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Feast of Milner Ball (April 6)   Leave a comment

Image Source = University of Georgia Law School Tribute Page

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MILNER SHIVERS BALL (APRIL 10-1936-APRIL 6, 2011)

Presbyterian Minister, Law Professor, Witness for Civil Rights, Humanitarian

From time to time one finds one’s self in the company of greatness.  The greatest of people are those who improve the lives of others, often facing scorn for part or much of their efforts.  Years and decades later, admirers speak of how courageous these great people were, but such high praise was scarce at the time.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936, and educated in Georgia and Tennessee public schools, Milner Ball earned his A.B. degree from Princeton University and his Master of Divinity from Harvard University.  A man possessed of a keen intellect and deep Christian faith, he studied with Karl Barth and became a Presbyterian minister.  Lifelong concerns for social justice led Ball to support causes usually described as liberal.  In the 1960s, for example he was openly pro-civil rights.  After a stint as pastor in Manchester, Tennessee, he became the Presbyterian campus minister at The University of Georgia (UGA).  There his demonstrated belief in racial equality aroused much opposition at the recently (1962) integrated campus.  The last straw, however, came when Ball became a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but not as a member of the Lester Maddox-approved delegation.  Ball, joined the Julian Bond-led delegation instead.

Ball, fired from his position, entered law school and commenced a career of public service via the law.  Graduating first in his class from the UGA Law School, Ball served as former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s representative to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1971 and 1972.  Then he taught law at Rutgers University from 1972 to 1978 before returning to UGA as a law professor.  He retired in 2006.

A prolific scholar, Ball wrote many law review articles and four books:  The Promise of American Law:  A Theological, Humanistic View of Legal Process (1981), Lying Down Together:  Law, Metaphor, and Theology (1985), The Word and the Law (1993), and Called by Stories:  Biblical Sagas and Their Challenge for Law (2000).  A specialist in environmental law, tribal law, constitutional law, and the intersection of theology and law, Ball challenged his students and readers to improve the lives of the less fortunate and to work for justice.  Law, he wrote, ought to be a force which transfigures society and builds up human community.

Ball’s work extended far beyond Athens, Georgia.  He taught overseas (in Argentina, France, Belgium, England, and Iceland) over the years and served as a judge on the International People’s Tribunal in Hawaii (1993).  Ball was also a member of the Theological Anthropology Project at the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton University.  And his influence continues through the careers of his law students.

Locally in Athens, Ball was instrumental in the Athens Justice Project, which, in the words of its website, “assists low income individuals with pending criminal charges in achieving a fair legal outcome and in becoming productive, law-abiding community members.”  Such work, truly a living memorial to Ball’s commitment to social justice, reflects his active belief in helping the disadvantaged and building up human community.  The Athens Justice Project was just one of Ball’s many community-building activities, with others including a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter.

Ball received many civil rights and public service honors.  It is appropriate then that the Working in the Public Interest (WIPI) Law Conference established the Milner S. Ball Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

Our love for our neighbors, Jesus said, must be active.  The obligation to love our neighbors as ourselves requires us to reach out to those who need the assistance we can offer.  Following our Lord in this way will cause us to cross lines some of our neighbors consider improper, for we human beings cling to social injustices which benefit us, if only psychologically.  But crossing these lines is part of God’s mandate upon our lives.  Jesus disregarded such barriers, as the canonical Gospels record.  He was (and is) the Master; a servant is not above his or her master.

Milner Ball followed his master faithfully.  He and I participated in the life of the same parish, crossing paths.  Knowing him, even casually, was a great honor.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 6, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

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For More Information:

UGA Law School Tribute Page

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A collect and the readings for a Renewer of Society, according to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the hymnal and worship book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.  Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.  Help us, like your servant Milner Ball, to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

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