Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Beethoven's Immortal Beloved

Happy 210th anniversary to the Immortal Beloved letter! Such an interesting historical mystery. 

Beethoven died March 26, 1827. As his effects were sorted, a compartment of his desk fell open, revealing a 10-page love letter. Beethoven had poured out his heart with passionate love for an unnamed woman. Among his several loving names, he calls her his "Unsterbliche Geliebte" (Immortal Beloved). The letter is dated July 6-7.  Later analysis determined that the letter was written in 1812 at Teplitz (now Teplice). 

Did Beethoven ever send the letter? Apparently not. There was no envelope with the letter, which seemingly would've been the case if the woman had returned the letter. 

Who was she? Beethoven never married but had affections for several women. Among them, Antonie Brentano and Josephine Brunswick (pictured) are strong contenders, based on similarities of wording with known love letters. Josephine's sister Therese is another. Beethoven dedicated the Moonlight Sonata to Julie Guicciardi, who is another possibility. I have a book that builds the case for Dorothea von Ertmann, a talented pianist who performed Beethoven's works. 

The letter is one of the most famous aspects of the composer's life. A 1994 movie about the letter starred Gary Oldman. The woman is also featured in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's rock opera "Beethoven's Last Night." 

Photos from Wikipedia 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Pequot Massacre, 385 Years Ago

Terrible history, but it's what we need to learn and remember and teach. I've been researching this topic because some of my white relatives participated in other 1600s New England conflicts against the Native tribes, if not this one.

The Pequot War was a conflict in 1636-1637 between English settlers and their allies--including the Narragansett and Mohegan on one aside, and the Pequot tribe and their allies on the other. The Pequot had opposed English settlement in southern Connecticut. Remember that permanent English colonization had begun just 16 years before with the Mayflower..

385 years ago tonight, in the early morning of May 26, 1637, the English and their Native allies attacked the Pequot fort at Mystic. Perhaps 400 Pequot men, women, children, and elderly were shot or burned alive in about an hour. Survivors were sent into slavery in different parts of New England. ... Reflecting the Puritan belief in divine providence, English commander John Mason wrote, “Thus, the Lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts and to give us their Land for an Inheritance." has this: "In the end, the Pequot War forever changed the political and social landscape of southern New England, and it influenced colonial and U.S. policies toward Native Americans for centuries... the English ability and will to wage total war against their Indian enemies." You can certainly draw a historical line between the Mystic massacre and Wounded Knee, over 250 years later.

Here are two other pieces:

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Story of Tabitha

A devotion written for our church, to complement the Sunday message. 

The Story of Tabitha

Acts 9:36-43

Paul Stroble

Leslie told me that her Sunday sermon is on John 13: 1-15 (Jesus’s washing the disciples' feet), if I wanted to pick a complementary scripture. I decided to look at the story of Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43), a person noted for her humble service to others.

Contrary to some ugly stereotypes about Judaism, Jews are known for their generous charitable giving. The religious concepts of chesed (mercy, kindness), tzedek (justice), and tzedakah (charitable giving) are important aspects of the Jewish tradition.

We see these aspects of faith in Acts. Luke has already shown that the disciples practiced distribution of their goods so that no one will be in need. (Sorry if you think this is socialist!) In chapter 6, we read that the church is growing, but the provision of the basic needs of economically vulnerable members is neglected. Everything stops until this problem is addressed. The disciples prayerfully set up an infrastructure, so to speak, so that the needy can be cared for (Acts 6:1-6).

This finally brings me to Tabitha, also named Dorcus. I always liked this story. Her name obviously calls to mind that old show “Bewitched,” a family favorite. I also have a 19th-century cousin named Tabitha buried in our family cemetery. The biblical Tabitha was a woman of Joppa. She was known for her “good works and acts of charity” (vs. 36). Making clothes was a big aspect of her tzedakah. When Peter came, widows of her community showed him “tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them” (vs. 39).

Something really strikes me about the story of Tabitha. She does not have a “speaking role” in her own story. Instead, her good works and charitable giving speak for her. It’s human nature to want to tell others about your good deeds. But as Judaism teaches, the works of the greatest righteousness are those done the most quietly.

The story of Tabitha is also one of a miracle: Christ’s resurrection power that restored Tabitha to life. One of my Bible commentaries points out what we could call a quiet miracle: the gathering of a small community that grew from her sickness and death. Peter, too, became part of this community of persons—not the “big” people of Joppa, but those in need. One time I heard a question, which haunted me, “How many people among your friends are poor people?” Then, as now, I can’t think of any. I can think of plenty of people who are “poor in Spirit,” as Jesus puts it. We can think of small “communities” to which we belong as a consequence of supporting one another in times of sickness and distress.

We’ve all known people who felt sad that they didn’t get healing miracles. The New Testament depicts even resurrection miracles like Tabitha’s to be so “easy.” Healing miracles do still happen. But now that Jesus has risen from the dead, we have all kinds of wonderful miracles daily and forever. These miracles are always available. Jesus has given us life with God forever. He gives us access to God in prayer. He gives us fellowship. He gives us his Holy Spirit. He gives us power and grace through the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. He has given us the assurance of God’s love. He has given us power and guidance for daily living. He has given us the guarantee of Heaven and takes us there when we die. He draws us together in communities of service and mutual support.

We may tend to forget these less "showy" miracles, but actually, they’re the most important of all.

Prayer: Dear Lord, From Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, to the quiet acts of service done by Tabitha, keep showing us ways to humbly serve one another, in His name. Amen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

All Are Welcome, All Are Blessed

My wife Beth's devotion for our church for this past Sunday. 

All are welcome. All are blessed.

By Beth Stroble

Did you realize that the description of Jesus’ feeding of the Five Thousand is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospels? The elements of the story are generally well-known, although the context for the story likely less so. Memory brings to mind an image of Jesus and his disciples taking time to refresh and regroup in a relatively remote location. Masses of people found them, and as Jesus took time then to teach them, all grew hungry. When the disciples suggested sending the crowd away to get food, Jesus instead instructs the disciples to gather what is available. They produced a meager assortment of five loaves and two fish, Jesus blesses the food, all are fed abundantly, and twelve baskets of leftovers remain. A miracle.

The miracle is at least two-fold as we recall Jesus’ words to the devil after being tempted for forty days. Luke tells us that Jesus had eaten nothing in those forty days and was starving. The devil tempted him to use his power to command a stone to become a loaf of bread. “Jesus replied, ‘It’s written, People won’t live only by bread’” (Luke 4:4). He refuses the dare, but we do not doubt his power to do such a thing. From Jesus’ words and actions, we begin to understand that the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is about more than a transformation of a few items of food to the bounty capable of feeding so many.

With Rev. Lemoine’s sermon, we begin a series of sermons that will take us on the journey of Jesus and the disciples as told by Luke. In this journey, we learn more about the lessons Jesus gave the Twelve and gives us for our own discipleship journeys.

One of these is startling to someone who, admittedly, struggles with packing for a trip. Because of wanting to make sure I have items for any eventuality, I over-pack. Jesus’ advice to the disciples as he charged them to go out in a ministry of teaching and healing was to take nothing and instead to rely upon the hospitality of strangers. This is hard advice to hear and to act on, even though my experiences of arriving in China and Uzbekistan without luggage, and the helpfulness I encountered from my hosts should give me more faith in others and the wisdom of traveling light. Instead, I cram more into a carry-on. How hard to let go of even the least productive habits!

I think of the five thousand. They came with very little yet left with abundance—food for the spirit and food for the body. All were fed. Generosity prevailed. All were welcome. All were blessed, and all received the gift of grace.

I think of the Twelve. After a long journey that created the need for a time of rest and retreat, their expectations to get what they needed instead turned to a time to give to others’ needs.

As they saw themselves lacking the resources to meet the crowd’s and their own needs, faith made a miracle, to use Rev. Lemoine’s words. Jesus blessed the food, and they had plenty.

I think of ourselves and the times we gather in worship to refresh our spirits, to gain the strength we need for the coming week. I think of our coming together at the Lord’s Table, participating in the same communal meal foreshadowed by the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Last Supper. All are welcome. All are blessed. We live by more than bread. We come with nothing and leave with everything, through the redeeming grace and power of our risen Lord. And we are all charged to go forward, serving others with all that we have and are.

Dear God, we praise you for the blessings you shower upon us. We thank you for providing abundantly for our need, not because of our worth, but because of your love for us. Help us have faith in your miraculous generosity and your power to equip us for your service. Fuel our love of you and our fellow travelers on this earthly journey. Bless us to live with a spirit of abundance and generosity. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Happy 200th, U.S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant was born on this day (as Hiram Ulysses Grant) in Ohio 200 years ago today. According to the National Park Service website where I got this picture, he graduated from West Point in 1843 and was ordered to join the 4th U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. While there, he met Julia Dent, the sister of Grant's West Point roommate's younger sister, Julia Dent. Julia lived nearby on the White Haven estate. She and Ulysses were married in 1848. This picture is from the mid 1840s.

Yom Hashoah

Yom Hashoah begins this evening and continues till tomorrow evening. As this says: "The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“– literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.” It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan — a week after the seventh day of Passover, and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers)." 27 Nisan, which is a lunar date, falls on April 27-28 this year. As I understand it, the Israeli government first established the day to coincide with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in the spring of 1943, when 35,000 Jews staged a resistance against the Nazis that lasted nearly a month.

Jack Klugman

A wonderful actor! Jack Klugman was born 100 years ago today. (He died in 2012.)