Tuesday, December 24, 2019

"Noisy Night, Holy Night"

This evening, my family and I are all participating in our church's Christmas Eve service. I anticipate that we'll sing "Silent Night."

Last year, when we attended the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert, which ended with a brief sing-along. We sang the verse, "the world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing," and shortly, we also sang "Silent Night" and its line, "all is calm, all is bright." That set me thinking. The image of a calm, reverent world surrounding Jesus' birth is appealing, but what if the city was busy and noisy as Jesus was born? Bethlehem had no guest rooms available, for instance. What if Mary gave birth amid noises of the street beyond the stable area, and no one noticed (except the angel-guided shepherds) because too much was going on in town? What if Christ's birth was a "noisy night, holy night"?

I could make a point that a noisy, crowded Bethlehem would be in keeping with our busy, cluttered lives each December. But then I think: even the shepherds were busy! From what I've read, shepherds had many responsibilities with their flocks, including continual surveillance. The great gift was that God interrupted the shepherds' lives and helped them see and understand. We may seek to prepare ourselves spiritually during Advent, but God's initiative is still everything.

Thus, the images of "silent night" and "solemn stillness" are apt poetically: when God does something, we have to pause and catch up in amazement and relief.

[A post from 2010]

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Plymouth Anniversary

The Pilgrims of the Mayflower first dropped anchor in November 1620, and after some efforts to find a place to settle, landed in Plymouth Bay on December 21 and established their settlement there. One of my ancestors was part of that group, and another English ancestor settled in Plymouth about ten years later. https://paulstroble.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/my-family-the-washburns-back-to-the-pilgrims/

Worldwide there are about 35 million descendants of the Mayflower group.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Hope for a Miracle

Photo from: https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/
Hope for a Miracle
Habakkuk 1:1-7, 2:1-4, 3:3b-6, 3:17-19

A devotion that I wrote for our church, for the first Sunday of Advent

I love the Old Testament prophets, but they can be tough reading. Any of the prophetic books demand a good commentary or study book to help you know what's going on.

Habakkuk is one of the “twelve minor prophets,” “minor” in the sense that they are short. In Jewish Bibles, they form one book, about the length of Isaiah, and thus form an overall prophetic witness to God’s work in the lives of his people. Like Nahum (right before it in the Bible), Habakkuk affirms the Lord’s control of world events, and the Lord’s use of the nations in the divine purposes; then the next book, Zephaniah, calls upon the people to follow God more closely. If you decide to sometime study “the Twelve,” you can learn how the books fit together.

Writing in the 6th century BC, Habakkuk speaks to the crisis of Judah and Jerusalem as they are about to be conquered by the Babylonians (also called the Chaldeans). Our lesson consists of these four short sections.

In the selection of verses from chapter 1, Habakkuk cries to God about the social situation of Judah: violence and destruction rule, justice doesn’t prevail, and the rule of law is impotent. The poor and needy are not provided for. This is a common theme among the Old Testament prophets. In the next verses (1:5-7), God responds with an announcement of judgment upon the people; God will be using the fierce Chaldeans as the divine instrument to punish the people for their injustice and corruption.

Verses 2:2-4 follows another complaint of Habakkuk to God. Aren’t the Chaldeans themselves more evil and corrupt than God’s people in Judah? God responds with the famous words, “The righteous live by their faith.” My commentaries note that the word “faith” has the meaning of trust and fidelity. Although the situation looks horrible to Habakkuk, God is still in control, and the righteous will trust in God for the long haul, through dark and interminable circumstances.

Verses 3:3b-6 sounds like some of the psalms (for instance, 104) that affirm God’s providence in the natural world, which in turn becomes a source of comfort to persons struggling through human difficulties. In fact, in the last selection (verses 3:17-19), the prophet takes a stand to trust in God when there is not even food to be had. Just as a deer is surefooted in rugged mountain terrain, the prophet is strong because of God (vs. 19).

Habakkuk has been a good text for persons suffering under violent regimes and unjust circumstances. We know from history that such violence and injustice may go on for many years. It is natural for persons of faith to cry out, “how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” (Hab. 1:2). Difficult as it is to trust God for the long haul, Habakkuk gives us confidence that God’s justice will prevail in time.

As a scripture to begin our Advent season, Habakkuk also helps us look to God’s victory in Jesus. True, we still have to pray for and work for justice in an unjust world. True, we feel frustrated when we see justice delayed or denied. Yet there is a deliverance in Christ that has happened, centuries after this prophet. The Apostle Paul, in fact, uses that verse “the righteous shall live by faith” to affirm the new power of God that has been made known in Jesus (Romans 1:17).

"Why the Christian Right Worships Trump"

Interesting piece that clarifies sources of the president's popularity among the Christian right, in spite of his habitual lies and a host of other condemnable qualities. A key sentence: "By creating a narrative of an evil 'deep state' and casting himself — a powerful white man of immense generational wealth — as a victim in his own right, Trump not only tapped into the religious right’s familiar feeling of persecution, but he also cast himself as its savior, a man of flesh who would fight the holy war on its behalf." https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/christian-right-worships-donald-trump-915381/?fbclid=IwAR2tujfBq4g2Fo2znjg_55cuV1g2DztXNHg0Kf0PWwSt9NBD_eMpxqndij8

This piece delves into related topics of race and ethnicity:  https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/white-evangelicals-love-trump-aren-t-confused-about-why-no-ncna1046826?fbclid=IwAR1D-_-P64Mi5Fbxa1tOUd2pfAJ7rUkRmMin6aEyhyezHcIaHzZ5RZZjHv4

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Barth's Dogmatics, §6, The Knowability of the Word of God

In this ongoing project, I am taking brief notes on Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. My folks purchased the whole English-language set for me forty years ago, and subsequently I wrote my doctoral dissertation on a portion of Vol. III, part 2. See my December 2, 2018 post for Barth's overall plan for his series.

Paragraph 6 of the Dogmatics (pp. 187-247) is “The Knowability of the Word of God.” Barth’s summary is: "The reality of Word of God in all its three forms is grounded only in itself. So, too, the knowledge of it by [human beings] can consist only in its acknowledgment, and this acknowledgment can become real only through itself and can become intelligible only in terms of itself" (187).

In his book An Introduction to Barth’s Dogmatics for Preachers (Westminster Press, 1963), Arnold B. Come writes of this and the previous paragraph: "It is, of course, [human beings] who hear and know God. But the capacity is not to have or to hold God's Word but to acknowledge him. And this capacity is given [us] in the event. God's acknowledgment of [us] empowers [us] to acknowledge him..." (90).

Acknowledgment entails knowledge, and thus knowledge entails a relation of human beings to God and God's Word, and that Word comes to us according to God's free decision. On our part, we yield to God's authority and direction, in a genuine experience of God's Word as God makes Godself known (I:1, 205ff). In this section "The Word of God and Experience" and the previous section, Barth provides fascinating discussions with Thomism, Cartesian philosophy, as well as Schleiermacher.

Barth continues this paragraph:

"If we have understood that the knowability of God's Word is really an inalienable affirmation of faith, but that precisely as such it denotes the miracle of faith, the miracle that we can only recollect and hope for, then as a final necessity we must also understand that [we] must be set side and God Himself presented as the original subject, as the primary power, as the creator of the possibility of knowledge of God's Word. Christ does not remain outside. And it is true enough that [we] must open the door (Rev: 3:20). But the fact that this takes place is quoad actum and quoad potentiam the work of the Christ who stands outside. Hence it is also unconditionally true that the risen Christ passes through closed doors (John 20:19f)" (247).

Where Your Treasure Is

Where Your Treasure Is, There Your Heart Will Be
Matthew 6: 19-24

A devotion written for our church's recent stewardship emphasis.

In our scripture from Matthew, Jesus famously teaches that our treasure should be in heaven. Earthly wealth “rusts” (the Greek word has the sense of “eaten away”), but heavenly wealth—our relationship with God, who cares for us and guides us and matures us—is not perishable. Jesus goes on to say that wealth can be an object of false worship, in the sense that we put it before God and pay it more homage than God. But if our hearts are invested in our true treasure, consequently our souls are full of light that in turn shines outward.

Of course, we need money and savings. I’ve been in the position of not having enough money, and it’s a terrible, worrying circumstance! But there is a fine balance between the normal concern about money and finding the meaning of our lives in money. We’ve all known stingy people, who won’t tip well in restaurants, who express haughty attitudes about people based on their income. They (and sometimes we) thereby miss the chance to witness to God’s own generosity.

The story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) is not our scripture this week. But I thought about it in the context of treasures and the heart.

You could imagine the story of the rich young ruler going another way. Jesus would tell the man the same thing: “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). But instead of sadness, the man would have a “eureka moment” about helping those in need. Perhaps he would ask Jesus’ advice about who was most in need, and Jesus would direct him to some persons. And the rich young man would be remembered in the hearts of those whom he helped; as with George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, the world would’ve been a better place with him in it.

But conforming our attitudes around Jesus’ teachings is a growth in grace. We begin to find joy in possibilities of giving away some of our money. We begin to feel deeper compassion toward persons in need. It’s okay to feel uncertain with Jesus’ teachings but to want to grow. I can imagine the rich young ruler saying to Jesus, “I’m just too uncomfortable with giving away my wealth, as you say I should, but I do want to learn more from you and to draw closer to God. I want to show myself as a Jesus-follower in making other people’s lives better.”

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Landscape: Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), "Line of Trees in Marshy Landscape", 1906. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"The Electoral College's Racist Origins"

Critics of the Electoral College are right to denounce it for handing victory to the loser of the popular vote twice in the past two decades. They are also correct to point out that it distorts our politics, including by encouraging presidential campaigns to concentrate their efforts in a few states that are not representative of the country at large. But the disempowerment of black voters needs to be added to that list of concerns, because it is core to what the Electoral College is and what it always has been.


Monday, November 11, 2019

WP Essay: Dems and Trump Voters

Interesting article!  "Why democrats can't win the respect of Trump voters." "The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity...In the world Republicans have constructed, a Democrat who wants to give you health care and a higher wage is disrespectful, while a Republican who opposes those things but engages in a vigorous round of campaign race-baiting is respectful. The person who’s holding you back isn’t the politician who just voted to give a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthy and corporations, it’s an East Coast college professor who said something condescending on Twitter."


Monday, November 4, 2019

Iran Hostage Crisis and the "Reagan Myth"

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the start of the Iran Hostage Crisis. Here's a good summary of the events:


That was my first semester at divinity school. The situation made me quite afraid, and I dreaded hearing the morning news to learn what might have happened overnight. The events also inspired campus discussions about the religious social justice issues that should be raised in times of difficult foreign policy.

I found another article yesterday, "The Republican Myth of Ronald Reagan and the Iran Hostages, Debunked." The piece raises interesting issues about some of the contemporary comparisons of Obama and Trump, and why Trump's style is popular among some people. https://www.vox.com/2016/1/25/10826056/reagan-iran-hostage-negotiation

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Barth's Dogmatics, §5, The Nature of the Word of God

It’s been a habit of mine for the past several years, to begin a project for this blog that is a year-long
spiritual discipline. I usually begin on Allhallowtide (which was this past week), or the First Sunday of Advent.

Earlier this year I began a project to take notes on Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. My folks purchased whole English-language set for me forty years ago, and subsequently I wrote my doctoral dissertation on a portion of Vol. III, part 2. See my December 2, 2018 post for Barth's overall plan for his series.

I didn’t get very far with the project because of some other writing. (I visited the Galapagos Islands in March 2019 and was inspired to research and write a long poem about the experience.) But now I want to resume this Barth project and, Lord willing, continue it as this upcoming year’s spiritual discipline.

Paragraph 5 of the Dogmatics (pp. 125-186) is “The Nature of the Word of God.” Barth’s summary is: "The Word of God in all its three forms is God’s speech to [us]. For this reason it occurs, applies and works in God’s act on [us]. But as such it occurs in God’s way which differs from all other occurrence, i.e., in the mystery of God” (125).

In his book An Introduction to Barth’s Dogmatics for Preachers (Westminster Press, 1963), Arnold B. Come writes of this and the previous paragraph: "The event of God's free self-revelation by his sovereign address to men is his Word. The Word of God never occurs in sheer immediacy. It was objectively and concretely present in Jesus Christ. Proclamation is a recollection of Jesus Christ. Scripture is the precipitate of the earliest proclamation. Both the Written Word, and the Proclaimed Word based upon it, become the Revealed Word when God freely chooses to be immediately present to men through them. So God's speech is his presence in his whole Trinitarian Person. He speaks with the rational power of truth, directed purposively to [humans] in their need of renewal and fulfillment. His speech is concrete contemporary act, with the power to demand an act of decision from [humans] in response to God’s decision about them. We know it is God’s speech because of its mystery: worldly, human thoughts and words both hiding and manifesting God’s free Word. The listening of the ear verges imperceptibly into the hearing of faith, without any explanatory capacity on [our] part. So we must speak of the miracle of the Holy Spirit (¶4, 5)” (Barth's Dogmatics for Preachers, 89-90).

A few quotations that I found interesting:

“[t]o understand God from man is either an impossibility or something one can do only in the form of Christology and not of anthropology (not even a Christology translated into anthropology). There is a way from Christology to anthropology, but there is no way from anthropology to Christology. On the basis of these considerations I must not only decline Gogarten’s invitation to improve my dogmatics by introducing a true anthropology. I must also eliminate all that might seem to be a concession in that direction in my draft of five years ago [his book Die christliche Dogmatik of 1927]” (131). Barth goes on to discuss his wrong direction into existential thought.

“God’s Word means that God speaks…. God’s Word is not a thing to be described nor a term to be defined… It is the truth as it is God’s speaking person, Dei loquentis persona. it is not an objective reality. it is the objective reality, in that it is also subjective, the subjective that is God” (136). He goes on to discuss God’s authority to rule and to call for a decision, never conditioned by human behavior and other variables. But the decision is not “my own particular resolve and choice” but “of being judged and accepted,” of understanding that “I exist in correspondence to God’s Word”—which is good news (161)!

“The Lord of speech is also the Lord of our hearing. The Lord who gives the Word is also the Lord who gives faith. The Lord …. by whose act the openness and readiness of [humans] for the Word are true and actual, not another God but the one God in this way, is the Holy Spirit” (182).

Friday, November 1, 2019

"Calling the Saints to Mind"

A Catholic perspective on the saints, from a sermon by Saint Bernard.

"Let us make haste to our brethren who are awaiting us. 

"Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.

"Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

"Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

"When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.

"Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints. Thus, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession."

From The Liturgy of the Hours, IV, Ordinary Time, Weeks 18-34 (Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1975), 1526-1527; http://www.ibreviary.org/en/tools/ibreviary-web.html, accessed Nov. 1, 2019.

A Holiness Day

In many Christian denominations, today is All Saints' Day, although in Eastern Christianity, the
festival is the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is the middle day of Hallowmas, the three-day festival commemorating those saints, known and unknown, who have died (in Catholic theology: those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven). Many churches have a recitation of the names of members of that congregation who have died during the previous year. The feast was mentioned in a sermon as early as 373 AD, and the date of November 1 was instituted by the 8th century Pope Gregory III, while the 9th century Pope Gregory IV made it a feast of the entire church.

In The United Methodist Church, All Saint’s Day focuses upon “the church universal,” all Christians called to holiness, and also those members of local congregations who have recently died. My family and I are looking forward to singing "For All the Saints" (with its Vaughan Williams tune "Sine Nomine") this coming Sunday.

The Greek word hagioi, meaning “saints” or “holy ones”, is used in the New Testament many times to refer to followers of God. In some though not all early Greek manuscripts, it is the very last word in the Bible (Rev. 22:21). In that spirit, you could call this day "All Believers' Day," but if you’re like me, you hesitate very strongly being considered as “holy.” Nevertheless, the sanctity of God’s followers is a major biblical theme.

In the New Testament, the work of Christ includes sanctification of believers. As one writer puts it, “[t]hey [the believer/saints] are to be separated unto God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) evidencing purity (1 Cor. 6:9-20; 2 Cor. 7:1), righteousness (Eph. 4:24, and love (1 Thess. 4:7; 1 John 2:5-6, 20; 4:13-21). What was foretold and experienced by only a few in the Old Testament [i.e., the power of the Holy Spirit] becomes the very nature of what it means to be a Christian through the plan of the Father, the work of Christ, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.”[1] The purity and justice to which Christians are called are Spirit-given gifts and, as such, are God’s own holiness born within us which empower our witness to others (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21, 2 Pet. 1.4). The same author notes, “[God’s] character unalterably demands a likeness in those who bear his Name. He consistently requires and supplies the means by which to produce a holy people (1 Peter 1:15-16).”[2]

These ideas are linked to Old Testament ideas as well. As that author also notes, the word “holy” and its variants appear over 800 times in the OT, referring to God or the holiness of his people. The holiness of God is reflected in Israel’s life in the distinctions between unclean and clean, holy and common, and sacred and profane. We may be tempted to disregard Old Testament ideas of cleanness and uncleanness because of texts like Acts 10:9-16, but in Israel, these were God-given parameters for how to live and how to relate properly to God, not only according to God’s expressed will but according to God’s revealed nature, the Holy God who dwells in Israel. (cf. Zech. 2:13-8:23; 14:20-21).

The holiness to which Israel is called has the component of justice—which, again, reflects the nature of God who is holy, just and righteous. Holiness is never understood (properly at least) as only a concern for right ritual, cleanness, and restoration from uncleanness. Israel also witnesses to God through acts of justice, provision, and care for the needy (Lev. 19; Ps. 68:5).

In an important way, God’s call of holiness links the beginning of the Bible with the end, because the book of Revelation uses the Torah language of cleanness, separation, and holiness to show who, at the end of time, will share eternal life with Christ (Rev. 22:11-15).

But the Spirit also connects us even earlier in the Bible to the narratives of creation, for the church—which is born in and matured by the Spirit who was present at creation—-is a “new creation” in the world (2 Cor. 5:17).[3] We could say that, as God dwelled among his people through the tabernacle, he dwells among us through the Spirit. But as in the ancient times, God calls us to reflect his nature and witness to his holiness. In fact, we prove the very reality of God in so far as we love God and one another in the spirit of holiness.

These might be good ideas and scriptures for us to read and consider on All Saints Day as we remember those who have witnessed to God in the past. What are some ways we reflect God's holy nature in the ways we serve God and one another, particularly in our current time of growing economic need? What kind of witness would we like to be remembered for, when some future minister reads our names aloud on November 1st? I ask myself that a lot.


1. Much of these thoughts and references derive from the article “Holy, Holiness,” in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 340-344.

2. “Holy, Holiness,” 343.

3. Nils Alstrup Dahl, Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1976), the essay “Christ, Creation, and the Church.”

(From 2013 and 2015 posts.)

Monday, October 28, 2019

National Geographic's Visionaries

Here's Gilbert H. Grosvenor and his wife Elsie May, who was the daughter of Alexander Graham Bell. Gilbert, born on this day in 1875, is considered the father of photojournalism in his role as the first full-time editor (1899-1954) of National Geographic. (The society and magazine had been founded in 1888.) As I'm reading about them this morning: Bell was associated with the National Geographic Society in the early days and for a while paid his son-in-law with his own money, and Grosvenor grew the society and the magazine, introducing the innovation of color photography in depicting worldwide people and locations.

Photo from: https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/01/18/elsie-may-bell-grosvenor-first-lady-of-the-national-geographic-society/

Happy memories for me, because I liked to collect National Geographic magazines as a young person. I first learned of the work of ecologist Anne LaBastille, about whom I've written elsewhere on this blog, through one of her NG articles.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Stupid Dreams!

I'm really blue for a stupid reason: just before waking up, I dreamed that I was in the middle of a heist gone wrong (Steve Buscemi was a character in the dream, LOL), kind of a combination of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Fargo," with someone falling into a fountain like the end of "Scarface"---only, several people got into the fountain, too, and were shooting at each other.

Somewhere in the story, my mother was displeased about something, which happened a lot in real life, but her displeasure was unrelated to the heist.

No more snacks before bedtime!  :-)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Harold Bloom

While my wife Beth and I were doing volunteer work at our church's Pumpkin Patch---the yearly
sales of thousands of shipped-in pumpkins, the profits for which go to ministries--I noticed this interesting obituary of the renowned Harold Bloom.

It made me nostalgic for Yale, where I did my masters degree at the divinity school, and for a humanities/hermeneutics teaching career that I had on another timeline, LOL. (But I love the timeline that I'm on, no regrets!)


Monday, October 14, 2019

Landscape: Toshi Yoshida

Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995), "Autumn in Hakone," 1954.  From Facebook: Svitlana Skorokhod‎, Modern Art 20th Century, October 8, 2019.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Butterfly Effect

Black swallowtail on the Webster U campus
The Butterfly Effect
Romans 12:4-6a

The expression “butterfly effect” refers to the idea that small events can have large effects elsewhere. Whether or not a butterfly’s flapping wings in Chicago create a storm in Asia, the idea is profound that everything is interrelated. For instance, for many years ecological science has been concerned with the interdependence of all life on earth.

Church congregations are also a place of interdependence and mutuality. A childhood Sunday school teacher can plant seeds of faith that affect you all your life—and affect other people who are touched by your faith. A minister who shows you concerns and care—or another lay person—can provide profound healing. But a harsh word, a habit of gossip, “triangulating” behavior, and other negative experiences can be hurtful to a person’s faith—and may even be fatal to a person’s faith!

Influence and interrelationships can’t be measured in numbers and reports. My childhood Sunday school and VBS teachers inspired my faith, and years later I wrote Sunday school curriculum—but that crucial influence was years before.

I’ve gotten my feelings hurt in different churches over the years. I’m emotionally sensitive, but I’ve known “tougher” people who have felt the same way. Churches are places where we may feel vulnerable, wanting to feel close to God and looking for training for and assurance in faith. If someone says a harsh word to you, or is very critical of something you did, or makes you feel discourage: these experiences may feel particularly difficult at church. Also, feeling ignored or slighted in church—feeling like your gifts or your input are not valued—is painful. (I am speaking very generally, not about any particular congregation.)

Famously, in Romans 12:4-6a, Paul describes the church as a body, in which all members belong to one another (not “members” of an organization, but members analogous to parts of the physical body). He also uses this image in greater detail in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

If you have time, you might also read Ephesians 4:12-16, a good scripture that talks about the way we support and “equip” one another as members. Galatians 3:28, about the oneness of people in Christ, is surely one of my favorite Bible verses. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. In one of my seminary classes a few years ago, we kept spontaneously coming back to this verse as a theme and agreed that, today, "gay and straight, white and black, young and old," would be part of the inclusive vision.

Another favorite scripture is Hebrews 13:1-3, where the struggles of other people become, in a way, your own.

During this sermon series, think about ways that you’ve been influenced by church folks—both good and not-so-good—and think about ways that you, in turn, can provide positive influence for others. Think about ways that a whole church could be “hurting” because one portion is in pain or turmoil. It’s wonderful to think how we can affect one another for Christ when we have a deep sense of Christ’s presence day by day.

(A devotion written for our church's newsletter)

Happy birthday, Ralph Vaughan Williams!

For many years, I’ve loved the music of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). He was born 147 years ago today, and died fifty-one years ago this past summer. As editor of the 1906 English Hymnal, Vaughan Williams (RVW) adapted folk tunes or wrote his own music for hymns like “For All the Saints,” “I Sing the Almighty Power of God,” “At the Name of Jesus,” “Hail Thee, Festival Day,” “Come Down, O Love Divine,” and others that are found in many hymnals today, so I first heard his music at my childhood church. Later, when I was a master’s degree student, I attended a choral recital with my musician friend Jim Hicks. One of the pieces was RVW’s setting of Burns’ poem “Ca the Yowes.” The song was one of those hair-standing-on-the-neck moments best experienced from a live performance, although a recent CD version (Over Hill, Over Dale on the Hyperion label) comes close.

Over the next several years I collected LPs of RVW’s music. At first misinterpreting his double last name, I looked in vain under “Williams” at the mall record shop, but then I found (and played till it crackled) The Pastoral Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, a champion of his music. Another time, I spotted RVW’s opera Sir John in Love at an out of town record store. My wife worried about the cost, so to please her, I didn’t buy the set, and then I kicked myself all the way home. A few months later, though, we returned to that particular mall, two hours away, and the set was still for sale! “Buy it, for heaven’s sake,” my wife said. I also shopped used record stores. During the early 1980s I purchased an old LP, an RVW “nativity play” called The First Nowell (1958). The LP was a classical music club recording, out of print, and no other recording existed, so I took gentle care of the record for over twenty years until, finally, a new recording on CD appeared a year ago on the Chandos label.

Today I play my old LPs less and less, but RVW’s music still fills my CD and Download collections, along with other favorite composers. If pressed, I’d had to say my favorite musical pieces of all, by anyone, are his third (Pastoral) and fifth symphonies.

Sometimes it’s hard to say why certain music “speaks” to you very deeply. If I’m feeling verklempt and need a good cry, all I have to do is put on the Tallis Fantasia, the Dives and Lazarus variants, the Norfolk Rhapsody, the last movement of the Sea Symphony, beginning at the section “Bathe me, O God, in thee,” or, as I say, the third and fifth symphonies. Such gorgeous music! Musicologists refer to RVW’s use of modal harmonies and the pentatonic scale. I’m untrained in musicology, so if we were listening to CDs together, I’d point out favorite themes and harmonies in his music—a “Vaughan Williamsy” sound, as one author puts it—like a tritonic chord that I hear in the first movement of the fifth, the last movement of the Pastoral, and also in Sancta Civitas, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and others.

Music provides all kinds of private associations which are not at all important “in the big scheme” but are deeply important and personal to the listener. Think of music that instantly takes you back to a certain time or place. I purchased several Mendelssohn LPs in Maryland, very early in my marriage, and now Mendelssohn’s music tends to transport me to that area and that time; the Scottish Symphony might as well be the Interstate 70 through the Hills West of Baltimore Symphony. Mozart, which I also play almost daily, reminds me of several locations. Vaughan Williams might be amused to know that his music connects me to my roots in Southern Illinois—and that it inspires me when I’m writing religious curriculum. As I wrote earlier, I first heard his music as hymn tunes in my local church. Eventually I embarked on a religious career, and church music naturally continued to be nourishing. Because the English folk tradition not only influenced his hymnal but also his lifelong work, it’s easy for me to feel happy and uplifted by nearly all his music, religious or not

Vaughan Williams was an atheist in his youth and a “cheerful agnostic” in his adulthood. He seemed to have liked the idea of being a “Christian agnostic.” In the recent film O Thou Transcendent, Tony Palmer tries to balance the familiar image of RVW—a folksy, avuncular papa bear—with the image of a suffering man whose doubts about life’s meaning are reflected in pieces like the fourth symphony (a consistently angry piece), the sixth symphony (a haunting work consisting of three movements full of conflict and a final, eerie, pianissimo movement that people have associated with postwar desolation), as well as the ambivalent mood of his ninth symphony, completed not long before his death. One of Palmer’s interviewees says that the conclusion of the sixth—with a major chord and a minor chord moving back and forth until the symphony ends with E minor—sounds like an “amen” that never resolves into affirmation. RVW had two notable sources of suffering in his life, his experiences in World War I, and the fact that his wife Adeline was a longtime invalid. Perhaps he also suffered from being fatherless at an early age and also from having no children. We shouldn’t assume an equation between an artist’s work and autobiography (and the film sometimes comes too close to that kind of equation), but pieces like these symphonies (and the Pastoral Symphony, which is actually inspired by the Western Front rather than English countryside) surely have roots in the composer’s experiences. And yet, so do his many “happier” pieces. His very last piece, after all, was The First Nowell, the lovely Christmas piece that I’ve cherished for twenty-five years.

In the June 2006 issue of Journal of the RVW Society, Eric Seddon argues, “Just as it does no good to quibble about whether Vaughan Williams was really a secret Christian in disguise, so it is useless to claim that his works are not profoundly Christian; that is, that they are derived from a Christian world-view, informed by Christian theology, and resonant with the Christian message.. What other composer of his day produced such monumental meditations on the nativity, the apocalypse, the relationship of the soul to God, and the Eucharist?” (p. 23). Maybe it would be more accurate to say that Vaughan Williams’ works were profoundly influenced by England, but “Englishness” includes deeply Christian traditions. RVW’s agnosticism didn’t preclude an appreciation for the mysteries beyond human existence, and in his words, he wanted in his music “to stretch out to the ultimate realities through the medium of beauty” (Journal of the RVW Society, 10/06, p. 16). He didn’t profess to know what those ultimate realities are, and he seemed prepared to accept that there are none.

And yet his “stretching”—and his willingness to be of service to people whose beliefs he couldn’t embrace—makes his works wonderful listening for a Christian like me. He worked his whole life on music associated with Bunyan’s story The Pilgrim’s Progress. At the conclusion of the opera, at the point where the character Pilgrim (“Christian” in the novel) succumbs, the trumpets and songs of Heaven appear within the silence of death, envelopes the listener in glory, and disappear again. We find a similar effect in a more disturbing piece, Sancta Civitas, based on apocalyptic texts: when the vision of divinity appears, it is a mysterium tremendum. These are just two pieces; as Seddon writes, RVW composed so much beautiful church music. The CD Shepherd of the Delectable Mountains (Hyperion, 1993), containing A Song of Thanksgiving and The 100th Psalm, is another personal favorite.

John Francis writes (Journal of the RVW Society, 6/07), “If anyone loved his neighbor, throughout his life, I think it was Vaughan Williams.” In that article, Francis quotes a Musical Times writer, “[RVW] was instantly ready to support from his own purse the many appeals…that came to him. Indeed it was sometimes difficult to persuade him that some causes were more deserving than others. His instinct was to help first and judge later, a trait of character occasionally too optimistic, but always endearing.” Francis notes that Vaughan Williams “embodied ‘Christian’ (actually humanitarian) values to such an extent that Christians are perhaps just disappointed that he was not a paid up member” (p. 19). Lincoln seems a similar case: a deeply spiritual not-quite-believer whose human sympathies and integrity capture the imagination.

Over the years I’ve been very inspired by RVW’s eagerness to encourage people and to serve. He enlisted in World War I and served near the front, when he might have used his age (42) and class to avoid the war, in which he lost close friends like the composer George Butterworth. During World War II he helped with refugee efforts and other kinds of assistance, like scrap collection and even, according to Palmer’s documentary, cleaning public lavatories. We’ve all known people in our various professions who should’ve taken the time to be encouraging, but who did not. It’s a very human tendency to disdain interests and pathways that aren’t yours, or to be snobbish toward others who don’t meet your standards. RVW supported the work of other composers, like Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett, whose styles were different from his own. Commenting on his generous attitude toward his students, RVW said he’d rather encourage a fool than discourage a genius. Not to say that my students are fools—quite the contrary—but I agree with RVW’s philosophy and live by those words in my teaching.

Simon Heffer writes that “the sheer quality and genius of his work is denied only curmudgeons, and is in huge demand by radio audiences, concert halls and the CD-buying publish … what Vaughan Williams had to say is timeless in its appeal. It is …an appeal which, even though designed by an Englishman for the English, has now safely and popularly travelled around the world” (Journal of the RVW Society, 2/08, p. 14). This little essay is my thank you to RVW, and also my own contribution in keeping that music traveling.

(An updated post from 2009)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Monday, October 7, 2019

"In the Land of Self-Defeat"

This was quite a sobering article in this weekend's New York Times, "In the Land of Self-Defeat." "The library fight was, itself, a fight over the future of rural America, what it meant to choose to live in a county like mine, what my neighbors were willing to do for one another, what they were willing to sacrifice to foster a sense of community here. The answer was, for the most part, not very much....As long as Democrats make promises to make their lives better with free college and Medicare for all sound like they include government spending, these voters will turn to Trump again — and it won’t matter how many scandals he’s been tarnished by."


Sunday, October 6, 2019

World Communion Sunday/Matthew Shepard

From: http://www.springbranchpres.org/
In many Christian denominations, this is World Communion Sunday. Happening on the first Sunday of  each October, the day originated in the Presbyterian denomination in the 1930s and was endorsed and promoted by the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches) in 1940. The day promotes ecumenical cooperation and Christian unity.

It's also the day in 1998 when Matthew Shepard was attacked and left to die. As the author of this article (below) states, "His legacy lives on in thousands of people like you who actively try to eradicate the hatred from those who preach against us and fight to replace it with understanding, compassion and acceptance." Holy Communion, and the fight against hate, fit well together. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Botanist Thomas Nuttall

Today was finally a cool day, after several days in the 90s, so I went over to the Missouri Botanical Garden to see their Humboldt display, honoring the naturalist's 250th birthday (which I noted in earlier posts).

One of the garden's old buildings features busts of Linnaeus and botanists Asa Gray and Thomas
Nuttall. I didn't know much about Nuttall and found an interesting biography of the pioneering botanist, ornithologist, and explorer. https://harvardmagazine.com/2015/05/thomas-nuttall

Cafe Les Deux Magots

When Beth and I visited Paris in June, we went out to look for supper, and Beth noticed the Cafe Les Deux Magot. I was unfamiliar with it, but she (with her masters degree in English) said that it was a popular place for writers like Hemingway, James Baldwin, and others, as well as artists. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Deux_Magots) I should've gotten the crab cakes, like Beth, but what a treat to visit such an historic and literary place! It reminded me of times when I was in school, reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast in a dreamy sort of way while eating breakfast.

Charlie Chan

Nowadays, white actors playing Asian characters elicits controversy. When I was a kid, one of the St. Louis TV stations weekly showed old Charlie Chan movies, starring the Swedish actor Warner Oland (who was born on this day in 1879!) and then the Euro-American actor Sidney Toler. This is an interesting interview concerning the stereotypes and originality of the Charlie Chan character.


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Guidance of the Spirit

Acts 21:9-28, 31

As this passage begins, Paul is returning to Jerusalem for Pentecost (the Jewish festival also known as Shavuot). In the first part of chapter 21, he spent time with friends along the route from Miletus in western Asia Minor. In hindsight, it is the conclusion of what scholars of Acts have called his third missionary journey.

On the way, a prophet named Agabus (who had appeared in Acts before) borrowed Paul’s belt and tied his own feet and hands with it. Like Old Testament prophets, Agabus uses a strange action to illustrate a prophecy that he conveys verbally: Jews in Jerusalem will turn over Paul to the Romans to be arrested and imprisoned. Paul’s friends interpret the sign as a warning for Paul not to go on. If you read through Acts, you’ll see situations where the Spirit instructed Paul and his friends to change their travel places and visit other places instead. Paul, however, knew that the Spirit wanted him to continue, even at the risk of Paul’s death. Paul was very willing to face both arrest and death for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, he wanted his friends to stop being so emotional about an eventuality that he was willing to face!

It is wonderful to me how Paul is so certain about the Spirit’s guidance, even when his friends were advising him otherwise. When I was young, I wasn’t always so confident what God’s will might be. Even getting advice could be distracting rather than clarifying. But that’s the thing—I was young. Paul, however, not only matured as a person but matured in his relationship to God’s Spirit. He had prayed, studied, and acted long enough to understand how the Spirit guided him. Importantly, he was able to discern the Spirit’s guidance amid competing advice!

In the next section, vss. 17-26, Paul and James met. James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and he expressed his concerns that rumors had been spreading about Paul: that Paul taught Gentiles to forsake Moses and to ignore Jewish customs. Paul had done no such thing, and Paul accepted James’ idea to share in Jewish rites of purification. That way, other Jewish worshipers would see Paul’s sincerity.

Nevertheless, the rumor spread that Paul taught against Judaism and even disrespected the Temple. A crowd ganged up on Paul, and he was taken into custody by the Roman tribune in order to calm the crowd. I think of that saying, “No good deed goes unpublished.” In this case, James had tried to anticipate and address a crisis—but the crisis came anyway! Perhaps Paul knew in his heart that James’ advice might not have the desired outcome.

I, too, like to stay in (at least a little bit of) control of situations. On the other hand, the Spirit may be working within our activities in order to bring about something surprising later on---something outside of our control. Ideally, we shouldn’t fear losing control, because the Spirit does not abandon us.

These events, for instance, are the beginning of the bigger story of Paul’s eventual journey to Rome. True, his new adventures would be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, the Spirit was giving Paul the opportunity for Paul’s long-time dream: to preach in Rome!

God’s Spirit guides us in surprising ways. How wonderful when we know that it is, indeed, the Spirit’s voice, rather than our own or other’s!  

(A devotion written for our church.)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Greta Thunberg

Good piece about Greta Thunberg, who has really caught the moment concerning climate change.


John Coltrane's 93rd

Jazz great John Coltrane was born on this day (September 23) in 1926. A friend shared with me this  interesting article about his musical roots in African American religious culture.


(Photo from this article: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/blog/on-the-50th-anniversary-of-his-death-12-fascinating-facts-about-john-coltrane-1.4209266 )

Shawshank Redemption

"The Shawshank Redemption" was released in U.S. theaters 25 years ago today. As folks know, it didn't do well at the box office but did better with VHS rentals and took off in popularity and esteem via the TNT network.

The big hole in the story (no pun intended) is how Andy would have time to get into town, visit so many Portland banks, buy a car, and go way out in the country to leave money and a letter for Red, and then leave Maine for Ft. Hancock, TX--all while undetected. But the story has such a message of hope, that I don't care about that difficulty.

(Photos copied under fair use principles.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wonderful Way to Say It

(Copied from Facebook's "Life's Simple Truths" page)

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Grateful Divvie

Forty years ago this month, I began my MDiv program at Yale Divinity School. Here is the text of my September 2, 2009 post, when I reflected on the 30th anniversary:  

August turned to September, and a thought popped into my head today: my arrival at Yale Divinity School for my masters degree was thirty years ago, sometime about now but I don‘t recall the exact date. I was a student at YDS in 1979-1982.

I knew I was in trouble the minute I drove up the narrow driveway off Prospect Street and stepped into the brick complex (designed on the order of the University of Virginia). I felt a rush of happiness that felt exactly like falling in love with someone. I knew I was in trouble, because I felt I belonged here but I couldn’t stay forever. This was, after all, only a three year program.

I won’t write here about the friends and acquaintances of the time, although that part of YDS was as important to me as the academic program, a little more so. I’m the kind of person who feels that, however successful a situation might have been by some standards, it was unsuccessful if I didn’t come away from it with positive relationships. YDS was a place of great friendships which have endured over all these years. Now we’re all in our fifties and have been through all kinds of life experiences. Ironically, I arrived at YDS more painfully shy than I felt when starting college, for my college had been a lonely experience.

Not all my YDS courses were worthwhile. An otherwise interesting social ethics class was cut short by the professor’s travels in search of a new job, since he’d not gotten tenure there. Seminars related to parish ministry would’ve been more useful if I’d had more experience; without that, I missed a lot of what I should’ve been learning about the subtleties of church leadership. Plus, those classes tended to be dominated by folk who loved to hear themselves talk. A professor who swore like a sailor taught a preaching course. I remember very little about the class but that.

I loved my classes on the Bible, though, taught by Brevard S. Childs, R. Lansing Hicks, and Luke T. Johnson. I still have several course texts and still build upon the things I learned in those four semesters. I also loved the theological courses taught by former dean Robert Clyde Johnson. He read his lectures, old school, but as we students frantically tried to take notes we felt grateful to be in the presence of such a passionate, probing mind. (Johnson had suffered a very major heart attack in the late 1970s and I was advised to take a class with him as soon as possible. He lived until 2002.)

Two other wonderful professors were Hans Frei and Colin W. Williams. Frei taught in the Religious Studies dept. down the street, but I took his seminar in Schleiermacher and chatted with him about doctoral work. He wrote a kind and supportive letter of recommendation for me later. Williams taught a course in Methodist theology and history. I admit I would’ve rather taken another Barth seminar at that late point in my degree, but Williams’ course was very lively and enjoyable. He, too, wrote me a wonderful letter for my grad school applications. Taoists are correct: life is best approached as a flow. Ten years later I was unexpectedly hired in Kentucky to teach a series of courses in Methodist studies, and that seminary class prepared me well.

For some reason I never thanked Dr. Johnson in later years but I did send appreciative notes to these other profs. Dr. Hicks stopped reading his e-mail as he grew very ill, but his son-in-law found my note--expressing how much his Old Testament class had inspired and taught me over the years--and read it to him just days before he died. Sometimes you’re so glad you took the time to express gratitude to someone.

Unfortunately I never thanked the late B. Davie Napier for his course in the prophets. This was a bad omission on my part, because the course--not really an academically rigorous course but one in which we sat around chatting a lot--was once of the most influential of all. I may have taken it because I needed a few more Bible credits for ordination. The recent death of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement (I’d never heard of her or it) made me think deeply about social justice issues, and Napier’s course intensified my interest. The course also influenced my teaching style, in the way I try to create a comfortable, positive classroom atmosphere in my classes.

I must add my good fortune of rooming next to a Yale School of Music student, who became a great friend and opened to me a nascent love of music.

In parish ministry, I sometimes found that, whenever I told a colleague that I’d gone to Yale Divinity school, I‘d get a weird reaction, implying, Oh, I must not be a people-person if I went to such an academic place. Supposedly-ivory-tower professors have not been put-off by my clergy credentials the way a few fellow pastors have wrinkled noses about my academic degree. Actually, at YDS, I became truly passionate to help people. It drew me out of my shy shell and gave me three years of honest, caring conversations with people who were posed at the same life-moment: between being called and plunging into some kind of service.

Here is a photo of the campus, which I borrowed from the school's website. Over the years, I never felt a compulsion to revisit YDS. My new wife and I stopped by the campus during our New England vacation in 1985, after classes were out, but that is all. I’ve never returned for a reunion, and during a 2006 New England vacation we had time to swing by New Haven, but I felt no need. The importance of YDS to me is not simply the campus, after all, but the friends, acquaintances, professors and experiences. I’ve served as a class fund-raising agent, however, and now I’ve taken on a new gig as class secretary, so I’ve tried to give back to the school in addition to yearly contributions. I’ve also prayed for students over the years that they might find a special place--if not YDS then a similar place, but hopefully YDS--which will nourish their lives with friendship, important courses, and cherished memories.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Birmingham Church Bombing Anniversary

The Birmingham church bombing, which killed four young girls and injured many, happened on this day in 1963.


RIP Ric Ocasek

So sorry to learn of the death of musician Ric Ocasek. The Cars were all over the radio when I started seminary in 1979, and they were so important for that Eighties sound and fashion. #seminarymemories


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Happy Birthday, Michael Haydn!

A few years ago I discovered the symphonies of Michael Haydn (1737-1806), Joseph's brother and purchased them on two CD box sets. Also, one of my Pandora channels is Michael Haydn, which provides a great selection of classical-era music by him and numerous others. Although it seems unlikely that Michael will become as well known as his brother, he wrote over forty symphonies, numerous other instrumental works, as well as religious works that his brother preferred to his own. Like Joseph, he began in music as a chorister at Vienna's St. Stephen's--one of my favorite places in the world--and had a long career as Kapellmeister at Grosswardein and Salzburg.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Happy 250th Birthday, Humboldt!

Today (Sept. 14th) is the 250th anniversary of the birth of naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. It's been fun to become aware of Humboldt during his anniversary times (he died 160 years ago last May). As this article indicates, he was the first to develop an understanding of ecosystems, wrote (in the 1830s) about the dangers of deforestation and human-caused climate change, and brought the ancient Greek word "cosmos" into modern usage to describe interrelations on earth and in space, and between physical reality and human art and feeling. He influenced a wide range of people like Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Thoreau, artist Frederic Edwin Church, Walt Whitman, and many others. Thoreau figured out how to write "Walden" after he read Humboldt. Beth and I enjoyed visiting Humboldt University in Berlin this past June.


See my earlier posts about Humboldt: http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/search/label/Humboldt%20%28Alexander%20von%29

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Waiting on the Lord

"Waiting for God” was a British sitcom (1990-1994) about a two rebellious residents of a retirement home. It has been shown on American PBS stations over the years. The title is a comically bleak reference to death, all the residents have to look forward to, so the two of them (Tom, whose dementia seems partly feigned, and the gruff Diana) decide to raise some hell.

I love the biblical expression “waiting for (or on) the Lord.” There are numerous Bible passages that concern this subject: Psalm 27:14, 39:7, 52:8-9, 62:1-12, Lamentations 3:25, Isaiah 40:29-31 (that one is quite well known and affirming), Isaiah 51:1, Galatians 6:9, and numerous others. In the New Testament, the theme of waiting connects not only to God’s providential care for our lives but also the Christ’s second coming.

I don’t wait well. Being stuck in traffic or a slow line, etc., make me anxious, although I think I’m more patient today than I used to be, thanks to self-calming strategies that are helpful. My family might dispute that, LOL, but I see my own slow progress. Nevertheless, impatience is a common trait, and a sermon I preached on this subject years ago became a real connection among several of us who fail to have inner peace while waiting.

Waiting on the Lord is difficult because we don’t know God’s timing or all God’s purposes. Just because we’ve “claimed a promise” about God’s provision, doesn’t mean that God is obligated to act in that way, or according to our timing. In my experience, I’ve felt both very let down by God and thankful for God’s care, within a “big picture” context of God’s ongoing and faithful provision for me and my family.

It’s a tricky balance to live one’s life conscious of the importance of waiting for God. On one hand, God wants us to “be still” and trust in God (Ps. 46:10), and not always take matters in our own hands. For instance, some of us try to browbeat others to believe or behave like we do. But we need to trust the Lord to work in those persons’ lives, according to the Spirit’s timing, not ours---and, after all, maybe the Spirit wants us to see things in ourselves to change.  

On the other hand, Gal. 6:9 and other verses indicate that we’re going to be active in our faith, and we might grow weary and discouraged in our efforts to serve the Lord. If I’m waiting on the Lord to the extent that I’m doing nothing, that’s the wrong approach, too. (Remember that corny joke about the person who refused the help rescuers in a flood, because he was trusting the Lord's help. When he was killed in the flood and went to heaven, he protested that he’d prayed for God’s help, and St. Peter tells him, “We sent two boats and a helicopter!”)

Waiting on the Lord is a balance: neither absolute stillness and inactivity, nor frantic productivity that tacitly indicates we don’t really trust God to work unless we cover all the bases ourselves beforehand. My own struggle is definitely the latter.

Waiting on the Lord is also important to keep in mind when we face disappointments in life: people who got promoted instead of us, illness that struck, opportunities that never opened up, prayers that we can’t perceive were ever answered, people's coldness. We become insecure about many things. We can’t always turn off our painful feelings and the strategies we use to feel better and cover ourselves. But we can address those feelings and strategies by focusing upon the Lord, who does not disdain our human struggles.

“Waiting on the Lord” is a matter of dependency on God, and many of us don’t like to be dependent on anyone, including God. But that Isaiah 40:29-31 passage indicates that waiting is a source of great strength and renewal.

He gives power to the faint,
   and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
   and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint.

That’s a wonderful promise for those of us for whom waiting just upsets us and freaks us out.

(A post from 2013)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Beethoven's Ninth, Freude!

Sirius XM's "Symphony Hall" station had a top-75 countdown over the Labor Day weekend. Listeners had voted for their favorite pieces. I enjoyed listening to the station off and on over the weekend. #2 was Dvorak's New World Symphony. I figured #1 must be Beethoven's Ninth, or possibly Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending" which tops British polls of this kind. Sure enough, it was Beethoven's Ninth.

When I was little, I loved the Peanuts comics and enjoyed getting paperback collections of the strips. Nearly every December 16, the story concerned Beethoven’s birthday and Schroeder’s celebration of it. Of course, Schroeder also performed Beethoven sonatas and other works on his toy piano.

Thus inspired by a favorite comic strip, I liked certain Beethoven compositions when I was young. In those days, the Huntley-Brinkley evening news on NBC concluded with the scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth. I wrote NBC to find out the title and got a letter back!

Subsequently, I found a used LP of the symphony at our hometown library’s annual book sale. I Googled what I remembered of that old album and actually found a copy at this site:
https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Symphony-No-Minor-Choral/dp/B008CL8B64  I "borrowed" the photographs of the album from there. Here is some information about the recording itself, which is from 1956: https://www.pristineclassical.com/products/pasc293 What fun to relive a childhood memory of such a beloved symphony.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Prophetic Witness Prudence Crandall

On the Episcopal calendar, Prudence Crandall (1803-1890) is honored today, the anniversary of her birth, as a prophetic witness. She was a Quaker school teacher who admitted an African American student into her private school in Canterbury, Ct, the first integrated classroom in the U.S. The student was named Sarah Harris, who wanted to teach other free blacks. Crandall refused to expel Harris when townspeople objected. Crandall shortly opened a school for African American girls, and effort supported by William Lloyd Garrison. Crandall suffered legal repercussions, including a night in jail, and a new Connecticut law (on the books for five years) that preheated schools for black students from outside the state, without local permission. Violence by townspeople forced Crandall finally to close the school. She was finally vindicated by the town and state and was recognized for her courageous work.

Here are sites about her:

Harris (1812-1878) went on to be an abolitionist and activist and has a dormitory named for her at the University of Rhode Island: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Harris_Fayerweather

(A post from 2016) 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Mueller Hearings

To me, even if a person politically favors the president, Russian intervention and enhanced election security--and security issues in our post-9/11 world---are serious issues that need to be addressed. But as this writer comments toward the end, addressing those issues seems unlikely.



The Louvre

Our visit to the Louvre, June 2019 

People-watching pigeon.