Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interfaith Days: Michaelmas

Michaelmas, or the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, is a Western Christian festival on September 29, near the fall equinox. In the Eastern church, the archangels are honored on November 8. Michael was the Archangel who defeated Lucifer and is one of the greatest angelic protectors. Michael figures in both testaments, the Apocrypha, and the Qur’an as well. In Christian tradition he is the angel who guards Christ's earthly kingdom and ensures safe passage for souls passing into Heaven. Since he is the angelic leader, all angels are honored on this day.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Interfaith Days: Sukkot

from: http://www.umass.edu/
The Jewish holiday Sukkot, "Feast of Booths," begins this evening. The day is mentioned in Exodus 34:22 as the end of of harvest time. It is also mentioned in Leviticus 23:42-43, where the day commemorates the Exodus and the dependance of the People of Israel upon God, and in Deuteronomy 16:13-17. A "sukkah" or booth (or "tabernacle") is a temporary structure made of palm leaves or some other plant. I remember visiting a rabbi friend in Phoenix; when I walked into the synagogue courtyard, I was greeted by numerous grass huts, constructed for the holiday. Another year, I attended an interfaith event at a synagogue, and we had the evening meeting outside in a large sukkah. The temporary dwellings call attention to the Israelites 40 years of living in the wilderness.  The festival lasts seven days in Israel and eight in the diaspora. The festival ends with the holidays Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah).

This site and this site provides more information. In that latter site, "Judaism 101,"the author writes, "The Festival of Sukkot begins… the fifth day after Yom Kippur… a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as Z'man Simchateinu… the Season of our Rejoicing."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interfaith Days: Eid al-Adha

Today is Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice in Islam, honoring the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son, in submission to God's command. The day falls at the end of the annual Hajj. As this site indicates, "At dawn on the day of Eid, Muslims recite the traditional declaration of faith, the Takbir, followed by the pre-sunrise communal prayer, Salat al-Eid, which is also said on Eid al-Fitr. Worshipers then greet friends with the traditional Arabic salutation of Eid Mubarak (“Have a blessed Eid”) and exchange gifts. In a symbolic act, Muslims who can afford it slaughter a cow, goat, sheep or camel, keeping a portion to feed themselves and distributing the rest to friends, family and the needy. Those who can't afford it buy meat from a Halal butcher to distribute. Giving out this meat, in addition to the morning prayers, is considered an essential component of Eid al-Adha." See also this site.

This year's Hajj has been marked by tragedy: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/eid-al-adha-2015-100-dead-390-injured-hajj-mina-stampede-1520986

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Interfaith Days: Yom Kippur, Mabon

Ending at sundown today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. The day has been observed with an approximately 25-hour time of fasting, prayer, and synagogue services. The day concludes the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora'im ("Days of Awe") that began with Rosh Hashanah. During this period, Jews seek to amend his/her behavior, seek forgiveness for wrongs committed against God and other people. This site and this site provides more information.

Today is also Mabon, the Wiccan/Pagan observance of the autumn equinox. As this site indicates, the day is a time of thanksgiving, balance, and fellowship with friends and neighbors. A "Pagan Pride Day" may be held, and food drives organized to help the needy.

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

Interfaith Days: Ganesh Chaturthi, Paryushana Parva

Yesterday was Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu festival that honors the elephant-headed god Ganesh. It begins a ten-day festival, Vinayaka Chaturthi, and includes installing images of the god in temperer public shines as well as in homes. http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/ganeshchaturthi.htm

Today is Paryushana Parva, the Jain festival that signifies the emergence of a new world of spirit and morality. This day, too, begins a period of observance, in this case a time of intense meditation aimed at renewal. http://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/paryushan.html

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

Interfaith Days: Elevation of the Holy Cross

In the Orthodox Church, today is one of the Great Feasts, The Elevation of the Holy Cross. Like the feast of the Beheading of John, it is held as a strict fast. According to church teachings, the mother of Emperor Constantine, St. Helen, discovered Christ's Cross buried near Golgotha. The day was September 14, 325.

This site provides more information, and this site provides other icons of the feast day.

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Interfaith Days: Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (the words mean "head of the year"), is celebrated this year from sundown September 13 to sundown September 15. It is the beginning of the Yamim Noraim ("Days of Awe"), or High Holy Days, which culminated ten days later with Yom Kippur. As this site indicates, "The Mishnah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the 'day of judgment,' and it is believed that God opens the Book of Life on this day and begins to decide who shall live and who shall die. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are viewed as an opportunity for Jews to repent (teshuvah, in Hebrew) and ensure a good fate.

"Jews traditionally gather in synagogues on Rosh Hashanah for extended services that follow the liturgy of a special prayerbook, called a mahzor, that is used during the Days of Awe. At specific times throughout the service, a shofar, or ram's horn, is blown. The mitzvah (commandment) to hear the shofar, a literal and spiritual wake-up call, is special to this time of year….A common greeting on Rosh Hashanah is shana tovah u'metukah, Hebrew for 'a good and sweet new year.' Many traditional Rosh Hashanah foods -- apples and honey, raisin challah, honey cake and pomegranate -- are eaten, in part, for this reason." See also the Judaism 101 site.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Interfaith Days: Nativity of Mary

Today is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Orthodox Christianity, her birth is also celebrated on this day, as the Nativity of the Theotokos. The day is nine months after the solemnity of Mary's Immaculate Conception (December 8th). Her birth is recorded not in the canonical scriptures but in the second-century Infancy Gospel (Protoevangelium) of James, chapter 5, while the feast itself dates from the fifth century. (The text of the James writing can be found here.) Along with John the Baptist, she is one of the few persons whose birth rather than death date are commemorated by the church, because of their special place in the history of salvation.

This site gives information about the Western feast, while this site provides material on the Eastern observance.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day Notes

Long weekend. We did our big family outing yesterday, roaming around the Missouri Botanical Gardens in the still-summery heat. Today, "Team Stroble" stayed around the house, worked projects, went to Ted Drewes for concretes, and relaxed, especially because a big and busy week is ahead.

I became blue in the early afternoon and took a drive. Although as far as I can tell I'm well-liked in my circles, after a few years in this community I wish that I had more close friendships locally. Sometimes I become blue because I've reached out to numerous people, whether in care and concern, or for a favor, and sometimes in the hopes a friendship may emerge. But so many people don't even answer emails or Facebook messages, and I lose self-confidence. And yet, as I say, people like me. I'm not always the best correspondent either…

I miss my parents, who are gone now---Mom just three years ago. I don't think I've properly grieved, in fact I know I haven't. Happily, our little family is all healthy and doing well.

The news is filled with distressing stories concerning the Syrian crisis. Facebook and various online pages contain many articles regarding racism, #BlackLivesMatter, the benefits of unions, women's and transgender issues. Too many of these stories and discussions make me feel emotionally overwhelmed; I realize that my feelings are minor compared to the pressing nature of these issues; I still feel overwhelmed…

Although I regularly pray and do devotional readings, I think it's time again to renew my spiritual life. A call to creativity, and a call to ministry-service, are each powerful "drives" and each can make a person kind of crazy, in the related motivations to be both Mary and Martha. I'm glad that the upcoming semester is busy but not as super-busy as the spring. Summer has, in this unofficial way, ended now, and (to me) autumn is often an excellent time for renewal.

Finally: the other day I purchased an enjoyable book and have been browsing through it. The cover of which reads, "Despite moments, of clarity, there is no 'ism' in this book." That's not the title: the book is 100 New Artists by Francesca Gavin (London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2011) and concerns the contemporary new wave of art---"post conceptualism, post-minimalism, post pop"---and artists from a variety of countries. A nice guide if you'd like to know more about the current art scene.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Interfaith Days: Krishna Janmashtami

Today is Krishna Janmashtami, the commemoration of the birth of Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Though not born in the way that we are, subject to mortality and karma, Krishna's advent-birth is deeply significant for Hindu devotees and the day is one of the most widely-celebrated holidays in the world. Krishna's birth (janma) happened at midnight (onashtami) of the eighth day after the month's full moon on the Vedic calendar. It is a day of fasting, gift-exhange and dancing, readings of the Bhagavad Gita, and the honoring of images of Krishna as an infant. This site provides more information about the day and its celebration.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Augustine's Anti-Donatist Sermons Speak to Us Today

Here’s a brand-new theological book that I recommend: Augustine, the Trinity, and the Church: A Reading of the Anti-Donatist Sermons by Adam Ployd of Eden Theological Seminary. In this book, the author gives us a compelling reading and analysis of Augustine’s forty-one interrelated sermons, delivered in December 406 through mid-summer 407, most of which concern that break-off group of North African Christians who preached the necessity of the moral purity of the church and, thus, who believed that the sacraments’ effectiveness rely upon the minister’s character.

As Dr. Ployd shows, Augustine’s sermons have a purpose of community- and faith-building, via the way Augustine connects his ecclesiology and his Trinitarian theology. According to early reviews of the book, scholars of Augustine have rarely treated his theology of Trinity and of Church together. But Augustine's theology of God's love, the body of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the unity of Baptism work together in this sermons series. He writes, “Throughout [Augustine’s] sermon series, he ….defend[s] a pro-Nicene understanding of Christ and the Trinity... [and] uses pro-Nicene principles and exegesis to construct his anti-Donatist vision of the church, and in doing so, he describes how the church shares in the life of the Trinity through the Son’s giving of the Spirit to his own body. The unity of the church is an expression of the unity with which the Trinity operates to establish that church” (p. 3). In his historical and theological analysis of the sermons, Ployd points to ways Augustine speaks to today's church, flawed and infuriating as it is, but ever sustained by Christ.
Augustine, the Trinity, and the Church is published by Oxford University Press (July, 2015) as part of the Oxford Studies in Historical Theology. I'm an adjunct teacher at Eden Seminary and know the author.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jethro Tull's Passion Play

Pushing sixty, I've felt the need lately to revisit important things of my own past, out of nostalgia but more importantly to complete a circle, so to speak.

When I was sixteen (1973), I saw Jethro Tull in concert here in St. Louis at the old Kiel Auditorium. My parents were so protective, to be able to drive an hour over to St. Louis to see a concert wasn't going to happen, but in this case, my best buddy's parents drove us and our dates to see the show. I'm grateful to them! The concert was part of Tull's A Passion Play tour, a few weeks prior to that album's release. I write about that concert here.

Visiting a favorite music store this week, Euclid Records in Webster Groves, MO, I noticed a CD set, "A Passion Play: An Extended Performance" for sale. I purchased it and have been enjoying it. The set, released in July 2014, is in part a remix of the original Passion Play album.

I haven't listened to this album in years. Unlike Thick as a Brick, the LP of which I also purchased when it was released, I never bought its CD. That's not to say I didn't like it; it was one of my favorite albums in the 70s. But even at the time I thought it was more episodic than Thick as a Brick and lacked Brick's antic, satiric charm. The Play's lyrics, about a neither-good-nor-bad man's journey through the afterlife, are poetic and famously difficult.

On this set, the sound of the music is wonderful, especially compared to the comparatively dry sound of the LP that I'd heard so many times. The remix is so vivid, I appreciate the music itself even more and no longer think it's episodic. Ian Anderson wanted the soprano sax removed, but instead it has been made less prominent, especially in the opening section. About a minute of music in "The Foot of Our Stairs" (on the former Side 2) has been restored to its proper place after being cut, for reasons Anderson couldn't remember. Those lyrics, though as poetically ambiguous as the rest, are a good addition to the overall album.

(The brain is a remarkable thing. Though I hadn't listened to the album for years, I could immediately sing along with it in the car, and when I came to those restored eight lines from "Foot of the Stairs," I knew I'd never sung this before.)

The set also includes several songs that Tull recorded in 1972 but never released, except for two songs---"Only Solitaire" and "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day"---that appeared on 1974's War Child. That album's hit "Bungle in the Jungle" can be traced to these songs as well. It is fascinating to hear songs intended for the never-released LP (intended as a double-album follow-up to Thick as a Brick) and how they were reworked for both Passion Play and War Child. The songs that eventually became Passion Play, like "Critique Oblique," "rock" a little harder than the later versions. It's interesting to speculate, whether Tull might have carried out their original intention and followed the epic Thick as a Brick with an album of really exceptional songs rather than another epic, similar to the way The Who followed Tommy with Who's Next

I remember that the 1973 concert began with an opening film of a dead ballerina (the one who stares at us from the cover of Passion Play) as she rises to new life---the album's theme. In the concert, there was also a film of the story "The Hare That Lost His Spectacles." This set provides both of those films on DVD, as well as a print interview with the dancer herself and her experience working with the band.

We also have recollections from all the band (except for John Evan, which is a shame), an article about the abandoned album and its distressing circumstances, an article about the remix of both albums, plus photos from the '73 tour and a schedule of that tour. Anyone who saw Tull that year will revel in the memories. If you love Passion Play, you'll likely find your enjoyment of album (complex and dense though it is) enhanced by this excellent set.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Loving Poetry

Other than my "Interfaith Days" series, which has been a kind of spiritual discipline and meditation this year, I've not been blogging as much for the past several months. But a new press release for my upcoming Lenten study gives this blog in the author blurb. (Shameless commerce: the press release appears below.) So having my blog thus advertised make me realize I'd better begin writing new posts right away!

I've a recent dearth of posts because I've been focusing upon other things: finishing and then proofreading that Lenten study, creating a new seminar course for this new fall semester, and also writing poetry. Regarding that last one, I was, earlier this year, entirely startled to have a chapbook manuscript accepted for publication (you can order it here :-) ), which in turn has inspired me to develop more poems and work more diligently on style and subject matter.

For a long time I’ve loved reading poetry, especially contemporary poems, and also I hoped I would become a published poet myself. "Long time" is about forty-five years in a so-far 58-year life. My parents had an old book called Chief American Poets (Houghton Mifflin, 1905), with selected poems by Bryant, Poe, Emerson, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, Whitman, and Lanier. I still have the book. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I'd read it as I lay in the backyard to work on my tan (a futile and tedious process, long ago given up so I wouldn't damage my skin, but at the time I wanted to read a good book in the sunshine). I remember that favorite poems therein included William Cullen Bryant’s poem “Thanatopsis,” which he wrote when he was a teenager, Sidney Lanier’s “The Symphony” and his “The Marshes of Glynn.” I also dearly loved Masters' Spoon River Anthology (which I also still have), the often tragic voices of the people of his graveyard.

I had an exceptional English teacher at Greenville College, Dr. Elva McAllaster. Forty years ago right now, I began her freshman writing class; happily, I'm Facebook friends with some classmates in that course. One of my projects was a longish poem of a man with a lost love but that love nevertheless redeemed him---a rather Wagnerian theme before I knew of Wagner, and characteristic of my insecurities of that time. (I really, really wanted a girlfriend!) Dr. Mac, as we called her, praised the poem and gave me an A, but to the benefit of all, the poem is no longer extant.

In the 1980s, in the Southwest, I stopped by a feminist and New Age bookstore and found an anthology called The Morrow Anthology of Younger Poets. I almost left the book there because of the store’s indifferent service, but I purchased it anyway and, among the over 100 authors featured, I discovered several poets I liked (born in the 1940s and 1950s, thus the title of that 1985 book) like David Bottoms, W. S. Di Piero, Stephen Dobyns, Rita Dove, Lynn Emanuel, Louise Glück, Albert Goldbarth, Robert Hass, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, and others. I name these particular authors because, over the past thirty years, I also purchased or checked out books of their poems, and also books by Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, William Butler Yeats, Robert Lowell, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Rainer Maria Rilke (in Robert Bly's translation), Pablo Neruda, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Robert Penn Warren, Michael Van Walleghen, Czeslaw Milosz, Charles Wright, David Clewell, Dan Guillory, Jane Hirschfield, Nancy Schoenberger, Langston Hughes, John Ashbery, Jane Kenyon, Robert Pack, Amy Clampitt, Dave Smith, Charles Bukowski, John Updike, Wendell Berry, John Knoepfle, W. S. Merwin, William Stafford, Hayden Carruth, Jeffrey Skinner, George Bradley, Annie Dillard, Richard Kenney, Andrew Hudgins, Anne Sexton, Nick Sturm, Mary Biddinger, and others. I remember an intense seminary friend who picked up my recently-purchased Anne Sexton collection, hated it, and urged me to read Edna St. Vincent Millay instead (and I did love her poems).

That Morrow Anthology amused me slightly because of the photographs of some of the poets: the forced sense of seriousness on their expressions, and a few looked downright hostile. One poet (whom I probably shouldn’t identify) had pursed lips like she was about to spit at you. Perhaps unfairly, I thought those photos made the poets look very egotistical.

Wendell Berry, one of my favorite poets, is very serious (and often elegiac) in his poets but nevertheless smiles for the camera! I frequently turn to his poems because I love their sound and also the depth of his connection to the natural world. I find that inspiring and I’d like to approach that conviction in my own poems. Images of repentance, redemption, and reconciliation pervade many of his poems, like the "Sabbaths" series.

Berry’s poems remind me of another personal preference: some ambiguity in poems is necessary and beautiful, but if there is too much, I become frustrated as a reader. While I recognize the mastery of Wallace Stevens' poems I begin to think that, without a guidebook, I'm missing important things. I read Dave Smith’s The Roundhouse Voices during our years in Virginia; the ambiguity combined with the urgency and yearning of his poems left me unsettled, like stories for which I missed essential plot elements. I'm sure that's Smith's purpose: to suggest rather than spell out. On the other hand, I dearly love the poetry of Charles Wright, whose poems are intentionally fragmented, and I also like John Ashbery’s poems, about which critics debate whether they mean anything or are artistically surrealist.

Ashbery is often funny (for instance, his "Variations, Calypso and Fugue on a Theme of Ella Wheeler Wilcox"), as is Billy Collins. As I read some of Collins' poems I felt so pleased to be chuckling; oh my gosh, this is wonderful, I thought, glad to find that although his poems could be serious (and they were beautiful) some of them pulled your leg as it were. For instance, Collins' "Fishing in the Susquehanna" is a lovely poem in which the poet admits he's never fished that or any river. I love both the sadness and humor in Michael Van Walleghen's poems, as well; his books are often on my current-reading stack.

I learned about Billy Collins from one of my best friends, Tom Dukes, who is a wonderful poet and teacher whose collection Baptist Confidential is one I turn to frequently. We both taught at University of Akron, and, when I wanted to take a class of his, I had to enroll as a freshman, something about which he still kids me. He sends me University of Akron Press collections that he recommends and also Garrison Keillor's Good Poems anthologies. He is the dedicatee of my forthcoming poetry chapbook.

Until recently I never attended a poetry reading except for one time, and it was Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who visited our campus in the mid 1980s. He is a very dramatic reader of his poetry---a performer, really. A colleague read his poems in English first, and then Yevtushenko recited the same poem in his native Russian.

I read a lot of T.S. Eliot in divinity school. For some of us, seminary/divinity school degree can be a time of existential crisis or heartrending introspection, often spurred by a notable author. I’ve a friend who was knocked sideways by Kierkegaard. During my last year of divinity school, I spent so much time studying Eliot! I don’t remember what turned me to Eliot, but his poetry struck me with tremendous force. His now-familiar images--light, shadow, rock, dryness, fire, the dancer, the rose--and the way his poems communicated through their rhythms and sounds as much as by their words--not a new idea, but new to me at that time--awakened me and fascinated me. I "needed" his images at that time of my life.

Around 1981 or 2, I purchased a book called A Reader’s Guide to T. S. Eliot: A Poem by Poem Analysis by George Williamson (Noonday Press, 1964) at a favorite store, Whitlock Farm Booksellers in Bethany, CT. (What wonderful nostalgia that website brings!) The old, used paperback, which I also still have, opened meanings and explained many allusions and quotations. Williamson also described the poet’s influences which made him a leading voice in modernism---Dante, the Metaphysical poets, and the French Symbolists. Ezra Pound had been so startled, how Eliot had stumbled onto this combination and become modernist on his own.

Williamson quoted Eliot concerning the intersection of poetic technique and experience; both grow, but at certain intersections of the two, superior poetry results. This, too, was a new idea to me and seemed to me an excellent philosophy of life. (The end of “The Waste Land,” and of the poems of the “Four Quartets," express that challenge.) Grad school was for me, as for many people, a circumstance where both my life-experience and my professional training were very much in process. Though not a “waste land,” the time was transitional. So during that time and after, I liked the idea of artistic wholeness (whatever artistry one may be devoted to) and spiritual growth as being two sides of a process--a process of living. Now, after all these years, the writing of poetry has become an important part of my own life-experience, in addition to its pleasure and appreciation.


And…. shameless commerce for my forthcoming Lenten study: