Sunday, July 26, 2015

Interfaith Days: Tisha B'av

Today is Tisha B'Av ("the ninth of Av"). This fast day in Judaism commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem (586 BCE and 70 CE). The day also commemorates other tragedies that have happened to the Jewish people, like the expulsions of Jews from England in the 13th century and from Spain in the 15th century.

As the Judaism 101 site indicates, "The restrictions on Tisha B'Av are similar to those on Yom Kippur: to refrain from eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving or wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes; engaging in sexual relations; and studying Torah. Work in the ordinary sense of the word [rather than the Shabbat sense] is also restricted. People who are ill need not fast on this day. Many of the traditional mourning practices are observed: people refrain from smiles, laughter and idle conversation, and sit on low stools. In synagogue, the book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited. The ark (cabinet where the Torah is kept) is draped in black."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Interfaith Days: Pioneer Day
July 24 is a holiday in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commemorating the entry of the first group of Mormon pioneers and their leader, Brigham Young, into the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Pioneer Day is an official holiday in Utah and is celebrated with parades, fireworks, potlucks, and other activities not only by Utah Latter-day Saints but also church members in other areas. This site provides links to different aspects of Mormon and Utah history surrounding this yearly event, and this site gives some of the history.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Interfaith Days: Birthday of Haile Selassie I

Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion that developed in 1930s Jamaica. The name comes from "Ras", the Ethiopian word for chief or prince, and Tafari (the revered one) which was the first name (before his coronation) of Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia in 1930 through 1974. Rastafari worship Haile Selassi as the incarnation of God the Father (Jah, a shortened form of the biblical name of God) and is Christ in his second coming. Today is a Rastafari holiday because it is the emperor's birthday in 1892. This BBC site provides information about this faith, as does this site.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Many Rooms: A Garage Near the Turnpike

A series begun 6/17/15: "During our lives, we visit certain rooms and places only once, or for a short time, and we don’t return except in memory…."

Back in August 1987, my wife Beth and I were driving from her parents’ home in the Chicago area back to central Virginia. We were soon to move from Virginia to Arizona; the moving truck was scheduled in a few days.

We got up early on a Sunday morning at our motel in northwestern Pennsylvania and made our way down the PA Turnpike, when our car began to smoke. Fortunately (since in my opinion the turnpike has poor shoulders) this happened as we approached a toll area. Pulling over to the side just beyond the toll gate, we got some help from the toll folks. They arranged a tow truck to take our car to a shop along some nearby state highway---a shop that would be open again the following morning---and the truck then took us to a motel just off a turnpike exit.

Everyone was helpful. But …. by 7 AM on a Sunday morning, we were stuck at a motel, eight hours from our destination, in an area without an abundance of businesses. We considered what we would do with the rest of a very long day.

We made the most of it, walking down to the nearby Wendy’s and a drug store. Those were the days before cell phones were common, and we made long distance calls through an operator. But we did call a few people. That afternoon, we watched a Peter Cook-Dudley Moore movie, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which we thought was terrible.

The next day, someone came and got us, and we sat at the garage for several hours while the repair fellows worked on our car. I forget what was wrong with the car but it was a long process. We sat in the seen-better-days waiting room of the garage. We agreed this would have been really miserable if we weren't together. The men were friendly and helpful, and when they finished, it was 5 PM on Monday, 34 hours since we arrived at the motel. Crazy to get home, and worried about the upcoming move, we got into the car and made our way all the way back to central Virginia by the early morning hours.

Most of us have stories of being stranded somewhere. Our worse experience was when Beth was in Manhattan on 9/11/01, an experience far worse than the garden-variety stuck-in-an-airport anecdote. She and her colleague finally could rent a car on the following Saturday and drove home; no airplanes were yet leaving New York five days later.

Being stuck in the Pittsburgh outskirts for a day and a half doesn’t compare to that awful week. We've had a few more typical, long delays in airports, notably in 2004 when the computers of American Airlines went on the blink and our flight from Albuquerque to Cleveland took a LONG time.

But ever since those two days in Pittsburgh (a city that I do like), I take at least a few books along when we travel. So in case of a long delay, I could do the reading and writing required for the work I do, and also I can have more leisurely reading. During that sojourn in a car repair shop, I had along Don Harrison Doyle’s history of early Jacksonville, IL, which I needed to study thoroughly for a writing project of my own. Motivation driven by unhappiness, I took plenty of notes! I was so grateful I had that and other books. I forget what Beth had along, but she, too, takes books along on trips for the same reason. We probably also purchased magazines at that drug store. Now, e-books makes for much lighter luggage!

Driving the turnpike in the early 10s, when our daughter was in college near Pittsburgh, I think I spotted the same motel in the distance at an exit. I didn't care enough to leave the highway to investigate. We’d have no idea where that car garage was, but I wonder if it still operates, and how many motorists have passed through its waiting room, where I learned how to stay content in situations out of my control.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tikkun Articles about Climate Change

Visiting friends over this past weekend, I stopped by a favorite bookstore between visits and purchased the Spring 2015 issue of Tikkun magazine. I need to subscribe to this magazine because I enjoy the articles and the overall perspective of "healing/repairing the world" (tikkun olam). A particular piece that I have thought about in different contexts appeared in Tikkun

This Spring 15 issue contains a series of pieces on the theme, "The Place of Hope in an Age of Climate Disaster." I appreciated the complementary and interfaith perspectives on what is, to me, a very depressing problem. The ordinary person doesn't know what to do, and the lachrymose tone of many writings on the subject (who are, after all, environmental activists who see what is happening) can be distressing. Too, we are all beneficiaries of a economic system that contains injustices, and environmental destruction is one.

It would be amazing if we had more political leaders who inspired people to action on this issue. To use Ronald Reagan as an example of a very inspiring leader: had he been an environmentalist, how many Americans would have been inspired to step up!

The nature of science, too, can be a source for impatience. Scientists observe present phenomena and make predictions based on models suggested by the evidence, and the observations may change based on additional evidence, as was the case last week when predicted solar activity suggested a near-future cooling of the earth. These aspects of science--ongoing study, and the refinement of predictions--contributes to two popular responses to the science: scoff at it, or just wait and see what happens.

But for now, on this subject of climate change, I recommend to anyone interested in this subject to pick up a copy of this issue of Tikkun and read the articles, which are:

Michael Lerner, "It's time to get serious about saving the planet from destruction" (pp. 18-19, 60-61).

Whitney A. Bauman, "Facing the death of nature, environmental memorials to coiner despair" (pp. 20-21, 61).

Charles Derber, "Hope requires fighting the hope industry" (pp. 22-23, 61-62).

Julia Watts Belser, "Disaster and disability: social inequality and the uneven effects of climate change" (pp. 24-25, 62-63).

Vandana Shiva, "Limiting corporate power and cultivating interdependence: a strategic plan for the environment" (pp. 26-27, 63).

Ana Levy-Lyons, "The banality of environmental destruction" (pp. 28-29, 63-64).

Janet Biehl, "Reducing auto dependency and sprawl: an ecological imperative" (pp. 30, 64-65).

Arthur Waskow, "Prayer as if the earth really matters" (pp. 31-33, 65-66).

David R. Loy, "A bodhisattva's approach to climate activism" (pp. 34, 66-67).

Rianne C. Ten Veen, "Looking to the Qur'an in an age of climate disaster" (pp. 36-37).

Parth Parihar, "Dharma and Ahimsa, a Hindu take on environmental stewardship" (pp. 38-39).

Matthew Fox, "Love is stronger than stewardship: a cosmic Christ path to planetary survival" (pp. 40-41, 67-68).

Anna Peterson, "Climate change and the right to hope" (pp. 42, 68-69).

Peterson writes, "Most people in the United States genuinely care about the environment, and yet collectively we are still filling landfills with plastic, guzzling gas, supporting factory farms, investing in unsustainable companies, and electing officials beholden to energy lobbies." In other words, we have values but our practices are different, in part because we lack a genuine hope, she writes. Amen! But using TIllich's theology, she discusses genuine (as opposed to utopian) hope to build confidence in the possibility of incremental improvements.

Her article is a good complement to Levy-Lyons' article that draws upon Hannah Arendt's famous phrase "the banality of evil" in order to discuss the fact that ecologically damaging practices are normal for our culture, and that is how we are accustomed to living.

Derber puts blame on both liberals and conservatives. Republican leaders are one source of the denial message, and unfortunately 40% of Americans buy into this message. (In fairness, I do have a conservative friend who criticizes the science based on his own study of the topic.) But liberals have another kind of false hope: that the problem can be solved within our current political and economic system.

The pieces together develop ideas that could help change attitudes but also suggest different economic practices---the later of which are scary for those of us (like me) who though concerned live comfortably each day.

All the articles have some spiritual component, even if more general, but the pieces by Waskow, Loy, Ten Veen, Parihar, and Fox clearly bring in religious traditions on this subject.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Interfaith Days: Eid al-Fitr
Eid Mubarak! This is Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of Breaking the Fast, which marks the end of Ramadan and is the only day during which Muslims aren't permitted to fast. Of course, Ramadan is the month of strict fasting for Muslims in addition to peace-making, benevolent giving, as part of the emphasis on spiritual remual. Eid al-Fitr occurs on the first day of Shawwal, which is the month that follows Ramadan.

As this site indicates, "Before the day of Eid, during the last few days of Ramadan, each Muslim family gives a determined amount as a donation to the poor. This donation is of actual food -- rice, barley, dates, rice, etc. -- to ensure that the needy can have a holiday meal and participate in the celebration. This donation is known as sadaqah al-fitr (charity of fast-breaking).

"On the day of Eid, Muslims gather early in the morning in outdoor locations or mosques to perform the Eid prayer. This consists of a sermon followed by a short congregational prayer.

"After the Eid prayer, Muslims usually scatter to visit various family and friends, give gifts (especially to children), and make phone calls to distant relatives to give well-wishes for the holiday. These activities traditionally continue for three days. In most Muslim countries, the entire 3-day period is an official government/school holiday."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Many Rooms: Discovering Beloved Music

During our lives, we visit certain rooms and places only once, or for a short time, and we don’t return except in memory….

When Beth and I were students in Virginia in the 1980s, I felt nostalgic for a used LP store, Wuxtry's, back in Carbondale, IL. It had been a favorite stop for records, and now that we lived in another state, I hoped to find a similar shop.

I found one there in Charlottesville, along Business U.S. 250 just east of The Block near UVa. The place had the feel of a former office space rather than the vaguely hippy ambience of so many vinyl shops. Looking through the selection, I saw a copy of the British version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the cover much brighter than the dark brown U.S. version that so many of us purchased in the early 1970s. It intrigued me but I didn't purchase it.

Instead, I examined an old copy of Ralph Vaughan Williams' "A Pastoral Symphony." The album was a "special commemorative coronation release" from 1952 or 1953. I already loved an album called "The Pastoral Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams," also conducted by Sir Adrian Boult (as was this one). This old LP---over thirty years old when I bought it, and containing no other music but this four-movement symphony on two sides---seemed worth trying.

Oh my goodness. The work became not only one of my two favorite symphonies (a tie with RVW's fifth), but it has remained, for nearly thirty years, among the music I feel most deeply in my heart. I associated the music with the timber and fields of my native Fayette County, Illinois (although of course RVW was English and the symphony is a kind of war requiem, inspired by French landscapes where he served during World War I). We all have private and personal associations with beloved music. The symphony, and the feelings of home and the memories evoked by it, combine to form a beautiful place in my heart.

What a nice result, from shopping by a used record store only once! The place wasn’t open too long after that.

The liner notes by Hubert Foss read: "The modal, peaceful mood of the music is set in the opening bars of the first movement, with two continuous melodic phrases: one based on a rising fifth and heard low down on 'cellos, basses, and harp, the other in the treble register, with a falling fifth and some full-tone arabesques played on a solo violin. The cor anglais soon introduces another melismatic idea....The following movement moves along at no greater speed, like a small West Country river; the material is again fragmentary---a phrase on the solo horn, and then another on a low flute and solo viola in unison. Later in the movement comes a long call (pianissimo) on a single trumpet...The third movement may be called a quasi-scherzo; for all its marking of moderato pestante, the music shows more signs of activity, as of things living and growing in the countryside. The opening phrase is little more than a figure, which develops a tune on the brass, and after a gentle climax gives way to a birdlike arabesque on a solo flute, answered by a solo violin.  A piu mosso section has a more blustering feeling, with a broad, robust tune announced on trumpets and tenor trombones.....The finale opens with a long beetles and wordless recitative for a solo soprano over a soft drum-roll. Soon the music settles down to a warm melody of irregular phrase-rhythm but somewhat more familiar idiom.  It is first played by the choir of woodwind, and develops into other phrases, some quite insistent though soft, and one (on the flute) long and expressive. The work ends with a shortened version of the soprano, this time accompanied only by a single octave A high on muted violins."