On Campus

It’s still the pandemic and I don’t get out much.  It seems prudent and only a little paranoid.  I had the opportunity to meet someone from Lehigh University recently.  The interesting thing is, I’ve become shy about going onto college campuses unless invited.  I can still usually pass for a professor (the beard and glasses help, along with a natural disheveledness) and I behave well in public.  Still, universities are all about belonging.  If you’re an alum you can come in.  You’ve paid a lot of money, and, the thinking goes, hopefully you’ll pay more.  Of course you’re welcome!  The last time I visited Boston University I remember thinking how small it was compared to my younger memories of wider corridors and more welcoming faculty.  Many ways exist for measuring how we grow.

When offered the chance for a quick stroll around Lehigh I had to say yes.  Like Syracuse University, it’s set on a hill.  From downtown south-side Bethlehem you need to walk up.  Even growing up in Pennsylvania I didn’t hear much about Lehigh.  The western part is dominated by the University of Pittsburgh and the eastern by Penn.  In the middle there’s Penn State.  There are actually many colleges in the commonwealth, about 140 if you separate out branch campuses.  Still, I was struck by the classic feel to Lehigh’s campus.  As you come down the hill it grows more modern, but I always like the older buildings.  Something about their solidity is comforting.  How’ve I been here nearly four years and not found it?

My host pointed out one of the libraries and suggested I stop in before leaving campus.  I had a mask and a minute so I did just that.  There’s a danger to stopping into libraries.  It’s too easy to fall in love in them.  I could see myself whiling away the hours there.  I spent plenty of hours in my own undergrad library, even though it wasn’t nearly so nice.  The only bad thing about visiting campuses is that I eventually have to face the exile from them I feel each and every day.  Many people can’t wait to graduate and get away.  Some of the rest of us never want to leave.  I suppose it’s an artificial environment, but if a small segment of the population can make it work, I wonder why we can’t get more of the world to emulate it.  I may not get out much, but I like to make those rare trips worth the effort.


Normal Paranormal

One of my favorite televisions shows of all time is The X-Files.  I didn’t watch it when it originally aired, but eventually got a hankering to see it on DVD.  There are many reasons to like it, including its originality and the dynamics between Mulder and Scully and the sense that governments really do hide things.  As I rewatch episodes I see how much religion plays into it as well.  This post is actually not about the X-Files proper, but about a place in Bethlehem I recently discovered.  I’m not a preachy vegan, but I do like to support the establishments who make such lifestyles as mine much easier.  It was thus that I discovered Paranormal Pizza in Bethlehem.  I wondered about the name, figuring that it was paranormal that you could have non-dairy, non-meat pizza at all.

To celebrate Earth Day we decided to check it out.  The menu has a set of fixed items, each named after an X-Files character.  I was glad to see that I’m not alone in my appreciation of the show.  The pizza’s very good, and I’m sure the college-age crowd that was there would agree with me.  I did wonder how many of them knew the X-Files.  Is it still a thing?  Maybe recent government disclosures have brought it back into the public eye.  Hey, I’m a Bible editor, about as far from the public eye as you can possibly get.  Vegan pizza on Earth Day, however, just felt right.

Foodiness seems to be trending.  A great many options are available in the land of plenty.  Still, I know that vegetarians and vegans in developing countries exist, and many of them for similar reasons to me.  They know animals think and feel.  We promote the myth that they don’t so that we don’t have to feel guilty about exploiting them.  It seems to me that many of our world-wide problems would start to vanish if we realized we can evolve out of being predators.  Cashews and almonds can become cheese.  Soy beans and wheat can become meat.  And peanuts are about the best food ever, in any form.  Then there’s the natural fruits and veg.  Industrial animal farming is perhaps the largest polluter of our planet.  Yesterday was Earth Day.  I was eating a pizza made from wheat, tomatoes, and cashews.  These ingredients might seem a bit unusual.  Paranormal, even.  But that’s precisely the point.  I won’t be waiting until the next Earth Day to go back for more.


Tax Season

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from the Internal Revenue Service that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Penn was governor of Pennsylvania.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Steve also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Northampton, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the county and district of Northampton:) To be taxed with Kay his beloved wife, being great with patience.  Well, not exactly biblical (with apologies to Luke), but this came to me upon having to go to Bethlehem to collect our tax documents from our accountant.  There’s something biblical about living in the Lehigh Valley.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

I don’t complain about having to pay taxes.  I only wish far less of the money went to pay congressional salaries.  And far less to the military.  Otherwise, I realize that in order for infrastructure to be up-kept, for the many services that make life possible for so many people, those of us who earn enough—even if not exactly flush—owe something to the system.  I’m saddened that the very wealthiest feel they’ve earned the privilege of not paying taxes. Modern-day Herods, I think, ready to kill babies in order to maintain personal power.  Still, those of us who pay participate in the most basic kind of charity.  So we make our annual trip to Bethlehem.

These days many people feel that if they don’t like other people they shouldn’t cooperate with them at all.  Even finding out that a certain Trump has been defrauding the very government which he purported to lead, and has been doing so for many years, doesn’t dissuade some of them.  I think our accountant, who looks gaunt and who doesn’t overcharge, could fairly claim a bit of back taxes that might be due.  Community is an endangered concept.  It’s a place where people support one another, and perhaps even care about others.  When I logon to Nextdoor.com I’m distressed to see the trolling and inappropriate emojis that show up.  The internet makes us all think we’re clever, ready with the snappy comeback.  Even to a recent story about a dead homeless man found in a park.  We need each other.  Society can’t move ahead if everyone keeps everything to themselves.  So it was we drove our rusty, four-cylinder donkey even unto Bethlehem.


Old and New

Annual holiday traditions show just how deeply ritual is established in our behavior.  As the holiday season rolls around we find our familiar customs to be fun and comforting.  I’m not much of a commercialist; for me the end-of-year celebrations are mostly about rest and peace, still a family tradition since settling in the Lehigh Valley is the Christkindlmarkt.  Bethlehem, founded on Christmas Eve by Moravians, has attempted to live up to its namesake and celebrate the season well.  It’s become an established family tradition to visit the Christkindlmarkt and we wander the tents with artisanal goods, some Christmas-themed, and others more just gift-ideas.  We seldom buy much.  It’s the spirit of the holidays that seems to come through and we need something to help us get through winter.

Each year things are a little different.  Many of the mainstays are similar, however, with the same vendors with the same merchandise.  What has changed in the past year is really us.  We’re not the only ones who make an annual tradition of this and we’re not the only ones who see the same scarves, sweaters, pillows, and pottery.  And ornaments—lots of ornaments.  We see new things because we’re different from our selves who’ve wandered through here before.  Hopefully we’re better selves.  Each time I do this I find myself growing more and more reflective.  A celebration of peace and love to all seems to hold, for the most part.  There are lots of people—too many for my comfort at this stage of the pandemic, but we’re wearing masks and hopefully most of these people are vaccinated—peace and love for all.

The end of the year has long been a season of festivities.  Even ancient peoples, especially in temperate regions, longed for the return of warmth and light.  In response to the long hours of darkness around the solstice they instituted holidays.  Times for us to get together and work a little less and relax a little more, recharging our spiritual batteries.  Yule with its Christmas trees and logs, served to bring the message of light into the darkness.  The twinkling of holiday lights is a festive sight, bringing back childhood memories of gifts, special foods, and time off from school.  I’m a different person than the one who’s written a blog post about Christkindlmarkt in the past.  If you’ve read such posts you’re a different person now too.  We all hope that the present person is a better one than the previous as we enter this season of joy and kindness.


Bethlehem’s Grinch

We’ve got a Grinch around Bethlehem, according to Nextdoor.com.  A guy driving around stealing boxes from porches, in broad daylight.  According to home security cams, he wears a mask (which is more than many Republicans do).  The understandable outrage in the comments is at least partially justified.  A Covid-ridden populace is reluctant to go into shops, and shipping is easy.  You pay for a gift for someone you love and a stranger steals it with impunity.  There is anger there.  It’s also troubling to me, however, how people react.

One commenter claimed this guy was stealing from working people instead of getting a job.  Anger often speaks rashly, I know, but I had to exegete this a bit.  Without knowing this masked man, how are we to judge his employment status?  I mean people like Donald Trump have made entire careers of cheating other people for their own personal gain.  Isn’t this the way of capitalism?  And perhaps this man has a job and thieving is simply moonlighting.  Or, more seriously, perhaps he had a job that was taken away when the Republican-controlled White House and Senate refused to do anything about the pandemic and can’t even agree on a deal to help working people out?  Who’s the real Grinch here?  Theft can take many forms, some of them perfectly legal.

This holiday news, of course, makes people paranoid.  With many vendors trying to compete with Amazon’s (generally) first-class delivery system, packages are left on porches past bedtime.  Even without a Grinch about, that makes me nervous.  Just last night an Amazon package listed as “delivered” didn’t show up.  I found myself on the customer service chat pouring out my soul to a stranger halfway across the world.  Knowing my carefully chosen gift might be stolen to be resold by a faceless thief made for an anxious evening.  Amazon assured me it would be replaced if it really wasn’t delivered after all.

So I’d be upset too, if my orders were actually stolen.  Some people have medications or other necessities shipped, regardless of holiday seasons.  Stealing boxes is wrong.  It may not be the only thing wrong, however.  Isn’t a system that forces people to desperation inherently wrong?  A system that makes getting ahead almost impossible for most people so that a very few can control nearly all the wealth is hardly one that doesn’t involve theft.  Those stolen from are rightfully upset.  But who is really doing the stealing in the first place?


Bethlehem

Now that the holiday season is upon us, I guess it’s okay to post about the upcoming.  It’s actually pretty hard to avoid, living so near Bethlehem.  While Easton claims the first Christmas tree in America, Bethlehem was settled on Christmas Eve and named accordingly by the Moravians.  It’s a tourist destination for Christmas aficionados everywhere, and, as my wife quotes about 2020, “we could use a little Christmas.”  So we headed to the Christkindlmarkt over the weekend.  Apart from an abundance of consonants, Christkindlmarkt is a chance for vendors to bring their wares to where tightly shut pandemic wallets are willing to open up a bit.  This year, however, the “markt” was completely outdoors rather than under the usual four large tents with heaters running.

It was an enjoyable morning out, with temperatures near sixty—certainly not something you can count on for late November.  There were fewer vendors here for a variety of reasons.  You get a boost, for example, by getting people gathered together.  Our herd instincts kick in.  Seeing others spending, we decide to take our chances.  Outside the great rusting behemoth of Bethlehem Steel’s famed stacks stands sentinel.  This year, however, socially distanced tents and booths meant having to walk and stay back while others browsed, all while wearing masks so that smiles could not be seen.  Gathering without gathering.  With no interest in leading a charge against the disease on a national level, we’re all left to muddle through.

Several of the vendors had novelties portraying the year 2020 as the disaster that it’s been.  Instead of ending it with wishes for national peace, the incumbent is trying useless lawsuits to prevent the voices of voters from being heard.  Stirring up his followers to protest against frauds that never happened, while having hundreds of lawsuits awaiting outside his own door as his actual deeds have been examined seriously for the first time.  Bethlehem reminds us that peace and hope ought to be in the air at this time of year.  Thinking of others rather than ourselves.  Do we see that being modeled by 45 and his ilk?  Instead I’m standing here outside where there used to be a warm gathering tent.  A place where we each donate our body heat to help keep everyone warm.  Giving, even as the Republican-controlled senate withholds any stimulus package they think is too generous.  Yes, we could use a little Christmas right about now.


All in This Together

The rain falling from the dark sky is barely liquid.  The thermometer reads 33 as we step out into the early evening—this is not the kind of night I’d want to be outside, but this is important.  When we arrive in Bethlehem there are already maybe a couple hundred people lining Rose Garden Park with signs.  We park and join them.   Many of the signs are clever and to the point: “I shouldn’t have to miss Nixon,” and “Vichy Republicans—shame on you!”  This winter of discontent, crumbling democracy, we are here as warm bodies on a cold night to protest what has gone on far too long.  The impeachment vote is scheduled for today and across the country people have come out—supper hastily eaten or yet to be started when they get home—to say enough is enough.

Now Pennsylvania isn’t the bluest of states.  I wasn’t sure of what our reception would be on the busy corner of 8th Avenue and Union.  I was amazed.  Large numbers of cars, and even some commercial trucks, honked their horns in support as they drove by.  Thumbs up out windows in the cold air.  Long blasts on horns.  For sure, many drivers remained silent, but only three that I counted bothered to roll down their windows and shout support for Trump.  They were treated respectfully and cordially by the protesters, many of whom were considerably older than my wife and me.  I listened to snatches of conversations as my fingers and toes grew numb.  Vietnam vets, and even one from the Second World War.  Retirees who should be spending December nights in their warm homes.  We all had something important to do.  We had to stand and be counted.

Because of a childhood incident, I suffered mild frostbite on my fingers and toes.  It is excessively painful for me to be out in the cold to this day.  We could only stay for about an hour and a half.  It was a work night after all.  There were many stalwarts still holding signs and chanting as we headed back to our car.  Around a sign for the park where other, more temporary signs stood, a protester said, “Someday maybe we won’t have to do this anymore.”  A younger man corrected him.  This happened because we failed to be vigilant.  Vichy Republicans are a real thing and although the elections are about eleven months away, we need to get ready.  We need to get everyone out to vote.  If the signs of support we saw last night reflect the feelings of Americans, it’s time for us to become a democracy again.


Steel and Snow

I sometimes feels I need to pause before launching back into my usual reflections.  Commercialism tells me the holiday season is here (I noticed while watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that the real highlight is Santa and the official start of Christmas).  Please don’t misunderstand—I love the holiday season and look forward to it every year.  It’s not that I want to get things or spend lots of money.  For me the holidays are about rest and respite from the constant stream of work that never really gets done.  I need to retreat once in a while.  Ensconce myself in a quiet room and not have to worry about the next crisis facing me as an editor or the publishing industry as a whole.  I do love the holidays, but I often wonder about how we’ve let their symbols become the main point.

Now that we live near “the Christmas City,” we attend the Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem while family is home.  One of the more stark symbols of this festival is the juxtaposition of a Christmas tree against the now silent and rusting steel stacks of what used to be Bethlehem Steel.  The evergreen, of course, was a Teutonic symbol of life continuing in the midst of the shutdown of the growth season.  Nature hasn’t really died, although it may appear to have done so, but we feel that difficult times with short days and cold temperatures will now dominate our existence.  Our industrial efforts participate in this slowdown too.  What once identified one of Pennsylvania’s two steel cities has ceased an Bethlehem has had to adapt.  We see the change and wonder.  I grew up just north of Pittsburgh when it was a very large industrial city.  When I was in high school it was the 16th most populous city in the country.  Currently it’s 66th, with Charlotte, North Carolina holding its former place.  We adjust to changing seasons.

Christkindlmarkt is a lively place with four large tents dedicated to symbols of the season.  Christmas merchandise is a large part of it, of course.  Small business vendors, however, take advantage of the fact that crowds throng in.  Food, naturally, comes to hold a place of some significance as your blood sugar drops after spending a few hours on your feet.  Music is in the air and people don’t seem to mind the masses of others who all had the same idea.  I never purchase much at the event, but I enjoy being among those inspired by it.  Some of us are the rusty towers in the background, and others are the lively, decorated tree that stands before them.  The season has begun, and the symbols are open for interpretation.


Seventies

It’s pretty rare for me to be out on a week night.  Like a kid on a “school day” I’ve got to get up early the next morning.   And yawning a lot at work is bad form, even if nobody can see you.  I risked it recently, however, to meet with some colleagues from the Moravian orbit in Bethlehem.  As we talked, current projects came up, as they’ll do when doctorate-holders get together.  Demons are a conversation stopper, but I nevertheless asserted that our modern understanding of them derives directly from The Exorcist.  The insight isn’t mine—many people more knowledgable than yours truly have noted this.  One of my colleagues pointed out the parallel with The Godfather.  Before that movie the mafia was conceived by the public as a bunch of low-life thugs.  Afterward public perception shifted to classy, well-dressed connoisseurs who happen to be engaged in the business of violence and extortion.

The insight, should I ever claim as much, was that these films were both from the early seventies.  They both had a transformative cultural impact.  Movies since the seventies have, of course, influenced lots of things but the breadth of that influence has diminished.  I noticed the same thing about scholarship.  Anyone in ancient West Asian (or “Near Eastern”) studies knows the work of William Foxwell Albright.  Yes, he had prominent students but after Albright things began to fracture and it is no longer possible for one scholar to dominate the field in the same way he did.  Albright died in the early seventies.  Just as I was getting over the bewilderment of being born into a strange world, patterns were changing.  The era of individual influence was ending.  Has there been a true Star Wars moment since the seventies?  A new Apocalypse Now?

You see, I felt like I had to make the case that The Exorcist held influence unrivaled by other demon movies.  We’re still too close to the seventies (Watergate, anyone?) to analyze them properly.  Barbara Tuchman suggested at least a quarter-century has to go by for the fog to start clearing.  Today there are famous people who have immense internet fame.  Once you talk to people—some of them my age—who don’t surf the web you’ll see that internet fame stretches only so far.  It was true even in the eighties; the ability to be the influential voice was passing away into a miasma of partial attention.  The smaller the world gets, the more circumscribed our circles of influence.  And thus it was that an evening among some Moravians brought a bit of clarity to my muddled daily thinking.


Thoughts on a Book Signing

I’m a small-town boy.  Having the opportunity to hold a book signing, even if nobody requested said signing at the event, in the oldest continuously operated bookstore in the country was an honor.  This is a prelude to the Easton Book Festival next weekend, in which I have two roles—part of a panel discussion and an individual presentation on Holy Horror.  Putting yourself out there when you’re a writer is important, even if nobody pays attention.  I thought quite a lot about it; horror movies are almost always successful, but do people like reading about them?  Well, some of us do, obviously, but the average viewer, probably not so much.  And then there’s the somewhat embarrassing juxtaposition of the Bible.  People know what it is, but don’t want to talk about it.

Two people stopped to chat at the signing desk.  One was an adjunct geology professor.  We discussed science and religion, which is something on which I used to teach classes.  He thought the book idea was interesting, but not enough to read it.  The Moravian Book Shop scheduled this on the evening of their sold out ghost tours.  Quite a few people came in for a Saturday night, mostly for the haunted Bethlehem walks.  The second conversation was with a ghost tourist who thought the book idea was unusual.  It is.  I admit it.  As I say in the book itself, “If you see something, say something.”  So it was with me, with Bibles in movies.  The bookstore did a nice display, but then, I have an awareness of the smallness of my impact.  No surprises here.

The thing that really struck me was just how many people avoid looking at you when you’re behind a table with your books.  I know I’ve done the same thing.  I’ve gone into bookstores when an event was going on, not knowing about it and having no interest whatsoever in the book being presented.  That’s the way these things go.  I wasn’t doing this to make sales.  McFarland isn’t the kind of publisher you use to make money.  For me it was all about the experience.  It was like seeing my name outside a church in Manhattan.  It doesn’t do anything for you materially, but at least you can say you had it happened to you once.  The signing was advertised in the local paper, and on its website.  Maybe someone out there took a glimpse and saw something that sparked their curiosity.  It doesn’t matter if they buy the book.  As a teacher at heart, it is simply the interest that I’m hoping to raise.


Fall Festivals

Now that it’s October, it’s officially okay to be scared.  Determined to fight my fright of hubris, I make brave to mention that I have two appearances scheduled for the first ever Easton Book Festival, coming up from the 25th to the 27th.  The Festival has turned into quite an event, with some 200 writers taking part.  I got involved by being in the right place at the right time, for a change.  Authors are being brought in from as far as New York City, Vermont, and Massachusetts.  I know from experience that even Manhattan is a trek.  I contacted the organizers back in the summer since I have an autumn book that came out in late December last year.  For the festival I’ll be involved in a panel discussion “Poets as Prophets—Merging Art and Religion” on Saturday, and a presentation on Holy Horror on Sunday.

Like many people who write, I’m shy and not naturally good at promoting myself.  The other day while out for a walk my wife and I were run by by a group of shirtless high school guys, presumably on the track team.  It felt like the gallimimus scene from Jurassic Park—we’re smaller folks, and these confident, athletic sorts were not.  It felt like an object lesson to me.  Some of us are born with genetic dispositions to grow large and to feel confident.  Others not so much.  When we watched the caber toss at Celtic Fest last weekend, the contestants were all well over six feet tall, which I suppose makes sense if a caber is in the cards for you.  As they showboated for the crowd, I knew a small display with my book was just up the hill in the Moravian Book Shop.  Like me, in the shadows of the shelf above.

Perhaps my only regret about the Easton Book Festival is that I don’t have a fictional novel to present.  Well, I do, but it isn’t published.  Lately I’ve been exploring that wall of separation between fiction and non.  In the kinds of books I read in the fall, the wall is more of a hurricane fence.  And it’s only about waist high at that.  Holy Horror isn’t an academic book, it just plays one on the market.  If it were a standard academic title I wouldn’t have put it forward for the Easton Book Festival; people come to such events to be entertained as well as to learn.  This one will encompass pretty much all of downtown Easton for the weekend.  And that weekend is just before Halloween, when the wall between worlds is especially thin.

 


Fearing Hubris

I’m afraid of hubris.  You see, my academic career was not exactly distinguished, and as an editor you’re encouraged to keep to the background.  Still, when you write a book you need to promote it a little, which is one of the things I learned as an editor.  I was equally parts embarrassed and pleased to see the bookstore display for my upcoming book signing in Bethlehem.  I mean, although I wrote Holy Horror for a general readership, the publisher tends more toward academic books and their pricing, so this is not an inexpensive purchase.  Those who write are nothing, however, without readers.  Those chosen for interviews are writers who’ve made a sales impact or who have a university behind them.  When it’s just me, it feels like maybe I’m trying to ascend Olympus on my own initiative.

I was in the Moravian Book Shop to purchase Neal Stephenson’s Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.  I’ve fallen a bit behind on Neal’s work, largely because Goodreads challenges are measured in numbers of tomes read.  I was pondering this, book in hand, when I noticed—there I was with my own display.  You see, Holy Horror was meant as a guilty pleasure read for those of us who like the scary time of year.  The book price is the scariest part about it, however.  I feel a profound gratitude when anyone actually buys it.  Since there are now copies available on sites such as eBay, I’m guessing some who’ve read it want to recoup a little of the cash outlaid.  While all of this is happening, however, I know that I have to learn the art of book promoting.  Still, it feels like that self-promoting I was warned against as a kid, an unseemly thing.

Writing is a form of conversation.  When I’m in a room with a bunch of other people unless I’m the teacher I have trouble making myself heard.  I’m soft-spoken by nature.  I suppose it’s obvious, then, why a book signing feels hubristic.  Perhaps it’s appropriate for a book about fear to engender this sense of discomfort.  Entering the conversation has always been difficult for me.  At the same time, as the beneficiary of so many books, I feel compelled to give something back.  My insights, if such there be, won’t rock the world.  As I think of myself signing books, I wonder what I could possibly say to someone who’s willing to pay that price for something I produced.  If you’re going to try to climb that mountain, you’d better think about what you’ll say when you meet the gods at the summit.


The Sound of Musik

“Why is there so much people here?”  The words aren’t mine, but those of a random stranger I heard in Herald Square.  Not only was it grammatically offensive, I always find “much people” in Manhattan, but this was the occasion of the Pope’s visit a few years ago, so more of us were crowded into that area than normal.  It was a feeling that returned last night as my wife and I wandered around Musikfest.  If you’re not from around here, Musikfest is the largest free music festival in the United States, and it takes place in Bethlehem each summer.  Ten days of free, live music and tents hawking wares and all kinds of comestibles, as well as that strangely satisfying feeling of being lost in a crowd.  We ended up there more or less accidentally.

I was an experimental subject.  Those of you who know me will probably not find this odd, and you may well come up with many reasons to find me in the psychology department, some involving locked doors.  This was, however, a voluntary research project that required participants and it had been literally decades since I’d volunteered to be one of the “much people” who was not not part of the university crowd.  It felt good to be on a campus again.  The Lehigh Valley hosts several colleges and universities, and that draw is perhaps related to why Musikfest is held here.  When we got to town my wife realized we might have trouble parking.  Sections of downtown Bethlehem are closed to traffic and there are people everywhere.  I finished my experiment and we became part of the crowd again.

Music and religion, I’ve noted before, hang out in the same crowd.  They both have the ability to be transcendent and people seek out such experiences.  Since we hadn’t planned on attending—accidental musicologists we—we had no groups as targeted hearing while we wandered.  Mostly we marveled at the size of the event.  The city of steel transformed to the city of music.  And the religious feelings music brings.  As I walked from the college back to downtown, a couple strangers accosted me.  “Hi, brother,” they said.  “Heading to Musikfest?”  This, I realized was a congregation.  I was an unknown brother.  Music brings peace.  Dona nobis pacem, sisters and brothers.  Like those crowds a few years back hoping for a glimpse of the pontiff, an entire city had kicked off its shoes for a Friday night of potential transcendence.  Why is there so much people here?  Simply listen and you’ll have your answer.


Making Monsters

It’s not so much I’ve been away from monsters lately, but that life has intervened between them and me.  Life can be scarier than monsters sometimes.  In any case, the summer is when my mind turns back to haunting even as on the breaks during heat waves a whiff of autumn can be caught on the air of a July morning.  Yes, we’ve past the solstice and days are getting shorter.  Slowly, of course, but that’s what builds suspense.  And there are local signs that I need to get my haunting in gear.  It is finally time to get Holy Horror out of wraps and give the book a proper launch.  Being published around Christmas last year was poor timing for a subject so readily coded for fall.

I received the welcome news this week that the Moravian Book Shop—the oldest continually operating bookstore in the country—will be hosting a book signing for Holy Horror in October.  This is a fortuitous turn of events because when I first approached them with the idea the price of the book made the idea look unrealistic.  But we’re now thinking of autumn, and with autumn comes Halloween.  There have been a spate of horror films this summer, all of which I’ve unfortunately missed.  Time, as Morpheus notes, is always against us.  There does, however, seem to be a lively interest in the genre and the curious wonder what it has to say about what we believe.  Horror loves religion, and indeed, thrives on it.  So it’s been from the beginning.

October will also see the Easton Book Festival in this area.  I will be on the program for that as well.  While none of this is earth-shattering, these events represent the first successes in trying to build awareness of Holy Horror.  This was a book written for a general readership, but not priced for one.  Working in the academic publishing world, this is a phenomenon with which I’m all too familiar.  Many colleagues offer to read and spread news about your book.  It seldom happens, though.  Academic presses can’t afford book tours (especially if they have to price books at $45), but these self-driven presentations are opportunities to spread the interest in ideas.  That’s what those of us who write really want—to be part of the conversation.  We’re in the midst of a heat wave here.  It’s the height of summer.  Even so, those who know about monsters can feel them coming, even from here.


Born Once More

Every once in a while a reader, either here or on other social media, asks me what my religious beliefs are.  The expected answer to such a question is the standard label of a denomination of some sort.  My response, however, is that knowing the group I belong to (and I do) should not effect the way my thoughts are viewed.  With the exception of some groups suspected of mind control, standard religions are generally trusted as being motivated by pure intentions.  Having both attended and taught in seminary settings, and knowing a great number of clergy, however, it becomes clear that denomination is less important than one might think.  In short, I answer this question in the public forum of neither classroom nor blog as I truly believe there’s nothing to be gained by readers/students knowing where I personally seek meaning, denominationally.

It’s no secret that it was once the Episcopal Church.  (I could not have taught at Nashotah House otherwise.)  It was made pretty clear after being at said seminary for many years that the Episcopalians had no official place for me.  Even when I worked a few blocks from the church’s headquarters in New York City I could find no one willing to listen or consider my credentials.  Its Church Publishing branch wouldn’t consider me in their book wing.  Were it not for some former students who still minister to me, it was clear they did not miss me.  So it was with some surprise that I found myself in Nativity Cathedral in Bethlehem on Saturday for their Celtic Mass.  The Cathedral itself is lovely with a négligée of wrought iron tracery for a reredos, appropriate for a city built by steel.  Eight angels with outspread wings stood atop it.  Like most sanctuaries, it was a place of refuge from the busy, noisy street outside.

The reading from Amos 7 stood out to me.  Lectionaries, by definition, take pericopes (selections) out of context.  Amos’ vision of the plumb line is actually part of a series of visions, but here stands alone with the episode of Amaziah trying to send Amos back to Judah.  The prophet responds by saying he’s not a prophet, but just a guy who’s received a message from God.  In ancient times there were prophets paid for their services.  They supported the government positions and governments made sure they were cared for.  The situation hasn’t much changed, at least among conservative religious groups under a Republican administration.  There were other parallels here, but saying too much on them might end up giving too much away.