Tuesday, April 26, 2016

For All the Saints: Robert Hunt

The first Protestant chaplain in the New World is honored today on the Episcopal calendar. Robert Hunt (c. 1568–1608) was a Church of England victor. He had a tumultuous career in England, leaving one parish because of his wife's adultery, and leaving this second parish because of his own adultery.  He was consequently sent to North America with the London Virginia Company and arrived at Chesapeake Bay on April 26, 1607. Circumstances were horrible, as anyone knows who has studied the history of Jamestown. But Hunt found a calling as chaplain, preaching, celebrating the probable first Protestant communion service in the colonies, and helping settle disputes and quarrels among the colonists. God gives us many "second chances"! Hunt is honored with a memorial at Jamestown, and in 2015, remains found in a Jamestown church were identified as Hunt's.

Monday, April 25, 2016

For All the Saints: Mark

Across western and eastern church calendars, Mark the Evangelist is honored today. He is traditional author of the Gospel of Mark and identified with John Mark in the New Testament writings. The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"Mark was an idolater from Cyrene of Pentapolis, which is near Libya. Having come to the Faith of Christ through the Apostle Peter, he followed him to Rome. While there, at the prompting of Peter himself and at the request of the Christians living there, he wrote his Gospel in Greek... Afterwards, travelling in Egypt, he preached the Gospel there and was the first to establish the Church in Alexandria. The idolators, unable to bear his preaching, seized him, bound him with ropes, and dragged him through the streets until he, cut to pieces on rocks, gave up his soul. It is said that he completed his life in martyrdom about the year 68. He is depicted in holy icons with a lion next to him, one of the living creatures mentioned by Ezekiel (1:10), and a symbol of Christ's royal office, as St Irenaeus of Lyons writes." (Great Horologion)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Landscape: Evans

William Evans of Eton, "A Cottage near the Shore with Figures, Connemara, 1838." From: http://www.nationalgallery.ie/en/Collection/Collection_Highlights/Prints_and_Drawings_Collection/Evans_of_Eton.aspx

Landscape: Church

Frederic Edwin Church, "Our Banner in the Sky" (1861).   

Landscape: Julie Hart Beers

Julie Hart Beers (1835-1913),  Hudson Valley at Croton Point, 1869. From: http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/9aa/9aa352.htm

Saturday, April 23, 2016

For All the Saints: St. George, Toyohiko Kagawa

One of the most popular saints across western and eastern Christianity, St. George, is honored today, the anniversary of his AD 303 martyrdom. There is so much to know about George, in terms of his scant factual biography and the many legends, as well as devotions, prayers, and artworks concerning him: see, for instance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George_in_devotions,_traditions_and_prayers

In the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, the Japanese pacifist and activist Toyohiko Kagawa is remembered today, the anniversary of his 1960 death at the age of 71. Author of over 150 books, he was also active in relief work, labor organization, environmentalism, the women's suffrage movement in Japan, and efforts on behalf of the poor and exploited. One of his books, Brotherhood Economics, described an economic alternative to socialism and capitalism.

Landscape: Sloan

John French Sloan, "Humoresque" (1915). From: http://www.wikiart.org/en/john-french-sloan/humoresque-1915

Friday, April 22, 2016

For All the Saints: John Muir and Hudson Stuck

On this Earth Day, the Episcopal calendar honors John Muir and Hudson Stuck.

Muir (1838-1914) was a Scottish-born American naturalist and author who advocated for wilderness preservation in the US, including Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and others. He pushed Congress for the passage of the 1890 National Park bill, wrote several books and many articles, and founded the Sierra Club. Several locations are named for him. With a deep sense of natural theology, he considered himself a disciple of Thoreau.

Stuck (1863-1920) was a London-born American missionary and social reformer, ordained in the Episcopal Church. He was a leader of the first successful climb of the mountain Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, in 1913. He had begun as a missionary in Alaska nine years before; he established a parish and hospital in Fairbanks and traveled thousands of miles each year to visit communities and missions.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

For All the Saints: Anselm

Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033 – April 21, 1109) is honored today. He was a Benedictine monk, theologian, and eventually Archbishop of Canterbury. In the latter role, he took the church's side amid the Investiture Controversy.

The Catholic Saints site has this about the ups and downs of his life: "Indifferent toward religion as a young man, Anselm became one of the Church's greatest theologians and leaders. He received the title 'Father of Scholasticism' for his attempt to analyze and illumine the truths of faith through the aid of reason.

"At 15, Anselm wanted to enter a monastery, but was refused acceptance because of his father's opposition. Twelve years later, after careless disinterest in religion and years of worldly living, he finally fulfilled his desire to be a monk. He entered the monastery of Bec in Normandy, three years later was elected prior and 15 years later was unanimously chosen abbot.

"Considered an original and independent thinker, Anselm was admired for his patience, gentleness and teaching skill. Under his leadership, the abbey of Bec became a monastic school, influential in philosophical and theological studies.

"During these years, at the community's request, Anselm began publishing his theological works, comparable to those of St. Augustine (August 28). His best-known work is the book Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Man").

"At 60, against his will, Anselm was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. His appointment was opposed at first by England's King William Rufus and later accepted. Rufus persistently refused to cooperate with efforts to reform the Church.

"Anselm finally went into voluntary exile until Rufus died in 1100. He was then recalled to England by Rufus's brother and successor, Henry I. Disagreeing fearlessly with Henry over the king's insistence on investing England's bishops, Anselm spent another three years in exile in Rome."

The writer goes on to describe Anselm's concern for the very poor and for his active opposition to slavery.

Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God is a familiar topic to anyone who teaches or studies philosophy, and his Christology, with reference to the Atonement, has been similarly influential in theology. Here are two articles about his thought: http://www.iep.utm.edu/anselm/#H7 and http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anselm/

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Year's Music: Dvořák's Requiem Mass

Several years ago, the three of us were in two cars, going east on Interstate 76 in Ohio, nearing the area where the road intersects with I-80 and twitches places as the toll road. We were on our way to western Pennsylvania to help our daughter move in at her college dorm. Turning the radio to the classical station WKSU, I heard what I didn't realize was the final sections of Antonin Dvořák's Requiem Mass.

Lux aeterna luceat eis Domine
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum:
quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum:
quia pius es.

The melody and chorus of quia pius es ("for Thou art merciful") really touched my heart! Fortunately I got the name of the piece and, a few days later, ordered the whole piece, on two CDs. I like to return to the piece every so often, as I have recently.

Having only heard the last couple of sections, I hadn't realized how long the piece is, longer than Brahm's German Requiem, which George Bernard Shaw famously criticized. Here is a good introduction by Derek Tan: http://bcco.org/spring-12-concert-notes He writes: "Like many of the composer’s choral works, Antonin Dvořák’s Requiem... remains rarely performed outside the Czech Republic. While reasons for the relative dearth of performances range from the work’s length -- about 95 to 100 minutes -- to the Czech sensibility of the work (whatever that means), the fact is that Dvořák’s Requiem is only about 15 minutes longer, on average, than Verdi’s work on the same text. Furthermore, Dvořák intended the piece for an English-speaking audience; a frequent visitor to Britain -- he visited the island nine times -- Dvořák conducted the piece at its premiere in Birmingham in 1891."

He gives a lot of helpful details about the requiem, which you can read there, and he concludes: "While many other composers opt for a majestic or triumphant 'Sanctus' (think Mozart or Verdi), Dvořák’s version is, first and foremost, lyrical. While there are moments of triumph in the movement, Dvořák emphasizes the breadth of God’s glory rather than its immediacy. This emphasis on God’s mercy is reinforced by his inclusion of the 'Pie Jesu,' an optional text that asks for eternal rest to be granted to the dead. (Most famously, Fauré included the text in his Requiem, creating one of the most sublime movements in the repertoire for solo soprano.) Ultimately, this mood is carried into the peaceful final movement, the 'Agnus Dei,' which ends quietly on fragments of the cross motif, leaving the listener to ponder about the mystery of life and death."

YouTube has several complete recordings: the one conducted by Mariss Jansons and featuring Latvian mezzo Elīna Garanča is lovely, although the photo of a painting of a murdered woman (trigger warning) is distressing to view for a 90+ minute piece. Among the other recordings there, this one is a live performance and is very good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYlzQ5hN910 The brief passage "quia pius es" that first touched my heart is at about 1:36:48.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Year's Music: Glass' "Satyagraha"

Last month I listened to Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha in my car over several days, a piece I'd known about for a long time but had never listened to.

The second in Glass' Portrait Trilogy of significant and world-changing individuals, the story is loosely based on Mahatma Gandhi's early career. The title, which means "truth force," refers to Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence.

The libretto is in Sanskrit and the translated words can be found hereHere is the English National Opera's synopsis. Act 1, "Tolstoy," begins with the story from the Mahabharata of the beginning of the war between the Pandavas and the Kuruvas, the section of the Bhagavadgita wherein Lord Krishna instructs the Pandava warrior Arjuna. In the next scenes, Gandhi begins his work in South Africa, in response to the British governments oppressive policies in India. The opera goes back and forth in time, with Act II ("Rabindranath Tagore") dealing with Gandhi's earlier efforts in South Africa, and the Satyagraha movement taking shape against British policies. The scene of Act III ("Martin Luther King") is the 1913 New Castle March, a protest of South African miners led by Gandhi, which gave the British the unworkable choice of either incarcerating thousands of workers or watching the march become prolonged and larger. In a Met production a few years ago, Tolstoy was portrayed on a high place, writing, and in the last act, Dr. King is portrayed miming oration.

Glass' harmonic and rhythmic style, which he hates being described as minimalist, is nevertheless (to me) difficult. See what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSGa8cFSjdU Eventually I'd like to see it on DVD to get the visual force of such a symbolic work.

Landscape: Swinney

Carol Swinney, "The Pastel Desert." From: http://www.southwestart.com/articles-interviews/featured-artists/carol-swinney-jan2010 , and posted here with the artist's permission. http://www.carolswinney.com

Friday, April 15, 2016

For All the Saints: Father Damien

The famous Father Damien (Saint Damien of Molokai, SS.CC.) is honored today, the anniversary of his 1889 death. His birth name was Jozef De Veuster, born in 1840. He was a Catholic priest from Belgium, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and he took Damien as his religious name. He wanted to do mission work, and he sailed to Hawaii in 1864. There, persons who had leprosy (Hansen's disease) were quarantined to an isolated area of Mokoka'i.  Damien volunteered to be priest for the group, and he moved to the colony in 1873, where he provided spiritual needs as well as helping the colonists with practical matters including grave digging.

By 1884, Damien realized that he, too, had the disease, but he continued with building of facilities and in helping in numerous ways. He died at the age of 49, was first interred in the colonist cemetery, but was reinterred later to his hometown of Leuven, though his right hand was later buried in his first, Moloka'i grave. He was beatified in 1995 and canonized in 2009. The site http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=2817 has words of praise for his selfless work, and the National Park Service site has more information. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Busy Times, Prayers for Blessing

Busy times at our house during the last few weeks. Our daughter embarked on a year's post-undergrad course of study in Japan. So the days leading up to her departure the day before Easter was filled with preparatory errands (getting bank accounts squared away, obtaining cash in yen, etc.) and packing. The last weeks of Lent and Holy Week were busy with family tasks.

By now she's mostly settled in, went through long days of orientation, tests, and official folderol, and has started her classes. We have had nice Skype time, including efforts to teach the cats (there's an oxymoron: "teach the cats") to sit near the computer as we're talking. She shrugged off the tremors of an earthquake, centered elsewhere in the islands, as comparably forceful as a door slamming in her old dorm building at college. We all miss each other, Beth and I are so proud of her! and we're all thankful for this enriching opportunity.

Coincidentally, the new county history from Fayette Co., IL---my home place---arrived in the mail this past week. Our little family history is included therein, as well as many other families of local roots. Each family has its own dynamics, stories, and important predecessors.

I'm pretty good at praying for God's guidance, less good at acknowledging such blessings until I remember later. Remember us in your prayers (you who are reading this) for our ongoing well-being and for other families you know, for whom things are going great, going poorly, or are in the midst of change.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Landscape: Duncanson

Robert S. Duncanson, "Mount Oxford" (1864).

Monday, April 11, 2016

"No, They Didn't Say That"

from the RNS article
A clever piece from Religious News Service came up on my Facebook feed this morning. "No, St. Francis didn’t say that. (Or Thomas Merton. Or Buddha. Or C.S. Lewis.) Where do we get these fake religion memes?" by Jana Riess. The article can be found here. Riess provides several famous quotations that have been attributed to religious leaders. I was kind of sad that St. Francis and John Wesley never actually said the things so frequently attributed to them!

I thought of a few others. A quotation that begins "People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway..." has been attributed to Mother Teresa, as well. (Riess discussed another "Mother Teresa" quotation that actually came from Richard Attenborough.) The "love them anyway" saying came from a writer named Kent Keith: see here and here.

A long time ago I read that the quotation, "You can fool some of the people all of the time..." was attributed to Lincoln---to a specific date and place, in fact---but actually dates from the later 19th century and was included in a 1901 book of Lincoln's witticisms. See here.

I've never seen the saying "God helps those who help themselves" in a meme, but I've known a few people who thought it came from the Bible. The saying has been attributed to Aesop, and also to Benjamin Franklin.

(It's actually quite contrary to the Bible, except in a kind of Horatio Alger hermeneutic, for although Proverbs extols hard work and virtue, the Bible does not primarily teach competency and self-reliance. Rather, a key biblical theme is that God helps people who cannot help themselves; he takes the side of the sinful, helpless, and incompetent (cf. 2 Cor. 12:10). Proverbs 28:26a actually says, “He who trusts in his own mind [himself] is a fool.”)

One other I can think of: the saying of John Wayne's, something to the effect that "Courage is being scared to death but getting in the saddle anyway." Apparently he never said that in any of his movies. It's a good thought, nevertheless. Most of these quotations are good thoughts, too, whether or not correctly attributed.

(After I first posted this, a former student alerted me to the popular meme attributed to C. S. Lewis, "You do not have a soul..." : http://mereorthodoxy.com/you-dont-have-a-soul-cs-lewis-never-said-it/ )

A Year's Music: Tin's "Calling All Dawns"

I frequently listen to the Pandora channel for Alan Hovhaness, and Christopher Tin's 2009 "Calling All Dawns" is a selection on that channel. I hadn't heard it before but subsequently found the whole composition on YouTube. What a gorgeous, moving piece!

The Lincoln Center provides this summary: "… Calling All Dawns’ 'Baba Yetu' made history as the first piece of music written for a video game ever to be nominated for—or win—a Grammy. Composed for the game Civilization IV, the song drew attention from technology sources like Wired.com, who called it 'a standout piece of music … richly deserving of the award' and Higher Plain Music, who called the album 'a masterpiece … pure and absolute musical hedonism.'"

The summary continues: "Calling All Dawns is a powerful journey of twelve songs in twelve different languages—including Swahili, Mandarin, Hebrew, Irish, and Farsi—all dealing with the themes of life, death and rebirth and carrying a message of unity. Lyrics are drawn from a variety of sources, both sacred and secular: Japanese haiku, Maori proverbs, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, and many more, with each song flowing seamlessly into the next. Songs of sorrow, mystery, and hardship reflect the complexity of mortality, while songs of joy, triumph and exultation bring us roaring back to life, beginning the cycle anew." That opening piece "Baba Yetu" is a Swahili translation of the Lord's Prayer.

The composer's website allows one to read the lyrics and download the booklet: https://www.christophertin.com/albums.html

Here is the piece on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR_rKSTM43I

Sunday, April 10, 2016

For All the Saints: William Law, Teilhard de Chardin

Two interesting figures in Christian history are honored today on the Anglican and Episcopal calendars. William Law (1686 – 1761) was a Church of England priest who lost his position at Cambridge because he would not swear an oath of allegiance to the Hanoverian monarch George I. He became known as a teacher and writer and was the author of A Practical Treatise upon Christian Perfection and A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, both of which influenced revivalists like John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and others. His spiritual writings are still in print.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ (1881-1955) was a priest, paleontologist, geologist and theologian. He was part of the team that discovered Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis). In addition to his writings and field work, he is known for his book The Phenomenon of Man, where he argued that the cosmos and humanity were unfolding and developing toward an ultimate union with Christ, which he called the Omega Point. Thus he incorporated evolutionary theory into both spirituality and culture. He also wrote books The Phenomenon of the Spirit and The Divine Milieuhttp://kheper.net/topics/Teilhard/Teilhard-evolution.htm

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Year's Music: Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

Continuing my year-long listening to sacred or spiritual music... I've been listening to Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (Mass in D major, Op. 123), a piece that I used to enjoy on a Eurodisc LP set, with Kurt Masur directing the Gewandshausorchester Leipzig, and Anna Tomova and Peter Schreier among the soloists. But I haven't listened to the piece for quite a while.

As I've read about the work, it is filled with changes of tempo and dynamic, a long musical narrative without Beethoven's characteristic development of themes. I found an interesting article that discusses the mass and its history and odd qualities: http://www.classicalnotes.net/classics3/missa.html As the author Peter Gutmann indicates, it is a difficult work to perform, not just because of the size of musical forces (similar to the Ninth Symphony, composed during the same period), and although a work worthy of this peak period of Beethoven's abilities, it is heard much less often than other Beethoven compositions.

It is also intriguing as a religious work. Comparing it to Bach's B-minor Mass, which was not yet published during Beethoven's lifetime, Gutmann writes, "If Bach’s is an affirmation of faith, Beethoven’s is the first major religious work to openly question it, and thus paves the way toward our modern artistic attitudes. In addition, Beethoven’s covers a far wider range of expression in order to plumb the depths of human experience, and shares with his other late works a 'stream of consciousness' structure that manages to convincingly meld disparate elements into an integrated and challenging whole. As William Mann noted, Beethoven 'wanted his audience to notice the knots in the wood and the hammer blows in the beaten metal.' Mann further notes that this intentional roughness is not just a personal fluke but is historically valid, as it stems from Beethoven’s study of older precedent harking back to the time of Palestrina before harmony and rhythms became so standardized. In any event, the Missa Solemnis was the end of the line, the last full-scale Mass by a major composer. (While Berlioz, Brahms, Verdi, Britten and others would produce equally imposing Masses, they were all requiems, and thus entail a far different religious attitude.)"

Here is the mass, with Sir Colin Davis conducting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGNthTj3Hzk


Landscape: Klimt

Gustav Klimt, "Fir Forest," 1901

Landscape: Tissot

James Jacques Tissot, “The Flight of the Prisoners” (1896-1902)

For All the Saints: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On the Episcopal, Anglican, and ELCA calendars today, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is honored on this anniversary of his death. He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, a founding  member of the Confessing Church and an anti-Nazi activist who was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1943. He and other plotters to assassinate Hitler were hanged during the last weeks of the Third Reich. He wrote several books, of which The Cost of Discipleship is perhaps best known. The familiar 4-by-7, dark-green paperback, 1975 edition, came out when I was a freshman at a Christian college, a challenging first introduction to his life and work. He also wrote Act and Being, Sanctorum Communio, Life Together, the posthumous Letters and Papers from Prison, and the works. Bonhoeffer's student Eberhard Bethge did much to make Bonhoeffer known to an international audience, with a biography and editions of the theologian's works. A doctoral classmate, Charles Marsh, recently published a new biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Knopf, 2014).

Friday, April 8, 2016

Landscape: Hetzel

George Hetzel, Country Road (1878), Westmoreland Museum of American Art (which I highly recommend for a visit). http://www.thestonycreek.com/artists_g_hetzel_pic1.shtml

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

For All the Saints: Dürer, Cranach, Grünewald, Michelangelo

Self-portrait of Dürer, who died
on this day in 1528. 
On Lutheran calendars, four Renaissance artists (three Germans and an Italian) are commemorated today. Albrecht
Dürer (1471-1528) was an influential painter and print maker known for his engravings, woodcuts, and watercolors. Lucas Cranach der Ältere (c. 1472 – 1553) was also a printmaker and painter, who was also a portraits and artist of religious subjects. Matthias Grünewald (c. 1470 – 1528) was another painter of religious subjects, who retained a late Medieval Central European style in his work. His best known piece, the large Isenheim Altarpiece, was an inspiration to the twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth. Finally, Michelangelo (1475-1564) was an Italian, High Renaissance sculptor, painter, engineer and poet who has needless to say, significantly influenced Western art and is one of the greatest artists.

Dürer, Grünewald, and Cranach are honored on the Episcopal calendar on August 5.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

For All the Saints: Venerable Mark of Trache

The 4th and 5th century saint Mark of Trache (or Mark of Athens) is honored today on the Orthodox calendar. After the death of his parents, he considered the transitory nature of all things. He donated his belongings to the poor, embarked upon the sea, and asked God to guide him. He landed in Libya and became a hermit at Trache mountain, where he lived for 95 years, struggling with temptation and eventually sustaining on food brought by angels. As the story goes, he expounded upon Matthew 17:20, where Christ talks about faith that moves mountains. At that moment, the mountain actually moved.

Here is more about Marc: http://www.orthodox.net/menaion-april/05-the-venerable-mark-of-trache.html

Monday, April 4, 2016

For All the Saints: Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the Episcopal calendar, Dr. King is honored today on the anniversary of his 1968 death. Many important and interesting aspects of Dr. King and his life and theology, as well as information about Mrs. King and the family's ongoing ministry, can be found at the King Center website: http://www.thekingcenter.org/about-king-center

Here is a very thought provoking article that a Facebook friend found and shared: "Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did" by Hamden Rice (Aug. 29 2011). http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/29/1011562/-Most-of-you-have-no-idea-what-Martin-Luther-King-actually-did

Here's a link to Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" from 1963. Always worth studying and considering. http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

About to make a campaign speech that evening in an African American neighborhood in Indianapolis, Robert Kennedy realized the crowd had not heard the news. So Kennedy gave this short, touching speech---now considered one of the great speeches. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TgVLDvBIlU

Friday, April 1, 2016

Landscape: Gifford

Sanford Robinson Gifford, "Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment near Washington, D.C., in May 1861" (1861).