Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon 9.27.15 Esther Leaps In

a nearly completed Leap by Wayne Stratz

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Audrey Lorde

In such a time as this we are called to respond, but how do we know what matters to God? When I asked the youth on Wednesday night, the first response was filled with the uncertainty we may all have at times when we ponder what God wants us to do.

I mean, does God really want me to guide a flock of young students who have leapt into the high school? Originally all seven had entered an elementary program for students in need of emotional support? Now I am their homeroom teacher. Do I have a net to catch them if they fall? Who has the net if I fall?

The Jews were in exile. A story was written starring Esther, who was beautiful. Does a message from God exist in the only book of the Bible that does not mention God or even prayer? Exiled away from their homeland, fading away from their rituals, and forgetting about the God who loved them. Can we blame them?

Are we more concerned with retirement funds or feeding the hungry? Sports results or visiting the sick and lonely? Shopping and vacations or quiet moments talking with God? It is not hard to forget about God. No indeed it can be quite easy by a steady stream of patriotic observances, 24 hour news streams, sporting events, music festivals, entertaining websites, economic forecasts, and never ending sales events.

Are we Christians in a media exile?

Esther is criticized by some for not talking about God and for being a member of the king’s harem. She is a Queen of Persia, who hides her Jewish heritage. She has a close relative who appears in this story, his name was Mordecai. Mordecai had adopted his cousin when she was orphaned as a young girl.

As the story unfolds, things are not going well. The king has not called on Esther for over a month. A man with political power named Haman is building a large structure. A structure, which when finished, is where Mordecai and other Jews will be put to death. Mordecai’s failure to bow down to Haman had landed him with the death penalty.

Our country has a long history of attacking those who did not bow down adequately. Change the names and our history can sound like Naman’s hatred of the Jews in Persia. Native Americans who believed in homeland security, African Americans who dared to want freedom and rights in a land where they had been exiled, Pennsylvanian Germans during WWI who wanted their children to speak their language in schools. Immigrants every where face both the love of a welcoming hand and the anger flowing from the fear of our land becoming their land.

It is as true now as it was 2000 plus years ago, and as it may always be. Each wave of immigrants or exiles meets a rocky shore not sure of who they can trust.

Mordecai faced with his life coming to an end, does not call out to God, but instead Mordecai goes to the palace, what can he lose. Personally not much, but he risks placing Esther in the spotlight when he sends her a note.

Esther 4:14
For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
Who have you turned to in your darkest moments? Would you turn to a family member or a friend with political power or turn to God? Hopefully both. Hopefully none of us will face a death penalty. Imagine the fear. But what of the family member we turn to? Would you risk your well being to help? What if a whistle blower came to one of us? Would we take up the cry for justice, or remain quiet to not take a risk in causing waves?

Esther has little time to save her cousin Mordecai and Esther has lost the King’s favor. Who knows when she will see the king? She decides to visit the king without an invitation. Her words upon this decision, “If I perish, I perish.” Imagine having this courage, if you were the one asked for help. Lose your job. Lose your life. Perish in the waves caused by your hope to create justice.

And what does a beautiful Jewish woman do when she illegally enters into the presence of the king; she invites him to dinner. He accepts and is falling in love again. Esther is beautiful and brilliant. She is a woman using the attributes she has to save human lives. For this her character has been attacked. She is bold and invites him to a second dinner while letting him know she has a favor to ask.

Haman is there, when the King, now fully smitten with Esther, asks her to please reveal her request. Esther rises up in defense of Mordecai and  and her people. Yes, she risks her life to save others when she calls out the evil in Haman’s heart. If I perish, I perish.

Haman is the one to perish. Mordecai is lifted up. Esther is revered by her people.

Where is God in this land of ours? What matters to God? The story of Esther is told during the Jewish festival of Purim. Food and Gifts are shared with one another and while sharing food matters to God, the last four lines of today’s passage is maybe the strongest message I see from God. Presents are to be given to the poor.

God is in this story. It is part of the continuous story of a God that provides and protects; and then expects those who have a surplus to respond in kind to those in need. Esther reminds us that praying and then waiting for a blazing bright miracle from God is not the only route. If I perish, I perish. We must act with a profound hope that it matters to God before we know if it matters to God.

For the past week I have been spelling out leap in glass. A large panel that appears to be complete, but the message is longer. Leap with the hope that a net will appear. Are you like me and want to see the net and know how strong it is before we leaps. I want to take safe leaps, but God hopes we will take chances. There is anxiety whether we leap or not. The anxiety does not decrease if we act, but the results can be so much better. In my Media filled exile, can I live the life I am called to live?

Pope Francis on teachers: These are educators “that encourage us to take the first steps in a new activity without having fear of the obstacles and the challenges to be faced; that spur us to surmount difficult moments; that exhort us to have confidence in ourselves and in our companions; that are at our side be it in moments of disappointment and loss, be it in those of joy and success.”
There are seven youth who will open my classroom door tomorrow morning. They start their day and end their day with me; and I question as to why they have been placed into my care.
How do I respond? Do I say, “I am too old for such a challenge? Why me? I can’t do this” Or do I say, “maybe the last 28 years were preparing me for such a time as this?” To be honest my brain is saying both.
In such a time as this, God will not be mentioned in my classroom. I do not pray with my students. We do not fast together during Lent. Is God there if the story about to unfold does not mention God? Where is my safety net?
Maybe I need to post this quote in my classroom:
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you cannot do?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis provides an added dose of uncertainty, but the shipping is free and the desire to feed the hungry remains

Sophia Spiral Mandala, a design from silence by Wayne Stratz

One thing about working at a school that is fed by many local districts, we can be affected by events, like snow to the north or a visit from the Pope. Districts in the thick of things are closing, but if transportation of some sort can get students to us then they will be in my classroom. Districts that are open may have a difficult time transporting students.

How bad are these roads going to be? Who will be in my classes? What should I plan to teach? There is plenty of uncertainty.

But I do know two things I spoke of in my newsletter of 9/21/15. 

Free shipping (reduced to Canada) on one of my many designs that were inspired by silent retreats with Jesuits while the rare Jesuit Pope is in town. Order one here before he leaves on Sunday >>> Sophia Spirals.

Plus Margaret and I are hoping to give a bit more to feed the hungry this month. 10% of sales are going to be donated to Philabundance in Philly. So check out Margaret's shop as well.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

winter delight in the art of Sue deLearie Adair

Dark-eyed Junco; etching with colored pencil by Sue deLearie Adair as seen at Cornell Ornithology Lab
Summer has been lingering here, but there have been some moments of cool crispness. Birds are getting itchy to prepare for the change in seasons.

The neighborhood House Sparrows have been behaving differently, flocking more so these days, and the Goldfinches are loving our sunflowers. Here in Southeast PA, more bird species will leave than arrive for winter. But one of my favorite birds is about to become common after not being seen all summer. So the blooms fade, but the Juncos delight.

Dark-eyed Juncos surely dug our bird feeders last winter and hung around into spring before they headed north to nest. I could have very well seen a junco while in Ithaca, NY where we saw the splendid bird art of Sue deLearie Adair on exhibit at the Ornithology Lab of Cornell University.

Her art was behind glass so it was a bugger to photograph, but the junco cooperated and then a sideward glance caught evidence that her art can be quite colorful.

"Day-time Night Heron" Black-Crowned Night-Heron; Watercolor, colored and graphite pencils by Sue deLearie Adair as seen at Cornell Ornithology Lab

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sometimes all you get is a Silhouette: The Wall of Silhouettes, by James Prosek

The Wall of Silhouettes, by James Prosek at Cornell Ornithology Lab. Photo: Wayne Stratz (2015)

While Jane Kim is creating a world of colorful birds in her mural, James Prosek is showing how knowing shape and form can help when color is not perceived when birdwatching.

The walls are alive with birds at the Visitor Center of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

James Prosek began his career with a book of watercolors celebrating trout. See his colorful fish here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Of Glass and Birds: Ross Matteson, "Virgina" Bronze statue of a Peregrine Falcon famous in Seattle

Ross Matteson, "Virgina" Bronze statue of a Peregrine Falcon. Photo by Wayne Stratz (2015)
The first piece of art to get photographed at the Cornell Ornithology Labs was Ross Matteson's bronze statue of a Peregrine Falcon named Virginia.

Virginia and her mate nested in Downtown Seattle in 1994. The city adopted this wild family, but sadly Virginia died, as many birds do, flying into a sheet of glass.

Seems strange that two of my greatest passions go so horribly wrong together. It is estimated that somewhere between 100 million and a billion birds die annually flying into glass windows.

What can be done? Here is a list of suggestions which work better than what is often used.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Finding Crow Shirts: Shopping Stratoz Style

Andre Harvey, Sounding The Alarm, 1983  Bronze on Walnut Base at the Brandywine Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz
 I dig birds. It is that simple. I have for a long time. Cornell University celebrates birds and has recognized the value of those who feed birds.

So when we dicided to take a short vacation to re-explore Ithaca, I was curious if we could visit the bird lab. We could. The next few posts will celebrate the art and nature we experienced. But let us start with the shirt on my back. Margaret says, "They have a shirt with you written all over it." 

That was just the cool front. Come back to see that in the next post. 

Then we opened it up and read the back. Celebrate the amazing life of crows. I do it in my classroom, on afternoon walks through our neighborhood, in sermons I have given, and now on my back.

Stop! Watch a crow.

My Crow Research shirt tells it like it is. Photo by Margaret Almon

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Quilt Love: Jane Schiemer of Sykesville, MA Confined Dispersion

Jane Schiemer of Sykesville, MA Quit: Confined Dispersion

talk about a quilt that could inspire a stained glass artist. Quilt love indeed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In support of science: this fuels my teaching.

A satellite for all seasons : TIROS
 There was a time when weather was studied without satellites, then in April 1960 that changed. It matters that we know this. 

When we choose to elect politicians that do not want to fund science we go backwards in time. Would we want to be less able to know where a Hurricane will make landfall in 2034 than we do today because our weather satellites have aged out and we did not fund new technology using what science has taught us?

There is beauty and awe in understanding science that fills me deeply, and thus I am saddened when it is treated with disdain. Science needs to be judged but not dismissed. Maybe I am more sensitive. The more we care; the more we take offense. To be able to view a tree and respect its beauty poetically, theologically, artiscally, and philosophically is important, but so it is to understand a tree and be amazed by the beauty of how it functions to survive. In fact, the tree is better likely to be treated with care if we view it in as many ways as possible. I dig trees.

The trees that have survived centuries could tell us how scientific breakthroughs do not happen in a vacuum.  Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, Curie, Einstein did not just turn science about, but led to changes in world views. If we do not embrace science, we just may be lost in the intellectual view of our time.

So I have a job to do. My students deserve to leave my room with the basic vocab, facts, and concepts of science; while also knowing that it isn't science if it cannot be proven true and also if it cannot be proven false. They deserve to hear fascinating stories about scientists and their process, while also learning how to read graphs and data. And they need to do some science while their at it.

They need to be literate enough to face a news feed filled with articles about GMO's, Climate Change, Energy Policy... and understand the article to make their own informed opinion.

There is not enough time.

But science matters. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day 2015 through the vision of Edmund Marion Ashe and Molly Wheeler Wood Pitz

Edmund Marion Ashe (!867-1941) Work n.d. Oil on Canvas. Photo by Wayne Stratz
This guy caught my eye as I entered Iron and Coal; Petroleum and Steel at the Michener Museum in Doylestown.

For my ancestors in the Lehigh Valley it was Fabric and Cement; Slate and Steel. I grew up as Bethlehem steel descended, slate quarries were illegal swimming holes, grandmothers who quilted worked days in sewing mills, and grandfathers made Mack trucks or told stories of deaths in cement hoppers.  Unions were the friends of generations of workers who remembered conditions. Labor meant something.

My dad worked with the tools of a draftsman, but did not escape the industry that sprang from what the ground contained. He drew on paper of what would become blueprints, which in the field became the places where concrete blocks were formed.

Now Bethlehem Steel is a casino. Drafting tools have been replaced by Autocad. Scrubbers keep the cement dust off of cars. The students at my school travel north to see the Mack Truck museum.

and my dad's drafting tools are used to draw art in my studio.

Molly Wheeler Wood Pitz (1913-?) Lime Kiln at Night, 1936 oil on Canvas. Photo by Wayne Stratz

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Sunset and discerning the use of time

watching the sunset at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville #1 by Wayne Stratz

I chose the evening and went out to see what would happen. These images (in chronological order) are the best of what I photographed when I gave myself over an hour to be with the ending day. Sunsets are fickle. How do the clouds pass into and out of the angle of the light? Who is to know what will transpire when one decides to watch the sunset.

I imagine a brick wall that my life is about to slam into. It is harsher than normal; this school year that is about to start. I don't have greater than normal dread of the students, the subjects, the paperwork, the colleagues, ... 

But the time and energy taken away to provide my students what they deserve had formed a wall speeding at my spirit, which more than ever wants to do art and the work involved in selling art. Maybe it was a summer of vacation time and half days that was barely touched by doing shows. Maybe going back to teaching felt like a relief those summers we did tons of shows.

So I want to make the most of my time, give my body and mind and soul restful moments; while be creative and being prepared to teach.

A well laid out schedule for each day of the week? Well I am not a big fan of planning so that is not the route. However, I have decided to commit early morning hours to writing Stratoz blogs, Nutmeg D blogs, and every Saturday morning a newsletter (sign up here)

But what about the rest of the weekend and my evenings, I imagine this: I arrive home from work and make coffee and sit with Margaret as I use my Trello App to make a checklist of priorities. It has been working. Today for instance: write a newsletter, laundry, a peace symbol commission, straightening up the clutter surrounding my chair of contemplation, reading about science literacy to inspire my first week in the classroom... and now this blog post. 

and rest, good food, prayer, music, and time with joyful souls. I guess I have a plan, and like the following sunset, it will be affected by forces beyond my control.

watching the sunset at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville #2 by Wayne Stratz

watching the sunset at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville #3 by Wayne Stratz

watching the sunset at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville #4 by Wayne Stratz

watching the sunset at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville #5 by Wayne Stratz

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hope for a New School Year: 9.2.2015

Hope: Clearly immersed in a rainbow by Wayne Stratz. Purchase on ETSY

Hope was being put on a test run. How would it go to make a panel using our newly favored font? How would clear class work? I like it and learned about the process. I can go deeper into my understanding of making a word design because I examined this one.

Today marks my continuing life as a teacher that began on a winter morning in January 1987. Like everything else, my improvements over the years have depended upon someone examining my classroom (students, supervisors, myself). I have to examine the good and the bad and see my role in both.

Two years ago I sat through one of the better inservice moments of my life. It taught me about the Collins writing program, which I have utilized in my classroom. But I want to use it in a deeper way this year. That is my hope for improvement. I see conversations in writing with my students, which begin with a simple prompt to begin a class but leads  to all of us developing our writing skills and into a deeper understanding of science. We will see.

As always I hope to create a joyful classroom where both I and the students want to hangout. I hope to lead students into great discussions on science and to guide them into the creation of our gardens.

PS: if you dig my blog and art, sign up for my e-newsletter

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Blue Squashes: Rene Lalique at the Corning Museum of Glass

Blue Squashes: Rene Lalique at the Corning Museum of Glass. Photo by Wayne Stratz
I remembered Blue Tuesdays as we entered the realm of Lalique and his vase caught our eyes. My camera refused to take a photo of the tag, but even my poor memory could remember artist and title.

"Glass is a wonderful substance. Everything makes it an incomparable plastic medium in the hands of an ingenious artist, offering his imagination and talent almost limitless scope for discovery." ―René Lalique 
see full biography at Corning Museum's website

Blue Squashes: Rene Lalique at the Corning Museum of Glass. Photo by Wayne Stratz