Archive for March 2012

There Is No Such Beauty As Where You Belong   1 comment

Above:  The Reverend Beth Long, Rector of St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, with Mr. Andrew Lane, also of St. Gregory the Great Church, at the 2012 Georgia Interfaith Power and Light Sixth Annual GIPPY Awards, Atlanta, Georgia, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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I had to absent myself from church one recent Sunday morning.  Allergies attached me when I had a dearth of over-the-counter medications.  So, instead of going to church, I drove to a local Dollar General store and purchased what I needed.  I would have been bad company in church that morning.  My absence meant that I was not in the choir to sing an anthem which contained a memorable line:

There is no such beauty as where you belong.

This line, unlike many others I have read, heard, and sung, has remained with me.  And I think I know why.

I arrived in Athens, Georgia, in Fall 2005 to pursue a Ph.D. in history at The University of Georgia.  That dream died during a sad and frustrating saga of personality conflicts, historical disciplinary disagreements, and the perfidious action of one professor (whose name I will not reveal in any print or online source) with a weak ego.  Since then I have had an off-and-on internal debate as to whether I belong in Athens.  My father, who lives in Americus, in the opposite corner of the state, is ailing and my mother is his caregiver.  Should I start over there?  Ought I to live closer to my family?

I have established a personal network in Athens.  Having lived longer in Athens than I have lived anywhere else, I have come to like being rooted.  And I have belonged to and attended the same congregation–St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church–all that time.  It is a wonderful group of people.  There I fit in culturally.  The choir performs wonderful music and has earned a community-wide reputation for excellence.  And, at St. G’s, I am no longer (as I was too often in South Georgia) the resident heretic; there are plenty of people to my left, and I have not changed my mind much since shortly before August 2005.  The parish is also a leader in environmental stewardship through its recycling program and plan to add solar panels soon.  And I participate in the card ministry, mailing get-well cards.  I serve also as a Eucharistic Minister, put stray Prayer Books and hymnals in their proper places, and rearrange chairs (we have chairs, not pews) at the priest’s request from time to time.  And I even tell puns to those who appreciate them.  I have become accustomed to the place.

I belong in Athens and at St. G’s, at least for now.  I am where I belong.  There is no such beauty as where I belong, and I rejoice in the fact that I live in it.  Deo gratias!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 21, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SERAPION OF THMUIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOMAS KEN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS

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POSTSCRIPT

A few weeks ago I donated my 1969-2002 run of the Journals of the South Georgia Conference, The United Methodist Church, to the UGA Main Library.  The fact that I felt comfortable doing that indicated how much my attitude toward that institution of higher learning had changed and have changed.

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/uga-and-me/

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 18, 2012 COMMON ERA

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“St. Gregory is Going Green”–Athens Banner-Herald, April 6, 2012:

http://onlineathens.com/faith/2012-04-05/st-gregory-going-green

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Babylon 5–Passing Through Gethsemane (1995)   2 comments

Brother Edward

Among the character pieces early in the third season my favorite is Passing Through Gethsemane, the sad tale of Brother Edward.

The framing story is the return of Lyta Alexander, who left the station and headed for Vorlon space after Divided Loyalties, late in the second season, in which she exposed Talia Winters as the host for the Psi Corps-implanted spy personality.  Lyta, no longer part of Psi Corps, is working for the Vorlons, who have modified her, and for whom she conducts missions and errants, carrying Ambassador Kosh within herself.

Brother Edward is a gentle man, a model of charity and goodwill in deeds small, medium, and large.  He lives on board Babylon 5 as part of the community of Trappist monks which arrived two episodes ago.  He engages in his community’s work, which is to seek the other names and faces of God from members of alien species.

In one scene he interviews Minbari Ambassador Delenn and her aide, Lennier.  The Minbari diplomats explain their culture’s spirituality and the character Valen, a Minbari not born of Minbari–the founder of the Minbari nation as it exists.  (Pay attention:  Valen is pivital in the series.) Then Delenn asks Brother Edward to explain his faith, specifically the hook, if you will, on which it hangs.  It is this:  Jesus did not have to remain in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he chose to be there when the guards came for him.  Edward does not know if he would have had the courage to remain in the garden.

Edward has a secret of which he is unaware.  In 2260 there is no more capital punishment.  The worst criminals, such as serial killers, face the penalty called death of personality, in which the authorities mindwipe the convicted criminal and implant a new personality determined to serve society.  Until 2251 the person now known as Brother Edward was Charles Dexter, the Black Rose Killer.  Some relatives of Dexter’s victims have hired a Centauri telepath to undo the mindwipe partially, prompting Edward to have troubling flashbacks he does not understand at first.

Brother Theo, head of the Trappist community on board Babylon 5, counsels Edward to leave everything in God’s hands.  But the guilt-ridden Brother Edward takes matters into his own hands and searches computer records until he finds a news report with the image of Charles Dexter:

The angry relatives of the murder victims catch up with Brother Edward and leave him for dead.  The man pictured below leads them and does what he considers necessary and proper to exact revenge:

With Lyta’s help the station security forces locate Brother Edward yet find him close to death.  Brother Theo administers the last rites and the guards arrest Edward’s murderer.

Last Rites for Brother Edward

A few days later, Brother Theo introduces the newest member of the Trappist order to Captain Sheridan.  Brother Malcolm has wanted to serve others as long as he can remember.  Does his face look familiar?

Brother Malcolm (Left) and Brother Theo (Right)

Forgiveness, Captain Sheridan tells Theo, is a hard thing.  Nothing is more difficult, Theo agrees.  This, I think, is true.  And the episode has haunted me since I saw it in first run syndication, late in 1995, when I was a student at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, U.S.A.  Now I encourage you, O reader, to watch it, become haunted by it, and share it with others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 19, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

All images are property of Warner Brothers, and I do not profit from said images.

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/babylon-5-passing-through-gethsemane-1995/

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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Babylon 5

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Babylon 5–Believers (1994)   1 comment

Above:  Dr. Stephen Franklin Comforting Shon

The obligatory happy ending, the result of a deus ex machina, is a staple of movies and television shows.  There is no happy ending with Believers, an episode in which the characters do what they think is correct, but not all can be right.

The Children of Time, a minor race with no ambassador aboard Babylon 5, reject surgery, which they believe kills the soul, rendering one an empty shell.  Surgery, even minor surgery, is reserved for mere animals, whom the Children of Time consider soulless beasts.  Steeped in this belief system are two parents, Tharg and M’Ola, whose son, Shon, has a life-threatening respiratory condition Dr. Franklin and his staff can repair with a minor surgery.  When the parents refuse the medical procedure a cultural clash ensues and the parents seek help from Commander Sinclair and various ambassadors to prevent Dr. Franklin from sending Shon into surgery.

Below:  Tharg (the father) and M’Ola (the mother)

Dr. Franklin obeys his conscience, disobeys orders, and saves the boy’s life.  The parents then reject their son, whom they believe is a soulless shell.  Then they take the boy to their quarters, where Dr. Franklin, much to his horror, discovers what their culture dictates they do next.  If Shon no longer has a soul, the logic goes, killing him cannot be wrong.

Below:  Dr. Franklin’s Reaction to Shon’s Death

I am a religious person.  Yet I am not blind to the excesses which flow from the combination of dogma and insufficient or absent critical thinking or simple compassion and goodness.  People have long justified a variety of cruel acts by labeling them God’s law.  I have covered this ground in some of my lectionary-based devotional posts.  My preferred standard for determining whether an act is consistent with divine law is 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter.  In this episode, Dr. Franklin lives up to that standard.  And the truly sad fact is that his decision does not change Shon’s fate.  The boy would have died anyway.

Below:  Dr. Franklin Defending His Decision to Take Shon Into Surgery

This episode concerns the dark side of religion.  Subsequent ones, however, deal with the positive side.  I think of two third-season episodes, for example.  The A-story in Passing Through Gethsemane is that of Brother Edward, a Roman Catholic monk experiencing a crisis of faith and identity.  And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place features a sympathetic Black Baptist pastor and his partners on a mission to resist the dictatorial President of the Earth Alliance.  Those partners include a rabbi and a Roman Catholic monk.  Religion receives balanced treatment in Babylon 5.  That is appropriate.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, ECUMENIST

All images are property of Warner Brothers, and I do not profit from said images.

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2010/06/26/babylon-5-believers-1994/

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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Babylon 5

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Of Gods and Men (2010)   2 comments

The Algerian Helicopter Gunship and the Monastic Chapel

(All images in this post are screen captures I took via the PowerDVD program and a rented disc.)

OF GODS AND MEN (2010)

Starring

Lambert Wilson as Christian

Michael Lonsdale as Luc

Olivier Rabourdin as Christophe

Philippe Laudenbach as Celestin

Jacques Herlin as Amedee

Loic Pichon as Jean-Pierre

Xavier Maly as Michel

Jean-Marie Frin as Paul

Olivier Perrier as Bruno

Directed by Xavier Beauvois

French with English Subtitles

Rated PG-13 in the United States

2 hours, 2 minutes long

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In 1996, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists kidnapped a group of French Trappist monks in Algeria.  The precise circumstances of these men’s death remains uncertain, but their demise apparently involved beheading.  The terrorists did not abduct all members of the religious community.  This fact, I presume, explains how we know what happened until the kidnapping.  Of Gods and Men is the story of the Trappist monks.

Early Morning Prayer

The movie opens in 1995.  The monks form a community in and of themselves.  They support each other, pray and worship together, and even argue among themselves.  But they do more than pray and garden, not that those are bad activities.

Brother Luc, the Doctor

Brother Luc, a doctor, tends to patients most days.  Some days, he sees up to 150 people from the adjacent village, in fact.  He cannot get out much, due to physical infirmity, so the patients come to him.

Brother Luc, the Counselor

Luc also functions as a counselor.

Community Counseling

The monks’ Muslim neighbors turn to them for prayer and advice, which the gentle monks are glad to offer.  Militant, violent fundamentalists have become active in the area, much to the disapproval of the villagers.  The monks are, in fact, integral to the village, for they also attend family functions and other social events there.   Here we see Brother Christian, abbot of the monastery, and a fellow monk speaking with some village elders.

Turning to God and Each Other

The monks are in great danger from both the terrorists and the Algerian military.  The monastics have a way out, for they can transfer to another monastery.  But, if they do this, what will become of the impoverished villagers next door? And, if they stay, the monks risk martyrdom.

Inner Peace

We already know how the story ends.  So the real drama lies in the journey.  How do the monks make peace with the real possibility of violent death for their faith?  And by which paths do those who initially supported leaving come to agree to remain in harm’s way?

The journey of faith can be a difficult one, depending on circumstances.  One IMDb reviewer, while praising the movie, wrote that the monks were not saints, as if saints are perfect.  I propose that the monks were saints, warts and all.  They struggled, some more than others, but concluded that, if the path of following Christ leads to their martyrdom, so be it.  I harbor serious doubts whether I would have made the same decision.

Brother Christian, who died, left behind a written final testimony.  Here is the English translation:

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.

I invite you, O reader, to spend two quality hours with this movie.  May it deepen your faith, or perhaps help you find it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EARL WARREN, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/of-gods-and-men-2010/

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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Cinema 2010s, Islam

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Passion Fish (1992)   1 comment

Two Friends in a Boat

All images are screen captures I took via PowerDVD.

PASSION FISH (1992)

Starring

Mary McDonnell as May-Alice Culhane

Alfre Woodard as Chantelle

David Straitharn as Rennie

Directed by John Sayles

2 hours, 15 minutes long

Rated R

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A really good movie is a great joy.  Passion Fish is such a film, one, true to my standard method in these movie review posts, I will not summarize plot point by plot point.  My goal, rather, is to interest people enough to watch it.

May-Alice, Waking Up Paralyzed

May-Alice Culhane was a successful soap opera actress.  One day, however, she was stepping out of a New York City taxi cab when another cab hit her, paralyzing her below the waist.  It was a freak accident.  Now May-Alice is embittered, screaming curse words at the television set in her hospital room.

Her acting career over, May-Alice returns to Louisiana, her home state, where she has an old family house located near a bayou.  There she feels sorry for herself, drinks too much, and drives away nurse after nurse.  Her reputation at the agency is as a “bitch on wheels.”

Chantelle

Then Chantelle, who is at least as damaged and vulnerable as May-Alice, comes along.  Chantelle needs this job. She has even lied on a job application, hiding the fact that, until a month previously, she had a daily cocaine habit.  She is clean now, but she has to resist the urge to use the drug every day.  It is hard, but she succeeds.  And so Chantelle is the perfect person to confront May-Alice, who drowns her sorrows with alcohol.

Chantelle has other issues, too, but I leave them to you, O reader, to discover by watching the movie.

These two women help each other heal emotionally and find second chances.  And Chantelle, through her tough love, helps May-Alice physically.

Rennie

Also helping May-Alice is Rennie, whom she knew as a child.  Rennie, a carpenter, builds a ramp for the old family house.  He also knows how to repair boat engines and takes May-Alice and Chantelle out for trips on the bayou.  He is the apostate, relatively speaking, in his family.  His wife and children are fun-damn-mentalists who won’t watch television or listen to the radio, and who sing only religious songs.  (Zydeco is the Devil’s music, they think.)  They pray for him a lot, he says.  He is a good and kind man, as his actions prove.

Ti-Marie and Precious

There are also some light moments.  For example, Ti-Marie and Precious, who knew May-Alice in school, visit, much to May-Alice’s irritation.  These are the most annoying and over-the-top people in the movie. They are also racists, for they complain about the perceived changes in attitudes (no longer subservient) among local African Americans since the Civil Rights Movement.  When not making racist comments, they reminisce with May-Alice and insult each other’s choice in husbands.

There is also a hilarious scene in which some soap opera actresses visit.  One of these actresses has taken over May-Alice’s role, Scarlet.  Despite the fact that the character had a hysterectomy some years previously, she is now pregnant by a space alien named Zondar, played by May-Alice’s former husband.  That could happen in a soap opera.

Passion Fish is a life-affirming story about discovering that, despite how bad events may seem or be, good can come out of them.  Beyond that, this good may be better than one’s former life.  Mary McDonnell deserved her 1992 nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, losing the Oscar to Emma Thompson, for Howard’s End.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 2, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, WASHINGTON GLADDEN, AND JACOB RIIS, ADVOCATES OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/07/02/passion-fish-1992/

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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Cinema 1990s

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True Grit (2010)   1 comment

Above:  A Screen Capture of Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn

TRUE GRIT (2010)

Starring

Jeff Bridges as Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn

Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf

Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross

Based on the novel by Charles Portis

Music by Carter Burwell

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Rated PG-13

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True Grit is a powerful tale of justice, revenge, and mercy, and of the high cost the quest for vengeance exacts on the one who undertakes it.  Along the way the viewer encounters disturbing and unglamourous acts of violence (with the consequences being obvious), a dark cinematographic palate, excellent acting, a soundtrack replete with hymn tunes, and formal and intriguing dialogue almost entirely lacking in contractions.

Mattie Ross, the fourteen-year-old female protagonist, seeks revenge against Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father and fled Arkansas.  Steeped in the Bible and “an eye for an eye” notions of justice, she believes that one must pay for everything in this world; the only free thing is grace.  Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn, a frequently drunk U.S. Marshal known for being mean, to pursue Chaney.  That much constitutes seeking justice through legal means.  But Mattie really seeks revenge.  Convinced that God is looking out for her and noting that she has “a good horse,” Mattie dons her father’s coat and hat, carries his gun, and joins Cogburn and LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger, on the manhunt.  The lawmen try to dissuade her, but Mattie’s true grit convinces them otherwise and wins their respect for her.

Mattie does not know, however, that her bloodlust will cost her a forearm, alter her personality, and transform her into a cranky spinster.  The decisions we make matter.  Mattie would have done well to leave law enforcement to legal officials.  And she should have left revenge to God.  That is also in the Old Testament.

The actors are wonderful.  Jeff Bridges portrays Cogburn as a gruff yet caring man, the individual who risks all to save Mattie’s life, if not her arm and personality.  Matt Damon’s preening Texas Ranger is the perfect foil to the frequently inarticulate Cogburn.  And Hailee Steinfeld, thirteen years old at the time of filming, spouts complex dialogue convincingly and makes her character the most formidable of all these three.

Carter Burwell’s score quotes old hymns, including “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  This is especially appropriate for the movie, given that the arms of Rooster Cogburn save her life.  Yet there is more to it than that.  Justice and mercy balance each other.  Mattie’s problem is that she does not understand mercy.  So she acts in such a way that she loses an arm.  In a sense, she had only one arm all along.

I recommend True Grit as a worthwhile meditation on the high cost of violence and revenge.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 3, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSKAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF HAMBURG-BREMEN

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF MILLARD FULLER, FOUNDER OF HABITAT FOR HUMANITY

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/true-grit-2010/

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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Cinema 2010s

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Our Advocate   1 comment

Above:  Descent of the Holy Spirit

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The Assigned Readings for This Sunday:

Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The Collect:

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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A Related Post:

A Prayer for Those With Only the Holy Spirit to Intercede for Them:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/a-prayer-for-those-with-only-the-holy-spirit-to-intercede-for-them/

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I have written more than once that judgment and mercy coexist in the Bible.  This assertion is obvious from a close reading of the sacred anthology.  This day the emphasis belongs on mercy.

We read in John 16 that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is the Advocate.  This is a legal term; our Advocate is our defense attorney.  In other words, God stands with us, so why should we fear?

Nevertheless, many Christians have suffered persecution and martyrdom for twenty centuries.  Many still do.  And Jesus, from whose Greek title, Christ, we derive the label “Christian,” died on a cross.  So this divine companionship and defense does not guard every follower of God from physical or legal harm.  Yet the message of Christ has continued to spread, the blood of the martyrs continues to water the Church, and killing people cannot end the spread of Christianity.

Beyond all that, those who die faithful to God go to God in the afterlife.  No harm can touch them there.  This might seem like cold comfort or no comfort in this life, but it is something.  The world is imperfect, and only God can repair it.

Yet may we rejoice that we have an Advocate.  May the quality of our lives reflect this gratitude.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 2, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT EUSEBIUS OF VERCELLI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL DAVID FERGUSON, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF LIBERIA

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/fiftieth-day-of-easter-day-of-pentecost-year-b/

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