Sunday, July 31, 2016

For All the Saints: Ignatius Loyola

On the Roman Catholic and Episcopal calendars, Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) is honored today, the anniversary of his death. There is even a hashtag, #IgnatiusDay, on Twitter! He was a Spanish knight, born Íñigo López de Loyola, who became a priest in 1537, founded the Society of Jesus in 1541, and through his Spiritual Exercises and spiritual guidance he became a still-popular author of Christian spirituality, appreciated by non-Catholics as well as Catholics. Here is a summary of his life:
The site also has a good summary:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Landscape: Marsden Hartley

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), "The Last of New England—The Beginning of New Mexico" (1918/19). From:

Copied under fair use principles.

Friday, July 29, 2016

"Fiddler Jones": The Rest of the Story

Crazy to think that I have been a member of the Illinois State Historical Society for 42 years. I joined when I was 17 and joked with my dad that I should get a life-time membership (about $250, if I remember correctly). Dad balked at that, and I understand. For all he knew, this would be a fleeting interest. But I do anticipate belonging to the society as long as I live, to support and enjoy Illinois history. The society has benefited more from my yearly memberships than that years-ago, innocent idea of a one-time payment.

This week I received my copy of one of the society's publications, Illinois Heritage (the July-August 2016 issue). (I had an article in the magazine in 2000.) One of this new issue's articles is by Peter Ellertsen, "'Why, fiddle you must': Edgar Lee Masters' account of traditional fiddle music in Menard County in 1914" (pp. 42-45).

Back to my teenage years... When I was 15 or 16, I really loved Masters' book Spoon River Anthology. I was already at work transcribing tombstone inscriptions at our rural family cemetery for my genealogical hobby, so I liked the graveyard theme, not at all morbid to me. I also loved the free verse and the many small-town characterizations, some scandalous for the 1910s. My favorite poem in the book was "Fiddler Jones." That poem, now in the public domain, reads:

The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.”
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill--only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle--
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

The idea of living life fully--of having plans yet being spontaneous enough to take opportunities, of anticipating regrets, of loving music--appealed to me--and has served me well, these years later.

Ellertsen's article provides for us (as Paul Harvey used to say on his radio programs) the rest of the story of that poem. In about 1914, writer Masters and his friend, the writer Theodore Dreiser, met John Armstrong, whose father Jack Armstrong had been in a legendary wrestling match with young Abraham Lincoln. (Here is an interesting article about Jack.) John was a fiddle player, as was his brother in law John "Fid" Jones, and his father in law "Fiddler Bill" Watkins. Armstrong was an accomplished musician who knew numerous tunes of American and Anglo-Celtc tradition, which he played for his visitors.

Ellertsen uses the term "creolization" to refer to the process of different styles and idioms coming together to create a new form. Armstrong's music, about which Masters later reminisced in his 1942 book The Sangamon, was "thoroughly creolized" music and reflected important developments in American music (p. 43). Also in the 1910s, the writer Vachel Lindsay had a similar experience of meeting fiddlers and recalling the tunes they played (pp. 44-45).

Ellertsen concludes, "I would suggest that in 1914, in the very dawn of sound recording, Masters was able to tap into a vibration in the heart of American culture. It thrummed to the beat of a popular Anglo-Celtic musical tradition that was reflected in the media of the day, chiefly the theatre and printed music, and it was still vibrating in his heart when he came to write The Sangamon some 30 years later" (p. 45).

If the subjects of folk music and American Midwestern history appeal to you, get a copy of this issue of Illinois Heritage and read the author's account, which includes the names numerous tunes and songs popular at that time.

For All the Saints: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

On Catholic and Protestant calendars, the New Testament siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are honored today. A few years ago I wrote about the sisters, here., and my friend Suzanne is blogging about the sisters this week, here. The Catholic site that I use to learn about these various saints has this about Martha (probably the one with whom we identify):

"Christ in the House of Mary and Martha"
by Diego Velazquez, 1618
"No doubt Martha was an active sort of person. On one occasion (see Luke 10:38-42) she prepares the meal for Jesus and possibly his fellow guests and forthrightly states the obvious: All hands should pitch in to help with the dinner.

"Yet, as biblical scholar Father John McKenzie points out, she need not be rated as an 'unrecollected activist.' The evangelist is emphasizing what our Lord said on several occasions about the primacy of the spiritual: '...[D]o not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear…. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness' (Matthew 6:25b, 33a); 'One does not live by bread alone' (Luke 4:4b); 'Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…' (Matthew 5:6a).

"Martha’s great glory is her simple and strong statement of faith in Jesus after her brother’s death... Scripture commentators point out that in writing his account of the raising of Lazarus, St. John intends that we should see Martha’s words to Mary before Lazarus was raised as a summons that every Christian must obey. In her saying 'The teacher is here and is asking for you,' Jesus is calling every one of us to resurrection—now in baptismal faith, forever in sharing his victory over death. And all of us, as well as these three friends, are in our own unique way called to special friendship with him."

(I know I've neglected Lazarus in this post, but I wrote more about him here.)

Landscape: Paul Nash

Paul Nash, "We Are Making a New World" (1918). From:

Copied under fair use principles.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lavishing Grace

Trying to stay off Facebook and the numerous political discussions this morning... yesterday I finished a devotion for a friend's website, which will be published there next week: The devotion addressed one of my all-time favorite Bible passages, Ephesians 3:20-21.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

On one of my sites, I wrote other things about Ephesians: for instance, the palpable language used through the epistle: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us (Eph. 1:7-8)… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints … the immeasurable greatness of his power … the working of his great power (Eph. 1:18-19) … the boundless riches of Christ (3:8)… the wisdom of God in its rich variety… (3:10).

I noted in my old Bible, beside verse 3:10, that the original Greek word for “manifold” (poluroikilos) means “many-colored.” I also love that word “lavish”: imagine God pouring his grace, ladling his grace to us in huge, generous servings, and we come back for more and more!

Alternately, imagine God splashing us, splattering us with great colorful heaps of wisdom and blessing. Psalm 23 provides a similar image of abundance: the overflowing cup. What a relief that was to discover: God’s grace is so much more than a warm feeling, so much more than rules to keep.  Grace is more than even the help that we seek when we’re desperate: God’s grace is abundance, riches, and excess.

Jesus promised us abundant life: excessive life, outpouring life. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The Greek word perisseia means “abundance” and “overflow.” The word alludes to the feeding of the multitudes, a story which, interestingly, is the only miracle (besides the resurrection) that is told in all four gospels (Matt. 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13). Other important stories—the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the raising of Lazarus, the angelic appearance to the shepherds, and others—are not similarly repeated in all four. But the prevalence of this miracle alerts us to its importance; the life Jesus bestows is never stingy and grudging, and is certainly never earned.

There are many other signs of God’s abundance: the way Jesus socializes with people we’d avoid, the way God’s Holy Spirit was given freely to all, the way people found power and liberation in Christian fellowship, the way social barriers and distinctions dropped within the early church’s fellowship (e.g. Gal. 3:28). That poses a question: how can we ourselves, today, display God’s many-colored, heaping, overflowing lavishness?

Sometimes when I'm blue about the world, these kinds of biblical passages help remind me that God is not only still working and speaking in the world, but is doing so in excess!

For All the Saints: Bach, Schütz, Handel, Purcell

Bach's grave in Leipzig  
On the Lutheran (ELCA) calendar, Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Schütz, George Frederick Handel are honored today, the anniversary of Bach's death. Bach (1685-1750) was the Baroque composer, known during his lifetime for his organ playing, but in the 19th century, his many compositions began to be appreciated, so that now he is considered one of the greatest composers.

Handel (1685-1759) is known for works like Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks, and he wrote many operas, organ concertos, anthems, and oratorios. Born in Halle, he emigrated to London and became a British subject. A few years ago we visited his grave in Westminster Abby.

Schütz (1585-1672) was one of the most important composers prior to Bach and one of the greatest of the 1600s. His sacred music survives, and a few secular works, about 500 altogether. In Dresden, we saw a memorial to the composer; he was buried in the former Frauenkirche in that city.

On the Episcopal calendar, Bach and Handel are honored today and also Purcell instead of Schütz. Purcell (1659-1695) was the most important English composer prior to the 20th century. He is known for his anthems, keyboard works, songs, and his opera Dido and Aeneas. He too is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mozart, Haydn, and All Those Others ...

Michael Haydn 
One of my favorite LP sets is a 1978, 4-disc set called “Orgelmeister vor Bach” (The Early German Organ School), performed by Helmut Walcha. Walcha (1907-1991) lost his sight as a teenager but nevertheless mastered a large organ repertory, including Bach’s complete organ works. This website discusses his achievements:

A friend who is a professional musician recommended this out of print set, if I could ever find it. While on a roadtrip to Tucson, I saw it for sale at the wonderful, now closed Jeff’s Record Shop. The set was 40-some dollars and I worried about the price, so I didn’t buy it, and of course I couldn’t find the set again, even on eBay. Finally I found it on that auction site. Then I saw it again on eBay just a few weeks later, at an even better price. Oh well.

Buxtehude (the sound of whose name makes me chuckle, for some reason) dominates the organ masters on these LPs. Listening to the set while working, I found myself enjoying particular pieces and, looking at the label, discovered they were by Pachelbel. Poor Pachelbel! Like Albinoni with his Adagio, Barber with his own Adagio, Mouret and his Rondeau (the Masterpiece Theater theme), Delibes and the Flower Duet from Lakme, and some other composers, Pachelbel is best remembered for one piece of music. But they all wrote other, beautiful works, too. The Walcha set also includes music by Lübeck, Scheidt, Bruhns, Sweelinck, Tunder, and Böhm.

This past weekend, I thought again of the way many of us---unless we're specialists or dedicated amateurs---neglect beautiful music written by less notable composers. The list of other classical-era composers is long, though Mozart and Joseph Haydn command much of the attention.

A few years ago I discovered the symphonies of Michael Haydn, Joseph's brother, and have them on several CDs. Also, one of my Pandora channels is Michael Haydn, which provides a great selection of classical-era music by him and numerous others. This past Sunday, as Beth and I worked on writing projects at home, I turned on the Michael Haydn channel and jotted down the several featured pieces and their composers:

Michael Haydn, Symphony in F Major, MH 507 (P 32)
William Herschel, Oboe Concerto in C Major
Christian Cannabich, Symphony #64 in F Major
C.P.E. Bach, Symphony for 2 flutes, 2 horns, strings and continuo, H 649, Wq 174
Franz Ignaz Beck, Sinfonia in E Major, Op. 131
Karl von Dittersdorf, Sinfonia in A Major
Georg Anton Benda, Symphony #1 in D Major
Francois-Joseph Gossec, Symphony in G Major, Op. 12/2 (B 55)
Joao de Sousa Carvalho, L'amore Industioso (opera overture)
Antonia Rosetti, Symphony #24 in F Major
Johann Friedrich Fasch, Ouverture (Suite) in D Minor
Michael Haydn, Symphony in B-flat Major, MH 82 (P9)
Franz Xaver Richter, Sinfonia #4 in F Major (6 Grandes Symphonies #2)
Antonio Vivaldi, Oboe Concerto in C Major, RV 451
Wilhelm Heerschar, Symphony #12 in D Major
George Fridrich Handel, Water Music Suites 1-3, HWV 348-350
Antonio Salieri, Symphony in D Major "Veneziana"
Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Symphony (Overture #1) in A Major for 2 trumpets, 2 violins, viola, and bass
Johann Ernst Hartman, Symphony #1 in D Major
Michael Haydn, Flute Concerto in D Major
J. C. Bach, Symphony for Double Orchestra in D Major, Op. 18/3
Leopold Hofmann, Sinfonia in F Major

When we left the house to do something, I turned the radio off just as the next featured composer was Luigi Boccherini.

I like the music of these composers---Michael Haydn and also Boccherini, Vivaldi, Handel, the Bach family, and good ol' Salieri---but I was unfamiliar with even the names of other composers. Yet the musical enjoyment they afforded during our peaceful afternoon was wonderful. It would be a worthwhile effort, for any of us amateur music lovers, to select a musical period that we like and go off-road, so to speak, to discover music by less-well-known artists. We might discover pieces we can't now do without.

(Serendipity: the July 2016 issue of "Gramophone" has a review (pp. 38-39) of some new recordings of other lesser-known 18th century composers. They include Georg Benda and Michael Haydn and also Carl Stamitz, the brothers Paul and Anton Wranitzky, Johann Matthias Sperger, and Franz Anton Hoffmeister. The reviewer, David Thresher, writes, "There's more to the musical late 18th century than Mozart and Hydn, and sometimes it doesn't hurt to be reminded of the fact. There were hoards of Kapellmeisters and composers working alongside the two giants of the Austro-German Classical word, most of whom are now remembered as little more than names in dusty music dictionaries. New discos from Sonly Classical... [raise] hopes that they may be harbingers of a continuing series of recordings of the works of these mostly forgotten Kleinmeister.)

Landscape: Twachtman

John Twachtman (1853-1902), “Connecticut Landscape,” ca. 1889-91. From:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

R.I.P., Keith Emerson

A couple weeks ago I picked up a copy of "Prog" magazine, the May 2016 issue, which featured Keith Emerson as the cover story. The noted prog-rock keyboard player took his life in March; this article indicates that he was despondent about his ability to play in the face of nerve damage, and about internet criticisms of his playing. The "Prog" article, as well as the Rolling Stone obit, discuss his innovations and accomplishments, first with the group The Nice and then with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

In the 1970s, I frequently played The Nice's "Elegy" album, as well as ELP's "Tarkus," "Brain Salad Surgery," and "Works, Vol. 1" albums. I don't think I had the "Trilogy" album, for some reason, but I also had the "Pictures at an Exhibition" LP, and their debut album on reel-to-reel. One Friday evening in the early 70s, I stayed up late to see a broadcast of ELP performing "Karn Evil 9", with Emerson's complicated set up of keyboards, synthesizers, and electronics providing a thrilling visual for the dynamic music. He was known for his virtuosity as well as his unorthodox techniques, like holding down keys with daggers and dropping his Hammond organ to produce unusual sounds.

As one who struggles with depression and sensitivity to criticism, I felt terrible that Emerson's sensitive soul was so fatally harmed at the end of his life. To think how many fans and admirers would have rallied to affirm him, had they known his struggles! Thank the Lord for the years he shared his talent with fans, whose lives were made happier by his music. Here is ELP's song "Take a Pebble," with Emerson's lovely piano work:

And the classic suite "Tarkus":

Monday, July 25, 2016

Jesus' Smile

from: http://www.
When we visited Tokyo last month, we visited the Tokyo National Museum,  a special exhibit was “Smiling in Contemplation: Two Buddhas from Japan and Korea” (June 21-July 10). The exhibit commemorated the 50th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and Korea. The two statues are national treasures of each county, and each depicted the Buddha in pensive though smiling contemplation. Like many statues of Shakyamuni Buddha or of bodhisattvas, the statues' quiet smiles taught the viewer something about peace and enlightenment. (See, for instance,

Did Jesus smile and laugh? We’ve only instances of Jesus’ laughter (and his smiling) in non-canonical writings like the Gospel of Philip and the Apocryphon of John. In such writings, his laughter and smiles are ironic and knowing.[1] Some paintings, like the famous Head of Christ by Warner Sallman, depicted Jesus as serene and smiling. But the many paintings and icons of Christ Pantocrator linger in mind---my mind, at least---that following Jesus is serious business; your eternal destiny is at stake! And one might argue that the suffering of Jesus for our salvation---the work of atonement---takes precedence over his happiness.

But that would be limiting; didn’t Jesus have a broad, full (though short) life filled with all the emotions we experience? Certainly Jesus loved, and one needs psychological security and depth to be able to love as he did. Joy and laughter, too, require a sense of security. Not only that, but Jesus wanted his followers to be filled with joy (John 15:11)----joy, not fear (repeat that several times).

So think of Jesus' as smiling, filled with love, wanting you to feel the relief of God's kindness.


1. Ricky Alan Mayotte, The Complete Jesus (South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 1997), 149-150.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Moment of Being Cutting Edge

Back in the autumn of 1981, my significant-other-at-the-time and I shopped a record store. "Look," she said, reaching for a black album, "it's the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical."

I was interested. I loved "Jesus Christ Superstar", had recently gotten into "Evita," but I hadn't heard of .... "Cats." This new show had opened in London and this cast album had been released, but it had not yet opened on Broadway. I also loved T.S. Eliot's poetry, so I purchased the album.

I played the album constantly during that 1981-82 school year, my final year in seminary. My friends really liked it, too, and wondered what it was.

Funny to think that, 35 years later, the show is still quite strong and is being revived on Broadway. (The article in this weekend's NYT prompted this Memory---pun intended.) Broadway aficionados regret that more worthy shows open and close quickly, while this plotless extravaganza persists. But I too like to dip into the album every so often, have seen the show three times over the years---and I'm proud of a possibly unique moment when, thanks to my SO's knowledge of theatre, I was ahead of a major cultural event.

Landscape: Hopper

Edward Hopper, "Cobb's Barns and Distant Houses" (1930). From:

"Road in Maine" (1914).

Both copied under fair use principles.

For All the Saints: Thomas à Kempis

This famous Dutch canon regular was born about 1380 and died on this day in 1471. He was born in Germany and went to Utrecht to attend school, and stayed in the area at the Monastery of Mount St. Agnes. He was known as a prolific writer and copyist, copying the Bible at least four times and writing spiritual material. His four books for novices were collected and named The Imitation of Christ, one of the most famous texts in Christian history. The Christianity Today site has this:

Friday, July 22, 2016

For All the Saints: Mary Magdalene

Sandys' very Pre-Raphaelite
vision of Mary Magdelane
Across the church calendars, Mary Magdalene is honored today. The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"Holy Myrrh-bearer and Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene

"She was from the town of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, for which reason she is called "Magdalene." The Lord Jesus cast out seven demons from her, after which she became His faithful disciple, following Him even to the Cross when most of His disciples had fled. With the other holy Myrrh-bearers, she prepared the spices to anoint His body and carried them to His tomb. There she was one of the first witnesses to the Resurrection, and the first to proclaim it.

"Various traditions hold that, after Christ's ascension, she traveled to Rome, where she presented the Emperor with a red egg and proclaimed "Christ is Risen!" For this reason her icons often show her holding a red egg, and from this the tradition of distributing red eggs at Pascha is said to have arisen. She is then said to have travelled to Ephesus where she helped St John the Theologian in his gospel ministry before reposing there.

"Mary Magdalene is sometimes identified with the "sinful woman" of the Gospels, but this is not the Church's tradition. Neither the Gospels nor the sacred hymnography of the Church make this connection.

"The name 'Madeleine' is a form of 'Magdalene'."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Our Epic Trip

In June, my wife Beth and I visited Athens and Geneva---Beth had business in both cities —and then we visited Japan where our daughter Emily is studying. What a great trip! So many miles traveled!

We walked the Plaka of Athens, visited the Acropolis, and also toured the islands of Hydra, Dephos, and Aegina. The beginnings of missionary Christianity came to mind as I thought of the Acts narratives, but I especially reflected on the heritage of Greek philosophy and democracy—-subjects that I’ve taught in survey courses over the years—-and also the theology and heritage of Orthodox Christianity. Just around the corner from our hotel was a religious book and gift store called the Philokalia (the beauty of wisdom), and just up the street was an icon store and a historic Orthodox church.

It is nice to know that the New Testament Greek that I took in college forty years ago (that famous Gershon Machen textbook!) still served as I tried to read street signs in the modern Greek.

We made a stop in Geneva, where Beth had other business. I walked down the hill to the UN headquarters, where a demonstration of Tamils called for greater rights for them in Sri Lanka. I thought of demonstrations in the U.S. related to the Black Lives Matter movement and also the outrage of Trump’s presidential candidacy: the need for public assemblies and discussions about pressing issues. Across the street, I noticed a memorial for the Srebrenica massacre, coincidentally twenty-one years earlier almost to the day.

Walking back up the street, I enjoyed visiting the World Council of Churches headquarters and remembered the freelance-writing project I did in the 1990s on national and state ecumenism.

Flying from Geneva back to London and then over Scandinavia and Siberia to Japan, we spent a great week in Japan visiting Emily. She is enjoying her year abroad, and speaks Japanese well so she could help us check in to our hotel. We did a lot of shopping around the area where we stayed, but also visited temples and shrines, a wonderful experience which helped center us —happy but tired from our travels and a bit overwhelmed by crowds, a different culture, and the language barrier. Shrines can be found in some of the busiest areas of Tokyo, and we appreciated the chance to spiritually focus at these places and to enjoy Japan's religious heritage represented by the statues and architecture.

We visited three museums that we highly recommend if you're in these cities: the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, the Reformation Museum in Geneva, and the Tokyo National Museum.

The Acropolis
The Parthenon

Porch of the Caryatids, the Erechtheion

Byzantine Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea, Plaka of Athens


Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens

Tomb of the Unknown Greek Soldier, at the Parliament in Athens

St. Pierre's Cathedral, Geneva

A favorite restaurant, Taverne de la Madeleine, Geneva

Chapel, World Council of Churches, Geneva

Geneva: John Calvin has his own beer 

Another favorite restaurant, in Geneva

Tamil demonstration at the Broken Chair monument, UN hdq in Geneva

Memorial near the UN in Geneva

Mount Blanc makes a rare appearance

Cappuccino, Peter Rabbit Restaurant in Machida

The bodhissatva Avalokiteshvara, Tokyo National Museum
Senso-ji, Buddhist temple at Asakusa.ō-ji

Yokohama from the Landmark Tower

 This one and the next three: Machida Tenmangu shrine.

Yakushiike Park in Machida. 
Cemetery and Sohoin Buddhist Temple, tucked away in a busy area of
Machida. The red on the Buddhist statues
symbolizes life.

The cat cafe Neko no Mise, Machida.

Chillin' at the 100 Yen Restaurant in Fuchinobe

Shrine in Machida

Political candidates 

Fukurokuju, God of wealth, happiness, and longevity,
one of the seven lucky deities of Japanese Buddhism.

The family and Koko Kondo, Hiroshima-bomb survivor and
international peace activist. 
Relaxing at the coffee shop back home in St. Louis.