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A Review of
Laughing in Lebanon
    By the Rev. John Congram, former edi- tor of the Presbyterian Record maga- zine
Laughing in Lebanon:
Stories of Jiha and Friends
Written by L.E. “Ted” Siverns, 2020
Most of us would be surprised to find humour and the Middle East in the same sentence. Perhaps trag- edy and the Middle East but not hu- mour and the Middle East. Reading Siverns’ little book may change your mind.
In this book, Siverns relates sto- ries of Jiha, a wandering wise fool- ish man who rides about on a don- key, dispensing his own brand of humorous wisdom. Siverns heard these stories while teaching at the Near East School of Theology in Lebanon. Under pressure from his children he decided to lay aside his academic pursuits to record these stories. Jiha, by the way, appears in many Middle Eastern countries un- der a variety of names.
Dr. Stanley Glen of Knox College used to tell his theological students that their task as ministers was to be fools for Christ’s sake, never simply silly fools. Sometimes Jiha appears to be simply a silly fool such as in the following story. On one occa- sion Jiha offered to answer any two questions for $100. A man stepping for th boldly asked, “Isn’t two ques- tions answered for $100 a lot of
People of Faith, People of Jeong (Qing) seeks to reveal and under- stand the current state and pro- spective future of Asian-Canadian immigrant churches (ACIC), includ- ing Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean churches. Starting with a brief chron- icle of ACIC history, this book shares the journeys and stories of current lay and clergy members from various ACIC. The chapters attempt to explain the influence and impact that Jeong and faith have on these churches, to envisage the future of ACIC, and to draw relevant implications for the betterment of these churches going into the future. This book reflects the real voices and sentiments of the first- and second-generation mem- bers of these ethnic Asian immigrant churches in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). It is original, authentic, comprehensive and inclusive in its perspectives—the first book of its kind on Asian immigrant churches
in Canada. The book will serve as an inspiration and a practical guide for immigrant churches in cross-cultural and cross-generational transitions. It offers lay people, church leaders and clergy a critical reference as they navi- gate through the future of churches in Nor th America and beyond.
Nam Soon Song is Ewart Professor of Christian Education at Knox Col- lege, University of Toronto, Ont. She is the author of “Demythologizing the Silent Exodus: Asian-Canadian Prot- estant Young Adults,” published in the Journal of Youth Ministry (2019).
Ben C. H. Kuo is a professor of clinical psychology at the Univer- sity of Windsor, Ont., and a licensed psychologist. His areas of exper tise include research and mental health interventions with immigrant and refu- gee populations.
Dong-Ha Kim is the director of basic degree studies and the director of the Centre for Asian-Canadian Theology and Ministry at Knox College, Toronto School of Theology, University of To- ronto, Ont. Dong-Ha is also an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament within The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
In Kee Kim is senior minister at St. Timothy Presbyterian Church in To- ronto, Ont.
“Yes,” replied Jiha, “it is, your
next question please.”
But sometimes Jiha’s silly stories
illuminate important truths, as can be found in this story: “The person who does not know and does not know that he does not know should be shunned, for he is a fool. The per- son who does not know and knows that he does not know should be taught, for he is a child. The person who knows and does not know that he knows should be awakened, for he is asleep. The person who knows and knows that he knows should be followed, for he is wise. Of course,” said Jiha, “it is difficult to determine if the person who knows that he knows really knows.”
Stories like that recall St. Paul’s words that God chose what is fool- ish in the world to shame the wise, what is weak in the world to shame the strong and what is low and de- spised in the world to bring to noth- ing things that are. Perhaps some of the Jiha’s stories come close to doing that.
The father of Canadian humour, Stephen Leacock, declared that the very essence of good humour is that it must be without harm or malice. Almost all of the Jiha’s stories fit this criteria.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that we might find it odd to see humour and the Middle East in the same sentence. But of- ten difficult times produce amazing humour. Humour helps us maintain our humanity and strength to navi- gate difficult times. The author men- tions that “Humour was essentially forbidden in Nazi Germany.”
So read these stories for their humour, laugh at the silliness of the characters and perhaps at yourself. And if they do not enlighten you, they may lighten your life a little as you journey through the stresses of the present pandemic.
Ted Siverns is a Canadian Presby- terian minister who has served the church as a minister, administrator and teacher in Canada, Lebanon and Taiwan.
People of Faith, People of Jeong (Qing): The Asian Canadian Churches of Today for Tomorrow
  A Review of Dr. Bloom’s Event
By the Rev. John Congram, former editor of the Presbyterian Record magazine
Dr. Bloom’s Event
Written by Dorothy Brown Henderson, 2020
I begin by offering this reader’s alert for those who have read the author’s first two novels: Both pertained to the narrative of a young Presbyterian pastor in a small town in Western Ontario. This is not a continuation of that story. In fact, it is quite different.
The author offers the best summary of her story on the back cover of the book: “Maxwell Bloom, a successful and respected surgeon in London, Ontario, stumbles into an oppor tunity to realize a hidden dream—sponsor- ing an Arts Event-of-the-Year for the community. But he soon finds his life in chaos when three struggling artists move into his stately home to help him with the event. Each takes advan- tage of him in unique ways. Now he finds himself staring point-blank into the face of personal struggles he kept hidden away for years: his loneliness, his drive to overwork, estrangement from his family, and the broken ties to his Jewish community. Will the way
forward become clear through delving deep into the arts when harsh realities bump up against his quest for mean- ing, hope and connection?”
As with her other novels, the author writes about things she knows well, sickness, music, literature and, of course, food. The author’s first book was a cookbook, and she presently writes a food column for the maga- zine, Rural Voice. Like her other nov- els, this one also includes a couple of recipes, which are in this case fittingly of Jewish origin.
In this novel, the author delves deeply into a subject which, until she wrote the novel, was unfamiliar to her and I suspect is also unfamiliar to most readers of this novel. We learn much about Jewish culture and cus- toms, but more importantly, about the history of rejection, discrimina- tion and hardship that Jewish immi- grants experienced in London, On- tario. At a time when discrimination is at the forefront of the agenda in our country, this story becomes particu- larly relevant. What happens to many minorities today had happened to our Jewish brothers and sisters when they first came to this country and, unfortunately, has reared its ugly head again in our own time.
Woven into this story are tales of love and passion, abuse and frac- tured family relationships, which we have all experienced in some form or other.
The book leaves us with an interest- ing question as to whether redemption can be found through the ar ts.
The author is fast becoming the Canadian Presbyterian novelist for the 21st century. You will want to read this book. It will provoke lively discussions in your family, your book club or in your church group.
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