Category Archives: Religion

A President’s Funeral And A Statue in Hong Kong

 Rev. Russell Levenson gave the homily at President George Bush’s state funeral on Wednesday.   The Bush family pastor described how just before the former president died his good friend James Baker who had been his Secretary of State and his White House Chief of Staff stood at the foot of the President’s bed and rubbed his feet for about half an hour.  “The president smiled at the comfort of his dear friend,” Levenson noted. The pastor then went on to say that as he witnessed Mr. Baker serving the former president in such a practical and caring way what came to mind was Jesus washing his friends’ feet just before his own death.  Jesus told his friends that he was setting an example for them.  He was serving them the way they needed to serve others. 

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Esther Augsburger

The pastor’s remarks reminded me of a beautiful statue at the International Christian School in Hong Kong where I was a teacher for six years.  It was created by Virginia artist Esther Augsburger. The statue shows Jesus washing his friend Peter’s feet. It stood on a podium just above the main entrance to our school to remind all who entered that serving others with care and compassion was the most important mandate Jesus gave to his followers. What a different world we would have if that was the top priority of all government leaders. 

Other posts………

Mennonite Nuns

I Want to Be Like Anna

Thoughts on Refugees

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church in praia da luz

The Catholic Church in Praia da Luz, Portugal

church of the holy cross sedona

Church of the Holy Cross Sedona Arizona

Buddhist Temple in Laos

church in Vik

Lutheran Church in Vik Iceland

Christ Temple in Hong Kong

Hindu Temple in Fiji

grace mennonite church

Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach 

The Sagrada Familia Cathedral – Barcelona

Maori Meeting House in New Zealand

Bahai Temple in Chicago

Procession Chapel in rural Quebec

Runaway Bay United Church Jamaica

The Santa Maria Del Flore in Florence Italy

Westminster Abbey London

Other posts……….

Worshipping with Quakers


Common Threads – Buddhism

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And A Baby Cried

On Saturday afternoon I was at Canadian Mennonite University enjoying their annual showcase called Christmas at CMU.  The women’s choir under the direction of Janet Brennerman was performing The Magnificat by Z. Randall Stroope an absolutely divine musical interpretation of the hymn Mary sings while visiting her cousin Elizabeth. The birth of Mary’s child is imminent and in the words of her song she is imagining how her son might change the world. 

Stroope’s version of The Magnificat  has this lush and truly grand duet accompaniment and when the two female musicians at the piano and the fifty- three members of the choir reached the Glory section of the lyrics I got tears in my eyes listening to all those bold and talented young women proclaiming the powerful message of the text with their loud, strong voices.  

After the next line  “as it was in the beginning” there was this ever so slight pause in the music and just at that moment a baby in the audience cried.  Rather than detract from the performance it was the perfect accompaniment to the text as the choir continued “is now and every shall be.”

Sometimes I think about how difficult it must be in our present day to decide to bring a child into the world, a world racked with war and the approaching doomsday effects of climate change, a world where people seem so divided, where so many have lost their homes and lives to violence.  

But then I think about how some of those children coming into our world right now are going to change it, make it a better place just as Mary imagined her child would. Maybe it will be that baby who cried out during the performance of The Magnificant on Saturday who will bring about some of those positive changes. 

Could it be that  as it was in the beginning for Mary as she waited for her child’s life to begin it is now and every shall be for new parents and the rest of us who wait expectantly for God’s peaceful kingdom to become a reality here on earth?

Other posts……….. 

Right to Have Children?

Must We Live in Fear?

God of Eve and God of Mary

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Huldah- Have You Heard of Her?

Huldah- Elsbeth youngHuldah is shown here in a beautiful painting by Elspeth Young.  She is a woman from the Bible you may not know.  I didn’t really learn her story till a couple of years ago when I had been contracted to write a quarter of Sunday school material for a religious publisher and Huldah played a role in one of the lessons included in my assignment. We find her story in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34. Huldah played many roles. She was a daughter and although the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly who her parents are we do discover from rabbinical literature that she is believed to be a direct descendant of Rahab’s. You may remember Rahab as this daring woman who hid the Israelite spies on her rooftop when they were about to be discovered. Pickersgill_Rahab

In this 1881 drawing by Frederick Pirkersgill we see Rahab opening the door and sending the spies to her rooftop so they won’t be discovered on their secret scouting mission ordered by Joshua just before the battle of Jericho. Rahab is in fact one of only a few women listed in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew. So in Rahab, Huldah had a pretty awesome ancestor to claim as her own.  huldah

Huldah was a wife too. She was married to a man named Shallum. The Midrash relates what an incredibly kind person he was. He would often sit at the gates of Jerusalem providing water to weary travelers. He also had a very important job as the keeper of the Israeli King Ammon’s wardrobe.  I like to think this beautiful bronze plate of Huldah from the 1800s shows her and Shallum discussing the Scriptures together.

Huldah had a job of her own.  She was a teacher and everyday she sat in the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem with her students, young girls and older women who wanted to learn about the Torah. 

Hulda_JerusalemI have been to the Temple in Jerusalem the site of two huge gates, one with two arches and one with three, gates that would later be named after Huldah, I could just imagine Huldah and her eager students there. I like to think of the women gathered in a circle oblivious to the chatter of other temple goers as Huldah spellbinds them with stories from the Torah and they eagerly discuss how those stories might apply to their lives.

elspeth_youngHuldah was also a mother. She had a son of her own named Hanamel but according to the accounts in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles and the Midrash, a second century Hebrew commentary, Huldah and her husband Shallum also played the role of guardians or foster parents providing care and keeping and teaching to little prince Josiah.  We can imagine Huldah fulfilling that role in another beautiful art piece by Elspeth Young. 

Josiah was the son of King Amon and Queen Jedidah. Amon was a pretty cruel and corrupt guy but under Huldah and her husband Shallum’s influence Josiah, Amon’s  son grew up to be really good man completely unlike his dad.

Huldah_gateHuldah was also a prophet a very important prophet it turns out.  In this 19thcentury etching she is prophesying outside the temple.

She was a prophet at the same time as Jeremiah but according to traditional rabbinical literature he did not resent Huldah or take offense to her prophesying because they were distantly related and he respected her. Josiah-Law

And Jeremiah was not the only one who respected Huldah.  Josiah, her former ward did too.  In this 1897 drawing by W.A. Foster we see an adult Josiah and Huldah talking together. After his father King Amon died young Josiah who Huldah had been caring for, became the king of Israel. At one point he decided the Temple in Jerusalem needed cleaning up and during that process an ancient scroll was discovered that hadn’t been read for a long time.   And whom did Josiah ask to figure out what that scroll’s message meant for his people? Not the great Jeremiah who was the most popular prophet of the time, not Hilkiah who was a wise priest with a huge reputation and was Josiah’s most highly placed spiritual advisor, no………

1989 huldah the prophetess dina cormick

As we see in this colorful 1989 art piece from Dina Cormick an artist from South Africa Josiah sends his men to seek the counsel of his former caregiver the prophet Huldah.    Huldah could have hemmed and hawed and tried to be diplomatic about what the words meant in the scroll Josiah had found but no………

weigel christian huldah.jpg

as we see in this drawing by Christian Weigel a German artist popular in the mid 1800s, Huldah told Josiah’s men straight up honest and direct that the words in the scroll he had found made it clear the people of Israel had strayed far from where God wanted them to be and that if Josiah tried to turn things around he’d have a happy and prosperous reign as king. Josiah followed Huldah the prophet’s advice and her predictions about his time as king came true. 


I am so intrigued by this art piece of Huldah done by Ilene Winn- Lederer in 2009. Ilene is a Pittsburgh artist whose illustrations have appeared in many major American newspapers and magazines.  She says that the name Huldah means weasel and as you can see in her art piece Huldah is holding a weasel.  At first that doesn’t seem very flattering till you learn that in many cultures weasels are symbols for the model woman, one who possess both great beauty and great intelligence.  In fact in Greek myth a weasel is the midwife at the birth of the hero Hercules. In her art Ilene says she has portrayed Huldah near the end of her life.  Ever the prophet and scholar she still holds a scroll in her hand to show she continues to read and study and look to the future for her people. 

Huldah played many roles. She was the descendant of a famous and daring woman, she was a wife to a kind and important man, she was a mother and foster-mother who raised honest decent children, she was a teacher who shared her wisdom with women. She was a student of the Scriptures trying to discern their meaning, and a prophet who it turns out had a big influence on her nation. 

imagining huldah by sara ronnevickIn this linoleum block and watercolor print by Minnesota artist Sara Ronnevik Huldah is displayed as women were in ancient art produced by people living near the Agean Sea. 

The Midrash names Huldah as one of the most upright and righteous women ever to come out of Israel.  I found evidence that Huldah has been sited again and again throughout history as an example by those who were fighting for equal rights for women in both the church and society.

As I work to do the best job I can of fulfilling the many different roles I have to play in life, Huldah is a real inspiration. 

This will be the last in my series of blog posts about women in the Bible featured in presentations I gave at a women’s retreat at the end of October.

Other posts in this series………..

Mary’s Childhood

Meet Priscilla

Five Sisters

I Want To be Like Anna

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Historic Churches Continents Apart

We have been visiting our friends John and Barb in Florida.

tao fong shan
John was the pastor of Tao Fong Shan the Lutheran church complex where we attended services in Hong Kong for six years.  Tao Fong Shan was founded in 1929 by Norwegian missionaries. Tao Fong Shan translated means Mountain of the Christ Wind.  The name of the church building on the Tao Fong Shan campus was Christ Temple. 

Christ Church Episcopal Fort MeadeNow John is leading services in a small church in Fort Mead Florida. It was founded in 1886 by immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Canada. The name of the church is Christ Church Episcopal. tao fong shan front of churchThe front of our church in Hong Kong looked like this.  The altar table had been rescued from a Christian Centre in Nanjing during the 1930s Civil War in China. john church in floridaJohn does a ‘pastoral pose’ for the camera at the front of his church in Florida. Note the Christ the King emblems on the altar cloths. tao fong shan mountain of the christ wind church hong kongDo you see the octagonal windows on either side of the front door of Christ Temple in Tao Fong Shan? octogonal window church in floridaThe church in Florida features an octogonal window as well. This was the bell on our church in Hong Kong. You had to hit it with a mallet to make it ring.  Members of the congregation took turns doing this each Sunday. This is the bell tower on the church in Florida. The bell was cast in New York in 1891.  It is the only church bell in the community of Fort Meade. Russell the  hospitable man who opened the church for us showed us the bell rope in the small room off the sanctuary. Dave is checking out the hymn books in the church in Florida. Here is our family singing a hymn in our Hong Kong church on Christmas Eve in 2004. Christ Temple has a second entrance that you reach through a lovely courtyard and a rounded doorway. The Tao Fong Shan complex in Hong Kong was designed by missionary Karl Reichelt and Danish architect Johannes Prip-Moeller who wanted to create a place where the Taoist priests, Tibetan lamas and Buddhist monks who came there to study would feel right at home. Christ Church in Fort Meade Florida has a second entrance as well at the side of the church. It was designed by architect Rev. J.H. Weddel in a Carpenter Gothic style which was familiar in Florida.  The architect also wanted however to maintain the essentials of the Anglican tradition as found in English churches. 

We felt fortunate to attend Christ Temple in Hong Kong served by our friend John who was a caring and compassionate pastor as well as a thought provoking and interesting speaker.  I am sure his parishoners in Florida at Christ Church Episcopal  feel equally blessed. 

Other posts………..

 A Christmas Carol Saved Our Lives

Ubi Caritas

Do Buildings Have Souls?


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Five Sisters

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing blog posts about women whose stories are in the Bible, but may not be that well-known.  I’ve included artwork that illustrates those stories. Each story is one that was featured in presentations I did at a women’s retreat near the end of October.  Here is another one of those stories.

The Daughters of Zelophehad by Iris Wexler

In ancient times there lived a man named Zelophehad. Along with the other Israelites his family was on the long journey from Egypt to the land God had promised.  Zelophehad knew when they arrived in that longed for place he would inherit property along with the other sons of Israel. 

Zelophehad had five daughters Hoglah, Noah, Tirzah, Mahlah and Milcah. Because he had no sons his daughters helped him run the family business.  He owned vast herds of sheep and goats. He had many tents and servants. 

Unfortunately before any of his daughters married Zelophehad died unexpectedly.  Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, Tirzah and Mahlah were still in mourning when their uncles and male cousins appeared demanding that the five daughters turn over all their father’s livestock and tents to them. They told the young women that when the Israelites reached the promised land the property that had been set aside for their father would now be divided up amongst themselves.

The women were frightened and asked what was to become of them.  Their male relatives suggested they might have to split up and hire themselves out as servants to different families. It would be unfortunate but necessary because of a law established by their leader Moses that stated if a man died and he had no sons his nearest male relatives should inherit everything of his.

Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, Tirzah and Mahlah decided if indeed that was the law it was unfair. They would need to go and see Moses and ask him to change the law.  Their male relatives responded with scorn and sarcasm. Despite this the five sisters began the journey to where Moses held court for his people every day.

The Daughters of Zelophehad See Moses from a 1908 publication The Bible and Its Stories Told in One Thousand Pictures

When they arrived they asked to see him and although it was unprecedented for Moses to give women an audience he chose to hear the petition brought forward by the Daughters of Zelophehad.  He listened to their story and told them he would ask God for advice and get back to them. When he returned to the sisters he said after prayerful consideration he had decided……….that they were right.  The law was unfair.  He would change it and in the future if a man died and he had no sons his daughters could receive his inheritance.  The daughters of Zelophehad went home happy for the settled future they had secured for themselves and their descendants. 

This sculpture of the daughters of Zelophehad is by Judith Klausner

Although Moses had died by the time the children of Israel reached the Promised Land his successor Joshua honored the commitment Moses had made to Hoglah, Milcah, Mahlah, Tirzah and Noah and they did inherit the property that was to have been their father’s. 

The Daughters of Zelophehad by Glenda Thomas

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is found in the Old Testament  (Numbers 27:1-11, Joshua 17:3-4). Each of the five daughters is named individually in these texts.

Illustration by Lisa Guinther from the book Bold Girls Speak

The account of the Daughters of Zelophehad has been referenced in many court cases as justification for women being accorded legal rights. 

The story of Mahlah, Hoglah, Noah, Tirzah and Milcah is one I love.  In 1999 I wrote a full length musical along with Craig Cassils about the story called the Daughters of Z . My Steinbach church Grace Mennonite performed it.  I have written a children’s picture book about the Daughters of Zelophehad and a longer version for older children both of which I am trying to get published.  One of the reasons I am so determined to have this story shared more widely is because although I attended Sunday School and church and Bible camp faithfully as a child I never heard it and yet I find it one of the most powerful stories in the Scriptures.

This 1897 drawing of Hoglah, Milcah, Tirzah, Noa and Mahlah by Charles Foster was in a book called Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us.  The Daughters of Zelophehad teach me how important it is to stand up for what I believe in, how doing that can change not only my future but the future of others. What am I doing now that will leave a legacy for the future for my children, my grandchildren, my church and community?

Atlanta artist, theologian and designer Lauren Wright Pittman has created this image of the Daughters of Zelophehad showing them as modern day reformers.

The Daughters of Zelophehad teach me that working together as a team with others helps us to achieve things beyond our wildest dreams. How can I facilitate that kind of team building in my family life, my work life, my church life and my community life?

I love this illustration of the Daughters of Zelophehad striding off to see Moses by San Diego artist Sheila Orysiek.

The Daughters of Zelophehad teach me to imagine the impossible is possible and how important it is to live in hope.  In our world with all its problems that kind of hope and wild dreaming is vital.

Other posts in this series…………

Mary’s Childhood

I Want to Be Like Anna

Meet Priscilla


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I Want To Be Like Anna

Anna is an inspiration! She is over a hundred years old but is still deeply involved in her community and active in both daily routines and relationships.  Her story is told in Luke 2: 36-38 where has a moving encounter with the infant Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem when his parents bring him there to be circumcised.   Anna was one of the women I spoke about at a woman’s retreat at the end of October. 

In this colorful modern 2008 painting Texas artist James B. Janknegt shows Anna off to the right and a man named Simeon greeting Mary and Joseph as they bring Jesus to the temple.

This is how the renowned artist Rembrandt envisioned Anna in 1639. 

The Bible names her as a prophetess, in fact she is one of only a handful of women named a prophetess in the New Testament. This means her opinions and ideas were respected and people will have come to her with their concerns and questions and she will have offered them counsel and advice.  The Bible tells us she practically lived at the temple praying and fasting and praising, available around the clock to the people who needed her.  

She is an inspiration to me to fast from things like social media and my computer things that take up too much of my time and take me away from finding myself and relating to others.  Anna is an inspiration to me to pray for my family, my friends and our world.  Anna is an inspiration to be involved in serving others and to be positive.

In a painting by Arent Van Gelder done in 1727 Anna prays while Simeon holds Jesus.  Anna was only married for seven years when her husband died and she has lived as a widow for a very long time.  But she is not bitter. She is positive and optimistic.  She reaches out to help others. Upon seeing Jesus she is filled with hope that he will provide redemption for her people.   

I love the look of joy on Anna’s face in this artwork by Dutch artist Jan Van’t Hoff who is a modern painter living in Dordrect in the Netherlands.

The book of Luke identifies Anna as coming from the tribe of Asher.  Interestingly in Deuteronomy Moses says that people from Anna’s tribe will be blessed because their strength will equal their days.   My mother-in-law often told me that growing old was not for cowards. One needs strength equal to living out their days on this earth and Anna has clearly been blessed with that kind of strength.  I hope I will be able to claim it too.

Here Anna is once again portrayed by Rembrandt this time in 1631 and we see her intent on studying the Scriptures. It is believed Rembrandt used his own mother as his model for a number of paintings he made of Anna.

Robin Gallaher Branch a Fulbright scholar with a PHD in Hebrew Studies describes Anna as just a tad eccentric but also says her lifestyle clearly invigorated her.

I think that clearly shows in this artwork from the abbey of Mont St. Michael located on an island in Normandy France.   Look at Anna off to the right her hands held high in joy and excitement.

Dr. Branch says Anna is mobile, moving around the temple and singing, she is articulate telling everyone about her faith and what it means to her, she is alert and knows exactly what is going on when Jesus and his parents arrive at the Temple.  She is savvy and unselfish offering spiritual counsel and advice to those who need it.

 I want to be like Anna.   Perhaps just a tad crazy, keeping fit so I can be mobile and active, curious and interested in what is going on around me, engaged in creative pursuits and continuing to articulate what I believe about issues I am passionate about.

Anna gazes at Jesus in his mother’s arms in this 1640 painting The Adoration of the Infant Jesus by Dutch artist Matthias Stom.  In having the chance to meet the infant Jesus Anna’s dreams were fulfilled. She is living a full and rich life and then she gets to meet this special child who she believes will be a shining beacon for how the world might be saved- through care and kindness and being open and accepting of everyone, by following the way of peace.  This light filled artwork by Jerry Backik of St. Petersburg Florida reminds me that as I journey through the last season of my life I want to be just like Anna- still working to fulfill my dreams and allowing the children in my life to inspire my belief that there is hope for a better world. 

Other posts………

Meet Priscilla

Mary’s Childhood

 A Mother For King David- Who Knew?

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