Today I thought I’d share a video from The National Gallery, London. We see so many images in books and on screens–and in galleries. It’s good to be reminded that some paintings have been made for particular spaces and particular points of view.
Caravaggio’s paintings have captured my imagination since my days as a student. He was a complicated person and some of his work is unsettling, but it rewards attention. I hope you enjoy this brief tour of the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.
Promotional postcard of The Rev. W.A. “Billy” Sunday, Mailed from Kewannee, Illinois, November, 1906
“A very good picture” is the only message on this card mailed from Kewanee, IL to Galesburg, IL from someone who must have attended evangelist Billy Sunday’s revival at the newly-constructed Kewanee National Guard Armory. Sunday’s campaign lasted five weeks, from October 27 to December 3, with one meeting each weekday evening except Monday, and four meetings on the weekend. According to Larry Lock (writing for The Kewanee Historical Society), the weekday meetings drew 2,000 to 3,000 each evening, the weekend meetings at least 3,000 and each Sunday evening the evangelist preached to a packed house of 4,000. By the end of the crusade, the estimated attendance was 200,000 people. The local newspaper, The Star Courier, printed the names of all 3,018 persons baptized in the Dec. 4 issue.
If you’re not familiar with The Rev. Billy Sunday, he was a most colorful character even among the colorful ranks of traveling American evangelists.
A professional baseball player, Sunday became a Christian after hearing a gospel preaching team from the Pacific Garden Mission. He began attending a Presbyterian church and there met his future wife and manager, Helen Amelia “Nell” Thompson. In 1891, Billy Sunday quit baseball to do mission work for the YMCA. Two years later he became assistant to J Wilbur Chapman, a famous evangelist of the day, and three years after that, Billy Sunday set out on his own.
Billy Sunday, Center Field., Chicago White Stockings, c. 1887 Goodwin & Co. tobacco baseball card Image: Wikimedia Commons
Eventually the Billy Sunday team would include Homer Rodeheaver and Virginia Asher, whose musical duets helped popularize “The Old Rugged Cross” and “In the Garden.” (You can hear a recording Rodeheaver and Asher singing “The Old Rugged Cross” thanks to the Winona History Center at Grace College.)
Billy Sunday was a fiery preacher, and a terrific showman. He would run across the stage and gesture wildly while exhorting and admonishing the crowds. He was not a theologian, and his language was often crude–some considered him indecent–but the people loved him. The reporter for the Kewanee Star Courier wrote that the first of the meetings attracted 3,500 people to hear a “coatless, collarless, cuffless, and breathless” Rev. Sunday expend “enough energy to operate a street car line.”
By the 1910’s Billy Sunday’s growing fame enabled him to preach in big cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. During the first World War he contributed significantly to the war effort, raising a great deal of money, and encouraging people to observe “meatless and wheatless days” and buy war bonds. Unfortunately, Sunday equated Christianity with patriotism, and his sermons were at times cruelly anti-German. Praying before the House of Representatives in 1918 he called the Germans “a great pack of wolfish Huns whose fangs drip with blood and gore.” It was a time of terrible anti-German sentiment in America, and I wonder if Sunday feared his connection to German immigrant grandparents (named Sonntag) would damage his reputation. Regardless, the evangelist certainly knew what went over with the audience as he inflamed their racial hatred and stirred up their patriotic fervor.
Billy Sunday also promoted Prohibition, preaching a famous “Booze Sermon” in Boston. Though typically a political conservative and sometimes accused of being a tool for big business, he sided with Progressives against child labor and in favor of urban reform and woman’s suffrage. After World War I the size of his audiences and his staff began to decline, but Sunday continued preaching until a week before his death.
People today have mixed feelings about Billy Sunday’s legacy. Some hail him as an amazing evangelist and patriot. Others are appalled by his lack of theological education and crude, sensational rhetoric. From my limited perspective, he appears to have been all those things. He was certainly great at getting people to sign a pledge, which doubtless helped his effectiveness with the war effort and Prohibition. And it’s noteworthy that his career was untouched by scandal. Unlike many, he lived the life he preached.
Believe it or not, there’s a video of the Rev. William Ashley Sunday preaching in Boston in 1929, six years before his death. I can still see the baseball player in his delivery, and I can only imagine what his younger self must have been like during those five weeks in Kewanee, when this postcard was mailed.
In God’s Trombones, James Weldon Johnson names the trombone as “the instrument possessing above all others the power to express the wide and varied range of emotions encompassed by the human voice — and with greater amplitude.”
Today I found a trombone quintet reading through “Jesu, meine Freude” (Jesus, Priceless Treasure), a hymn tune composed by Johann Crüger in 1653 and harmonized by J.S. Bach in 1723. Though this is an instrumental version, I’ll include the words that are most familiar to me. Catherine Winkworth’s translation of the original German has often been tweaked and modernized, so that now you can find quite a few variations. I’ve always liked the reference to Psalm 42 in this one, the idea of “fell conflict” and the phrase “Lord of gladness.”
Jesus, priceless treasure,
Source of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me;
Long my heart hath panted,
Till it well-nigh fainted,
Thirsting after Thee.
Thine I am, O spotless Lamb,
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Ask for naught beside Thee.
In Thine arms I rest me;
Foes who would oppress me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus dispels our fear;
Sin and hell in conflict fell
With their heaviest storms assail us:
Jesus will not fail us.
Hence, all thoughts of sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in:
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within;
Yea, whate’er we here must bear,
Still in Thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and every-
where to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of
heaven and earth.
Book of Common Prayer – The Great Thanksgiving, Rite II.
If your Lenten discipline involves adding something to your routine instead of giving something up, you might consider this Ohio congregation and their response to the “heart, soul, mind, and strength” commandment. I don’t suppose they began meeting at the Y to “get fit with God,” but their experience reminds me that God is already everywhere. Our challenge is to meet him in all our circumstances, so that every part our lives may be transformed.
From United Methodist TV:
The Rev. Leroy Chambliss lost too many relatives in their 50s. At age 64, Chambliss says he has found the appointment of a lifetime in running a church in a YMCA. The congregation of Stillwater United Methodist Church at the YMCA near Dayton, Ohio combines Sunday morning worship with workouts. Entire families exercise together. Church member Nathan Jones and his family are regulars at the Y church. “Having the mental, physical, and spiritual part of it just kind of ties everything together,” says Jones.
And now for something a little different as we move through Advent…
This is a classic YouTube video. A guy sits on his bed, says a few introductory words, and plays a song on his guitar. You can find a lot of these, and a lot of them are pretty interesting, but this one I wanted to share. I like the way Johnnybluelabel noted in the caption that he was playing a 1996 Lowden O10 guitar. (I always look at the headstock to see what kind of guitar people play.) And his voice and the arrangement of this hymn remind me of Bruce Cockburn–whose album “Christmas” I have enjoyed for many years. But most of all I think I like this video because it is unpolished. Just something to help the bass player get ready for Sunday. Maybe it will help us get ready, too.
The Taizé Community in France is an ecumenical monastic order of Protestants and Catholics–a “parable of community” that seeks to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples. Taizé songs are intended to support personal prayer, and reveal to us a glimpse of heaven’s joy through the beauty of human voices.
The community is made up of about one hundred brothers. After a time of preparation, a new brother in the Taizé community will make his lifelong commitment. Here are a few of the words used to express this commitment:
…The Lord Christ, in his compassion and his love for you, has chosen you to be in the Church a sign of brotherly love. He calls you to live out, with your brothers, the parable of community.
So, renouncing from now on all thought of looking back, and joyful with boundless gratitude, never fear to run ahead of the dawn, to praise, and bless, and sing Christ your Lord.
Receive me, Lord Christ, and I shall live; may my hope be a source of joy.
Today is Election Day in the U.S., and rather than talk about Church and State or rendering unto Caesar, I will do what all good websites must at some point do–post a cat video. Probably time for all of us to share a laugh anyway.
This one is brought to you by J.C. Elliot and Kevin from the Exodus Baptist Sr. High Ministry.