Tuesday, August 30, 2016

For All the Saints: John Bunyan

A shout-out for my daughter's birthday today! She's in Japan this year but we sent her presents and Skyped, and she treated herself to a big cultural festival at the Haneda airport. I'm writing this in the evening, some hours yet from the time of her birth, near midnight Mountain Time.

John Bunyan (1628-1688) was honored yesterday on the Episcopal calendar, today with a "lesser festival" in the Church of England, and in other Anglican churches tomorrow (August 31), the anniversary of his death.

Bunyan was the famous English preacher who wrote almost sixty works in his life. As a nonconformist during the Restoration period, he spent twelve years in jail. But while incarcerated his wrote his autobiographical work, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, and commenced on his book, The Pilgrim's Progress. That 1678 book is an allegory in which the main character, Christian, an everyman character, leaves the City of Destruction to make a journey to the Celestial City.

I can't resist sharing the opening, an Act 1 section, and the final scene and epilogue from Ralph Vaughan Williams' opera The Pilgrim's Progress, which has brought me joy since the 1980s:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tveitt's "Hundred Hardanger Tunes"

Hans Gude, "From Hardanger" (1847)
This year I've been writing informally about  favorite music, with the theme "A Year's Music." I think I'll drop the theme from the title of these posts and simply continue to share music that I've loved for a long time, or love anew.

When I'm home, I like to turn on Pandora radio. The Alan Hovhaness station is a favorite, featuring a variety of pieces by that composer, Arvo Part, Ralph Vaughan Williams, David Diamond, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Ligeti, and others. Sometimes, as the music plays, I'll write down an unfamiliar composer and selection for later investigation. This summer, one such piece was a song from A Hundred Folk Tunes from Hardanger by Geirr Tveitt.

I'd not heard of that composer (1908-1981) but quickly learned that he is a key figure in Norwegian music. Hardanger, in turn, is a western Norwegian district where the Hardangerfjord is located. Like Ralph Vaughan Williams, Tveitt was an eager collector of folk music. Going beyond RVW, who visited the countryside, Tveitt actually moved to Hardanger in the 1940s, became one of the locals, and died there. Sadly, much of his work was lost in a 1970 fire, including 40 of these hundred tunes. The rest are arranged in orchestral suites: 1 and 2, 4 and 5.

The Wikipedia page for Tveitt has this: "The tunes reflect both profound (in fact) Christian values and a parallel universe dominated by the mysticism of nature itself and not only the worldly, but also nether worldly creatures that inhabit it - according to traditional folklore. The major part of the tunes is directly concerned with Hardanger life, which Tveitt was a part of. In his adaptations, therefore, he sought to bring forth not only the melody itself, but also the atmosphere, mood and scenery in which it belonged. Tveitt utilised his profound knowledge of traditional and avant-garde use of harmony and instruments when he scored the tunes - achieving an individual and recognisable texture."

I purchased the two CDs of the suites, on the Naxos label. The liner notes' author points out that it is not always easy to determine if the melody is a traditional tune or if it is Tveitt's impression of a certain mood. Regardless, it is beautiful music that I'm happy to have discovered this summer!

Here is suite 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXvOk4bl-uM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2xC2Sx36Ps YouTube has selections from some of the other suites as well.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bible Road Trips: A Highway of International Peace

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

A Vision of Peace
Isaiah 19:23-25

My father and his cousins traveled the difficult roads of war, Dad to the Pacific and his cousins to Europe. All but one cousin returned. Years later, I mused a little about the ways international relationships change, as my wife and I sipped coffee in an outdoor cafe in Dresden, such a terrible casualty of Allied bombing in the war, and as our daughter embarked on a years’ study in Japan, the hatred and violence of the war long before her time.

Thank the Lord that international relationships do change and improve! I can’t help but think of the foolishness and waste of war, once hostile nations achieve peace and reinstate good relationships.

The Israelite Kingdom, and later the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, faced war and hostilities during different times. The first king, Saul, was at war for most of his reign, and David was renowned for his skill in war. The land of the Israelites were, after all, desirable in themselves and were also on international trade routes.

The Romans were the expert road-builders, but before them, roads that were worn-down paths or built-up and maintained roads crisscrossed the landscape. If you look on a Bible map, you can find one of the most important highways of the ancient near east was the Great Trunk Road. Its southern terminus was Memphis on the Nile delta, then it went up to Gaza. Gaza was a strategic place for Egyptian forces when they began military campaigns into Canaan and up to Syria. The road went up, near the coast and through Philistine land, to Megiddo, and from there it branched into at least three related roads: one up to coast to Antioch and into Asia Minor, another toward the Sea of Gailee and to Gennesaret, and another that went north toward the area of Nazareth before it turned east to eventually connect Babylon and the Persian Gulf.

This international highway explains why Israel and later Judah experienced threats from strong neighboring nations; the land was desirable in itself and also was in the midst of major trade and military routes.

Our scripture is a "don't blink or you'll miss it" passage among bleaker verses in Isaiah:

On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage."

One of my div school professors, B. Davie Napier, called this one of the most remarkable passages in Scripture. It is a powerful message of God’s peace; God’s people are no longer threatened by the major kingdoms around it (themselves enemies of one anotherr), and both those kingdoms are blessed of God and in a state of peace with Israel. The highway between them in one of concord

Plug in the names of three international enemies. When I was a kid, it would’ve been America, the Soviet Union, and Red China.  You might think of Israel, Syria, and Iran. You can see the force of Isaiah’s words if you juxtapose mortal opponents and depict them as examples of everlasting concord.

I don’t want to stray too far from the text, because it’s Israel’s well-being that Isaiah considered, not just any trio of international enemies. In a way, the text is a challenge to God’s people, for God includes these Gentile kingdoms in a closeness and possession that nearly rivals Israel’s. When Jesus discussed another, similar Isaiah text of God’s promises to the Gentiles, the people got so angry at him they wanted to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:11-30). They were an occupied people, after all. But God, most of all, sees the ultimate futility of human conflict and warfare.

Jesus, the son of David, is the king of peace. But what kind of peace does Jesus bring? Inner peace, you might say, or spiritual peace that is a right relationship with God. But we also talk about "peace on earth," at Christmas time but certainly other times as well. How does King Jesus bring international peace?

A text like Isaiah’s reminds us that international peace is certainly an aspect of the prophetic vision of the future. But only God can bring about this peace; left to ourselves, we’ll mess it up or achieve it only temporarily. So praying for peace is one of the best things we can do.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

For All the Saints: Monica of Hippo

Today is the feast day of St. Monica, the mother of Augustine, who of course was the one of the most influential Christian theologians and author of the
Confessions, City of God, and other works. (His feast day is tomorrow, August 28). Many of us have read the Confessions, and some of us have taught at least portions of it. Monica (d. 387) is almost entirely known from the book, where she is described as a long-suffering Christian who prayed and weeped for her son's well being. This site has insights about her: http://feminine-genius.com/saint-monica-review This site provides an account of her life:
americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1120&calendar=1 She was buried on the Italian peninsula at Ostia Antica, where her relics were preserved and then, in the 1400s, were brought to Rome; her "cult" was already well established by the 13rd century. The California city of Santa Monica is named for her.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Louis

All my posts this week have had some kind of local connection, especially today's.

Born and raised sixty miles from St. Louis, I grew up coming to the city during the 1960s and early 1970s. My parents liked to shop at the downtown department stores, where Dad indulged me with toys and stamps to collect and LPs. I remember the Arch's construction and completion, the city's bicentennial in 1964, the city's urban challenges of the time, and family visits to the zoo and planetarium. We had cousins who lived in town; we drove down old Route 66 to visit them in the Dutchtown neighborhood and also out to their new home in Crestwood. I came more seldom to the city after the late 1970s, except for the airport. But sometimes things in life come around again, and in 2009 my wife Beth was selected as president of Webster University in St. Louis. It has been enjoyable to be back in the city and county.

All this to say... today is the feast day of St. Louis, that is, the city's and county's namesake, King Louis IX of France (1214-1270). He died on this day of dysentery in Tunisia while on a crusade. Canonized in 1297, he is the only French monarch to be declared a saint and, in fact, has been called the ideal Christian monarch.

He was not perfect, in the hindsight of history: he ordered the burning of Talmuds and was a leader in two of crusades. But his reign was an important one. He patronized the arts and, under his reign, Gothic architecture and art flourished. France's prestige increased during his reign and he was able to negotiate a peace with the English Plantagenet monarchy. He was renowned for his generosity to the poor, and he founded hospitals and supported convents and monasteries. Known for his faith and personal piety, he sought opportunities to hear cases where he could make a just ruling. His respect and renown were not diminished by the fact that both his crusades failed (and, in fact, he had to be ransomed when he was captured during his first crusade. Here are two sites that provide more information about the king, the namesake of many cities and places in the world.



The photograph (from Wikipedia) shows the statue, "Apotheosis of St. Louis," given to the city following the 1904 St Louis World's Fair and sculpted by Charles H. Niehaus. It stands outside the St. Louis Art Museum, overlooking the area where the fair was located.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Year's Music: Barbara Harbach

This year, I've been writing (very informally) about favorite musical works and discoveries. Recently, I was so grateful to discover the music of Barbara Harbach.

I actually know Dr. Harbach socially. Our spouses are heads of St. Louis-area universities, so we occasionally see each other at community events. I knew she had studied with the famous organ master Helmut Walcha, who had also been teacher of a dear friend of mine. The last time she and I chatted at a local event, she mentioned recent recording projects. So later that day, out of curiosity, I checked Amazon and realized she had ten recordings of her own compositions and several of her performing other composers.

Well, I purchased three of the CDs of her compositions, and I loved them so much that I purchased three more, and then I ordered the remaining four. I had to make a four-hour road trip this past weekend so I binge-listened to her music. I'll catch up with her other CDs later.

Dr. Harbach holds a baccalaureate degree in music from Pennsylvania State University, master of musical arts degree from Yale, Konzertdiplom from the Musikhochschule-Frankfurt, and a doctor of musical arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, plus an honorary doctorate in music from Wilmington College. In 2016, she was ranked as the number one female organist and as one of the 30 Most Innovative Women Professors Alive Today. Her website is barbaraharbach.com, and her faculty page is https://music.umsl.edu/Faculty/BarbaraHarbach.html

Untrained to write about music, I read some reviews of Harbach’s work, which helped me articulate what I love about her works. Her pieces are tonal and melodic, and beautiful, reminding me of composers like Copland (in his ballets), Howard Hansen, Ned Rorem, David Diamond, and also Ralph Vaughan Williams. It’s “sunny” music but not sweetly so, in the way I sometimes find John Rutter’s choral music (though I love his work, too). One reviewer refers to the “open-air quality” of Harbach's music, “the aural equivalent of American of the work of Grandma Moses”, with the originality but without the naivety, since (as another reviewer points out) they are skillfully-crafted and -orchestrated. The pieces are also well performed and recorded, with Harbach sometimes playing keyboards. As someone with only childhood music lessons but who has always loved to explore composers' works, I've enjoyed the music of artists like Copland, Diamond, Rorem, Ginastera, Hovhaness, Holst, Britten, Vaughan Williams, and others who appreciated in some way their own national heritage. (Bartok still lies beyond me, unfortunately.) Listening to the piece “Confluencity,” about the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, I thought of Smetana and also Ives, in the way the later depicts contrasting forces coming together.

She has written on themes important for Missouri (see my list of favorite pieces below), and she recently wrote Symphony for Ferguson, inspired by Michael Brown's death and the accompanying events: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjsDhOegcz0

In an interview, found here, Harbach talks about some of her influences. "I was fortunate enough to take classes with Mel Powell at Yale University as well as a semester with Sam Adler at the Eastman School of Music. From Mel I learned to appreciate improvisatory ingenuity and from Sam rhythmic athleticism. Composers often write what they like to hear, and I adore listening to Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Mary Howe, Thea Musgrave, Gian Carlo Menotti, Adolphus Hailstork, and, of course, Ralph Vaughan Williams as well as many others. Many of the mid-twentieth century composers studied with one of my heroes Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) in Paris. She was an outstanding pedagogue, composer, organist and pianist. Some of my favorite pieces are Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Overture (c. 1830), Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto and the operas of Ethel Smyth..."

She goes on in that interview to mention other women composers that she enjoys (and which I promise to listen to): "Emma Lou Diemer, Beth Anderson, Joan Tower, Libby Larsen, Cindy McTee, Judith Statin, Shulamit Ran, Melinda Wagner, Jennifer Hidgon and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman Pulitzer Prize winner in 1983," as well as Grace Williams, Elizabeth Maconchy, Nicola Le Fanu, and Germaine Tailleferre. "These are just a few composers whose aesthetic ideals we all share, and there are many more women creators writing stunning and exciting music..."

Read more of those interviews and pieces at her website. A short, incomplete list of some of my favorites among her works are “One of Ours - A Cather Symphony: I. On Lovely Creek, II. Autumn in Beaufort, III. Honor At Boar's Head" (on Orchestral Music I), “American Solstice for Chamber Ensemble” (on Chamber Music I), “A State Divided A Missouri Symphony I. Missouri Compromise, II. Skirmish at Island Mound, III. The Battle of Westport" (on Orchestral Music II),“Arcadian Reverie for String Orchestra” (on Orchestral Music I), “Tres Danzas para Clavecin for Harpsichord” (on Chamber Music III), “The Soul of Ra for String Orchestra” (Chamber Music II), most of the hymn arrangements—including my favorite hymn tune, “Kingsfold” (Toccatas, Flourishes and Fugues - A Celebration of Hymns), “Night Soundings for Orchestra I. Cloak of Darkness, II. Notturno, III. Midnight Tango" (Orchestral Music II), “Gateway Festival Symphony I. Confluencity, II. Sunset: St. Louis, III. After Forever" (Orchestral Music II), "Jubilee Symphony I. Bellerive, II. Mirth Day Fiesta, III. Tritons Ascending” (Orchestral Music II), “Freeing the Caged Bird: Maya Angelou, Sara Teasdale, Kate Chopin, Emily Hahn" (Chamber Music II), “Pioneer Women: From Skagway to White Mountain” (Vocal Music)...

You get the idea. If the captain of the sinking ship lets me take only one CD to the proverbial desert island, mine would be Vaughan Williams's third and fifth symphonies, and if two... that same one and also Harbach's Orchestral Music I or II, or one of the others——or maybe I’ll just stuff several of her CDs under my life jacket and be thankful.

(She didn't know I was writing this post but, when I emailed it to her to make sure it was factually correct, she told me that a new CD, Orchestra Music III, will be out in a couple months, yay.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jerusalem at the 1904 World's Fair

We love to collect antique souvenirs and paraphernalia from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Beth's deceased first husband's great-grandfather attended the fair, which got her interested in the history. After we married, we've continued to collect items, from antique stores and later from eBay. I've a cousin here in St. Louis who founded the 1904 World's Fair Society; he and his wife and other members meet regularly to preserve and publicize the history.

Beth and I are by no means experts on the fair and we enjoy discovering new things about it. For instance, one of my gifts for Christmas last year was a commemorative booklet about the Jerusalem exhibit at the fair. (The picture above is scanned from it.) We hadn't realized that the fair had this section.

Among other, well-known aspects of the fair, like the enormous ferris wheel and the significant buildings, the Jerusalem exhibit was a very big deal, over 10 acres on a 1:1 scale of the Old City, including accurate replicas of the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The brochure describes the four Jerusalem gates, the stations of the Cross, and the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sites that were replicated. As this site indicates, "The structures [of the exhibit] were interconnected by twenty-two winding streets and alleys, and were girded by a faithful reproduction of the walls of Jerusalem. Once inside the model, the fair’s visitors could take part in dozens of activities. They could take a tour of the holy sites with a turbaned guide, follow 'in the footsteps of Jesus' along the Via Dolorosa, and view a diorama of the scene of the Crucifixion. They could take a bumpy camel or donkey ride and shop for Holy Land souvenirs in an oriental bazaar. They could also mingle with the hundreds of Jerusalem natives—Moslems, Christians, and Jews— who were imported to St. Louis for the duration of the fair, and who could be seen walking around in oriental garb conducting religious ceremonies or working in their artisan workshops and booths." All this for 25 cents admission for adults and 15 cents for kids.

I found an article by Milette Shamir, "Back to the Future: The Jerusalem Exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair" (Journal of Levantine Studies Vol. 2, No. 1, Summer 2012, pp. 93-113). Read Shamir's interesting article, which can be accessed here. It is a fascinating discussion about the exhibit and concludes with these insights about the interfaith aspect [footnotes omitted]:

"The Jerusalem exhibit, I would argue, is more interesting for the insistent use some of its visitors made of it as a haven of religious feelings and devotion, than for the commodification of the spiritual which no doubt modified its popular success. Accounts of the day- to-day operation of the exhibit frequently attest to its function in staking out a hallowed space within the secular fair, even if not always in ways that its planners had intended. In one instance, Roman Catholic Cardinal Francesco Satolli made a much-publicized pilgrimage to the Jerusalem exhibit, where, moved by an Arab girl playing 'The Holy City' on an oriental instrument, 'he stopped and removed his hat.' ...Despite the Protestant partiality of the exhibit, Catholics and Orthodox Christians held weekly Sunday Masses at the replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In addition, in September of 1904, six hundred Jews gathered in the model of Jerusalem’s large synagogue for holy prayers, defying the spectatorial and commercial purposes of the exhibit by permitting 'no one to enter, not even the manager of the concession.' In the same month, a particularly moving ceremony was held in the replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: one of the Syrian dragomen employed in the exhibit was married to an English tourist. Nothing could better express the transcendence of ethnicity, nationality, and church affiliation inspired by the exhibit than this union. Less dramatic, perhaps, but equally poignant are accounts of visitors who were deeply touched simply by the experience of standing within the exhibit’s walls, an experience that allowed them to transport themselves 'in imagination, a few thousand miles . . . to realize that [they] are on the spot that the honest belief of thousands associate with the greatest tragedy and the most sacred event of all history.' While visitors such as this speaker clearly did not forget that they were standing in a modern concession an ocean-width away from the Holy Land, they were able, through an act of the imagination, to discover spiritual life in the plaster and cardboard structures of the exhibit. Finding the experience meaningful enough to repeat, and managing to balance modern pleasures with devotional feelings, such visitors were the finest embodiment of the tourist as pilgrim."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Pius X

When we lived in Flagstaff, AZ, a local clergy-colleague was the priest at St. Pius X Catholic Church. I've forgotten his name now but I appreciated his friendship at the time. I thought of him on this feast day of Pope Pius (Guiseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 1835-1914), the day after the anniversary of Pius' death (so scheduled because St. Bernard of Clairvaux's day is August 20th).

The biography linked below discusses aspects of his life and papacy. Pius X is an interesting pope---frustrating. While he shared his predecessor Leo XIII's promotion of Thomist philosophy and method, Pius aggressively opposed modernism and sought to root out theologians influenced by modernism, which he saw only as a source of error. Compare this with Leo's promotion of synthesis between faith and science, faith and reason, and theology and culture. He was strict in matters of international relations, and refused to support trade unions that were not Catholic.

(Although founded many years after his death, the Society of St. Pius X is a famous organization that rejects the Second Vatican Council and resulting liturgical reforms. The group has no canonical status with the church.)

Pius was also notably pastoral and compassionate and brought his previous pastoral experience to his office. As pope, for instance, he continued to preach regularly, and had kindness for those in need. He was already in poor health when World War I commenced, and his depression at the outbreak of war hastened his death.

Among his other distinctions, Pius codified Canon Law, reformed the liturgy, and like our recent John Paul II he was very devoted to the Virgin Mary. He supported the American Catholic church, although he once refused an audience with former president Roosevelt.

Pius was canonized in 1954. Many churches and schools are named for him, including a high school here in St. Louis.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Jacob Going to Haran

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

Jacob's Ladder
Read Genesis 28:10-22

Have you felt estranged from family members, and avoided crossing paths with them? Have you ever moved in order to get away from a certain situation? Sometimes we leave particular places and don’t want to return, or we feel it inadvisable to return. I once read a story of a person who was caught up in a bad local situation and, once it was revolved, he moved away. He said that enough time had passed that he could return, but he probably wouldn’t.

When we read of Jacob in our lesson, he has embarked upon a long, uncertain journey, from Beersheba to Haran, that is, from the southern region of Canaan to the northern regions of what is now Syria by Asia Minor. At the end of Genesis 11, Haran is the place where Abram and his family settled before God first called Abram. It’s a long way from Beersheba!

But Jacob needs to get out. He has cheated his brother Esau out of his future. His brother is bigger than he is, and he’s angry. Jacob may not survive an encounter. So on the advice of his co-conspiring mother, he flees, to meet his mother’s brother. At least on the surface of things, Jacob has spoiled his own future and hopes for a new beginning.

But on his way on this journey, Jacob stops his travel for the day, finds a location, rests his head upon a stone. Perhaps he pads the stone with some of his clothing and thus props his head to sleep as comfortably as he can on this ground. Dreams are strange and disturbing when we’re upset, and his dream was, too, but it was also a vision: he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder, and the Lord introduces himself as the God of his father and grandfather. The Lord reaffirms the covenant with Abraham to Jacob.

Jacob woke up and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (vss. 16-17). He realizes that he had been in a place of great holiness and divine power, perhaps dangerous to an unholy person like him, where the Lord and the angels were close by. The word “awesome” in this sense means evoking awe and dread. Consequently, Jacob dedicated his stone as a divine totem to the God and called the place “house of God” (Beth-El). He made a vow to be devoted to this God of his family.

I always loved the Bible verses that depict God in terms of strong places. The Hebrew word machseh poetically describes God as a refuge and dwelling place (Psalm 46:1, Deut. 33:27, et al.). In fact, when I’m traveling---when I read the Bible in my lonely hotel room, for instance---these are often the kinds of verses I seek out. I need to feel at home in God, to feel reassured that God is always with me.

The word “place” (in Hebrew makom) is a good word, too, and has been used as a name for God in the Jewish tradition; God is “the Place” (HaMakom), that is, The Omnipresent. Although God had special worship places to which people traveled, like the Tabernacle and the Temple, God was never limited to one location, as if God were unavailable elsewhere. God is already where we are, and in fact God has gotten there first!

Jacob stumbled onto (or was invisibly led) to a place where God become known to him. Much later in scripture, Jesus portrays himself as the new Temple (John 2:19-21) and affirmed that now he is the “place” to go to know God. Jesus is here when we read the Bible, experience, fellowship, worship, hear the preached Word, and partake of the sacraments. Jesus is here whenever we call upon the Lord, and even when we do not. He is here with us, any place we may be, at home or away. Surely his words “Lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) are among the most comforting in all of Scripture, a good page in the Bible to turn to for assurance at home or away!  

Friday, August 19, 2016

For All the Saints: Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was canonized in 1174 and made a "Doctor of the Church" in 1830. He is honored on August 20 in the calendars of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and ELCA Churches and on August 19 in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. So we can think about him on both days.

Here is a site that gives some background on Bernard: http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1113&calendar=1 and also  http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/moversandshakers/bernard-of-clairvaux.html That second author comments: "It's hard to know how to characterize Bernard of Clairvaux. On the one hand, he is called the 'honey-tongued doctor' for his eloquent writings on the love of God. On the other hand, he rallied soldiers to kill Muslims. He wrote eloquently on humility; then again, he loved being close to the seat of power and was an adviser to five popes." Bernard joined the new community, the
Cistercians, and therein practiced very strict asceticism that, unfortunately, damaged his health. But he worked tirelessly throughout his life to raise standards of monasteries and to found new ones. Along with his regrettable support of the Second Crusade, undertaken in obedience, he raised objections to the philosophy of contemporary Peter Abelard and also wrote and preached. His book On Loving God is a classic, as well as his Sermons on the Song of Songs, wherein the text of that book became a springboard for Bernard to touch upon many theological topics.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Landscape: Gude

Hans Fredrik Gude (1825-1903), "Under eketreet" (Under the Oak, 1858).

"Hardanger Fjord" (1847). 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Quilts and Human Rights" book

Here is a brand-new book, just published, which I purchased a couple weeks ago at the St. Louis Art Museum. "Quilts and Human Rights" is by Marsha MacDowell, Mary Worrall, Lynne Swanson, and Beth Donaldson, all specialists in folk art and cultural heritage, all located at the Michigan State University Museum. Desmond Tutu provides the forward.

My grandma belonged to a quilting circle, and I cherish two of her quilts. The authors of this book state that, along with different kinds of quilts and other folk art, the museum had a small collection of quilts having to do with human rights. They assembled more for an exhibition, and this book is another result of the collection. They write in the preface: "Textiles have been the expressive mode of choice for many women... As we delved into this arena of artist activism, we were astounded by the number of human rights quilts, the richness of stories associated with the quilts, the variety of visual expressions rendered by artists, and the growth of online communities connecting even greater numbers of individuals who use cloth and needles to address injustices and advance social change" (p. xiv). Many quilts memorialize individuals, while others have to do with workers' rights, crimes like rape and incest and domestic abuse as well as lynchings, and horrors like genocide, war, and ethnic cleansing. Quilts have much to say in areas like women's studies and material culture as well as art and human rights (p. xv).

Leafing through the book, I found numerous examples of powerful statements, like a quilt dedicated to the deposed and imprisoned Queen Lili'uokalani, Anita Hill, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, a black woman who was lynched, another quilt that includes the names of the lynched in several states. Other quilts artistically depicted the Tuskegee syphilis study, South Africa's Cradock Four, the Holocaust, Tiananmen Square, the crisis in South Sudan, Selma's Bloody Sunday, women's suffrage,  resource scarcity in Zimbabwe and elsewhere---and numerous other topics and persons.

I recommend this book: it will prod your conscience, inform you of injustices worldwide, and inspire you to dedicate your own creativity to social witness and social change. (I do not know the authors and was not asked to write this review.)

Monday, August 15, 2016

For All the Saints: The Assumption of Mary

Across all the church calendars, Mary the mother of Jesus is honored today. Here is what I wrote last year: http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2015/08/interfaith-days-assumption-of-mary.html

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Plundering the Egyptians

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

Israelites and Egyptian Stuff
Exodus 12:35-36

Whenever we’re staying at a motel or hotel, I empty my pockets on the dresser, put my toiletries and medicines in the bathroom, and also make a little pile of the books that I’ve brought on the trip. Once in a while I bring some keepsake—like a small cross or a meaningful postcard or other photo—if I know this will be an emotional trip, for whatever reason. When we went overseas for three weeks this summer, I brought a small wooden cross from my hometown, to keep in my pocket. George Carlin had a wonderful shtik about “stuff”: the reason you like your own home is that is contains your stuff, but whenever you’re traveling, you lack most of your stuff, so you have to make sure the stuff you've brought is handy.

There is a fascinating, brief story in Exodus 12, just as the Egyptians have experienced the deaths of the first born. The Israelites must leave quickly, so they gather and pack their unleavened cakes of dough and their livestock, but the text also says: “The Israelites had done as Moses told them [alluding back to Ex. 3:19-22]; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36). The text goes on to give detailed instructions concerning the keeping of Passover.
So the Israelites embarked upon their flight from Egypt, carrying with them Egyptian “stuff.” It’s an interesting story of reparations, so to speak, for the sin of their slavery, of “severance pay” for 430 years of Egyptian injustice. Of course, the Israelites were not yet safe: they still had to get to the sea, and to deal with Pharaoh who changed his mind. I'll look at that scripture another time.

For now, the Israelites’ story invites all kinds of theological questions. God does provide for us, in ways we see and don’t see, but God’s timing is sometimes a source of confusion for us. Why didn’t God step in much sooner to help his people? His salvation of the Israelites was amazing but it seemed long delayed. In our own lives, why doesn’t God act more quickly in our own personal struggles, and in other world situations of oppression? These are questions over which we may linger, both in our Bible reading and our personal lives.

But there is also an implied theology of our possessions—our “stuff”—if we realize that this story makes an arc over to Exodus 32:1-4 and following. The Israelites didn’t simply appreciate their expected gain; they used the Egyptian gold to make a calf, the image of a fertility deity which they worshiped while Moses was on the mountain.

In our own time, an idol is something we put ahead of God or in place of God. That could be anything we have, or an attitude or disposition. Putting God first is a lifelong struggle, and things work more subtly than a statue. I don’t know about you, but I put things ahead of God all the time, every day, in the sense that I take peace (emotionally speaking) in belongings more than in God. Also, I worry about the future and about my family; bad things happen all the time to faithful people, after all. So I fear that these other things have power over God's grace, so to speak. Not only that, but I become busy and forget to pray and to read devotional materials. Not only that, but I’m involved in a consumer society that links well-being with acquisition, and honestly, I like living in such a society! I like my stuff.

But it is as easy to casually accept the everyday kinds of contemporary idolatry as easily as the Israelites demanded image-worship---and I don’t have their excuse of learning the faith of the Lord for the first time!  The story of the beginning of the Israelites’ long journey to the Promised Land invites us to to thank the Lord for the things we’ve been given in life, including the “stuff” that gives us peace.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Landscape: Durrie

George Henry Durrie (1820-1863), "East Rock, New Haven" (1857). From:  http://www.oceansbridge.com/oil-paintings/product/61080/eastrocknewhaven1857

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Durrie, "East Rock, New Haven" (1853). From: http://www.aradergalleries.com/detail.php?id=1705

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Currie, "Summer in New Haven, View from East Haven" (c. 1849). From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Summer_in_New_Haven,_View_from_East_Haven.jpg

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Landscape: Church

Frederic Edwin Church, "West Rock, New Haven" (1849).

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Friday, August 12, 2016

For All the Saints: Florence Nightingale

On the Episcopal calendar today (August 12), and on the ELCA calendar tomorrow (August 13), Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) is honored as a social reformer and humanitarian. She is considered the founder of modern nursing, based on her tireless work during the Crimean War. She also pushed for improved healthcare in Britain and for employment for women. Although seriously ill for over half her life, she wrote and published extensively, not only about medicine but religion and other subjects as well, and she advised on the conditions of field hospitals during the American Civil War as well as sanitary conditions in British India. She was also skilled in math and statistics and popularized the use of diagrams of statistical data. Biography.com has a good account of her life: http://www.biography.com/people/florence-nightingale-9423539 There is a Florence Nightingale museum in London: http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk

Landscape: Duveneck

Frank Duveneck, "Polling Landscape" (1881). Indianapolis Museum of Art. From:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duveneck,_Frank_-_Polling_Landscape_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Philip toward Gaza

Old 66 in a desert area
The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

We Are Led to Others
Acts 8:26-40

At some point in our lives’ journeys, we may be called upon to share our faith in some way. We may not necessarily be very good at it; “personal evangelism” can be off-putting and judgmental, to the point that the other person’s faith-possibilities were derailed rather than helped. Honestly, one reason that I've written so much over the years about religious subjects, is that I express my faith better through writing than speaking. In person, I’m rather shy and introverted, and I prefer to try to be an example. But other people are good at sharing faith through natural conservation.

Both as a biblical “road story” and a faith-sharing story, our passage about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a classic text.

The Holy Spirit leads Philip down a certain road in Gaza, apparently not the main road but a “desert” road, and there he met the man, perhaps a proselyte to Judaism, who was studying the scroll of Isaiah, the passage about the sufferings of God’s servant.

The unnamed man was a eunuch in the court of Ethiopian royalty. Perhaps the designation was from his actual surgery, because some men who worked in royal harem were thus emasculated, or perhaps it is a title, since Deuteronomy 23:1 specifies that no man with damaged or removed genitals should enter the Temple, and apparently he has been worshiping there. Regardless, the man was new to Jewish faith, not ethnically Jewish (most if not all Christians up to that point were Jews)  and unaware of anything regarding Jesus.

This passage reminds me of that famous saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” In this instance, it happened like that! Philip and the man enter into conversation about the passage. Remember that there was no “Christianity” at the time—-unlike our own time, talking about Jesus was very new, without any kind of social connotations of evangelism and so on. The man responded with faith, and there was even water handy for his baptism.

If we think of sharing our faith as a personal effort—something we feel like we should do—then we miss an important point of the story. The main “character” in the story is God’s Spirit. The Spirit made all the arrangements, so to speak. The Spirit led Philip to this lonely place (and had been leading Philip all along so that he could respond to the Spirits promptings). The Spirit connected Philip with a man who sought a deep understanding of God’s purposes. The Spirit even led them in this arid area where water was available for baptism. We hope that the Spirit continued in the Ethiopian man’s life and resulted in some kind of Christian community back at his home.

Notice, too, that the Spirit introduces Philip to someone outside expectations. Philips had to literally get out of his own neighborhood. We are not always good at seeking out and spending time with people outside our demographic. But the Spirit is inclusive, the Spirit creates community and brings people together, so that people of different races, sexual orientations, and economic classes are one in Christ.

On our own “roads” of life, how do we discern and respond to the Spirit’s direction? How do we become conduits of God’s Spirit for those we meet on "the journey"?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Year's Music: Rautavaara's "Vigilia"

Einojuhani Rautavaara is considered the most important Finnish composer after Sibelius. He died just a few days ago, on July 27, 2016, aged 87. (See his obituary here.) I have seen his name referred to in "Gramophone" magazine but this evening is the first time I've listened to his music. A new discovery!

I'll have a lot to listen to, as Rautavaara wrote many works, but this evening I'm listening to his "Vigil" (All Night Vigil), composed in the early 1970s and revised in 1996. Here is a review of the work. From this site, here is the list of sections:
Vespers 29:35
2 Psalm 103
3 1st Katisma
4 Psalm Of Invocation
5 Sticheron Of Invocation
6 Sticheron To The Mother Of God
7 Evening Hymn
8 Ekteniya
9 Sticheron Of The Litany
10 Ekteniya Of The Litany
11 Sticheron
12 Troparion
13 Troparion Of The Feast
14 Final Blessing
Matins 34:32
16 Troparion
17 Troparion
18 Hymn Of Praise
19 Troparion Of The Resurrection
20 Antiphon
21 Prokeimenon
22 Hymn Of The Resurrection
23 Canon: 1st Irmos
24 3rd Irmos
25 4th Irmos
26 5th Irmos
27 6th Irmos
28 7th Irmos
29 8th Irmos
30 Katabasis: Hymn Of Thanksgiving Of The Mother Of God
31 9th Irmos
32 Sticheron Of Thanksgiving
33 Troparion Of The Resurrection
34 Final Blessing

And here is the recording to which I've been listening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ekcd9xq5ZQM The bass, Jyrki Korhonen, really stands out!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Old Paved Roads

I'm one of those people who checks my email and Facebook as soon as I wake up. I've no special reason to do so; it's just become a habit. But the other morning, I was pleased to see on Facebook an early-morning post about abandoned roads: https://blog.jimgrey.net/tag/abandoned/ These are the old pavements and bridges, often dating from the 1910s and 1920s, left behind when a highway was realigned. Mr. Gray also linked to his Flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/groups/abandonedroads/ His blog post featured photographs of an old bridge along Highway 40 near Plainfield, IN. I had noticed that bridge a few years ago when I was on a road trip and decided to take 40 instead of I-70, which I find monotonous for much of the way between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. I only got a photo from the side of the modern highway, whereas he had walked the place.

Abandoned roads lay along the familiar way to my Grandma Crawford's house, and so I became one of those folks, like Mr. Grey, who is fascinated by the sight of an old road, no longer in use but never removed. U.S. 40 goes through my hometown, Vandalia, IL. When I was really little, 40 still came straight into town from the east, but in the early 1960s, a new Kaskaskia River bridge was constructed, slightly south of the old bridge, and so the highway was also realigned for a few hundred yards to the south. The old pavement was left in place and has ever since been a service road for businesses on that side of the river. Until the 1970s or so, a few shack houses also stood along that pavement.

A little further east, State Route 185 branches off from U.S. 40. Route 185 is the same highway as the header photo of this blog, near the place where we turned off to go to Grandma's; so 185 is quite a precious road to me. When Interstate 70 was constructed, both the intersection of 40 and 185 and their respective, straight alignments were changed to accommodate the need for an overpass. Again, the old pavements were left in place, with several houses located along the dead-end alignment of 40, and a business along the concrete of old 185 that used to approach 40 in a straight way. Here are screen shots of Google Maps---mostly for my own nostalgia. :-)

Also for my own nostalgia, I took a few pictures of that original pavement of Route 185, not a very long path. As it shows on the first map, the road once went straight off U.S. 40 on its southeasterly path. This first photo is the pavement heading for the place where it would've continued as 185, and the second is the pavement where it would have continued a short distance and connected to highway 40.

As I understand it, this would have been the original western beginning of Route 185, which was one of the original state highways in Illinois. My family members and many others would've traveled this pavement. Today, the western beginning of 185 is an intersection with IL 127 south of Hillsboro, IL. 

On the other side of the interstate, I photographed some of the original pavement of Route 40, as you can see on both maps, went straight. (The other road is the frontage road.) 

These are pavements from original state routes in Illinois. The state bond issue routes of 1918 and 1924 were the first state highways. 185 was the last of these first routes. US. 40 was back then still State Route 11, but it was also part of the National Old Trails Highway system from New York to Santa Monica, and before that, it was the America's first interstate highway, the famous National Road that terminated at Vandalia. The National Road wasn't paved, but these pavements were laid upon the historic trail. 

Speaking of original state highways, I also love this pavement north of Vandalia: an original portion of old State Route 2 as it crosses Huffman Creek. To the left, off the photograph, is the modern U.S. 51, which Route 2 became. 

And up the road from that scene, an old alignment of Route 51 crosses Ramsey Creek. I remember when this stretch of former highway was a little rest area with a picnic table. 

If I had access to a time machine, I think my first trip would simply be to go back to about 1930 and visit these highways as they looked then, secretly check on family (so as not to disrupt the spacetime continuum), and watch drivers who, if they'd been driving for years, were grateful for paved roads.

For All the Saints: Dominic

On Roman Catholic and Protestant calendars, St. Dominic is honored today. Dominic (Domingo Félix de Guzmán, 1170-1221), was a Castilian priest who founded the Dominican Order. Here is a good site concerning his life and faith: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=178 Also:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Craving a Dog N Suds

Vandalia's Dog N Suds,
from the Facebook "Vandalia
Memories" page 
Because I love root beer, I think back sometimes to the old Dog N Suds restaurants. Only a few of them remain. One operated in my hometown at Third (Kennedy Blvd.) and Jefferson Streets during the 1960s; this photo  is from an old high school yearbook advertisement. During a family trip in the 1990s, we were thrilled to find a Dog N Suds along I-65 south of Indianapolis somewhere. When we moved to Ohio in 2000, I found a listing in a nearby community---but it turned out to be a dog washing and grooming service...

They were drive-in restaurants, specializing in Coney Island hot dogs, their own brand of root beer served in frosted mugs, and also hamburgers. Like the much more common Sonics, you parked beneath a canopy and the waitress would bring out your meal on a tray. The logo was a happy dog who looked a little like Disney's Pluto, who held a tray of the delicious food.

I taught a class, "American Highways and American Wanderlust" at the University of Akron. I briefly mentioned several franchised restaurants that were founded in the 1950s or 1960s: McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger Chef (eventually merged with Hardee's), and others. Dog N Suds was another, founded in 1953, as detailed by the company website. As it says there, the restaurants were very popular, and new franchises opened around the country, but management decisions spelled their decline. According to the website, there are a little over a dozen left, around the Midwest.

The Roadside Architecture site provides photographs of several restaurants, many of which have converted to other businesses. The place that would have been closest to me, on Olive Blvd in St. Louis County, is now an Asian restaurant. But there is an operating Dog N Suds down in Fredericktown, Missouri, an hour and a half or so south of me. I see a "field trip" in my future.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Ellicott City Flooding

George Stewart's US 40 photo.
From https://blog.jimgrey.net/2009/04/27/ellicott-city/
This past Sunday was the Tenth Sunday after Trinity. When I wrote about it a couple years ago, St. Louis was dealing with the immediate aftermath of Michael Brown's death, and I also wrote about Bach's cantatas for that Sunday. The scriptures that Bach used had to do with the destruction of Jerusalem, and I wrote about the idea and reality of a city in crisis. Bach himself knew cities in crisis, and probably had in mind German towns that had been destroyed in the Thirty Years War.

This past week, I started hearing reports of the flooding in Ellicott City, MD. Six and a half inches of rain fell in the area this town, west of Baltimore, with flood waters destroying or damaging many buildings, and two people died. Sewage also spilled into the Patapsco River.

Ellicott City is a charming, hilly community that dates from 1772. It was an important place on the National Road, and the main drag through town, MD 144, was an earlier path of the nearby U.S. 40. (The town was featured in George Stewart's classic 1953 book about Highway 40). Here is the local website with information: http://www.ellicottcity.net/tourism/ I visited the town in the early 1980s. I remember strolling around the pleasant shops barefoot, having decided to kick off my heavy fisherman's sandals in the car, and I bought my dad an antique Brownie camera in an antique store, plus a biography of H. L. Mencken, who had spent some of his childhood in that town.

Crises do shake places that we love, both our home locations and places that shine in memory. Here is a link about the disaster and ways to contribute: http://preservationmaryland.org/help-ellicott-city-recover-descructive-flood/?gclid=CObQ6cWhrc4CFUUvgQod-IQO9g I made a donation.

Friday, August 5, 2016

For All the Saints: Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Matthias Grünewald

I thought that the saints honored on the Episcopal calendar sounded familiar, and yes, they are honored on April 6th on the Lutheran calendar, and I already found some information about them: http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2016/04/for-all-saints-durer-cranach-grunewald.html

Although he's not yet on any saint list, in this context I'd like to remember Dr. Roland Bainton, who used works of Dürer and others in his books. For many years, Beth and I have gotten out his collection of Luther's Christmas sermons, illustrated with Dürer engravings, during the holiday season. Bainton was a retired Yale Divinity School professor who enjoyed stopping by and visiting with students during the years I was there (1979-1982). Famously he wrote a multi-speed bicycle around hilly New Haven. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 89. (http://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/14/obituaries/dr-roland-h-bainton-dies-retired-yale-divinity-teacher.html).

He wrote wonderful books, of which his biography of Luther is best known (and still in print). He was also a fine preacher, and a significant witness for world peace. Although I didn't know him well I'm glad to have had the chance to meet and hear this devoted Christian teacher and scholar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Landscape: Jane Frank

Jane Frank, "Ledge of Light" (1974). From: http://www.wikiart.org/en/jane-frank/ledge-of-light-1974

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For All the Saints: George Freeman Bragg, W. E. B. Du Bois

On the Episcopal calendar, George Freeman Bragg and W. E. B. Du Bois are honored today. Bragg (1863-1940) was the twelfth African American ordained as a priest in that denomination. He worked as a journalist, was priest at a Baltimore congregation for nearly fifty years, worked to hire African American teachers in city schools, helped found a black orphanage, worked to encourage African American congregations, and wrote a number of books.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was an author, editor, civil rights activist, and was a cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. He wrote several books, worked to end lynching, Jim Crow laws and discrimination, and organized Pan-African congresses to support people of color around the world.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Japan

Having recently returned from a first-time visit to Japan, I was interested in reading about St. Nicholas (Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin), a Russian Orthodox missionary born on this day in 1836. Although his feast day is February 16 old style, the Orthodox Saints site lists him today on his birthday, and has this:

"Born in Russia in 1836, he became one of the great Orthodox missionaries of modern times. As a boy, he resolved to become a missionary in the far East. With the counsel and blessing of Bishop Innocent of Siberia and Alaska, he went to Japan in 1861 and joined a small Russian mission there. Though the mission's official purpose was to minister to the Russian consular community, the consul-general who invited Hieromonk Nikolai hoped to bring the light of the Orthodox Faith to the Japanese people as well.

"Realizing that he could only hope to convert the Japanese people if they understood one another well, Fr Nikolai immersed himself in the study of Japanese thought, culture and language. Over the course of his life he translated most of the Bible and most of the Orthodox services into Japanese, and became a fluent speaker of the language. He encountered much resistance: Preaching of Christian doctrine was officially banned in Japan, and a Samurai once approached him with the words "Foreigners must die!" It was this same Samurai who later became his first Japanese priest. In 1880 he was elevated to Bishop of Japan.

"During the Russo-Japanese war he remained in Japan and labored successfully to overcome nationalist strife that might have harmed or destroyed the Church in Japan. He encouraged all his Japanese faithful to pray for the Japanese armed forces, though he explained that as a Russian he could not do so, and excluded himself from all public services for the duration of the war. He sent Russian-speaking Japanese priests to the prison camps to minister to Russian prisoners of war.

"At the time of his repose in 1912, after forty-eight years in Japan, St Nikolai left a Cathedral, eight churches, more than 400 chapels and meeting houses, 34 priests, 8 deacons, 115 lay catechists, and 34,110 Orthodox faithful. The Church of Japan is now an autonomous Orthodox Church under the care of the Moscow Patriarchate."

This site also has an account of his life: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2016/02/16/100419-st-nicholas-equal-of-the-apostles-and-archbishop-of-japan