Archive for the ‘Growing Up United Methodist’ Category

Feast of Soren Kierkegaard (September 8)   1 comment

Above:  Portrait of Søren Kierkegaard, by Luplau Janssen

Image in the Public Domain

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SØREN AABYE KIERKEGAARD (MAY 5, 1813-NOVEMBER 11, 1855)

Danish Philosopher and Theologian, and Father of Existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard comes to A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and The Episcopal Church.  The Lutheran feast day (since 1978) is November 11.  The Episcopal feast day (since 2009) is September 8, also the Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig in The Episcopal Church.  I suspect that the decision to assign Kierkegaard the feast day of September 8, along with Grundtvig, is related to the rationale for group commemorations, but, in this case, without merging the feasts.

Not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation.”  Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense….

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 744; A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016), A74

My father was a United Methodist minister in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  One morning, in Sunday School in one of those congregations, the teacher of an adult class made an assertion (the details of which I cannot recall, and do not matter anyway) then said that he had faith and had proof.  I recognized the elements (faith and proof) of the last part of that statement as being mutually exclusive.  Kierkegaard would have done more than arch an eyebrow, had he heard that Sunday School teacher’s statement.

Kierkegaard:  A Brief Biography

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 5, 1813, became more influential after his lifetime than he was during it.  His father was Michael Pederson Kierkegaard (d. 1838), an erstwhile farmer who had moved to the capital city and became a prosperous wool merchant.  Michael was also a melancholy, puritanical who passed his disposition down to his guild-ridden son.  Søren, initially planning to become a minister in the state Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, studied theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1830 to 1840.  Although our saint never lost his faith in God, he became hostile to the state church, so he never pursued ordination.  He, living off inherited wealth, focused on writing books and articles (often under pseudonyms) in the fields of theology, psychology, ethics, and philosophy.  Our saint never married, for reasons biographers have interpreted in different ways.  He, engaged to Regine Olsen (1822-1904), in 1840-1841, broke off the engagement and never told her his reasons.

As I explained in the post about Bishop Grundtvig, the dominant strain in Danish Lutheranism at the time was Rationalism, which reduced ministers to teachers of morality and Christianity to an idea–a reasonable one, of course.  Grundtvig challenged Rationalism from within the state church, which he transformed.  Kierkegaard, however, condemned the state church as a mockery of Christianity.

In the thought of Kierkegaard proof negated faith.  If one could prove the Incarnation, the existence of God, and the truth of Christianity, one would negate faith and replace it with evidence.  A leap of faith was necessary.  Absolute knowledge was neither rational nor possible, our saint insisted, contradicting Georg Hegel.  Kierkegaard also contradicted a raft of Greek philosophers who taught that people have the truth inside them and need merely to become conscious of that fact.  No, our saint wrote, both the truth and the ability to understand it come from outside–from God, to be precise.

Kierkegaard had another objection to the Danish state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark:  It made being a Christian too easy.  Challenges were inherent in the Christian pilgrimage of faith, our saint understood.  Did not Jesus command each person to take up his or her cross and follow Him?  The union of church and state in Denmark robbed the Danish state church of its authenticity and power, Kierkegaard argued.

Kierkegaard, aged 42 years, died in Copenhagen on November 11, 1855.  He had been paralyzed since he had collapsed in a street on October 2.  To the end our saint refused offers of ministrations by ministers of the state church.  He said,

Royal functionaries are not related to Christianity.

An Influential Legacy

Kierkegaard, although a prolific and widely read author during his lifetime, was also a frequently ignored one, especially by bishops of the state church.  Yet his influence spread posthumously, due in large part to translations of many of his works.  Oft-cited thinkers who owed much to Kierkegaard’s writings included the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and the Neo-Orthodox theologians Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and Karl Barth (1886-1968).

To that list I add another one none of my sources mentioned:  Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998).  He taught that to argue for the truth of the Gospel based on an outside standard of reliability is to make the outside standard more important than the Gospel.  Nothing, Newbigin insisted, was more important than the Gospel, and the sole ground for a Christian’s proper confidence in the truth of the Gospel was Jesus.  Newbigin, like Kierkegaard, opposed efforts to make Christianity”reasonable.”  And Newbigin used gentler rhetoric than Kierkegaard did.

God continues to speak through the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 7, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF COLBERT S. CARTWRIGHT, U.S. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUGLIELMO MASSAIA, ITALIAN CARDINAL, MISSIONARY, AND CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN SCRIMGER, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTRICIUS OF ROUEN, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and dread in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Help us to remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow, you are always with us,

that with your philosopher Søren Kierkegaard,

we may believe what we have not seen and trust where we cannot test,

and so come at length to the eternal joy which you have prepared for those who love you;

through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Exodus 33:14-23

Psalm 22:1-11

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Matthew 9:20-22

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 569

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Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig (September 8)   3 comments

Above:  Portrait of Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1862), by Constantin Hansen

Image in the Public Domain

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NIKOLAI FREDERIK SEVERIN GRUNDTVIG (SEPTEMBER 8, 1783-SEPTEMBER 2, 1872)

Danish Lutheran Minister, Bishop, Historian, Philosopher, Poet, Educator, and Hymn Writer

“The Father of the Public School in Scandinavia”

Nikolai Grundtvig comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and The Episcopal Church.  His Lutheran feast day (since 1978) is September 2.  His Episcopal feast day (since 2009) is September 8, shared, appropriately, with Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), his contemporary.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, or the Danish State Church

The Enlightenment had much to recommend it–freedom of the press, liberty of conscience, constitutional government, et cetera.  The founding of my country, the United States of America, owed much to the Enlightenment.  However, the Enlightenment had limits to its virtues.  It overestimated the powers of human reason, for example.  The intellectual movement also rejected the “supernatural,” a category I consider spurious (although I accept that many of the contents of that category are real, just as natural as birds and sunsets).  Rationalism dominated Danish Lutheranism during much of Grundtvig’s lifetime.  The influence of Rationalism reduced pastors to moral instructors, truncated and rewrote the liturgy, and rejected human sinfulness.  Rationalism was what Archdeacon Claus Harms (1778-1855) of Kiel condemned in 1877 as the

papacy of reason

–strong language, coming from a Lutheran.

A competing strand of Lutheranism was Pietism, usually dated to 1675 and either credited to or blamed on, depending on one’s opinion of it, Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705), author of Pia Desideria (Heartfelt Desire).  Pietism began as a reaction against dry, abstract orthodoxy divorced from daily life.  On the positive side, Pietism encouraged personal prayers and devotions, the study of the Bible, and much charitable work.  On the other hand, Pietism devalued grace (via a fixation on works) and the sacraments, was subjective to the point of undermining orthodoxy, frowned upon “worldly amusements” to the point of sourness, and redefined the Church as the assembly of the regenerated and reborn, not as the community of those bound together by word and sacraments.

There were also orthodox Lutherans, of course.

Young Nikolai Grundtvig

Nikolai Grundtvig, born in Udby, near Vordinborg, Denmark, on September 8, 1783, eventually offended all the above parties.  He, the youngest of five children, came from a long line of ministers.  His father sent the nine-year-old Nikolai to Jylland, to study under the Reverend L. Feld.  Two years later our saint passed his examen actium.  By the time Grundtvig graduated from the University of Copenhagen with a degree in theology in 1803, he had no faith left.

For a few years Grundtvig wandered in the spiritual wilderness.  For three years he worked as a tutor to a wealthy family in Langeland.  He, a fine poet, studied Icelandic epics and the Eddas.  In 1807 our saint wrote his first theological treatise, about religion and liturgy.  From 1808 to 1811 our saint taught history in Copenhagen.  During this time he returned to a state of faith.

Grundtvig was orthodox.  In his trial sermon, delivered in 1810, our saint asked,

Why has the Word of God disappeared from His house?

This condemnation of the dominant Rationalism delayed Grundtvig’s ordination for a year.  From 1811 to 1813 our saint served as assistant minister at Udby, under his ailing father, who died in 1813.  At Udby Grundtvig wrote Kort Begred af Verdens Kronike i Sammerhaeng (Short Concept of the World Chronicle, 1812), his first work of history from a Christian perspective.

The Wilderness Years

For much of 1813-1839 Grundtvig was unemployable as a minister.  He did not work as a pastor from 1813 to 1821 and from 1826 to 1839.  Literary work occupied much of our saint’s time.  He published a collection of poems in 1814, a volume of sermons in 1816, and an edition of Beowulf in 1820.  Grundtvig’s rejection of Romanticism foreshadowed that of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

Grundtvig worked again as a pastor in 1821-1826.  King Frederick VI appointed our saint the pastor at Presto in 1821.  The following year Grundtvig became the assistant pastor of Our Savior’s Church, Kristianshavn.  He resigned that post amid a libel lawsuit five years later.  In 1825, in Kirkens Gienmaele (The Church’s Reply), Grundtvig had accused the theologian H. N. Clausen of treating Christianity as a merely philosophical idea.  Our saint argued that Christianity is actually a historical revelation handed down from generation to generation via Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Authorities censored Grundtvig’s writings.

Grundtvig was out of the pulpit again.  He traveled to England several times in 1829-1831 to study old Anglo-Saxon documents.  In so doing he pioneered a field of research.  Sang-Värk til den Danske Kirke (Songs for the Danish Church), his hymnal published in 1837, was popular.  Grundtvig, a lecturer at Borsch’s College in 1838, returned to parish work, at Vartov, Copenhagen, in 1839.  There he remained for the rest of his life.

Grundtvigianism

During the 1820s Grundtvig developed Grundtvigianism, the movement that reshaped Danish Lutheranism and, to a lesser degree, influenced Norwegian Lutheranism.  Grundtvig rooted his orthodoxy in the liturgy and the sacraments.  He emphasized

the living word,

the locus of which he identified as the Apostles’ Creed, used in baptisms.  Only “the living word,” Grundtvig argued, could fulfill the need for

the great natural law of the spiritual life,

that is,

the necessity of the spoken word for the awakening of life and the transmission of the spirit.

Grundtvig rejected the position of orthodox Danish Lutherans at the time that the Bible was the sole source and standard of faith.  According to our saint, the Bible was

the dead word.

It was vital, but the word of God, broadly speaking, was the message of God, not the contents of a book.   As Luther wrote,

Printed words are dead, spoken words are living.  On the printed page they are not so forcible as when uttered by the sound of man through his mouth.

In context Grundtvig was not far afield from Martin Luther and John Calvin.  Luther, who understood Sola Scriptura narrowly, to mean that nothing outside the Bible is necessary for salvation, emphasized the power of the spoken word in the liturgy.  Grundtvig, therefore, stood in line with Luther.  Furthermore, Reformed theology has long recognized the created order as a second “book,” alongside the Bible, in which to encounter God.  Another portion of Reformation theology has been the distinction between the “word of God” (the Bible) and the “Word of God” (Jesus), a reference that reaches back to the Gospel of John.  As far as I have been able to discern, Grundtvig’s primary innovation was identifying the locus of the spoken word of God in the Apostles’ Creed.

Grundtvigianism was, according to its orthodox and Pietistic critics, heretical and lax.  The Grundtvigian openness to the possibility of postmortem conversion did more than arch eyebrows.  It allegedly encouraged, for lack of a more precise term, “loose living.”  Furthermore, Grundtvig’s Christian humanism and love of Danish culture led him to value many “worldly amusements,” thereby alarming and offending Pietists.  He, for example, enjoyed the theater and encouraged folk dancing.  Danish Pietists, or “Sad Danes,” avoided such alleged sins, which Grundtvigians, or “Happy Danes” accepted.

Many of Grundtvig’s critics within Lutheranism would have accused Luther of heresy, for Grundtvig channeled Luther well.

The Public Citizen

Grundtvig became “the Father of the Public School in Scandinavia” via his folk school movement.  He opened the first folk school in Rödding, Denmark, in 1844.  The movement spread across Denmark and to Norway, Sweden, and Finland.  In residential high schools young people came together across social class lines and educated each other.

Grundtvig, from 1839 to 1872, was pastor in Vartov, Copenhagen, and, courtesy of King Frederick VII, a bishop from 1861 to 1872, was a major figure in Denmark.  In 1848, for example, Denmark was turning into a constitutional monarchy.  Our saint was a member of the constitutional assembly.

The Great Hymn Writer

Grundtvig was the greatest Scandinavian hymn writer of the nineteenth century.  He wrote more than 1000 hymns, mostly from 1837 to 1860.  (I have added a few of these texts, in English, of course, to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.)  Grundtvig’s peers in the elite club of greatest Scandinavian hymn writers included Hans Adolf Brorson (1694-1764) and Thomas Hansen Kingo (1634-1703).  Grundtvig composed hymns for the entire church year, but his favorite theme was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Death and Legacy

Grundtvig died in Copenhagen on September 2, 1872, six days prior to what would have been his eighty-ninth birthday.  He had preached his last sermon on September 1.

Grundtvig’s influence extended beyond Scandinavia.  When Danish immigration to Canada and the United States of America began in earnest in the late 1800s, the immigrants were not of one mind regarding religion.  Many of them, indifferent to religion in Denmark, remained indifferent to it in the New World.  Grundtvigians and Pietists also immigrated.  The Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (DELCA), initially a “big tent,” became a smaller tent via the Pietistic schism of 1894.  No such schism disrupted the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, however.

Evaluating Grundtvigianism

I find much to admire and little to question in Grundtvigianism.

Grundtvig’s encouragement of a positive form of Christianity that embraces the positive elements of society and culture, thereby eschewing serial contrariness and rejecting sourness in religion, in the name of God, was wonderful.  Pietistic and Puritanical hostility to “worldly amusements” has never been a spiritually or physically healthy attitude.  Much of what these Christians weaned on dill pickles have condemned–from tea, with its antioxidants, to chess, with its therapeutic uses, especially for patients suffering from cognitive decline–science has proven to be beneficial.  Art, especially those forms of it involving acting, has enriched the lives of many people.  And has there every been anything wrong with folk dancing?

Grundtvig’s liturgical and sacramental focus, in the context of Christian community, was laudable.  He stood well within Christian tradition in that and other matters.  His liturgical and sacramental focus has long had the ring of truth with me, even before I knew he had lived.  I grew up a United Methodist in rural southern Georgia, U.S.A.  We usually took Holy Communion every three months.  I wanted it more often, however, for I felt closest God in that sacrament.  That reality contributed greatly to my decision to convert to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, Georgia, on December 22, 1991.

My only reservation regarding Grundtvigianism relates to the unusually high status of the Apostles’ Creed.  That is a fine creed, but the identification of it as the locus of “the living word” is too narrow and specific.  The “word of God,” in my thought, is the message of God.  I can encounter in the Bible, in nature, in fine literature, in fine music, in the spoken words of another person, in the silence, in prayer, in contemplation, in the sacraments, in the liturgy, et cetera.  The canon is fixed at 73 books, per the Council of Trent, but the word of God is available from many sources.

My disagreement with Grundtvig is quite minor.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 7, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF COLBERT S. CARTWRIGHT, U.S. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUGLIELMO MASSAIA, ITALIAN CARDINAL, MISSIONARY, AND CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN SCRIMGER, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTRICIUS OF ROUEN, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Almighty God, you built your Church upon a rock:

Help us remember with your hymn writer Nikolai Grundtvig,

that though steeples may fall and buildings made by hands may crumble,

Jesus made our bodies his temple through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Help us to recognize Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life,

that we may join our voices to the eternal alleluia;

through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-2, 5-8

Psalm 86:1-12

Romans 5:1-5

Matthew 8:5-10

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 567

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Proper Levels of Sensitivity   Leave a comment

Above:  A Scene from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture

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Or, Neither Be a Snowflake Nor Excuse and Facilitate Snowflakism in Others

Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.

Certain statements are always beyond the pale.  These statements are those intended to degrade other human beings.  Reasons for degrading others include race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation.  Anyone who crosses that line deserves strong condemnation.  Nobody should ever tolerate such statements.  One might, on occasion, quote them (as in academic work; try writing a biography of a segregationist politician without quoting racial slurs, for example) or mock them (as in Blazing Saddles).

Above:  Men Reluctant to Give Land to the Irish; from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture

Some works of art age better than others based on this standard.  For example, Blazing Saddles (1974) depicts unapologetic racists as fools and idiots.  The movie stands the test of time as a masterpiece that argues against bigotry.  We who watch the movie laugh at those ensnared by their own learned racism.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is also a classic, but Mickey Rooney’s performance as an Asian man makes me cringe.  On the other hand, the movie does boast Audrey Hepburn and a cat.  How can I dislike a movie with Audrey Hepburn and a cat in it?

Above:  Holly Golightly and Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

A Screen Capture

I am sensitive, but not hypersensitive.  Life is too short (however long it might feel in real time) for me to spend it being hypersensitive, either about what others do and say or what I do or say.  No, I aim for a proper level of sensitivity on both sides of the equation.  I find Birth of a Nation (1915) offensive, for the seminal movie does glorify the first Ku Klux Klan.  The work is inherently racist, but it is also a landmark of cinema and a document of sorts of racial attitudes in much of the United States half a century after the end of the Civil War.  I have no regrets about having watched it from beginning to end once, for historical interest, or in having shown clips in classes, for educational purposes, with context.

The guiding principle for me in these matters is respecting the dignity of every human being, a value built into the Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  This principle explains why, for example, I oppose abortion except in extenuating cases (while I argue that changing minds and making alternatives to abortion easier is a more effective, and therefore, better strategy than outlawing the procedure) as well as homophobia and discrimination against homosexuals.  Whether one places the label “left” or the label “right” on a position regarding respecting the dignity of all people does not matter to me.  Respecting the dignity of every human being is a principle that leads me to refrain from dehumanizing those who are different from me in one or more ways.

That does not mean, however, that I can ever get through day without doing something to offend someone, given that some people take offense more easily than others, and often at matters certain others consider inoffensive.

I am, for example, sufficiently pedantic to insist on always using the words “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” in the plural.  One can be inclusive in the present tense, often by writing or speaking in language that makes one sound educated.  “One” and “one’s” are gender-neutral pronouns, after all.  One might also remain in the singular and substitute the definite article (“the”) for a gendered pronoun.  One can, when one sets one’s mind to the task, identify several strategies for being inclusive in the singular without wrecking the English language.  Alternatively, one might use “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” correctly by switching to the plural forms of words.  Or one might accept the tradition of using masculine pronouns as the inclusive default position and go about enjoying one’s day.  All of the above are feasible options.  I refuse to distort the English language, of which I am quite fond, because of the hypersensitivity of others.

Some people take offense at even the most respectful and polite disagreements.  I have experience with this, usually in the context of teaching.

In late 1991, in southern Georgia, U.S.A., I was at a transitional point in my life.  I was a freshman in college.  I was also turning into an Episcopalian.  I was, for the time being, still a United Methodist, though.  My father was the newly-appointed pastor of the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  One Sunday morning I was teaching the adult class.  There were two visitors, a married couple, Independent Baptists from Savannah, Georgia.  One half of that couple was a child of a member at Sumner.  During the course of that Sunday School lesson the visitors decided that my position on a particular theological point was lax.  Courteously I said,

I disagree.

I learned later in the week that I had offended–upset, really–them.  If these individuals were not prepared to take a polite, respectful “I disagree” well, how did they cope with daily life?  Did they associate most days only with people who agreed with them completely?

I have also offended students with the Joe Friday strategy–

Just the facts.

(Watch Dragnet, if you dare.  The acting was consistently and purposefully bad, but the two series were popular culture touchstones.)  In World Civilization I courses, for example, I have recited facts of ancient comparative religion.  This information has disturbed some students, who have mistaken me for one hostile to Judaism and Christianity, and who have taken grave offense at me.  To quote an old saying many of a younger generation might not understand,

Their tapes were running.

Those who took offense at me were not listening to what I was saying.  No, they were listening to what they thought I was saying.  They were reacting not to me, but to others who had criticized Christianity on false grounds.  In contrast, years ago, when I wrote an article I submitted for publication at an online theological journal with a conservative Presbyterian orientation, I recited many of the same facts about ancient comparative religion, but with no negative response or reaction.  The editors checked my facts and published my article.  They read what I wrote.  They also understood I was not hostile to the faith.

At one of the universities I attended there was a professor who specialized in Latin American history.  One day years ago he taught about human rights violations centuries ago that were matters of policy in the Roman Catholic Church.  An offended parent of an offended student called the department chair to complain.  The professor’s material was factually accurate; he cited examples Holy Mother Church has acknowledged frankly and for which it has formally apologized.  The two offended Roman Catholics (student and parent) took offense more easily and quickly than the institution they defended.

No ideological, political, or religious camp has a monopoly on snowflakism.  If one is to criticize snowflakism while remaining intellectually honest, one must criticize it consistently, without regard for left-right distinctions.

I have a strategy for dealing with that which would ruin my day needlessly:  I ignore it.  If I do not want to hear a speaker on the campus where I work, I do not attend the event.  If I do not want to watch a program or a movie, I avoid it.  Life is too short not to enjoy it properly.

I affirm all I have written in this post thus far as I add to it the following statement:  I understand why many people are hypersensitive.  I understand that many people’s formative experiences have included unapologetic, intentional insults, degradation, and contempt from others.  I understand that many people have felt oppressed because they have experienced a degree of oppression.  I understand that experiences have conditioned them.  I accept that one should acknowledge the unjust realities of many people’s lives and make no excuses for the inexcusable.

I also return to my original thought in this post:  Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.  Something I do (or have done) today is offensive to somebody, somewhere.  The same statement applies to you, O reader.  Our duty is to do our best to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  That kind of love seeks to build people up, not to tear them down.  It respects in words and deeds the dignity inherent in them.  So may we act accordingly.  May we neither cause legitimate offense not take offense wrongly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

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Thirteen Years in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  The Double-Barreled Cannon, Downtown Athens, Georgia

Image in the Public Domain

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In early August 2005 I moved to Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, to commence a doctoral program in history.  That degree program became a victim of an academic abortion–not the kind of last resort, to save the life of the mother, so to speak.  Or perhaps it was a case of academic euthanasia.  Either way, that was then, not that I have ever excused the nefarious actions of one professor in particular who accidentally did me a favor.  (At least there was grace in the accidental favor.)  My degree program died, but I remained in town and integrated into St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church.  The professor has destroyed himself, not that I have ever felt the desire to gloat.

I am responsible for the kind of person I am, after all.

As I approach the end of my thirteenth year and the beginning of my fourteenth year in Athens-Clarke County, I stand amazed at my longevity in one place.  I recall my formative years, a portion of which I moved every two years on average.  I can date events from that time in my life according to the house (usually a United Methodist parsonage) in which I lived.  Now I find myself having resided in one town for nearly thirteen years and at one address for nearly eleven years–a substantial proportion of my life so far.  I enjoy having roots.

One day the time to leave Athens-Clarke County might come.  If so, departure will be the correct decision; I will move toward opportunity and not flee from unpleasant memories.  I am in no hurry to depart from Athens-Clarke County, though.  This is home, after all.  It makes me a better person, and I seek to make it a better place.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALENE, EQUAL TO THE APOSTLES

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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   1 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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