He was even challenged to a duel by an angry physician.

Dr Louis Pasteur1His ‘criminal’ behaviour was none other than publishing a pamphlet urging doctors to wash their hands before surgery and to sterilize their instruments.  Thirty percent of pregnant women in Paris were needlessly dying from infection during childbirth.  One grief-struck husband, whose wife had just died from childbirth fever, went on a rampage and shot his doctor dead.  Medical doctors rallied against Dr. Pasteur, blaming his pamphlet for the murder and claiming that Pasteur was making the practice of medicine unsafe for physicians and surgeons.  “Who did Pasteur think that he was?” They said. “He isn’t even a medical doctor…just a lowly chemist”.

The Emperor’s wife invited Pasteur to the French Court to explain his radical ideas.  Pasteur had the nerve to tell the Emperor that the hospitals of Paris were death houses, and that there was hardly a doctor who didn’t carry death on his hands.  After accurately predicting the death of the Emperor’s sister-in-law from childbirth infection, Pasteur was condemned as a fraud and banned by the Emperor from ever speaking out publicly again about medicine.

Having been banished into obscurity in the Dr Louis Pasteur2countryside of Arbois, Pasteur spent the next decade researching the causes of anthrax, the black plague ravaging the sheep across France.  Miraculously Pasteur invented an anthrax vaccine, which he gave freely to all farmers’ sheep in Arbois.

When the French government needed more sheep to pay the 5 million francs War indemnity to Germany, they came to Arbois to find out why Pasteur’s sheep were healthy.  Telling them of his vaccine, Pasteur was again mocked as a fool and charlatan by the Academy of Medicine.  Only after a rigorous test where infected Anthrax Blood was injected in 50 sheep, was Pasteur finally vindicated.  To everyone’s amazement, the only sheep that survived were the 25 sheep which Pasteur had injected with his vaccine.

Was Pasteur then accepted by the medical establishment?  Not on your life!  When Pasteur had the nerve to look for a rabies cure, again he was vilified and humiliated without mercy.  Pasteur was such a servant of all humanity that he even risked facing prison or guillotine to save the life of a rabies-infected ten-year old boy, Joseph Meister.  Joseph Meister was later made the caretaker of Pasteur’s tomb at the world-famous Pasteur Institute in Paris.  When the Nazis tried to force him to open Pasteur’s tomb in 1940, Joseph tragically committed suicide rather than defile the grave of his hero.

Dr Louis Pasteur3The ‘great physician’ Jesus once said that if anyone wants to be first, he must become the very last, and the servant of all.  Louis Pasteur was indeed the servant of all, who sacrificed his time, energy, and health so that others might live.  Pasteur selflessly taught that the benefits of science are not for the scientist, but for all of humanity.

Though he has saved millions of lives through his discoveries, Pasteur was unable to save the three out of his four daughters who died from typhoid fever.  In his unceasing striving to cure rabies, he suffered a crippling stroke at age 46.  Yet even that setback did not stop him from successfully finding a rabies cure.

Near the end of his life, Pasteur was finally honoured by the French Academy of Medicine.  He graciously said to them: ‘Doctors and scientists of the future, do not Dr Louis Pasteur4let yourselves be tainted by a barren skepticism nor discouraged by sadness of certain hours that creep over every nation.  Do not become angry at your opponents for no scientific theory has ever been accepted without opposition.’

In so many ways, Pasteur embodied the true meaning of Christ-likeness.  My prayer for those reading this article is that we may never let opposition embitter us as we seek to be the servants of all.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


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Embracing Handel’s Messiah

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hirdhandel picture

Beethoven once said: “Handel was the greatest composer that ever lived.  I would uncover my head, and kneel before his tomb.”  King George III called Handel “the Shakespeare of Music.”  George Bernard Shaw commented that “Handel is not a mere composer in England: he is an institution.  What is more, he is a sacred institution.”

In North America and England, at the very least, Handel’s Messiah has become the most popular and performed and recorded and listened to choral work.  Many people stereotype Handel’s Messiah as Christmas music, but in earlier years, Messiah performances were more likely to occur at Easter.  For Handel, the Messiah was an Easter event that told not merely of birth but also of death and resurrection.

 

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany within a month of Johanne Sebastian Bach (1685).  Handel’s father was a barber-surgeon who hated music and wanted his son to become a successful lawyer.  His aunt Anna gave Handel a spinet harpsichord that they hid in Handel’s attic, wrapping each string with thin strips of cloth, so that Handel could play undetected.

 

handel picture 2When George was eight or nine, the Duke of Weissenfels heard him play the postlude to a church service and he summoned the boy’s father and told him he ought to encourage such talent.  His only teacher was Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, a most learned and imaginative musician and teacher, who instilled in his young pupil a lifelong intellectual curiosity.  At age 11, Handel entered a musical contest at the Berlin court of the Elector with the famous composer Buononcini, and won.

 

When Handel moved to England in 1712, it was a beehive of musical activity with Italian opera ruling the day.  Within the next 30 year period in England, Handel wrote about 40 operas and 26 oratorios.  Handel did not play to easy audiences.  If opera attenders felt bored in Handel’s day, they would often start loud conversations, and walk around freely.  It was also a custom for them to play cards, and eat snacks right during the opera.

 

As Smith/Carlson put it, Handel “…was an inviting target for critics and for satire.  He was a foreigner, and an individual no one could help noticing.  He had large hands, large feet, a large appetite, and he wore a huge white wig with curls rippling over his shoulders.  He spoke English rather loudly in a colourful blending of Italian, German, and French.  He was temperamental, he loved freedom, and he hated restrictions which placed limits on his art…”

 

 Charles Burney, who later sang and played under him, told how Handel once raged at him when he made a mistake, “a circumstance very terrific to a young musician.”  But when Handel found that his mistake was caused by a copying error, he apologized generously (“I pec your parton – I am a very odd tog”, he said in Germanic English).

 

Handel also struggled with his weight, a problem about which critics mercilessly teased him.  His London years were up and down, and unbelievably down at times.  As Romain Rolland has tried to explain it: “He was surrounded by a crowd of bulldogs with terrible fangs, by unmusical men of letters who were likewise able to bite, by jealous colleagues, arrogant virtuosos, cannibalistic theatrical companies, fashionable cliques, feminine plots, and nationalistic leagues…Twice he was bankrupt, and once he was stricken by apoplexy amid the ruin of his company.  But he always found his feet again; he never gave in.”

 

Jesus on Cross picture The situation was so bleak in 1741 that just before he wrote the Messiah, he had seriously considered going back to Germany.  But instead of giving up, he turned more strongly to God.  Handel composed the Messiah in 24 days without once leaving his house.  During this time, his servant brought him food, and when he returned, the meal was often left uneaten.  While writing the “Hallelujah Chorus”, his servant discovered him with tears in his eyes.  He exclaimed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!!”  As Newman Flower observes, “Considering the immensity of the work, and the short time involved in putting it to paper, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of musical composition.”

 

At a Messiah performance in 1759, honouring his seventy-fourth birthday, Handel responded to enthusiastic applause with these words: “Not from me – but from Heaven- comes all.”  In his last years he worshipped twice every day at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, near his home.

 

The Messiah was first performed in Dublin in 1742, and immediately won huge popular success.  In order to have room enough for the people,  a request was sent afar and wide, asking, “The favour of the Ladies not to come with hoops this day to the Music Hall in Fishamble Street.  The Gentlemen are desired to come without their swords.”  This is how the Dublin Newspaper reported the event: “…The best Judges allowed it to be the most finished work of Musick.  Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crowded Audience.  The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic, and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear…”  Handel could have made a financial killing from the Messiah, but instead he designated that all the proceeds would go to charities.

 

In contrast to the Irish, the English did not initially like the Messiah.  This oratorio, after all, had no story.  The soloists had too little to do, and the chorus too much.  It was different, and the audience wasn’t ready for it.  Jennens who wrote the script didn’t like it either.  He commented: “Handel’s Messiah has disappointed me, being set in great haste, though he said he would be a year about it, and make it the best of all his Compositions.  I shall put no more Sacred Works into his hands, thus to be abused.”

 

Twenty-five years later, Handel’s Messiah was so popular with the English that they almost rioted, while waiting to hear it at Westminster Abbey.  People screamed, as they feared being trampled.  Others fainted.  Some threatened to break down the church doors.

 

Handel’s use of biblical words in a theatre was revolutionary, and those who opposed Handel went to great extremes to keep his oratorios from being successful.  For example, certain self-righteous women gave large teas or sponsored other theatrical performances on the days when Handel’s concerts were to take place in order to rob him of an audience.  As well, his enemies hired boys to tear down the advertisements about Handel’s Messiah.  One opponent wrote to a newspaper asking “if the Playhouse is a fit Temple…or a Company of Players fit Ministers of God’s Word.”  This person saw the Messiah as “prostituting sacred things to the perverse humour of a Set of obstinate people.”

 

In contrast, the famous preacher John Wesley liked Handel’s Messiah.  He wrote: “In many parts, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.”  One clergy William Hanbury in 1759 said that you could hardly find an eye without tears in the whole audience.

 

The King was so deeply stirred with the exultant music, that when the first Hallelujah rang through the hall, he rose to his feet and remained standing until the last note of the chorus echoed through the house.  From this began the custom of standing for the Hallelujah chorus.  When a nobleman praised Handel as to how entertaining the Messiah was, Handel replied, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better.”

 

What is it about the Messiah that makes it so popular?  Many scholars point to the spaciousness in Handel’s music, the dramatic silences, and the stirring contrast.  Sadie commented that the music of Handel’s, is a blend of different styles: English church music (especially the choruses), the German Passion-music tradition, the Italian melodic style.  In fact, three of the choruses are arranged from Italian love-duets which Handel had written thirty years before.  Handel’s genius was in bringing new and dramatic twists to the familiar and mundane.

 

In 1759 the almost blind Handel conducted a series of 10 concerts.  After performing the Messiah, he told some friends that he had one desire –to die on Good Friday.  “I want to die on Good Friday,” he said, “in the hope of rejoining the good God, my sweet Lord and Saviour, on the day of His resurrection.”

 

On Good Friday, he bid good-bye to his friends and dies the very next day on Holy Saturday, April 14th, 1759.  Handel was fittingly buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.  A close friend of Handel’s, James Smyth, said: “Handel died as he lived –as a good Christian, with a true sense of his duty to God and man, and in perfect charity with all the world…”

 

My prayer is that the words and music of Handel’s Messiah may help us experience the intimacy of Handel’s relationship with His Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

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