Monday, June 29, 2015

A Rose Emily for Emily

My wife Beth remarked that the daylily in our backyard is doing very well. It has a history. Maybe ten
years ago, a colleague in Akron loved flowers and gave us this type of daylily called Rose Emily, because our daughter is named Emily. We kept it at our Akron home, then we moved it in our car when we came to St. Louis in 2009. Later, we moved from our first St. Louis house to our present one, and the plant came along. We also moved a rose from Akron, but it died, while the daylily is still doing well.

The plant's name reminds me of the time Emily came home from middle school and said, "We read this creepy story in class today, about this old lady who poisoned her lover, and she had my name…." Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," of course.

Earlier in our family adventures, we moved another, special plant. Emily's very first summer camp was at the historic Farmington home in Louisville, KY, and she brought home a mint plant. We planted it in our yard, and then when we moved to Akron a few years later, we brought the mint along. Our Akron home was on a lake, and we planted the mint in the fertile soil near the lake. Unfortunately it didn't survive when the lake overflowed its banks after a heavy rain, but the mint was a nice reminder of her first summer camp for nearly fourteen years. I loved to rub its leaves and smell that distinctive aroma on my fingertips.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

End of the '15 Season

The '15 season of Opera Theatre of St. Louis just ended. For the six years we've lived in St. Louis, we always have season tickets.* The company does a wonderful job of balancing old and new each year.

As the picture outside the Loretto-Hilton Theatre indicates, this season began with The Barber of Seville, which I’d never heard all the way through. Puccini’s La rondine, his second-to-last opera, was a surprise to us; it’s not staged as often as Boheme or Butterfly but is as lovely and perhaps more so than those (in my opinion). I knew of Tobias Picker’s music only through the short piece “Old and Lost Rivers.” I noticed some of that music incorporated into the first act of Emmeline, a hauntingly tragic story: what would your life be like if it was ruined by others and by fate, and if you were entirely ostracized? The opera leaves you with that--darn! In fact, both La rondine and Emmeline are about strong women who tried to make something new of their lives and were cruelly thwarted.

Rounding out the season was the American premiere of Handel’s 1727 opera Richard the Lionheart. Stylistically it was a great contrast to the others---although I can’t quite get P.D.Q. Bach’s parodies out of mind when I hear operas of this era. Interestingly, the next-to-last piece in Richard, sung by the just-rescued queen-to-be, was about a swallow singing across the landscape---making a connection in my mind to Puccini’s opera, wherein the swallow (rondine) is the lead character who must fly back to her original household.

Again this summer, our daughter worked as a dresser backstage. She helped several characters in both Barber and Richard, including a very quick change for the queen-to-be, who left the stage in prisoner’s clothes and reemerged very shortly in regal garments and stylish wig. Emily also had worked a few years ago on a landmark production of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer. (Another connection in my mind: the baritone Sanford Sylvan created the role of Klinghoffer; we saw him as one of the four soloists in Handel's Messiah in Cleveland ten years ago. After that performance, Emily has found Messiah too long, but she loves Richard.)

It’s also fun to connect this season with the very first Opera Theatre opera we saw, which was John Corigliano’s 1991 The Ghosts of Versailles. We saw it on the first day we lived in St. Louis, on our 25th wedding anniversary. Also, the opera is based on the last of Beaumarchais’ three “Figaro” plays, the other two being Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro. (Opera Theatre did Marriage of Figaro a couple years ago.) So we had the rare privilege of seeing all three of these Beaumarchais-based operas performed, especially since Corigliano’s hasn’t entered the general repertoire (and seems to be available only in a now-expensive DVD of the original Met performance).

* (Opera Theatre operates at the Loretto-Hilton Theatre of Webster University. My wife Beth is the Webster U president.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Interfaith Days: Feast of St. John the Baptist

Today is the Feast of St. John the Baptist. June 24th is three months after the Feast of the Annunciation, because in the Gospel story Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John, and also June 24th is six months before Christmas. As one source that I read indicates, the purpose is not to pinpoint exact dates but to interrelate these scriptural narratives in a liturgical way. This feast is also notable because it honors John’s birthday rather than (like nearly all other feast days) the day of the remembered person's death. This site provides some of the Roman Catholic theology, and also links this feast day to pagan celebrations of the Summer Solstice a few days ago.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Many Rooms: Stylin' at the Antique Stores

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

I love to read about the history of roads, especially the evolution of automobile highways in the twentieth century. The latest issue of Illinois Heritage contains an article about an early Illinois road, the Egyptian Trail.(1) “Egypt” of course is a long-time nickname for the state’s southern counties. The trail followed the current highways U.S. 45 from Chicago to Effingham, IL 37 from Effingham to Salem, U.S. 50 from Salem to Sandoval, and U.S. 51 from Sandoval to Cairo. A later Egyptian Highway simplified the route, following today's U.S. 45 from Chicago to Effingham and then the current IL 37 from Effingham to Cairo.

These are among my favorite highways. They evoke a lovely nostalgia: two-lane sights and businesses within easy driving distance of home. When I was a younger teenager, my parents like to visit antique stores on weekends and some excellent stores operated on that stretch of US 50 between Sandoval and Salem. Sandoval itself is a small town where we liked to shop for burgers on the way back from shopping trips in nearby Centralia. Over ten years later, I lived in southeastern Illinois, but my fiancee (now wife) Beth lived in south-central Illinois. We did a lot of driving to see each other. Often, I skipped the interstates and took the two-lane highways like 51 and 37.

One antique store on U.S. 50, just east of Sandoval, was open “by chance or appointment,” and in hindsight we should have made an appointment because it was never, ever open whenever we drove back. But one time: jackpot! Beth and I found the place open. Later, we laughed that another customer goodnaturedly scolded the store owner for never being available. It was a nice little store. I purchased a French antique, a net to strap around one's face to help one's long mustache curl properly.(2)

That was the only time we visited that store. Every other time I drove by, it was closed, and it's long since closed for good. On another occasion, when Beth and I were driving around the countryside, we decided to another, smaller shop. It was along IL 37 north of Mt. Vernon, IL, in a small house. The woman had an array of antiques: not extensive, but worth browsing. I liked a top hat, still in its stiff traveling box. Beth decided to get it for me as a present, and I’ve worn it on occasion when I’m trying to “channel” Abe Lincoln for school presentations and so on.

Lincoln didn't have a mustache, but if I grew my mustache long, I suppose I could use the French face
net, curl my facial hair, put on the top hat, lose the blue glasses, and I'd look really sharp in a nineteenth century way…

That little antique shop wasn’t open for long after that. Whoever owned the place gave us a nice set of memories. I lost track of which house it was; there are several small houses of the same vintage along that stretch of 37.

The moral, I suppose, is seize the day: if you have a notion to do something, don’t assume you’ll have another chance! I’m glad I have these two, small memories of pleasant antique stores visited only once.


1. Jim Wright, "2015 Marks the Centennial of the Dixie Highway and the Egyptian Trail in Illinois," Illnois Heritage (May-June 2015), 50-54.

2. The instructions read: "FIXE MOUSTACHES. Mode d'Emploi. 1 Hummecter les moustaches d'un peu d'eau de Cologne ou autre alcool; 2. Les peigner un peu dans le pli qu'on vent leur donner; 3. Et, tout en les maintenant de son mieux avec les doigts, appliquer par dessus le Fixe-Moustaches qu'on accrochera soit derrière chaque oreille ou derrière in tête."

Monday, June 22, 2015


Over the weekend, the social media was filled with Father's Day good wishes, photographs of people's fathers posted on Facebook, and articles and reflections on the tragic shootings in Charleston.

A couple of FB friends shared this good essay by a Civil War historian, "I Will Not Argue About the Confederate Flag," which criticizes the idea that the flag is not a racist symbol but "really" about state's rights, regional heritage, etc.

The New York Times has also reported debates about the flag: Four writers discuss the issue in a forum:

The weekend NYT had a good story, "A Hectic Day at Church, and then a Hellish Visitor Arrives."

This NYT piece, "From Ferguson to Charleston and Beyond, Anguish About Race Keeps Building," sums up the feelings of many of us. "America is living through a moment of racial paradox. Never in its history have black people been more fully represented in the public sphere. The United States has a black president and a glamorous first lady who is a descendant of slaves. African-Americans lead the country’s pop culture in many ways...It has become commonplace to refer to the generation of young people known as millennials as 'post-racial. Black culture has become so mainstream that a woman born to white parents who had claimed to be black almost broke the Internet last week by saying that she was 'transracial.' Yet in many ways, the situation of black America is dire…"

And a piece by Paul Krugman. "America is a much less racist nation than it used to be, and I’m not just talking about the still remarkable fact that an African-American occupies the White House. The raw institutional racism that prevailed before the civil rights movement ended Jim Crow is gone, although subtler discrimination persists. Individual attitudes have changed, too, dramatically in some cases. ...Yet racial hatred is still a potent force in our society, as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens. Of course, saying this brings angry denials from many conservatives, so let me try to be cool and careful here, and cite some of the overwhelming evidence for the continuing centrality of race in our national politics…"

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Interfaith Days: Litha
Today is the Summer Solstice, variously called Litha, Alban Hefin, Sun Blessing, Gathering Day, and others. Among many Pagan and Wiccan groups, Litha is a sacred day for celebration of the year's longest day. As this site indicates, "For contemporary Pagans, this is a day of inner power and brightness. Find yourself a quiet spot and meditate on the darkness and the light both in the world and in your personal life. Celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year with fire and water, night and day, and other symbols of the opposition of light and dark."

This site and this site give considerable information about its importance, symbolism, and festivities, while this site provides information about the way Midsummer is celebrated in many countries.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Interfaith Days: New Church Day

Yesterday was New Church Day, the holiday that honors the publication of The True Christian Religion by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1770. Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a Swedish scientist and inventor who, in 1744, began to experience visions and dreams which he attributed to a spiritual awakening. For the remainder of his life he published several theological works in which he expounded new Christian doctrines which God had revealed to him: God would replace the church with a New Church in which worshipers followed Christ through cooperating in repentance and regeneration. Swedenborgian beliefs are explained at the websites and See also

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Interfaith Days: Ramadan

The Muslim festival Ramadan is observed this year from June 18 through July 17. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which adult Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. The month is the time when the holy Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The fast is one of the five pillars of Islam and is obligatory for all adult Muslims except for travelers, the elderly, pregnant, menstruating, or seriously ill; those who cannot fast (as well as those who can) give money to the poor. As this site explains, it is a time of extra prayers, reading of the Qur'an, self-discipline, the seeking for forgiveness, and doing good deeds. Allah multiplies the value of good deeds during this month. This site provides more information about this time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Many Rooms

Perhaps other bloggers feel, as I do, that one needs a fresh subject every once in a while. Today I’m starting a series---and will see where it goes---on everyday locations that I once visited but will no longer, and have not seen for many years. Some no longer exist, except in memory.

Our lives are filled with once-visited homes, stores in towns where we’ve lived, and other such everyday places. We move constantly in and out of rooms and public spaces, and then we move on to live elsewhere and never again reside or visit. But they continue to revisit us: that grocery, that living room, that overnight stop. “Place” is an important theme for me, and as a consequence of approaching 60, I’ve lately felt a need to draw a line back to such locations, to honor them, and to complete something in myself.

My daughter turns 25 soon, and I think of the rooms of the Arizona house where we lived at the time she was born. Her crib shared a room with three wall units that I had purchased a few years before as I served at my first parish. If I needed a book, and if she was asleep in there, I had to be quiet. The room acquired a baby smell.

I especially remember the living room-dining room area of that house, where she spent much of her first year playing, learning to roll over, learning to crawl, napping on the sofa or the floor. She doesn't remember this cozy space where she learned her first essential skills.

As I spent time with her, I wanted to be with her more than at my job as an associate pastor. Not untypical of dynamics in multi-staff churches, my boss resented my family time that took away from the family time that he sought. Thank goodness I realized that I didn’t want to miss my daughter’s growing-up years and soon made adjustments to my work.

We moved just prior to her first birthday, and we've never again been inside the house. The rooms linger in my memory as the beginning of our family life---"Team Stroble," as my wife has coined it. Checking just now, I’m pleased to see that the family who bought the house still lives there; they’ve built a lifetime of memories, hopefully happy ones, at the place.

Yet, I also think of a person I met who did plumbing for us at the house; he remembered hiking that area with his son before it was developed into a neighborhood. The construction of human habitat had spoiled the natural places that he had treasured.

Thus the poignancy of “place.” Places are subject to change, we miss things as they were, but we cherish the circumstance, the places where we've sojourned.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Interfaith Days; Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji

Each June 16, Sikhs commemorate the 1606 martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth guru and the first Sikh martyr. Guru Arjan Dev compiled past Gurus' writings into the book that became the scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. The Muslim emperor ordered him to remove Hindu and Islamic references from the book, which the Guru refuse to do. As this site explains, Guru Arjan experienced five days of torture, then he disappeared into the river into which he was allowed finally to bathe. His martyrdom became a turning point for Sikhs, who thereafter became prepared to defend their independence. His son, the sixth Guru, Guru Har Gobind Ji, wore two swords representing both spiritual and temporal power and began to train Sikhs as an armed force.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Interfaith Days; Feast of the Sacred Heart

In Roman Catholic Christianity, the 19th day after Pentecost (June 12th this year) is the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The day is also the Friday of the Octave (eighth day) of Corpus Christi. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bonaventure, and St. Gertrude the Great were pioneers in devotion to Christ's sacred heart, connected to Christ's sacred humanity and, specifically, Christ's wounds. Later, in the 17th century, St. John Eudes helped develop devotion to the sacred hearts of both Jesus and Mary as important for the entire church. Papal approval of the feast day for the whole church dates from 1856.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Interfaith Days: Corpus Christi

In the Roman Catholic Church and a few other churches, today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, or the solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The feast celebrates the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist. Celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the feast connects back to Maundy Thursday, which honors Christ's institution of the Eucharist; but since Maundy Thursday obviously happens during sadness of Holy Week, Corpus Christi is a more joyful feast, dating from the 13th and early 14th centuries ( See also the site, and also
Corpus Christi Procession.
by Carl Emil Doepler

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Order Now: Dreaming at the Electric Hobo

A couple years ago, during a lull in freelance writing gigs, I focused on accomplishing a long-time dream, being published in poetry. This is a LONG time dream, forty years in fact, when my freshman English prof (Dr. Elva McAllaster at Greenville College), inspired me to pursue creative writing. But poetry is difficult to write well, and getting published is also very difficult, although I published a few poems in the 1990s. I took a poetry writing class in 2004, from a fellow prof who became a BFF. I've always been an eager reader of poetry, purchasing numerous books by contemporary authors over the years. Finally, in 2012, I began again with experimenting with poetic styles and had a few more poems appear in magazines and journals.

Last summer I entered several poetry submission contests. Though winning none, I was utterly surprised to have a chapbook manuscript accepted. The publisher is Finishing Line Press in Georgetown, KY, God bless 'em. This is the pre-publication period for purchases; the number of sales till June 19th determine the size of the press run.

So if you read this blog post, like poetry, and would kindly purchase a copy, I would consider you a dear person indeed!  The poems are on small town themes, with a good dose of spirituality.

Here is the site with early reviews, and a link to the place where you can order your copy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pärt's Tintinnabuli

This week I've been enjoying a new CD from The Tallis Scholars, "Tintinnabuli," music by Arvo Pärt in tribute to his upcoming 80th birthday. The choir performs several a cappella works, including Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen, Magnificat, I Am the True Vine, and Triodion.

I've enjoyed Pärt's music these past several years. Reading the CD notes of this set, I appreciated this explanation of Pärt's style: "Underlying all the music here is a method well known to the Renaissance polyphonists: diatonic melody, based on simple harmony related to one or more triads closely related to the home 'key'. There is no chromaticism, no modulation, the background remains uncluttered and uncomplicated… there are really only two differences between Pärt and Tallis or Palestrina: Pärt tends not to write counterpoint in the details way the Renaissance composers did--his melodies come one at a time, and he uses a system of harmony which derives from the technique he has called Tintinnabuli… a compositional method [originating] from the sounds which bells emit when they are struck---a confusion of fundaments and overtones. This is where Pärt's diatonic language comes from (bells do not deal in chromaticisms), and also where his characteristic close-note harmony comes from--as the sound of a bell retreats from its source the fundamental note blurs…" (

Monday, June 1, 2015

Interfaith Days: Lailat al-Bara'ah, Vesak

Beginning at sundown today, this is the Night of Forgiveness, or Lailat al-Bara'ah (or Shab-Barat). In Muslim belief, Allah fixes the events of the upcoming year on this night, including the fate of all persons, and so it is a night of seeking God's mercy and forgiveness, as well as committing sincerely to a sin-free life. A night-long vigil of prayers and the reading of the Qur'an are important aspects of the festival. Shi'ite Muslims also celebrate the birthday of the Twelfth Imam, who will return someday to redeem the world.

In Buddhism, especially Theravada, today is Vesak, the festival commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. Vesak is observed on the full moon day of the month of Vaisakha (Hindu calendar), which is usually in May. Flowers and flags decorate temples, with Buddhists attending temples as monks chant the sutras.

(From the 2015 Interfaith Calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis---see for more information---and various online sources.)