Archive for the ‘Growing Up United Methodist’ Category

Gratitude for Athens, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  The Dome of the City Hall, Athens, Georgia, August 5, 2009

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-04138

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Seeking reasons for gratitude to God is a daily activity; it is an easy one, fortunately.

During the last few days I have been thinking deeply about a subset of those reasons; I have been pondering reasons I am blessed to live in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia.  Many such reasons–too many to enumerate in a succinct blog post–have come to mind.

A few follow.

A visit to relatives in Americus, Georgia, followed shortly by a lecture at The University of Georgia (UGA), started me down this path.  Last Tuesday night I attended a lecture by Dr. Richard B. Miller, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Religious Ethics at The University of Chicago Divinity School.  Miller spoke about St. Augustine of Hippo‘s concept of the common good and of its implications for today.  The full explanation of St. Augustine’s definition of sin as disordered love proved especially helpful.  As I listened and learned, I also thought about how fortunate I was to live in the town in which that event happened.  UGA, my relationship with which has been both positive and tumultuous, at different times, since 2005, made that lecture possible.

Indeed, I have may reasons to be grateful for and to UGA.  It creates a wonderful intellectual environment in Athens.  I care nothing about the athletics of a university, for the purpose of such an institution is supposed to be primarily educational, is it not?  The presence of UGA in Athens not only makes Athens what it is, but also makes me feel at home in this town, a colony of members of the intelligentsia.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist parsonages in small towns and communities in southern Georgia.  The intellectual atmosphere (not in the parsonage, of course) was generally lackluster, even anti-intellectual.  (Nevertheless, I do recall that sometimes even my father angrily rebuffed some of my attempts at academic discussions, especially of the Bible.  There was no good reason to fear Higher Criticism.  No philosophical meat grinder will grind up the truth, after all; the truth will break the meat grinder.)  I usually felt like an intellectual outcast and the resident heretic.  (Today I wear the label “heretic” with pride.  As churchy as I am, given the option of avoiding church or facing allegations of heresy in a congregation, I would choose the former.)  Politically and socially most of the neighbors were or seemed to be beyond conservative–reactionary, actually.  Many were openly and unapologetically racist.

Of course I gravitated toward the left side of the spectrum.  I have remained a man of the left, although I have, with greater frequency, found myself in rooms with people to my left–sometimes far to my left.  I have shifted slightly to the right in some ways, and far to the left (relative to my former position) in others.  Overall, I have continued to occupy a center-left position.  (I tend to be center-right in liturgical matters and to the left politically, socially, and theologically.  My unapologetic Western Classicism in music is prominent in my daily life.)  I have ceased to be the resident heretic, for (1) I worship with people, many of whom are to my left, and (2) I worship in a faith community where nobody accuses me of heresy.  Charges of heresy have usually come from the right, not the left, after all.  (This is why most ecclesiastical schisms occur to the right and the majority of church mergers happen on the left.  Tolerance and acceptance are antidotes to Donatism.)

St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church has been my spiritual home since August 2005.  The parish has saved my life (in 2007) and become a means by which I offer gifts and talents to God.  I have, for years, curated a movie series, functioned as the librarian, and taught adult Sunday School, for example.  For nearly a decade I sang in the choir.  (I have many fond memories of that time.)  Although some people roll their eyes when I obsess over the proper arrangement of chairs, hymnals, and prayer books in the worship space, tending to that matter has long been something I have offered to God.  (I have come to long wistfully for pews.)  Also, the music has long been mostly excellent in the parish.  Last Sunday, for example, a string quartet performed at the 10:30 service and accompanied the choir during a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s Ave Verum Corpus.

As much as I enjoy visits to relatives in Americus, Athens is my place.  As much as I visit Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus, occasionally, and find my spot in a pew there comfortably, St. Gregory the Great Church is my place.  As much as I enjoy visiting Americus, I also enjoy returning to Athens.

I am also grateful for friends and acquaintances. all of whose privacy I respect in this post by preserving in this post by naming none of them.  Some of them have saved my life and seen me through difficult times.  I have also performed my sacred duty and helped one friend to the point of self-sacrifice.  If necessary, I would do it again, without hesitation.

I hope to reside in Athens for long time.  The possibility of leaving eventually remains, of course; I admit that doing so might be proper one day.  That hypothetical day is one I hope is far off, if it is extant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF OSCAR ROMERO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF SAN SALVADOR; AND THE MARTYRS OF EL SALVADOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, APOSTLE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY

THE FEAST OF THOMAS ATTWOOD, “FATHER OF MODERN CHURCH MUSIC”

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Spiritual Life and Cinema   Leave a comment

Above:  A Screen Capture from Bicycle Thieves (1948)

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I am preparing to start my fourth year as the person who chooses films for the Spiritual Life Movie Series at my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  On the last Friday of each month, from January to October, I screen a film.  Others set up the equipment, arrange the chairs, and bring the refreshments.  My selections range from classics, such as Citizen Kane (1941) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s revolutionary The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), the latter of which Spanish Fascist dictator Francisco Franco banned for its apparently leftist politics, to more recent works, such as Away from Her (2006)Second Best (1994), and Doubt (2008).  I program an occasional documentary, such as The Overnighters (2014).  Quality is of the essence.  Toward that end I avoid openly evangelical films, which hold no appeal to me.  Art, however, fascinates me.  At least one spiritual theme is mandatory, however.  Regardless of my great affection for the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda (the one remade as The Androids of Tara during the Key to Time season (1978-1979) of Doctor Who), I cannot find a spiritual lesson in that classic movie.

That I find myself doing this monthly task (1) makes sense, (2) contributes to the life of the parish, (3) fulfills a need I have to share great movies, and (4) confirms that I am at the right place at the right time.  I recall feeling out-of-place in many of the congregations in which I worshiped prior to August 2005, when I arrived in Athens, Georgia, and transferred to St. Gregory the Great Church.  I cannot imagine screening movies of my liking at any of the previous churches–certainly not in the rural United Methodist churches in which my father served.  Now I rejoice to have become integrated into the parish to which I have belonged for more than 12 years.

The first movie of the 2018 season (my fourth year) will be Bicycle Thieves (1948), a film also known in English as The Bicycle Thief.  The haunting masterpiece, superficially about the search for a stolen bicycle, a vehicle essential for one man to work, and therefore to feed and clothe his family in post-World War II Rome, Italy, is really about what happens to the father and his young son along the way.  This choice is consistent with my appetite for Italian art movies.  A good story can teach a spiritual lesson or a set of lessons without becoming preachy.  Wonderful cinematography accompanying that story adds to one’s experience of art.

As long as I have this opportunity to direct this series of movie screenings, I intend to (1) enjoy doing so and (2) do my best.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN KONRAD WILHELM LOEHE, BAVARIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND COORDINATOR OF DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN MISSIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS NARCISSUS, ARGEUS, AND MARCELLINUS OF TOMI, ROMAN MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ODILO OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SABINE BARING-GOULD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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The Library, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, December 29, 2017   Leave a comment

All Photographs by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I have been the parish librarian for St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, for several years.

I have belonged to a number of churches.  I grew up in a series of congregations (mostly rural United Methodist, in the South Georgia Conference).  Few of these churches had libraries.  Few of those few who did had well-stocked ones.  After I converted to The Episcopal Church in 1991, I found that most of my congregations had libraries, albeit not very impressive ones.  At one parish, in the parish hall, one could find the library–books stuffed into a double-sided bookcase on wheels.  There were books in boxes in a room in a mission church, but that collection was not a feasible congregational library.

When I arrived in Athens in August 2005, I joined St. Gregory the Great Church, on the advice of Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., then the Bishop of Georgia.  He was correct.  Immediately I found the library impressive and well-stocked.  Over the years I borrowed books from it, helped to reorganize it in 2007, and participated in meetings in the space.  Then, a few years ago, I became the librarian.  Since then I have continued to reorganize the library and have curated the collection.

I have also contributed much of my library to the collection.

Along the way I have redecorated, donating much of my iconography and a number of other items, ranging from a globe to crucifixes to sets of pinecone-shaped candles, to the library.  These I have added to decorative objects already present.

The emphasis on Roman Catholic iconography has been deliberate.  I have also added Eastern Orthodox and Jewish items.  The purpose of this redecorating has been to make the library a sacred space, not just a room containing many books.  All this has been for the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of all who enter the space.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE EIGHTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE HOLY NAME OF JESUS

THE WORLD DAY OF PEACE

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Reconstructed Floor Plan of the Late Parsonage of the Vidette United Methodist Church, Vidette, Georgia   Leave a comment

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I have been continuing my stroll down memory lane in Burke County, Georgia, where my family and I lived from June 1980 to June 1982.  I have worked from a combination of photographs and memories.  Photographs have stirred up memories.  For example, an old Google Street View image has reminded me of how small the car port (immediately outside the back door) was and shown a chimney on the back of the house) that I did not recall.  A scale on the image I scanned in my previous Vidette post has helped me to measure the house.

The placement of rooms is correct.  Precise dimensions and approximate placements of doors and windows are generally less certain, however.  I recall a door connecting the bathroom to the master bedroom, but not where in the bathroom it was.  I am not certain of the dimensions of the front room and my bedroom either, or whether only right angles defined them.  I also seem to remember a door between the kitchen and the dining room, but not precisely where.

Either way, looking at this floor plan stirs up more memories.  I have clear memories of certain moments in some of those rooms, for example.  The number of these is increasing.

From my temporal perspective, as fallible as it is, I recognize the truth of the old statement that the child is the father of the man.  I also understand that the range of piety within United Methodism, especially its Southern rural variants, does not fit me.  I know for sure that life in very small towns does not agree with me.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 25, 2017 COMMON ERA

Vidette United Methodist Church Parsonage, January 29, 2015   1 comment

Above:  A Scan of a Printout of a Satellite Image, Courtesy of Google Earth

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Key:  

1 = Front porch

2 = Front steps

3 = Front room

4 = Sister’s bedroom

5 = Dining room

6 = Kitchen

7 = Den

8 = Car port

9 = Master bedroom

10 = My bedroom

11= Bathroom

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My past–especially the two years (June 1980-June 1982) I spent in Vidette, Georgia, continue to fascinate me.

I have posted about the town, church, parsonage here, here, and here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS.  At ORIGINAL POEMS AND FAMILY HISTORY BLOG I have posted germane posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  I have also found an image of the church building from Easter Sunday 1971 here.

Now I offer an analysis of the house based on the last satellite image of the house I can find, for the image dated October 30, 2016, shows where the house was.  The combination of photographic evidence from the family archives (in my possession) and my memories makes me confident that I am correct in my estimation of the internal arrangement of the now-demolished structure, which was well into its decline when my family and I lived there.  The scale on the image leads me to estimate that the house was about 1100 square feet, excluding the front porch and the car port.

All of this strolling down memory lane makes me grateful to live where I do–in Athens, Georgia, a city with many amenities.  I have my choice of grocery stores just a few miles away from my home, as opposed to having to take a trip 20 or so miles to Waynesboro, for example.

It is indeed good to know what one has while one has it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Growing Into Myself   1 comment

Learning from My Past

Recently I have spent much time plumbing the depths of my memory regarding some of my childhood years, especially the two years spanning June 1980-June 1982, when my family and I lived in Vidette, Georgia.  I have covered much of that ground on this weblog, as in a post about memories and another one regarding the now-demolished parsonage at Vidette.  As I have examined old photographs, studied images from Google Earth, and poured over artifacts from that time, I have pondered who I was then–at the ages of seven, eight, and nine years–and why I was that way.  I have done this out of a desire to, as much as possible, stand on the ground of objective reality, not to assign blame.

Besides, what good would assigning blame in these matters accomplish?  Stating objective reality, however, proves helpful.

To borrow a line from Sigmund Freud, the child is the father of the man.  For once I agree with the figure my Psychology 101 professor referred to as “Sigmund Fraud.”  The child is the father of the man; this is self-obvious.  Our early experiences shape us, for better and worse.  I can trace intergenerational influences upon my development back as far as two great-grandfathers.  Many more intergenerational influences upon me exist, I am sure, but I cannot document them.  Many of the positive and negative influences upon me reach back at least to George Washington Barrett (1873-1956) and John Dodson Taylor, Sr. (1860-1936).   Understanding that many of the positive and negative aspects of my past are partially due to previous generations proves helpful in determining an objectively accurate understanding of my past.

Another factor, of course, is me.  How I respond to various stimuli is my responsibility.  Yet I know I should refrain from being too harsh toward my younger selves, for, as much as I ought to forgive others, I need to forgive myself also.  Without making undue excuses, I focus on acknowledging and learning from my past.

Just as my parents did the best they could much of the time, so did I.  Just they made mistakes, so did I.

I harbor no ill will toward them or myself.  No, I embrace the exploration of my past for the purpose of learning more about who I was and who I am.  I seek lessons regarding how I should proceed from the present.  To dismiss the past as irrelevant (“That’s history.”) is wrong-headed.  To live in it is also erroneous.  I embrace my younger selves and thereby understand myself better than I did.  I focus not on sins and errors, but on growth.

We human beings learn by doing.  If we do not attempt anything, we will fail by default.  If we do attempt something, we risk failure.  We might also succeed.  Hopefully we will learn the proper lessons, regardless of whether we succeed or fail in our ventures.

One lesson I have learned from analyzing my past is that moving as often as I did during my childhood (every two or three years, usually) was more of a negative factor than a negative one.

This was beyond my control; I was just a child in a parsonage family.  My way of coping was to become more inwardly focused.  This was easy for me, an introvert.  I chose not to get too close to anyone, for I knew I would not be staying long.  This made saying goodbye easier than it would have been otherwise.  Yet the protective bubble I entered became self-destructive.  Opening myself up to others has been my great project for the last few years.  My father, with his entrenched inferiority complex, contributed greatly to these moves.  He perceived the world through a filter that led him to react to other people in ways that were not helpful.  I recall hearing him complain about many patronizing people, for example.  Some of them were patronizing, I am sure, but not all of them were.  Yet he acted as if they were.  That caused needless problems for him, my mother, my sister, and myself.  The blame for moves was not only his, however; each of those congregations included people notorious for engineering the departures of ministers.  I have come to sympathize with my father (now deceased).  He struggled with that inferiority complex and with the frustration of constantly being a fish out of water.  He did the best he could.  I was not kind and understanding toward him when he was alive.  I did not do the best I could.  I have forgiven myself for that sin.

As I strive to move along the proper course into the future, I seek to do so unencumbered by guilt and resentment yet aware of my previous path.  The future-not the past–awaits.  Many of what I perceive as my missteps may have actually prepared me for a better future.  My record lacks certain large mistakes because I have learned from smaller errors, for example.  Also, grace can transform a negative into an opportunity for the positive.  I look to the future, therefore, and hope and work for the best.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2017 COMMON ERA

Site of the Former Parsonage, Vidette United Methodist Church, Vidette, Georgia   4 comments

Related to my previous post is this one.

I visited Google Earth again and saved some pictures of the Vidette United Methodist Church, the former parsonage (in street view, dated January 2008 and August 2008) and of the site where the parsonage was (from above, dated October 30, 2016).  Then I cropped one of those images, inserted it into a Word document, and dredged up memories from 1980-1982.

I have examined this fuzzy image, for which I have no street view counterpart yet.  I have noticed the shadow in it–presumably from a chimney.  In my bedroom I did have a closed-up fireplace with a heater in front of it.  That chimney had therefore marked one corner of the site of my former bedroom.

My memories regarding the dining room are vague.  I recall about where it was (between the kitchen and my sister’s bedroom), but I do not recall the relative size of the room.  I am likewise vague about the size of the kitchen.  It was a small house, however, so none of the rooms was cavernous.

I will not post any of the saved images, except for scan of a printed, black-and-white version of a cropped satellite photograph.  I do, however, encourage any of you who might to curious to look up Vidette in Google Earth, find the church and the site of the parsonage next to it.  Finding the church should not be difficult, for the town is really small.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 28, 2017 COMMON ERA