Monday, February 29, 2016

Landscape: F. E. Church

Frederic Edwin Church, "Autumn," 1875.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Landscape: Weir

J. Alden Weir, "The Factory Village," 1897.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

For All the Saints: George Herbert, St. Gabriel

Please forgive the links: here is a link to something I wrote last year, about the poet George Herbert, who is commemorated today in the Anglican Communion (and this coming Monday in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American):

A saint on the Roman Catholic calendar captured my interest today, because (as this link indicates) he was devoted to God in small acts of kindness, which I find very inspiring: St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838-1862):

Friday, February 26, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Photine

My Lenten Bible study book, which I've been promoting lately, has a lesson on the Samaritan woman in John 4. The Old Testament tie-in is the power of water, the promised Holy Spirit, and the teaching of Jesus about living water.

The Samaritan woman, unnamed in the Bible, is honored today on the Orthodox Saints calendar. I hadn't realized that the Orthodox tradition names her, Photine, which means enlightened one. That site has this:

"[Photine] was the Samaritan Woman who met Christ at Jacob's Well (John ch. 4). She repented, and told her townsmen that she had met the Christ, for which she is sometimes called the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. She converted her four sisters (Phota, Photis, Parasceva, and Cyriaca), and her sons (Victor and Joses), and all of them became tireless evangelists for Christ. After the martyrdom of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, she traveled to Carthage to proclaim the Gospel there. She, with her Christian sisters and sons, all met martyrdom under the persecutions of Nero. She is also commemorated on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman during the Paschal season."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

William McKinley and the 1896 Election

Young William McKinley
When Beth and I worked at University of Akron, I taught a course called "Buckeye Presidents," about the eight U.S. presidents---W. H. Harrison, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, B. Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Hardin---either born in or who otherwise had deep ties with Ohio. It was essentially a history of the Republican party until the early 1920s, beginning with the first Whig president (the first Harrison), moving through the Civil War and the first Republican president to the first post-Lincoln Republican president, Grant, and following the subsequent presidencies of six other Ohio men. (Grant of course and also Hayes, Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and McKinley were war veterans.) Among this series of interesting persons, McKinley caught the interest of some students because of his proximity: Canton, OH, just south of Akron.

I had seen Karl Rove's new book on William McKinley and the 1896 election, and I had considered reviewing it for this blog. But my friend and college classmate Jim Kane has already written an excellent review, so I share the link here---with hopes that you enjoy other posts on his blog!

Landscape: Homer

Winslow Homer, "Shepherdess of Houghton Farm" (1878). From: Today is Homer's birthday (Feb. 24, 1841).

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Called of God on Another Timeline

I posted this hundred-year-old postcard on Facebook the other day, simply because I liked it. (Some friends promptly found the location on Google Earth.) Thinking of pop-cultural references to timelines on shows like Community and Big Bang Theory, I wrote that I love such scenes so much, perhaps I’m a country pastor on another timeline …

My own silly joke stayed in mind. I did on-staff parish work for several years, and in hindsight, I was happiest when I served small rural churches, not dissimilar to this. One day at my first parish, lonely and unsure of myself, I had a moment of surrender to God to lead me along this vocational path if it were God’s will. What happened, instead, was a different path, which included freelance writing of curriculum for Sunday school classes--but the dear folks I knew in that place always inspired me in my heart as I followed that particular ministry.

I’ve known people who regret that they didn't pursue a different vocational path sooner, including those who entered the pastoral ministry in their middle age. If any of us have such struggles, perhaps we should just trust that God has a role in guiding us along our timeline, so to speak. Even as God helped or led us in "this" direction, God is pleased that we were willing to go in “that" direction, too. We build upon the circumstances and experiences of our lives, knowing that God is at work therein (Romans 8:28).

For All the Saints: Polycarp

The 2nd century bishop Polycarp (c. 69 - 155) is honored on most church calendars today. He is considered one of the three major Apostolic Fathers (with Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome), and his Epistle to the Philippians is an important source for the study of early Christianity. The Orthodox Saints site has this biography of the bishop:

".... St Irenaeus of Lyons, his disciple, says that St Polycarp was 'a disciple of the Apostles and acquainted with those who had seen the Lord.' His parents died as martyrs, and he was given into the care of a devout lady named Callista. As a child, the Saint was so eager to follow the commandments of Christ that he repeatedly emptied his foster-mother's pantry to feed the poor. Since her supplies were always miraculously renewed, Callista changed his name from Pancratius to Polykarpos, meaning 'Much fruit.'

"When grown, Polycarp became a disciple of St John the Theologian, and in time became Bishop of Smyrna; it is told that the messages to the Church at Smyrna in the Book of Revelation are addressed to St Polycarp and his flock. He knew St Ignatius of Antioch personally, and some of their correspondence is preserved.

"Polycarp led his Church in holiness for more than fifty years, and became known throughout the Christian world as a true shepherd and standard-bearer of the Faith. About the year 154 he traveled to Rome and consulted with Pope Anacletus on the defense of the Faith.

"Not long after he returned to Smyrna, a fierce persecution was unleashed against Christians in Asia Minor; along with many others, St Polycarp was arrested, having predicted his imminent martyrdom. (The account of his martyrdom that follows is based on eyewitness accounts gathered immediately after his death.)

"On the evening of Holy Friday, soldiers burst into the farmhouse where he was staying. The Bishop welcomed them cheerfully, and ordered that a meal be prepared for them. He was granted some time to pray, and for two hours stood commemorating everyone that he had known and praying for the Church throughout the world. His captors sorrowed that they had come to take such a venerable man, and reluctantly took him to the Proconsul. When urged to deny Christ and save his life, the aged Saint replied, 'For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has wronged me in nothing; how can I blaspheme my King and Savior?' Told that he would die by fire if he did not apostatize, Polycarp replied 'You threaten me with a fire that burns for a short time and then goes out, while you know nothing of the fire of the judgment to come and of the everlasting torment awaiting the wicked. Why wait any longer? Do what you will!'

"Placed on the pyre, Polycarp lifted his eyes heavenward and gave thanks to God for finding him worthy to share with the holy Martyrs of the cup of Christ. When he had said his Amen, the executioners lit the fire. The eyewitnesses write that the fire sprang up around him like a curtain, and that he stood in its midst glowing like gold and sending forth a delightful scent of incense. Seeing that the fire was not harming him, the executioners stabbed him with a sword. His blood flowed so copiously that it put out the fire, and he gave back his soul to God. His relics were burned by the persecutors, but Christians rescued a few fragments of bone, which were venerated for many generations on the anniversary of his repose."

Monday, February 22, 2016

Transfiguration Sunday

Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday. Late in the day, I found a sermon that gave a (to me) fresh perspective on the miracle--the idea that the glorified form of Jesus prepared his three disciples for what was to come. This is from a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great.

"The Lord reveals his glory int he presence of chosen witnesses. His body is like that of the rest of mankind, but he makes it shine with such splendor that his face becomes like the sun in glory, and his garments as white as snow.

"The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who has witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.

"With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the holy of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. The members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blamed out in Christ as their head."

From The Liturgy of the Hours, II, Lenten Season, Easter Season (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 1976), 149.

For All the Saints: Eric Liddell

A beloved Scottish athlete, Eric Henry Liddell (1902-1945) is honored today. I had forgotten that he was the subject of the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, with its stirring Vangelis music. At the University of Edinburgh Liddell ran and played rugby, and was notable in both---for instance, winning a long-equalled record in the 100 yards at the 1923 AAA Championships. In the 1924 Summer Olympics (in which he refused to participate on Sunday because of his religious beliefs),  he won a gold medal for the 400 meters (setting a record) and a bronze medal for the 200 meters.

Born in Northern China to missionary parents, Liddell returned there following the Olympics and did missionary work, for instance as a college teacher. He continued to compete and used his athletics to train boys in sports. He remained in China during the war, sending his family to stay with family in Canada, and he was eventually interned in a Japanese camp. As the Wikipedia site puts it, "Liddell became a leader and organiser at the camp, but food, medicine and other supplies were scarce. There were many cliques in the camp and when some rich businessmen managed to smuggle in some eggs, Liddell shamed them into sharing them. While fellow missionaries formed cliques, moralised and acted selfishly, Liddell busied himself by helping the elderly, teaching at the camp school Bible classes, arranging games and by teaching science to the children, who referred to him as Uncle Eric." He died of a brain tumor in February 1945, likely hastened by the distress of his internment.

The Eric Liddell Centre's website provides much information about his life and service.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

2016 Election

Here is an interesting article: "The reality supporters of Clinton and Sanders need to face":

An excerpt: "Right now all of these presidential candidates, both on the left and the right, are lying to everyone – all of them. They’re all making bold promises and statements based on power that, as president, they really won’t have. The truth is, a president can only accomplish what Congress will allow them to. This is what frustrated me so much following President Obama’s election. There’s such a misunderstanding among many Americans as to how government actually works that many Obama supporters turned on him prior to the 2010 midterms because he couldn’t wave a magic wand and make all of their hopes and dreams come true. Never mind that had liberals shown up in 2010, like they did in 2006 or 2008, President Obama could have accomplished much more than he was able to. But once Republicans seized the House – it was basically game over. .... So, while Clinton and Sanders supporters spend much of their time bickering over who should be the Democratic nominee, none of it is going to matter if liberals don’t show up in large numbers in November to give Democrats back at least some power in Congress. ...."

A major point is: if you're liberal or progressive, you HAVE to vote in 2016 and you should urge others to show up, too. If you're conservative, you may have concerns, too, because of the way the GOP is currently split among different "camps" and candidates.

And among the several online articles on Clinton and Sanders in the face of the Obama legacy, I found this one interesting:

And here is an important article: two different kinds of failures among Christians who support these two GOP candidates:

For All the Saints: John Henry Cardinal Newman

John Henry Newman is honored today, the anniversary of his 1801 birth. He was widely and early known in the Oxford Movement, the group of Anglicans who sought to return the church to Catholic rituals and beliefs. First ordained a priest in the Church of England, he joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1845  and soon became a priest therein. He became a noted church leader, was created a cardinal in 1879, and helped found what is now University College, Dublin. Among his noted books are Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1866), a defense of his beliefs, and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870), in which he argued that faith is a true product of human rationality. He died in 1890 and was beatified in 2010.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

For All the Saints: Frederick Douglass

From last All Saints Day until the next, I'm selecting noted people from among four church calendars, and thinking about their legacy. On the Episcopal calendar, Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895) is honored today as a prophetic witness. Born in slavery, Douglass was taught to read and write by a kindhearted slaveowner's wife and continued to teach himself literacy prior to his escape from slavery in 1838. By 1845 he wrote his bestselling autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. This book, and his 1855 book My Bondage and My Freedom greatly promoted the abolitionist cause in the U.S. He worked against slavery and also supported women's suffrage and the equality of all; for instance, he foresaw the need for equality for Asians who were beginning to emigrate to the country's west coast. He was widely known as a powerful orator and writer, both in the U.S. and abroad. After Lincoln's second inaugural address, Douglass came to the White House and was disallowed entry because of his race, but Lincoln ushered him in and sought his opinion of the speech. Douglass' final autobiographical account was the 1881 Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. 

Landscape: Pissarro

Camille Pissarro, "The Stagecoach at Louveciennes" (1870)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For All the Saints: Janani Luwum

In the Episcopal and Anglican churches, Janani Jakaliya Luwum is honored today on the anniversary of his death in 1977. He was an influential leader of the modern church in Africa.  Born in the village of Mucwini, he received his religious education from Buwalasi Theological College and was ordained a priest in 1954. He was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Uganda in 1969 and then as Archbishop of the Metropolitan Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga (in Zaire) in 1974. Luwum was a vocal critic of the Idi Amin regime and its violence. He and two others were arrested in February 1977 and reportedly died in a car crash as he and the others were driven to an interrogation center. But their bodies were riddled with bullets. He is commemorated as a martyr on this day, and with a statue on the outside wall of Westminster Abbey.

"Is not this to know me? says the Lord"

In my new Lenten Bible study book (available here), I have a lesson on Jesus and the poor. Several of the book's lessons have to do with "fulfilled prophecy" and other connections of Jesus with Old Testament persons and institutions. Care for the poor is a strong Old Testament theme connected to Jesus. I thought it was an important theme to study, because so many of us have a kind of prejudice against the poor; we assume the poor are lazy and refuse to work, or spend their benefits on illegal drugs or luxury items. It's such a gross generalization, but one that many of us hold. I wanted to help jar readers to a better and kinder view. "Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him" (Prov. 14:31, NRSV).

Sometimes the most significant events of our lives are quiet moments of awakening to truth. One such event for me was a course I took from B. Davie Napier at Yale in the spring semester 1981. I needed one more Bible course for ordination requirements and, after taking the core curriculum, I signed up for this elective about the prophets.

It was  a wonderfully low-key, informal class at his house on campus. He was master of one of the Yale colleges---the same one that Jodie Foster was attending, though I've forgotten which one---and we met in his living room. Among other insights from the course (and there were several) was the class when he pointed out Jeremiah 22:15-17 (NRSV).

Are you a king
   because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
   and do justice and righteousness?
   Then it was well with him. 
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
   then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
   says the Lord. 
But your eyes and heart
   are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
   and for practising oppression and violence.

In the passage, Jeremiah condemns the king of Judah, Jehoiakim, by comparing him to his righteous father, Josiah. Jehoiakim has oppressed people by using them to build his fine palace, a distressing echo of Egyptian oppression of the Israelites in the days of Moses. Josiah, in contrast, had a fine life but still embraced God's will for righteousness, the cause of the poor and needy. 

The sentence, Is not this to know me? says the Lord struck me in particular. It changed my way of thinking about the Bible. Amid all the ways I was at the time (and since) learning about the knowledge of God---biblical hermeneutics, traditions of mysticism, worship styles, serving people via pastoral counseling, and others---I was confronted by a very fundamental kind of epistemology. Knowing God is doing God's will for the poor and needy. If one does not take the side of the poor---and even disdains and generalizes about the poor---one does not know God at all. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Stepping Over Our Wounds"

A while back, a college classmate posted on his Facebook wall a reflection from the Roman Catholic writer Henri Nouwen. I think these are good words to reflect upon during our Lenten self-examination.

Stepping Over Our Wounds
'Sometimes we have to “step over” our anger, our jealousy, or our feelings of rejection and move on. The temptation is to get stuck in our negative emotions, poking around in them as if we belong there. Then we become the “offended one,” “the forgotten one,” or the “discarded one.” Yes, we can get attached to these negative identities and even take morbid pleasure in them. It might be good to have a look at these dark feelings and explore where they come from, but there comes a moment to step over them, leave them behind and travel on.'

The post, quoted from, elicited over 50 “likes” and several comments from people about how badly they needed those words that day, and how Nouwen’s thoughts resonated. It’s wonderful when we’re able to share common struggles and support one another.

To my friend’s Facebook wall, I added a comment that life is unfair for all of us but in different ways, and so one way we develop these bad feelings is to compare ourselves with someone else whose life has been more fair than ours, but in one or two particular ways. I do that kind of thing a lot---and yet other friends tell me they envy certain aspects of my life. So I realize for the billionth time that I need to prevent my emotions from making me lose the big picture.

That phrase “negative identity” is powerful. It’s one thing to feel disappointed and offended, neglected and even discarded. We’ve all been there. But it’s another thing to let those events and hurts fill our thoughts----like an undertow beneath the calmer surface of the water. This, too, I’ve done a lot over the years.

One way to tell if you’re feeling the basic sad emotions, vs. creating a negative identity, is to think whether you could relinquish those things if you could----for instance, could you share them with someone with the aim of feeling better about yourself? You might realize that those feelings have become so intertwined with your sense of self that you can’t NOT ruminate them over and over. It's as if you need to have a kind of power over another person, or over an event, by feeling negatively (resentful, jealous, etc.) forever. That's obviously a warped and counterproductive way to think and feel---but it's definitely a trap into which we could fall. If so, we’ve allowed our sense of self to be defined by that letdown, unfair event, mean words from someone, failure compared to someone else's success, and other kinds of things. But God loves us specially and uses us, fully aware of our humanness and struggles.

I don’t mean to try to improve on Henri Nouwen’s words. He was a genius at spiritually encouraging people amid our exasperating humanness. Check out that website or purchase some of his books.

(A post from 2013)

Landscape: Grant Wood

Grant Wood, "Fall Plowing" (1931). From: Today (Feb. 13) is the anniversary of Wood's birth in 1891.

This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Landscape: Peter Parker

Peter Parker, "Late Autumn Glade," 2016. From: I dearly love the work of Parker, a contemporary British artist, and I'd love to own an original of his someday! See: and and individual gallery sites linked from his website.

This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

Landscape: Hassam

 Childe Hassam, "The Ledges, October in Old Lyme, Connecticut", 1907.

A Year's Music: Barber's "Prayers of Kierkegaard"

A couple years ago, Beth and I and two local colleagues attended the St. Louis Symphony's performance of "Prayers of Kierkegaard" by Samuel Barber (1910-1981). I decided to listen to the piece again this week.

Barber began work on the piece in 1942 and, after several interruptions, completed it in 1954, when it was premiered. He chose a selection of prayers by philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard. He is, of course, the Danish philosopher and theologian whose work continues to be tremendously influential, and particularly do during that mid-twentieth century time. Barber selected prayers for his  books and journals. As quoted on this site, "One finds here three basic truths: imagination, dialectic, and religious melancholy. The truth Søren Kierkegaard sought after was a truth which was a truth for me."

The piece has four sections. This site gives a good summary of the sections and musical styles, quoting from there: 'The first prayer begins with unaccompanied male voices invoking a call to the infinite love and unchanging nature of God in a Gregorian chant style. ...The orchestra enters, followed by the full chorus, crying out an indictment: “But nothing changes Thee, O Thou unchanging.” The opening prayer segues seamlessly into the second with a solo oboe, which introduces the soprano soloist, who asks for strength and redemption through suffering from “Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered all life long.” The chorus enters with a plea to “Father in Heaven.” Intricate and complex passages of counterpoint, featuring the tenor, alto and soprano soloists, as well as the chorus and swirling clouds of sound from the strings highlight the words “but when the longing lays hold of us, oh, that we might lay hold of the longing!” The final prayer begins with an agitated cry from the chorus and orchestra featuring the brasses. “Father in Heaven, hold not our sins up against us, but hold us up against our sins.”...'

I found a video of one of the sections: My recording at home is conducted by the renowned Robert Shaw on the Telarc label, along with Bartok's Cantata profana and Vaughan Williams' Dona nobis pacem.

For All the Saints: Onesimus

In the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Saint Onesimus is honored today. He is the slave who is the subject of Paul's Epistle to Philemon. Onesimus was a runaway slave who was converted to Christianity by Paul. Subsequently, his master Philemon converted, too. Paul hoped that Onesimus would stay with him, but he sent him back to Philemon with the hopes that they could be reconciled and Onesimus released. The letter was an important text in the American debate concerning slavery.

According to the Wikipedia page, Onesimus' day was changed from February 16 to 15 in the Roman Catholic tradition. Philemon himself is also honored today in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, but on November 22 in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, somewhat overshadowed that day by St. Cecilia.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

For All the Saints: Valentinus

The Orthodox Saints site has this to say about February 14!

"What Happened to Valentine's Day? On February 14 the Roman church commemorates two Saints named Valentinus, both martyred in Rome at different times (one was a bishop in Italy). Both are also saints of the Orthodox Church, but are commemorated on July 30 and October 24. As for chocolates, flowers, cards, etc., the Encyclopedia Britannica says: 'St Valentine's day as a lovers' festival... has no relation to the saint or to any incident in his life. These customs seem rather to be connected either with the pagan Roman festival of the Lupercalia which took place in the middle of February, or with the spring season in general.'"

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Implications of Scalia's Death

Here is a thoughtful analysis of the implications of Justice Scalia's passing. "Regardless of what happens with Justice Scalia’s replacement, there will be likely at least three other Justices to be appointed over the next 4-8 years of the next President’s term. The stakes on all the issues people care about—from abortion to guns, from campaign finance and voting rights to affirmative action and the environment, depend upon 9 unelected Justices who serve for life."

For All the Saints: Absalom Jones

The Episcopal Church honors Absalom Jones (1746-1818) today, the anniversary of his death. He was an African American clergyman and abolitionist who was the first black man ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church of America. Freed from slavery in 1784, he had already learned to read and write. He first became one of the first African Americans licensed to preach in the Methodist Church, but although the congregation was interracial, he left when told he and the black members could not sit and kneel with the white members. He and Richard Allen (who became a noted African American Methodist leader) formed a society to help freed slaves, the Free African Society. The services of that organization became the foundation of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia's first black church, and Jones was ordained a priest in 1804. He was known for his oratory, his anti-slavery sermons, and his work to end slavery in the U.S and to assist freed slaves.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Landscape: Heade

Martin Johnson Heade, "The Great Florida Marsh" (1886). From:

Landscape: Hockney

David Hockney, "The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in Twenty-Eleven." From:

This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

For All the Saints: Fanny Crosby

On the Episcopal Church calendar, poet Fanny Crosby is honored today. Frances Jane (Crosby) van Alstyne (1820-1915), who lost her sight during infancy, wrote over 8000 hymns and gospel songs, as well as over 1000 secular poems and other works. Her hymns---like "Blessed Assurance," "Praise Him, Praise Him," "To God Be the Glory," "I Am Thine, O Lord (Draw Me Nearer)," "Rescue the Perishing," and others were popular evangelistic and revival hymns and remain popular selections in many hymnals. They were certainly among the first hymns I learned during childhood Sunday school! During her long life, she was also involved in rescue mission work and in public speaking. According to the Christianity Today site, she was at one stage under contract to send her publisher three hymns a week, but she was known to write several a day.

Personal Nineties

At the grocery store the other day, I picked up a new issue of Rolling Stone devoted to the Nineties. The issue features articles about Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Tupac, Green Day, Notorious B.I.G., Fiona Apple, and others, plus their list of the decade's greatest 100 albums and greatest 50 songs. Kurt Cobain's pensive face stares from the cover.

During almost the whole of the Nineties, we lived in one community. It was a time of joys,  professional transition for both me and Beth, serious illness in the family, family deaths, and other things. To me, the best thing about the Nineties was our daughter Emily, who was in preschool and then elementary school. I decided to be a stay-at-home dad for her during the summers, in spite of some financial difficulties involved in that; I just wanted to be with her more than anything else, and Beth's work almost never involved evening and weekend activities.

The Nineties was the last decade I paid significant attention to popular music; classical and jazz took over my listening after that, although I still like certain contemporary bands and singers. The Rolling Stone issue brought back wonderful memories of whatever was on the radio whenever Emily wanted to go to the park or to summer camps and the like: songs like Blues Traveler's "Hook," Dave Matthew Band's "Ants Marching," Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping," Dionne Farris' "I Know," Everything But the Girl's "Missing," Dishwalla's "Tell Me All Your Thoughts On God," The Barenaked Ladies' "One Week," Meredith Brooks' "Bitch," Crash Test Dummies' "Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm," Joan Osborne's "One of Us," Sophie B. Hawkins' "As I Lay Me Down" .... I fell hard for Sophie B.'s music and played her first two CDs to death as I drove to my teaching work. By the end of the decade Emily was beginning to like popular music and asked for CDs by Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and a little later, Evanescence.

Without listing more examples , let me just provide this link to the writer's assessment of some of the decade's best music: . If you listened to popular music in the 90s, you can remember, and add your own favorites. What were you doing in the Nineties, and what music takes you back (hopefully to pleasant memories)?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday Prayer

Dear Lord, on Ash Wednesday we hear the familiar words "remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

You'd think that we would remember more consistently. But we never get "used" to death as we get used to other things.

On this Ash Wednesday, help us not just to "remember we are dust," but to remember it among other people who are also seeking God who is alive, greater than life and death, and the source of our hope.

Help us, when we are emotionally reliant upon ephemeral things, to know how to put those things in perspective (or given them up for this season), in the spirit of turning to you and your life more deeply.

Give us a sense of repentance not just of our "big" sins but also our subtle sins and our respectable sins.

Provide for us a deeper compassion and sensitivity for the struggles of others. Alert us to the fact that everyone, indeed, carries a heavy burden unknown to us.  

Let this upcoming seasons of repentance and reflection become a time of new beginnings, that we might become a blessing for others. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.  

In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being (Job. 12:10).

If he should take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish together, and all mortals return to dust (Job 34:14-15).

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light (Ps. 36:9).

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart (Ps. 51:6).

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Cor. 5:17-19).

Lent and Depression

Lent begins today. Here is my post from a few years ago which has gotten about four hundred views so far:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

For All the Saints: Nicephorus of Antioch

Since last All Saints Day, I've been reading about different saints and significant people named on four different church calendars. Here is an interesting story for February 9 from the third century, quoted from the Orthodox Saints site.

"Sapricius the priest and the layman Nicephorus lived in Antioch of Syria. Though they were the closest of friends, a disagreement between them led to estrangement and then to outright enmity. In time, Nicephorus came to himself and realized that reconciliation and love among brethren are precious in the sight of the Lord, and he sent to Sapricius to ask his forgiveness for Christ's sake. But his messengers were turned away, and Sapricius coldly refused any reconciliation. At the same time he violated the Lord's commandment by continuing to serve at the altar without seeking to make peace. Nicephorus finally went in person and threw himself at Sapricius' feet, but even this had no effect.

"Soon, persecution of Christians broke out, and Sapricius was arrested. When he confessed Christ without fear or hesitation, and refused to make sacrifice to the idols even under torture, he was condemned to be beheaded. Nicephorus was distressed that Sapricius might give his life in Christ's name while still at enmity with a brother; and that he himself would lose his chance to make peace. As Sapricius was being led to the place of execution, Nicephorus went on his knees before him and cried 'Martyr of Christ, forgive me the offences for which you are angry with me!' Still, Sapricius coldly spurned his former friend's pleas. For this reason, as the executioner was raising his sword, and the crown of martyrdom was only seconds away, God withdrew his grace from the priest, who turned to the executioner and declared his readiness to adore the idols. Nicephorus, who was among the witnesses, begged him not to apostatise, but his words were of no effect. Nicephorus then turned to the executioner and shouted 'I am a Christian! I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ whom he has just denied. Let him go and put me to death in his place!'

"The Governor agreed, and ordered the release of Sapricius and the execution of Nicephorus. The Martyr laid his neck on the block joyfully and claimed the crown that Sapricius had thrown away. The Synaxarion concludes:

"'When he departed for heaven to receive the crown of glory, Saint Nicephorus left to us Christians a vivid illustration of these words uttered by the Holy Spirit: If I deliver my body to be burned but have no love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). If you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses... For the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matt. 6:15; 7:2).'"

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Year's Music: Pēteris Vasks' "Distant Light"

Here is a piece that I only heard for the first time yesterday: Pēteris Vasks' Violin Concerto, "Distant Light." The St. Louis Symphony performed the piece this weekend, with violinist Anthony Marwood as soloist.

Vasks, I learned, is a Latvian composer forn in 1946. He was a double-bass player for the Latvian Symphony for nearly ten years and began to compose in the 1970s. Inspired by the music of Arvo Pärt, his music has been associated with that Estonian composer's mysticism. The STLSO program notes, by Paul Schiavo, describe "Distant Stars": 'asks cast his concerto in a long single movement with several distinct sections. In addition there are several extended, dramatic soliloquies for the solo violinist... Vasks has explained the concerto's title only in vague personal terms. 'Distant Light,' he says, 'is nostalgia with a touch of tragedy. Childhood memories, but also the glittering stars millions of light-years away.'... Baiba Skride, a Latvian violinist... says that the music 'really makes you feel the atmosphere and what people felt in those hard years during the Soviet Union, the desperation and the hope behind the desperation.'" Here are the full program notes (pp. 29-30 of this pdf file).

Here is piece with the same soloist:

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What's the Thing with Coloring Books?

My daughter and I went over to the fabric and craft shop the other day. While she shops, I look at the how-to books. To my surprise, most of the how-to selections had been supplanted by coloring books for adults. I knew that these were "a thing," but I hadn't realized how much so.

Later, I found an article in The Atlantic, about the current craze, "The Zen of Adult Coloring Books" by Julie Beck (found here). Read her whole article, but she writes, for instance, "Several trend pieces about adult coloring books lump them in with other “childish” activities that grown-ups are apparently engaging in to regress back to their simpler youth, like adult preschool and adult summer camp. But I think they fit better into the trend of meditation and mindfulness that’s been going for some time now, one response among many to the high levels of stress many adults are living with....

"There are plenty of studies on the effectiveness of art therapy in reducing stress, and coloring seems to offer some similar benefits... Coloring offers that relief and mindfulness without the paralysis that a blank page can cause.'

My problem is, I'm one of those people who loves the work I do, and to do my work at home (writing, class preps) is satisfying. Why don't I let down a little bit and color?---especially since part of my work is facing that blank page. Perhaps I should!  

I've a lighthearted, mostly-kidding thought: give adults coloring books for church, similar to the way children get to color simple biblical scenes as they sit in the pews. Since doodling has been demonstrated to help a person focus, maybe we need something similar to do while the preacher is giving the message. We might remember and apply more of the sermon later!

Landscape: Klee

Paul Klee, "Temple Gardens" (1920).

This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

For All the Saints: 26 Martyrs

The Roman Catholic and Episcopal Church calendars honor today the 26 Catholics who were executed in Nagasaki in 1597. A Catholic mission had begun in Japan in 1549 and was accepted at first. But the government and the shogunate began to see the church as a potential colonial threat. The church was persecuted, and these Catholics were crucified and then killed with spears. The martyrs included twenty Japanese, four Spaniards, a Mexican, and an Indian.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Moving Toward Lent

This year, January 24 was Septuagesima Sunday, the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Most churches no longer observe that Sunday, Sexagesima Sunday (the second Sunday before Ash Wednesday), and Quinquasima (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, which is coming up). The words mean 70th, 60th, and 50th respectively, but technically only Quinquagesima is mathematically correct, truly the 50th day from Easter, while the other two are 57 and 64 days from Easter.

The 9th century liturgist Amalarius of Metz wrote that Septuagesima can mystically represent the 70-year Babylonian Captivity. (I have an informal blog post about the biblical theology here.) What's special about the captivity---otherwise known as the Exile?

In a way, it's what the whole Bible is about. The Bible begins with humankind being exiled from paradise. A few chapters later, God promises Abram (Abraham) that his descendants would live in the land of Canaan. The story of the Bible continues from there, through several books to the end of 2 Kings, to tell the story of God's people occupying the land, establishing a nation there, and finally losing the land when the Babylonians conquered them and destroyed Jerusalem in about 586 BCE. When the people return to the land about fifty years later, the Old Testament narrative concludes with the establishment of the Jewish religion and the future of God's people. For Christians, the story takes a turn with the life of Jesus, who addressed the post-exilic hope of the people with his life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Connecting all this to Lent, it is the time when we think about our post-Eden mortality and our need to return to God. For instance:

* The liturgical traditions of the church have been language of exile: our longing for heaven as we struggle in the world.(1)

* Jesus’ death and resurrection happens in the connect of Passover, which points back to Egyptian slavery and that earlier “exile” of the Hebrews of Moses' time.(1)

* The exile functions in contemporary theology in postmodernism (the uncertainty and absence of God, theologies of liberation (the struggle of oppressed people for freedom), and peace churches (the theology of whole reliance upon God rather than violent means: the error of Israel and Judah in relying upon foreign powers). But ecumenism itself echoes exile-language within theological in discussions of the church and the world (the church as an eschatological community in “exile” in the world), hospitality (caring for others who are in exile in different ways), healing broken relationships, being “wounded healers” of others, and so on.(1)

The biblical Exile connects us to themes such as God’s continual concern for Israel and his continual work of redemption. The Exile was interpreted not as God’s abandonment of his people, but as one side of God’s righteousness which continues to express itself in mercy, restoration, and love. Although the church no longer stresses these three pre-Lenten Sundays, those themes of God's mercy, love and restoration are certainly part of our Lenten journey.


(1) These points are made by Peter-Ben Smit, in “Ecumenism in Exile,” World Council of Churches website,

For All the Saints: Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams

On the Episcopal Church calendar, Roger Williams (c. 1603 – 1683) and Anne Hutchinson (1591 - 1643) are honored today as prophetic voices. Williams was a colonial proponent of religious freedom and separation of church and state. When Puritan leaders exiled him from Salem, he established a settlement that he called Providence, which would be a place for dissenters seeking "liberty of conscience." For the first time in history, religion and citizenship were separate. Williams was also a forerunner in the Baptist Church in the colonies, advocated for good relations with Native Americans, and was a forerunner in calling for the prohibition of slavery in the colonies.

Anne Hutchinson was another colonial proponent for religious freedom and was also a pioneer for women in ministry and church leadership. Questioning the theology of ministers of Massachusetts Bay Colony, she was exiled from the colony and excommunicated. Hutchinson and her followers established the Portsmouth settlement with the encouragement of Roger Williams. As her Wikipedia page indicates, "She challenged the authority of the ministers, exposing the subordination of women in the culture of colonial Massachusetts. She is honored by Massachusetts with a State House monument calling her a 'courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.'"

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Landscape: Corot

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, "Meadow with Two Trees" (1870). 

This artwork may be protected by copyright. It is posted on the site in accordance with fair use principles.

Landscape: Casilear

John William Casilear (1811-1893), "The Spring Field."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

For All the Saints: The Four Chaplains

On the Episcopal calendar, the Four Chaplains are honored today, the anniversary of their deaths in 1943 when their ship, the SS Dorchester, was torpedoed by a German sub and sunk. Rev. George Fox was a Methodist Minister, Rev. John P. Washington was a Catholic priest, Dr. Alexander D. Goode was a Reform rabbi, and Rev. Clark V. Pooling was a Reformed Church minister. As the ship sank, they assisted soldiers in boarding lifeboats and gave their own life jackets to soldiers. They prayed for the men and sang hymns together, their arms joined, and went down with the ship. Most of the 904 persons on board did not survive.

As this site indicates, the four chaplains are honored in numerous ways, including the 1948 postage stamp pictured here. I first learned of the men when I was little and collected stamps, and my dad, who was a Pacific war veteran, told me the story.

See also

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Today is Candlemas, or the Presentation of the Lord. Here is a Catholic article that explains the significance of both today and tomorrow!

Smurfy Laundromat

A couple years ago, my wife Beth and I were sorting our clothes, with the aim of donating some to charity. I noticed a paper-covered coat hanger from Beth's stack, with the dry cleaner's name and logo. I told her, "I think that's from the combination laundromat-dry cleaner place that we patronized in Virginia." We lived in Charlottesville in 1984-1987, and have lived in four other communities since, so it was amazing that we still had a hanger from that place----Carriage Cleaners on Millmont, just west of Barracks Road.

I thought of keeping the hanger to the side, but realized that was foolish---why keep a coat hanger as a souvenir of a community? It got cycled back into Beth's clothes or was discarded. But I thought of the many Saturday mornings when she and I took our stuff to the laundromat, and the weekdays when we dropped off our dry cleaning. I recall a blond woman and a red-haired, brown-eyed woman were the usual staff with whom we interacted. The red-haired woman had a little boy who watched cartoons on the laundromat TV on the Saturday mornings. Beth and I cringed at the Smurfs---fairly new on American TV at the time---and the annoying voices of the characters, the way they used some form of the word "smurf" as an adjective. By the time our laundry had finished, our eyes had glazed over with frustration of the crowded facility and the loud television. We were students and had books along---but at laundromats you can't get too deeply into books, for fear you'll miss a dryer when it opens up.

At the time, at least, Charlottesville clerks could be infuriatingly snooty, reflecting a certain incongruity to a town which was both a college town and also residence of some very upper-class people. But the cleaners staff were not snooty, and so the place lingers in memory as a friendly business, and the annoyance was simply the kind of place it was---loud and hot and crowded as folks got their clothes cleaned. The kid who liked the Smurfs is probably pushing 40 now.

We all know people, though casually, through the businesses we frequent. All of us function within everyday interconnections, and others work in their jobs on our behalf. Moving away, we don't know what became of such folk. But if they come into our minds, for whatever reason, we can lift up a prayer for their well-being.

Monday, February 1, 2016

For All the Saints: Brigid of Kildare

We fell in love with Ireland during our first visit in 2011 (I've pre-famine Irish ancestors on Mom's side) and we planned another Ireland trip two years later. I'm eager to return! Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that today is the special church day for Brigid, who along with Patrick and Columba is one of Ireland's beloved saints. She was born about 451, of a mother whom Patrick himself had baptized. (Brigid was also friends with Patrick.) According to stories about her, miracles and holiness were attributed to her even when she was a child. When she was around 30, she founded a monastery in Kildare that had been a Celtic shrine to the goddess of the same name, Brigid, and within a few years she also founded a monastery for men.

She died February 1, 525. As seen in the painting, the reed cross known as Saint Brigid's Cross or "Crosóg Bhríde" is still popular in Ireland and elsewhere. She is considered the patron saint of scholars because of the prominence of her Abbey of Kildare, and she is also known for her compassion and ministry for the poor.

Although she's not listened on any church calendar, I never forget that today is the birthday of my grandma Crawford (born in 1890), whose example was very important to me.