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Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit

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The Foolishness of God in Dostoevsky’s Idiot

The Foolishness of God in Dostoevsky’s Idiot

By Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird

-an article for the Light Magazine

Have you ever been foolishly attracted to the world, the flesh and the devil?  Has your self-centeredness and desire for approval ever harmed your best interests? Why does Christianity often look so foolish to secular people in our hi-tech, frantic world?

            In Dostoevsky’s favorite novel The Idiot, we meet Prince Myshkin, a Christ-like person whose goodness, open-heartedness, and genuineness lead people to call him an idiot sixty times in the novel. He saw Myshkin as his best and richest poetic idea. Three times in his notes, Dostoevsky identifies Myshkin as a Christ figure.  Like Jesus, he was full of child-like grace and truth.  In his blueprints, Dostoevsky refers to Myshkin as “Prince Christ”: “Christ is and always will be the ideal, ours (in Russia) or that of civilized Europe.”

Myshkin had just returned to St. Petersburg, the Russian Capital, after five years away in a Swiss sanitorium for epileptics. In the midst of great corruption, Jesus the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).  So too, Myshkin came to dwell in the midst of a cynical, jaded world.  As the epicentre of the Russian political world, St. Petersburg was full of clever pretenders, politicians, and posers who hid in plain view from each other: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Corinthians 3:19) Myshkin exposed the nakedness of the ‘kings with no clothes.’  No one could hide from his loving gaze.

Since only the knowledge of the truth can see us free, Myshkin’s speaking truth to power helped a few give up their lies.  Most initially clung to their lies, and rejected Myshkin as totally inappropriate and stupidly naïve. His ‘unsuccessful’ encounter with the Russian elite reminds me of John 1:10-11:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Just like with Jesus, Myshkin was the wrong kind of messiah, coming in humility rather than as a conqueror.  As a quintessential Russian holy fool, he threatened their love of power, money, and sexual conquest. Everything for this highly politicized culture was an elaborate game of deception and manipulation. Like the power-hungry Pontius Pilate, they had become cynical about the possibility of truth. In their childishness, they rejected Myshkin’s strong wisdom as weakness:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

The French-speaking Russian elite, though clinging to an outward form of religion, had largely become atheistic because of the influence of the French revolution. Even Christianity for these power-brokers became little more than another way to control and subjugate ‘lesser’ people.  Dostoevsky believed that western culture was dying because it rejected Jesus: “those who kill God also kill man.”

Dostoevsky drew on the comic figure of Don Quixote in creating his ‘positively good and beautiful’ person:

There’s nothing more difficult than that in the whole world… There’s only one positively beautiful person in the world — Christ, so that the appearance of this measurelessly, infinitely beautiful person is in fact of course an infinite miracle.

 He saw Don Quixote as the most complete of beautiful people in Christian literature: “…he is only beautiful because he is ridiculous at the same time…” Don Quixote, like Prince Myshkin, was this strange blend of apparent foolishness, and great wisdom.  In their fighting the windmills of secularity, neither made any sense to the sophisticated elite. Outwardly, it looked like a useless failure that only made things worse.

Jesus, like Myshkin and Quixote, is the seemingly ‘foolish’ Prince of fools. Will the real fool stand up? How often are we fooled? 1 Corinthians 2:14 puts it,

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness…

Quixote, Jesus, and Myshkin suffer deeply because they ‘foolishly’ love and serve the unlovable.  All three were ridiculed, beaten with stones, and betrayed by their most trusted friends.

One is reminded of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who was despised and rejected. It reminds us of the apparent foolishness of Jesus’ love on the cross for us:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18)

Jesus, the bridegroom, loves his bride, the very broken, often conflicted Church. Similarly, Myshkin loved his potential bride Nastasia who was very beautiful, but deeply wounded in her soul by sexual exploitation. Myshkin helped open Nastasia’s eyes temporarily to her deep worth, but in her shame, she kept running from Myshkin back to those who would mistreat her.  The most beautiful often feel the most ugly and unworthy. We too as the wounded bride of Christ often run from his relentless love.

The problem of the existence of God had long tormented Dostoevsky, the intellectual idiot.  He came to a deep faith in Christ through much suffering and questioning as a political prisoner in Siberia: “My hosanna has passed through a great crucible of doubt.” He struggled with irritability and spite, and had a strong gambling addiction that took him many years to break free.  Through the example of other faithful prisoners and in reading the New Testament, Dostoevsky:

accepted Christ back into (his) heart, whom (he) had come to know as a child living with my parents and whom (he) almost lost once, because of turning into a ‘European liberal.’”

            Dostoevsky wanted all of us to accept the crucified idiot back into our hearts.  Imagine how such a heart transformation might affect the Russian/Ukrainian conflict. Have you ever lost the Prince of Peace through giving into cynicism and negativity? What if you opened our heart and mind up again today?

Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird

Co-authors, God’s Firestarters

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Jimmy Stewart’s Wonderful Life

How many of you also love Jimmy Stewart’s iconic Christmas movie It’s a wonderful Life? What is your favorite scene? Click to view our Light Magazine article

Jimmy Stewart’s Wonderful Life

by Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird

One of our favourite Christmas movies is It’s a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart plays the part of a generous but discouraged businessman who discovers that he really was making a positive impact. You will remember how the Christmas angel Clarence had to earn his wings by helping out Jimmy Stewart (aka George Bailey). George was so distraught at Christmas that he was about to jump off a bridge.  Clarence, the delightful angel shows George what an amazing impact his generosity is making, and how much poorer his town would be without him.

The movie was based on a short story and booklet The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943. Stern wrote a Charles Dickens ‘Christmas Carol’ spinoff for the North American audience. In 1946, Frank Capra wrote the movie version.  It was initially seen as a box-office flop, falling three million dollars short of breaking even, and not even winning one Academy Award Oscar.  In 1947, the FBI and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) secretly investigated It’s a Wonderful Life, fearing it was “communist propaganda”, stirring up class warfare, because it portrayed the villain as being a “scrooge-type” banker.

Since It’s a Wonderful Life was seen as a failure, the producers didn’t even bother to renew the copyright license in the late 1970s. This meant that television studios could show the movie for free at Christmas. After a few years   It’s a Wonderful Life became a cult classic.   It later went on to become the number one inspirational North American movie ever made.

Who can forget the conflict around the Christmas tree as George Bailey was close to committing suicide? We loved his honest prayer: “Dear Father in Heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.” His unscripted tears were genuine. Stewart commented in a 1987 interview, “As I said those words, I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing.” Actress Carol Burnett called this one of the finest pieces of acting ever seen. Because Jimmy Stewart was suffering from post-World War II PTSD, he was able to connect with George Bailey’s trauma with unusual depth.  On his twentieth combat mission flying over the city of Gotha, the floor of Stewart’s plane was hit, blowing a hole right below his feet.  It was one mission too many for Stewart.  He was grounded because of his paralyzing fear of making a mistake and causing someone to die. Friends observed that he had aged ten to twenty years. He began suffering from shakes, sweats, a short temper, mood swings, and nightmares.  He couldn’t keep food down, and had to live on just ice cream and peanut butter.

Christmas 1946 was surprisingly healing for both George Bailey and Jimmy Stewart himself. Who can fail to recall the final scene around the Christmas tree when all his friends come together and unite in support? Who can forget the joyful Christmas carols sung by Jimmy Stewart, friends and family as they thanked the baby Jesus for the true meaning of Christmas?

This Christmas, let not forget to unwrap the true gift of Christmas, the Christ Child come to earth to save us.

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Messy Healing

Advent is the season of “anticipation.” It is the start of a new liturgical year, and we have much planned for our service: we’re blessing and lighting the Advent Wreath; we’re celebrating a baby dedication; and I’ll be preaching an Advent series on “Spiritual Friendship.” I’m looking forward to celebrating with you.
So come, join us as we worship the triune God together.
In case you missed it, you can find the Healing service (Rev Ed Hird preached on ‘Messy Healing: Why Does it sometimes take too long? Mark 8:22-26) from last week by clicking HERE.
Important Dates:
Ladies’ “Refresh” this Tuesday 10:30am.
Thursday Support Group this week: 6:00pm dinner together; Prayer Vigil at 7:00pm.
Remember we are a fragrance-free community.
Advent preaching series: “Spiritual Friendship.”
All Saints Christmas Party and Community Lunch: next Sunday the 4th of December (after the service). Bring some food and enjoy the fellowship. (Please note that until our renovations are complete, we do not have facilities for either heating or cooling food.) Everyone welcome.
“9 Lessons and Carols” Sunday the 18th of Dec. Hot mince pies and hot apple juice after the service. Everyone welcome.
Christmas Eve Candlelight Family Service 7:00pm Christmas Eve. Everyone welcome
Christmas Day Family Service 10:00am Christmas Day
If you want to see our monthly church schedule, you can find that on our website.
If you have any further questions, or need help in any way, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thank you Church.
Stay vigilant and prayerful.
Love each other deeply and keep Jesus at the very centre of everything you do.
Blessings on all you do.
The peace of our Lord,
Peter Klenner
Bishop and Pastor
All Saints Community Church
Crescent Beach

Rev. Ed Hird preaching on Mark 8:22-26

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Battle for the Tortured Soul of Russia

Enjoy this Light Magazine article and feel free to repost. Praying for the soul of Russia.

Leo Tolstoy’s battle for the tortured soul of Russia

By Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird

After publishing his wildly successful War and Peace in 1865, Tolstoy thought of writing a novel on Peter the Great. So, he began learning ancient Greek.

Tolstoy called the time of terrible uncertainty between writing projects “the dead time.”  His self-doubt perhaps meant that he would never write anything again. He was plagued by fears that he himself was finished as a writer. “It was all over for him; it was time for him to die.”

Two years after finishing War and Peace, he still felt so depressed that he privately told a friend that he had no will to live, and had never felt so miserable in all his life. It would be three years before Tolstoy started Anna Karenina, a novel in which both key characters Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin struggled with great self-doubt about their relationships and even life itself. It seems that many of Tolstoy’s more painful emotions were projected onto Anna Karenina.

Perhaps more than any other, Anna Karenina is Tolstoy’s novel that readers consistently say they cannot stop reading. If you are still mystified to why Russia recently invaded Ukraine, read Anna Karenina.  The intense humanity of Tolstoy’s complex characters allows us to read it again and again with new insights about the Russian soul. Many consider Anna Karenina to be the best novel ever written. Over 300,000,000 people have purchased it so far. You could be next. Tolstoy saw it as his first novel, as he refused to call his earlier War & Peace a novel. 

Why did Tolstoy write such an intense novel about adultery?  Biblically speaking, adultery is often a metaphor for spiritual idolatry.  As Romans 1 puts it, we are tempted to abandon ourselves to the twin temptations of adultery and idolatry. 

How was Tolstoy able to write so vividly and realistic about adultery and idolatry?  Because like the Apostle Paul, he considered himself to be the chief of sinners. In his 1882 book Confessional, he commented:

I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain. I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants’ toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat. Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder – there was not a crime I did not commit… Thus, I lived for ten years.” 

His mother died when Tolstoy was two year’s old.  Raised as an aristocratic orphan, he came into massive wealth and landholdings at age 19. His wild gambling debts in the military forced him to sell off villages that he owned, before he finally lost his principal house itself.  Similarly, Levin, the hero of the Anna Karenina novel, struggled with gambling temptations before getting married and settling down. Many of the Russian aristocracy in the 1800s were renowned for massive gambling debts in the military, while simultaneously despising money itself.  Is the reckless Russian invasion of the Ukraine an expression of this same gambling addiction? 

Like many in the Russian aristocracy, Tolstoy was trained to see hunting and warfare as vital to masculine courage and bravery.  Many of Tolstoy’s books, including Anna Karenina, give a seldom-seen, up-close view of the battlefield.  He was the first newspaper war correspondent. Tolstoy no more glorified warfare than John Newton glorified slavery.  Both Tolstoy and Newton, however, because of their first-hand experience, were able to give a first-hand critique of what was really happening in their time. Both helped turn many others to peace and reconciliation. 

Tolstoy defined his essential family trait by the Russian word dikost which means wildness, shyness, originality and independence in thinking, much like the quintessential Russian bear.  Not even the autocratic Tzar himself could tame Tolstoy.  In his novels, Tolstoy could get away with saying things that would immediately exile other Russians to Siberia.  He was so uncontrollable, almost like John the Baptist, so that even the top officials feared to criticize him publicly. 

One of Tolstoy’s more scandalous behaviours was that he wrote his novels in the Russian language, rather than using  any of the twelve other languages he knew.  The accepted language of communication for the Russian aristocracy was French, which their serfs could not understand.  Because the Russian literary language had been created specifically to translate the bible, the Russian Orthodox Church saw it as blasphemous to degrade the holy Russian language in the writing of ‘heathen’ folktales or novels.  The Anna Karenina novel scandalized many religious officials by its thoughtful critique of religious hypocrisy and judgementalism, and its rejection of violence.  He became a pacifist after fighting in the Crimea. 

Tolstoy chose Romans 12: 19 “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay” as an epigraph to Anna Karenina. Many people in life, even as Christians, are tempted to take revenge when they have been hurt.  Just think of all the trauma that the Ukrainian people have been through recently.  How could they ever forgive the Russians? Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina, shows us again and again how tempting revenge is, yet how unsatisfying it is to the soul.  Kitty had to give up her desire for revenge regarding Anna & Vronsky before she could be well again and marry Levin.  Similarly, Levin had to forgive Kitty for initially rejecting his marriage proposal, before he could give her a second chance.  It is only when we trust that God alone will bring justice and fairness that we lose the need to even the score. Could God make a way where there is no way in the current mess between Russia and Ukraine?

Reading Anna Karenina reminds us of Isaiah 5:20 where it warns against calling evil good and good evil, putting darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Though Anna is initially used to save Dolly and Stepan Oblonsky’s marriage from his affair, everything following become a twisted web of deceit and half-truths. Again, it reminds us of Jeremiah 17:9 “our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked; who can understand them?”  Self-deception, which so many fell into, is the worst form of deception.  Often our eyes and ears are closed shut, and we refuse to hear and see. We often deceive ourselves that we know better than God himself and His Word. 

Anna was described as being clad in an impenetrable armour of falsehood.  Deception ultimately kills relationships, as it did with Anna and Count Vronsky.  Romans 3:23 has never stopped being true; the wages of sin and self-deception are still death.  Tolstoy symbolizes this at both the beginning and ending of the novel, where the railway station is the place not only of progress, but also of death.  Progress, for its own sake, only turns us into unfeeling machines.

By contrast, the joy of Levin and Kitty’s marriage was that it became a relationship without guile or deceit. They held back no secrets on each other. They were who they were, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.  As a result, they went from being tortured souls to becoming healthy souls.  What might it take for tortured Russia to rediscover the deeply Christ-like, profoundly human souls of Levin and Kitty?  Lord, have mercy on Russia and their neighbours, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Join Us For Worship

So come, join us as we worship the triune God together. Here’s the announcement:

I’m happy to announce that we had Church@Church this Sunday. Last Sunday we looked at facing impossible challenges and the feeding of the 5,000. This week, we discovered what to do when facing impossible challenges. You never know when Jesus will turn up. Let’s be encouraged as we pay attention to what God is doing in our midst.

In case you missed it, you can find the service from last week by clicking HERE.

Important Dates:

2. Sunday the 20th November, the Reign of Christ Sunday (the last Sunday of the liturgical year), is a Healing Service. The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird will be preaching on the subject of healing. (Mark 8:22-26: Messy Healing: Why Does It Often Take Too Long?) There will be opportunities to receive healing prayer. Again, everyone is welcome.

If you have any further questions, or need help in any way, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thank you Church.

Stay vigilant and prayerful.

Love each other deeply and keep Jesus at the very centre of everything you do.

Blessings on all you do.

The peace of our Lord,

Peter Klenner

Bishop and Pastor

All Saints Community Church

Crescent Beach


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Dr Brian Stiller

The October 28th Friday 7am to 9am (PST) White Rock/South Surrey Leadership Prayer Breakfast is almost sold out with around 290 people expected to attend. The guest speaker is the well-known communicator Dr. Brian Stiller whose topic is ‘Leadership in Turbulent Times’. It will be broadcast live. To get tickets, contact Dr. Ed Penner at 604-535-9409 or by email at mtspenner@shaw.ca.

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Growing in Fruitfulness

This article, which was recently published in the Light Magazine print version, just came out in the online magazine. You are invited to read and repost this to others. What if you chose to never retire from making a difference in other people’s lives?