Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A New Idea for Daily Devotions

Let’s pretend, with author Donald K. McKim, that we are about to have Coffee with Calvin, Daily Devotions, published by WestminsterJohnKnox and available at McKim has “long wanted to write a Calvin devotional book,” and now he has. Of course, we will also have to pretend Calvin can speak English with us. His first language was French, as he was born and brought up in France (1509–1564) and received much of his education there. He  knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but we will converse with him and McKim in English, just for now.

Calvin attended the University of Paris and he probably joined with activities of some of the Reformers there in about 1533 or 34. He was a shy person, definitely an introvert, though he was very involved in sharing his ideas, both theological and cultural, and he found many ways to express them with pen and ink. In 1534, there were some difficulties between evangelicals and Catholics, and the evangelicals demonstrated their protests with placards. This upset King Francis I and an investigation began, which forced Calvin to leave Paris. Shortly after that, his rooms were searched and his papers were taken, with the result that we do not have much reliable information about Calvin’s life up to then. He has been described as “elusive,” because he did not share much about his personal life at any time.

But McKim tell us that Calvin “was an eminently practical theologian who believed theology should be not just a matter of the head, but of the heart and the hands as well. McKim provides 84 one-page devotional guides. Each one begins with a short paragraph from Calvin’s famous two-volume work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. McKim has used the Latin, 1559 version, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, published by Westminster John Knox Press in 1960.

To give you an example: Prayer. Calvin says “The goal of prayer....namely, that hearts may be aroused and borne to God, whether to praise him or to beseech his help—from this we may understand that the essentials of prayer are set in the mind and heart, or rather that prayer itself is properly an emotion of the heart within, which is poured out and laid open before God, the searcher of hearts.” [cf. Rom. 8:27]. (Institutes 3.20.29) And McKim responds: “For all Calvin’s heavy theological discussions, the longest chapter in his Institutes is the one on prayer. Calvin sees prayer as absolutely essential for the Christian.”

Another of Calvin’s devotions is called: Doing Good Works, and Calvin says: “For we dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them....Faith and good works must cleave together.” (Institutes 3.16.1) And McKim reminds us: “Both Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized that we are justified by faith alone and not by good works. This was a basic Protestant understanding during the sixteenth-century Reformation.” And he fills the page with other reminders, including this: “But while these Reformers stressed that salvation is by faith alone, they also recognized that justification is not by a faith that is alone. That is, those who are justified by faith will seek to do good works. This includes following God’s law and living by love.”

If you are looking for a new and interesting book of devotions, try Coffee with Calvin. It is filled with short paragraphs from John Calvin’s ideas and theology, as well as wisdom from Donald McKim who, in his comments and applications introduces readers to Calvin’s theological insights. McKim hopes that will help us discover that Calvin’s insights “strengthen, challenge, and nourish our Christian faith.” Highly recommended.

—Lois Sibley


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Joseph Haydn's Life and Work

Playing Before the Lord, The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn by Calvin R. Stapert and published by Eerdmans, is a treasure for both the professional musician and the ordinary person who knows a little about music from lessons learned earlier, and maybe from trying a bit of composing and writing poetry, but always eager to learn more. Stapert is professor emeritus of music at Calvin College in Michigan and he is more than qualified to teach and share his knowledge of music and Haydn.

Franz Joseph Haydn was baptized on April 1, 1732, perhaps born on March 31, 1732 (d.. 1809), in a village near the Austrian-Hungarian border. At age six, he was sent to live with the Franck family in a nearby town, where he would begin school. He was instructed in “reading, writing, catechism, singing, and almost all wind and string instruments, even in timpani.” Haydn said, “I shall owe it all to this man (Franck) even in my grave.” Haydn obviously had talent in music and soon (1740s) was sent to Vienna to be a choir boy.

Using dates and decades as subheads, Stapert follows Haydn from choir boy to freelance musician; music director in the 1750s; Vice-Kapellmeister and Kapellmeister at the Esterhazy Court in the town of Eisenstadt, Austria in 1761, where he describes himself as “composing, directs all music, helps rehearse everything, gives lessons, even tunes his own clavier.” Stapert analyzes how Haydn puts together the musical notes and phrases; how he plans for each instrument to join in at the appropriate moment, adding “solos integral to the whole.” He describes Haydn as a composer “with an unerring sense of musical form and an uncommon ability to recognize the developmental potential in simple musical materials.” And with diagrams and examples of notes on scales, Stapert shows the reader how Haydn did it.  

Stapert loves Haydn and his “huge and diverse output” of music, and Stapert’s book is biography, as well as a listener’s guide. At the end, there is an appendix outlining Haydn’s famous oratorio called The Creation; a glossary of technical terms; an impressive list of Haydn’s works, which include concertos, keyboard sonatas and trios, masses, operas, songs, string quartets, opus, symphonies, and more.

Haydn stayed with the Esterhazy Court for much of his adult life with trips back and forth to Paris, London, and Vienna, where he also composed, performed, and saw publishers and friends. He counted Mozart and Beethoven among his friends, lucky three! Haydn saw  his musical talent as a gift from God, and Stapert says that Haydn “often penned at the end of his scores: Laus Deo! – Praise to God!” Besides  The Creation, Haydn is famous for Stabat Mater, in honor of the Virgin Mary, still popular in music of the church year; and his symphonies called The Seasons, and Surprise. He is also known as composer of the tune for John Newton’s hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”(1779). Stapert would like to see Haydn’s work become popular again and it may happen. Stapert’s book is an excellent way to learn more about Haydn and his music. May it encourage musicians and other readers to “play it again.......”

—Lois Sibley