Into My Thirteenth Year in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia   Leave a comment

Above:  Nu, the Thirteenth Letter of the Greek Alphabet

Image in the Public Domain

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I have lived in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, for twelve years–much longer than I lived in any other place.  During this time I have experienced great joys as well as the depths of despair.  I have pursued dreams and witnessed the termination of them.  (The death of a dream is the cruelest death one can experience, psychologically.)  I have felt at home in Athens and felt trapped in it as I have sought in vain to get the hell out of Dodge.  Through thick and thin I have remained, fortunately.

Here I have found a place I belong, at least for a while.  Here I have, for the only time so far, found a community in which I do not feel like a politically marginal person.  I have always been an odd duck, relative to the definition of normal.  I have always chafed against the term “abnormal,” for its negative connotations have always been clear to me.  Yet I have not wanted to be “normal” either.  I have simply wanted to be the best version of myself, as God created me to be, without having to cope with bullying, hard stares, and suspicions.  I was acutely aware of my odd duckness as a child.  I could not help but be aware of how much I stuck out like the proverbial odd thumb.  In Athens, however, I have found a community more welcoming to odd ducks.  I have also found, however, places in that community where odd ducks are not welcome.

In fact, I prefer the company of odd ducks.  Being “normal” is so boring and bland.

Conformity is a vice much of the time.  Certainly conformity enforced via bullying is never a virtue.  No, I prefer a high tolerance level (at least) for diversity.  (Aside: Barring extreme cases, when acceptance is not on the table, tolerance is superior to intolerance.  The allegation of being tolerant is not the worst charge one can face.)  We should not accept or tolerate everything in a healthy society, but we should tolerate or accept much in a good society.  Bullying, for example, is a behavior with no moral justification.  Diversity makes life more interesting in positive ways.  If we humans were supposed to be alike, why would God have created us to be so different from each other?  I accept diversity as a gift from God and refuse to do unto others as conformists have done unto me.

I have not changed my theological and political opinions much over the past twelve years.  I have moderated my theology, moving slightly to the right and the center, but I have remained left-of-center.  My politics have, during the last twelve months, shifted to the left.  I was already a man of the left; now I am moving closer to Fabian Socialism.  When I lived in South Georgia, I was frequently the most liberal person in any given room.  If I was not that person, others in any given room certainly made me feel as if I were and made me feel uncomfortable about it.  Immediately, in Athens, I found myself among the more conservative faction, whether at my new parish or in the Department of History of The University of Georgia.  The difference in Athens was that I was in different rooms–rooms filled with people to my left.  I adopted a policy of not looking askance at them, for I knew the feeling of being the object of askance looks.  I continued to practice this policy.  Over the years I have retained my generally liberal support for civil rights–on all bases.  I supported gay rights before I arrived in Athens; I have continued in that opinion.  I have remained a liberal voice.

I have concluded that I am best suited to life in a college town, regardless of whether I work at an institution of higher education.  (I keep my options open.)  Athens, then, has been a fine place for me to be.

As long as I should remain here, may I do so.  Then may I go where I should be next.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

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In Praise of Books   Leave a comment

Above:  Five of My Books, August 3, 2017

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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I come from a bookish family.  I recall the old family house in Summerville, Georgia, before my grandmother Taylor died, the structure stood vacant, and vandals burgled it (oddly, without any of the neighbors noticing).  I remember opening closets and finding bookshelves (full of books, of course) built into them.  My love of books is learned.

I, as a one trained in history, harbor strong suspicions of technology without resorting to joining the ranks of Luddites.  Technology provides tools, many of which I find useful.  Other tools, however, do not interest me.  Some of them are counter-productive.  A printed and bound book is, under the proper circumstances, of more value for a longer period of time than any electronic version of a book.  The former certainly requires less technology–such as glasses and a lamp, perhaps–to access it.  Although the Internet is a wonderful resource for reference purposes, when one knows how to use it properly, I prefer reference works when possible.

I notice that many of my students–some of them, by their own admission, not avid readers–seem oblivious to the presence of books as sources for their essays.  It is their loss.  They do not understand the pleasures of holding an old book and smelling the pages or admiring its design.  These students are, to borrow a term, digital natives.  They are not always adept at interpreting information well, analyzing sources properly, and appreciating the riches of well-edited reference works.  I still swear by my sets of Americanas (1962) and Britannicas (1968), encyclopedias more detailed in certain ways than any Internet resources I have found.

Furthermore, despite the digitization of many volumes at websites such as archive.org, an invaluable resource, not everything is there.  And, even when a particular book is there, a hard copy is superior and certainly easier on one’s eyeballs.  The physical book is also tactile; that is a virtue.

Books are superior to the alternatives.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 3, 2017 COMMON ERA

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In Praise of Mere Decency   2 comments

Human depravity is not an article of faith for me.  No, it is a documented and proven reality.  Faith comes into play in the absence of confirmation or contradiction by standard means of human knowledge.  For evidence of human depravity one need to look no further than the comments sections of many websites.  Between those who post incendiary and insulting material for the purpose of stirring the pot, so to speak, and those who mean it I find many reasons for grave concern about human nature.

In contrast I praise mere decency.  One should do x because it is the morally correct course of action, not because one seeks a reward for it.  I praise the simple act of striving to live according to the Golden Rule, regardless of one’s situation and station in life.  The operative status is that of a human being with a pulse.  I extol the virtues of mere decency, regardless of whether one is a neighbor, a teacher, a student, an employee, a coworker, a boss, a private citizen, or a potentate.  I praise decency wherever it is present.  I condemn the absence of decency wherever that is a reality.  This is a matter of principle for me, as I seek, by grace, to be more decent than I am.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 2, 2017 COMMON ERA

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/in-praise-of-mere-decency/

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Regarding Voting and Futility   Leave a comment

Above:  Flag of the State of Georgia, Modeled after the Confederate First National Flag, Banner of a Treasonous Cause, Whose Cornerstone was Chattel Slavery, Allegedly Commanded by God

Image in the Public Domain

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Of Political Futility and the Right to Complain

I seek to be an informed voter.  I seek out information about candidates and their policy positions.  I also study a sample ballot days before I vote.  If I can find audio or video of a debate, I pay attention.  Some of the time all the candidates disappoint me, as in the case of the races for the Board of Education in Laurens County, Georgia, in 2004.  I recall that none of the candidates, based on how they constructed sentences and conjugated verbs, sounded properly educated.

I take the responsibility of voting seriously.  Yet I do not harbor any delusion that my vote matters most of the time.  The reality of politics in Georgia (statewide and in the case of the Congressional district in which I reside) means that my vote is irrelevant most of the time.  The gerrymandering of Athens-Clarke County means that my votes for candidates for the state Senate and House of Representatives mean nothing.  (Aside:  I oppose gerrymandering at all times and places; the practice depresses voting and discourages political moderation and legislative bipartisanship.)  With regard to presidential elections, the combination of the Electoral College and the reality of politics in Georgia means that I might as well not vote for a slate of electors, although I do.  My vote, I know, is futile.  My vote is usually meaningless when there is a political contest.  Much of the time, however, candidates run unopposed.  Nobody’s vote matters then.

Writing and calling my elected representatives in Washington, D.C., is likewise futile.  I know this from experience; a brick wall would be more responsive than the staffers who write the non-responses I receive.  I recall receiving only one genuine response from Congressional staffers as long as I have been writing and calling Senators and Congressman.  I remember that, some years ago, I contacted an office of Senator Zell Miller and wrote that his position on a major national issue was contrary to the ethics of Jesus of Nazareth.  I also recall that a staffer called me at home and asked if I wanted to add to my statement; I did not, I remember.  I do, however, give credit where it is due; such a call is not a canned non-response.

I continue to vote.  For now, at least, it gives me the right to complain legitimately, if nothing else.

I favor a vigorous republic (which is what we have, not a democracy; read the Constitution of the United States) with an engaged, well-informed populace, the end of nakedly partisan efforts to suppress voting, the dedication to recognizing objective reality, and the reality of real political contests as the rule.  That sentence, alas, does not describe political reality in the United States of America in 2017.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 2, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Feast of James Montgomery (April 30)   1 comment

Above:  Statue of James Montgomery

Image Source = Mick Knapton

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JAMES MONTGOMERY (NOVEMBER 4, 1771-APRIL 30, 1854)

Anglican and Moravian Hymn Writer

James Montgomery was one of the greatest English hymn writers, by quality of those texts as well as the quantity of them–more than 400.  The Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) (1923) included 52 of his hymns–certainly an impressive count.

James Montgomery, born on November 4, 1771, at Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, was one of several sons of John Montgomery, the only Moravian minister in Scotland.  Our saint, who started writing poetry at the age of 10 years, studied at Bracehill, a Moravian settlement in Ireland, where his family had settled in 1776.  A few years later the parents left their sons behind, in the care of the Moravian Church, and became missionaries to Barbados, where they died.  Young James continued his education at Fulneck Seminary, Fulneck, England.  He was, however, a bad student, so school officials apprenticed him to a baker.  Montgomery ran away from the baker and fled to Mirfield in 1787.  There he got a job in retail, but became bored with that position.  So it came to pass that he left that job and relocated to Wath, near Rotherham, and went to work in another store.  That position did not satisfy Montgomery either, so he left for London.  In that city he searched in vain for someone to publish his poetry.  In 1792, however, he did find a job he liked–assistant to one Jospeh Gales, an auctioneer, a bookseller, and the publisher of the Sheffield Register.

Montgomery was, by the standards of Tory politics, a revolutionary; so was Gales.  Our saint approved of the storming of the Bastille, favored the abolition of slavery and of the slave trade, and was concerned about the plight of child laborers.  He was a radical who did not shrink from challenging conventions and institutions.  In the wake of the French Revolution the administration of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger clamped down on dissent (even that of the peaceful variety) and suspended the writ of habeas corpus.  There was, therefore, no freedom of speech or of the press for a time–all in the name of national security, a poor excuse for suppressing civil liberties.  Gales fled the country rather than go to prison for having published certain articles and editorials.  Montgomery assumed leadership of the newspaper, which he renamed the Sheffield Iris.  For 31 years, until 1825, he edited the publication.  Twice he went to prison for political reasons.  The first term was due to a text in praise of the storming of the Bastille.  The second period of incarceration followed the printing of details of a riot at Sheffield.

Montgomery, who helped to found the Eclectic Review in 1825 and contributed to it frequently for years, lectured on poetry at Sheffield and at the Royal Institution, London.  Our saint, who left the Moravian Church for The Church of England, returned to the Unitas Fratrum in 1812.  As an Anglican, Montgomery promoted the congregational singing of hymns, as opposed to the traditional metrical Psalms.  (Congregational hymn singing displaced metrical Psalms in Anglicanism in the 1800s.)  Our saint also encouraged foreign missions and worked with the British Bible Society.  Some of his hymns were parts of these evangelistic efforts.

Some of Montgomery’s notable hymns were:

  1. “We Bid Thee Welcome in the Name of Jesus” (for the ordination and installation of a minister),
  2. “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,”
  3. “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Gates of Brass,”
  4. “Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” and
  5. “O Bless the Lord, My Soul.”

Major works of our saint, awarded (by a Whig government) a royal pension of 200 pounds–that is, 17,400 pounds, adjusted for inflation to 2016 currency, measured according to the retail price index–per annum in 1833, included:

  1. Prison Amusements (1796),
  2. The Ocean (1805),
  3. The Wanderer of Switzerland (1806),
  4. The West Indies (1810),
  5. The World Before the Flood (1812),
  6. Greenland, and Other Poems (1819),
  7. Songs of Zion (1822),
  8. The Christian Psalmist (1825),
  9. The Pelican Island (1827),
  10. Collected Poems (1841), and
  11. Original Hymns (1853).

Montgomery died in his sleep at his home on The Mount, Sheffield, on April 30, 1854.  He was 84 years old.  A large public funeral followed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FLORA MACDONALD, CANADIAN STATESWOMAN AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF NANCY BYRD TURNER, POET, EDITOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE PIONEERING FEMALE EPISCOPAL PRIESTS, 1974 AND 1975

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Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

James Montgomery and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH

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My Eighth Anniversary As a Blogger   Leave a comment

Above:  Theta, the Eighth Letter of the Greek Alphabet

Image in the Public Domain

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Today is the eighth anniversary of SUNDRY THOUGHTS, my original weblog, from which I have spun off seven others.

I had little idea what I was doing on July 27, 2009.  My original post was the text (as an editor at the Athens Banner-Herald modified it) of a letter to the editor decrying the homophobia of U.S. Representative Paul Broun, Jr., and people like him.  That was a fine post, but I have deleted most of my earliest posts.  I hit upon the idea of blogging about saints, although I have deleted many of those early posts also.  Many were mostly cut-and-paste jobs; they were substandard.  Early original posts about saints also tended to be bad.  The slow and methodical renovation and expansion of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days has progressed from posts for feast days beginning with January 1 to the end of April–about one-third of the way toward one goal–to get through December 31.

The project of renovating and expanding the Ecumenical Calendar will require much time.  That will not be a problem for me.  After I get to December 31 in that project, I will start again, reviewing what I have done and adding more saints as I deem proper.

Blogging has proven to be a useful hobby for me.  It has stabilized my Bible Study projects (keyed to lectionaries) and provided an outlet for self-expression.  I have frequently been at a loss for someone to whom to express certain thoughts I have considered worthy of sharing.  Either stating certain opinions to a particular person would be foolish or at least not helpful or that person would not be able, for a variety of reasons, to comprehend or relate to the content.  Yet, via blogging, I have been able to find an audience, albeit a relatively small one, as WordPress records statistics.  I have pursued what I like, not what is popular.  As Martin Luther probably did not say at the Diet of Worms,

Here I stand; I can do no other.

Maintaining a network of eight weblogs necessarily entails leaving some of them fallow at any given time.  I am preparing to leave SUNDRY THOUGHTS fallow for a little while, except for an occasional post, and return to BLOGA THEOLOGICA, the intended host of a series of 60 posts of the Book of Psalms.  The Psalter in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) divides the 150 Psalms according to a reading plan for 30 days, with distinct readings for the morning and the evening of each day.  That sounds like an invitation to write 60 weblog posts to me.  The next major project here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS is due to be the renovation and expansion of the May portion of the Ecumenical Calendar.

For now, however, the project of updating the April section of the Ecumenical Calendar is temporarily on hold while I add texts by the prolific hymn writer James Montgomery (1771-1854) to GATHERED PRAYERS ahead of creating the new Montgomery post, the last one of April this round.  I have a draft (dated July 23) of that profile sitting in a composition book.  Frequently, when I write about a hymn writer here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS, the updating of GATHERED PRAYERS becomes a related project, so that I link the two weblogs to each other.

Pax vobiscum!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Feast of James E. Walsh (April 30)   Leave a comment

Above:  Father Walsh, 1918

Image in the Public Domain

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JAMES EDWARD WALSH (APRIL 30, 1891-JULY 29, 1981)

Roman Catholic Missionary Bishop in China, and Political Prisoner

Also known as Wha Lee Son, Chinese for “Pillar of Truth”

Bishop James Edward Walsh spent about twelve years of a twenty-year sentence in a Chinese prison for Christ.  After a year and a half of daily interrogations, Chinese officials got Walsh to confess to being what he was not–a spy.  He was, however, guilty of being a Western missionary; that was his actual offense, in the eyes of Chinese Communist officialdom.

Walsh, born in Cumberland, Maryland, on April 30, 1891, came from a devout Roman Catholic family.  He, the second of nine children of William E. Walsh and Mary Concannon Walsh, was a mischievous parochial school student who grew up to become a missionary priest.  Our saint, after spending two years working as a timekeeper in a steel mill, found spiritual fulfillment at age 21 by accepting his vocation to the priesthood.  The family supported his decision enthusiastically.

Walsh’s vocation was to be a missionary priest.  In 1912 he joined the new Maryknoll Fathers, properly the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, and began to prepare for the priesthood.  On December 7, 1915, our saint became the second Maryknoll priest.  Not quite three years later, on September 8, 1918, Walsh and a few other priests sailed for Kwong Tung, China.  There he remained until 1936.  After about a year our saint became the Maryknoll Superior in China.  On May 22, 1927, Walsh, or as many Chinese Roman Catholics called him, Wha Lee Son (“Pillar of Truth”), became a bishop, assigned to the Vicariate of Kongmoon.  He told his missioners:

I am the least among you.  Look upon me as your servant.  I am made bishop chiefly to help you.  If my help takes the form of direction, I hope you will realize it is intended to help you just the same.  But I think we understand each other; we are a happy family.

From 1936 to 1946 Walsh served as the second Superior General of the Maryknoll order.  During those years our saint, back at Maryknoll headquarters at Ossining, New York, supervised the beginning of Maryknoll missions in Africa and Latin America.

Then Walsh returned to China, where he remained until 1970.  Until 1951, when the People’s Republic (an oxymoron) closed it, he led the Catholic Central Bureau (in Shanghai), which coordinated all Roman Catholic missions in the nation-state.  Life became more complicated for all Western missionaries in China after the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949.  Communist hostility to missionaries was one issue; official Chinese hostility to Westerners (especially considering the history of China during the build up to 1949) was another factor.  The central government harassed Western missionaries and pressured them to leave.  Walsh became the last one to go, at the age of 79.  For years he refused to go, despite the harassment, including surveillance.  Before his arrest and incarceration he said:

To put up with a little inconvenience at my age is nothing.  Besides, I am a little sick and tired of being pushed around on account of my religion.

Authorities arrested Walsh on October 18, 1958.  The verdict was never is doubt.  The sentence was 20 years.  He served about 12 of those, studying a Chinese dictionary and praying the rosary.  This, our saint understood, was as much of a witness to Christ as he could make at that time.  Walsh, who was fond of the Chinese people, managed to survive his incarceration without nursing resentment; he was actually quite forgiving.  During those years his only non-Chinese visitor was a brother, William C. Walsh, the Attorney General of Maryland from 1938 to 1945.  In a diplomatic gesture building up President Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, the People’s Republic freed Walsh on July 10, 1970.  On that day he walked into freedom and Hong Kong.

After an audience with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, Walsh returned to Maryknoll headquarters at Ossining, New York.  There he was a revered figure and a humble and prayerful man who insisted that he had done nothing worthy of any special recognition.  Walsh stated that he had simply been a servant of Christ and a missionary priest who had done his job faithfully.  Missionaries, he said, should remain with the people to whom God had sent them as long as that is possible.  He was not the first missionary to suffer for following that ethic.  Indeed, others, including some whom Walsh knew, had died doing so.  And Walsh was not the last Christian missionary to suffer for remaining with the people to whom God had sent him.

Walsh died, aged 90 years, of natural causes on July 29, 1981.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servant James Edward Walsh,

who made the good news known in China, and who spent time in prison for doing so.

Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel,

so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of your love,

and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 62:1-7

Psalm 48

Romans 10:11-17

Luke 24:44-53

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59

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