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First Reformed (2018)   2 comments

Above:  The Blu-Ray Cover for First Reformed

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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FIRST REFORMED (2018)

Starring

Ethan Hawke as the Reverend Ernst Toller

Amanda Seyfried as Mary Mensana

Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles as the Reverend Joel Jeffers

Michal Gaston as Ed Balq

Written and Directed by Paul Schrader

Rated R for some violent images

One hour and fifty-three minutes long

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The desire to pray itself is a type of prayer. How often we ask for genuine experience when all we really want is emotion.

–Ernst Toller, in First Reformed

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How easily they talk about prayer, those who have never really prayed.

So writes the Reverend Ernst Toller of those, such as some Evangelical teenagers, believers in the heresy that is Prosperity Theology, in First Reformed.  One of those adolescents says,

If happiness came in pill size, it would have JC stamped on it.

Toller, in contrast, writes in his journal,

These thoughts and recollections are not so different from those I confide to God every morning. When it is possible. When He is listening. This journal is a form of speaking, of communication from one to the other. A communication which can be achieved simply and in repose without prostration or abnegation. It is a form of prayer.

He understands what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul.  The teenager with the JC happy pills has no clue regarding spiritual maturity.

First Reformed is a staggering, thought-provoking, spiritually honest and profound work.  The movie, set in Snowbridge, New York, outside Albany, is about the spiritual struggles of Ernst Toller, a former U.S. Army chaplain.  He is 46 years old, divorced, guilt-ridden, depressed, and physically ill.  He drinks too much.  Toller blames himself for the death of his son, a casualty of the Second Iraq War; the father, following the family tradition, encouraged the son to join the military.  Toller, unwilling and unable to justify that war morally, feels very guilty for the death of his son.  The suicide of a parishioner’s husband, an environmental terrorist, sends Toller down a path potentially destructive of more than just himself.  Given that Schrader wrote both this movie and Taxi Driver (1976), the spiritual kinship of Toller and Travis Bickle is obvious.

Toller is the pastor of the First Reformed Church, a 250-year-old congregation that functions more as a tourist trap than as a church.  He has few parishioners.  First Reformed Church is a chapel of Abundant Life Church in Christ and Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational, “Spirit-filled” megachurch in town.  Joel Jeffers, the head pastor at Abundant Life, is at least as morally ambiguous as Toller, who contemplates using a suicide vest.  Whereas Toller understands the Christian obligation of environmental stewardship, Jeffers ignores the issue.  After all, the generous contributions of Ed Balq, a local industrialist and a major polluter, finance Abundant Life’s media programs and much of the community outreach.  Furthermore, Balq is paying for the repair of the organ at First Reformed Church and the reconsecration of the congregation on the occasion of its anniversary.    Jeffers does, however, care about Tollers and want him to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally well.

A pastor needs a pastor,

Jeffers advises Toller.  Furthermore, according to Jeffers, Toller is always in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The reaches its climax in an ambiguous scene, the meaning of which the director’s commentary does not explain clearly.  Schrader wants to avoid easy answers, as do the two reverends in the movie.  I still do not know of Toller emerged from his Dark Night of the Soul, or even if he was alive when the end credits rolled.  I have an idea, but no certainty.

First Reformed is a movie that shuns certainty.  Much of the best art does.  Uncertainty invites the viewer of the art to interact with that art.  My advice is not to watch First Reformed immediately before going to bed, for, if one does, one’s mind will be busy trying to make sense of the film when one should be sleeping.

The cast is excellent.  Amanda Seyfried, actually pregnant while portraying a pregnant widow, plays the character with whom Toller connects more than any other.  If anybody can lead Toller out of the Dark Night of the Soul, she can.  Ethan Hawke plays a depressive very well.  He is believable in his portrayal of a spiritually disturbed minister.  Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles proves that Joss Whedon is correct; comedians are fine dramatic actors because comedy is more difficult that drama.  Kyles portrays Jeffers as a believable, generally sympathetic character.  The only unambiguous character is Ed Balq, who professes Christianity while destroying the environment and dismissing criticisms as unfounded and politically motivated.  Michael Gaston plays him believably, without the figurative mustache-twirling.

I do have one minor criticism regarding an error.  Why are members of a Dutch Reformed church using Episcopal hymnals?  The answer, of course, is that the structure labeled “First Reformed Church” in the movie is actually that of an Episcopal congregation.  The Prayer Books are out of sight, to present the illusion that the building is for a Calvinist church, albeit one with a central altar and a pulpit on the right.

If you, O reader, seek to watch a spiritual movie that will force you to think for yourself and ponder ambiguities of faith, First Reformed is a movie to schedule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 21, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MIROCLES OF MILAN AND EPIPHANIUS OF PAVIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ALBAN ROE AND THOMAS REYNOLDS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GASPAR DEL BUFALO, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN YI YON-ON, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN KOREA

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The script is here.

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Holiday Busyness   1 comment

Above:  A Domestic Scene, December 8, 2018

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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On my bed when I think of you,

I muse on you in the watches of the night,

for you have always been my help;

in the shadow of your wings I rejoice;

my heart clings to you,

your right hand supports me.

–Psalm 63:6-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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In my U.S. culture, the time from Thanksgiving (late November) to New Year’s Day is quite busy.  Holidays populate the calendar.  Some of these holidays are, for lack of a better word, ecumenical.  Others are religiously and/or culturally specific, though.  Christmas, originally the Christ Mass, has become an occasion, for many, to worship the Almighty Dollar at the high altar of commercialism.  This is how many Evangelicals of the Victorian Era wanted matters to be.

On the relatively innocuous side, this is the time of the year to populate one’s calendar with holiday social events, such as parties, school plays, and seasonal concerts.  Parents often like to attend their children’s events, appropriately.  Holiday concerts by choral and/or instrumental ensembles can also be quite pleasant.

Yet, amid all this busyness (sometimes distinct from business), are we neglecting the innate human need for peace and quiet?  I like classical Advent and Christmas music, especially at this time of the year (all the way through January 5, the twelfth day of Christmas), but I have to turn it off eventually.  Silence also appeals to me.  Furthermore, being busy accomplishing a worthy goal is rewarding, but so is simply being.

The real question is one of balance.  Given the absence of an actual distinction between the spiritual and the physical, everything is spiritual.  If we are too busy for God, silence, and proper inactivity, we are too busy.  If we are too busy to listen to God, we are too busy.  If we are too busy or too idle, we are not our best selves.

May we, by grace, strike and maintain the proper balance.  May we, especially at peak periods of activity, such as the end of the year, not overextend ourselves, especially in time commitments.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCDONALD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/12/14/holiday-busyness/

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Posted December 14, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 63

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Gratitude, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  Mosaic from the Church of the Multiplication

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Eighth (and Last) Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty and everlasting God, who dost graciously give us the fruits of the earth in their season:

we offer thee humble and hearty thanks for these thy bounties,

beseeching thee to give us grace rightly to use them to thy glory and for the relief of those in need;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 128

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Jeremiah 23:1-4

James 1:12-18

John 6:5-14

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When I furvey the wondrous crofs,

On which the Prince of glory dy’d,

My richeft gain I count but lofs,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

–Isaac Watts, 1707, unaltered

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The generosity and faithfulness of God are extravagant.  Scarcity is a feature of human economic systems, but not of the Kingdom of God.  Furthermore, we all depend entirely on God, who is far more reliable than any human being.

Do we really believe this?  Do our actions indicate that we do?  Talk is cheap, but deeds reveal creeds.

Perhaps the most difficult sacrifice gratitude to God requires of many of us is that of ego.  Many of us imagine ourselves to be, so to speak, “all that and a bag of potato chips.”  In our social context perhaps we are, but not in the light of God.  Neither are we independent, self-sufficient, and self-made.  When we relinquish these delusions, assuming that we ever entertained them, we can recognize many reasons for gratitude to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCDONALD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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Posted December 14, 2018 by neatnik2009 in James 1, Jeremiah 23, John 6

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A Faithful Response, Part XVIII   Leave a comment

Above:  Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Seventh Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, who hast promised for those who love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding:

pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things,

may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 128

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Genesis 21:1-13

Philippians 1:12-18

Luke 4:1-13

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We all benefit from grace in more ways than we know, even if we count our blessings conscientiously, daily.  Many blessings are so commonplace as to fade into the background of life.  Examples for many of us include reliable transportation, electrical service, and indoor plumbing.  For many, though, these are not ubiquitous.  Other blessings are so out of the ordinary as to attract attention readily.

Such generosity demands both gratitude and faithful response; grace is free, but not cheap.  Faithful response may cost one little much of the time, especially if one is obviously fortunate.  Yet, O reader, consider Jesus in Luke 4:1-13 and St. Paul the Apostle in Philippians 1:12-18.  At the time of testing, will one remain faithful?

Martyrs have swelled the ranks of Christian saints.  So have those who, without dying for the faith and God, have remained faithful in the context of daunting circumstances.  Jesus, of course, went to the cross, and St. Paul the Apostle died via beheading.

If they could do that, surely I can follow Christ day-by-day.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCDONALD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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Posted December 14, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 21, Luke 4, Philippians 1

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A Faithful Response, Part XVII   Leave a comment

Above:  The Wicked Husbandmen, by Jan Luyken

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace:

give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our divisions.

Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 128

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Genesis 17:1-8

2 Corinthians 3:4-11

Matthew 21:33-43

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In parts of the Hebrew Bible, as in Jeremiah 23, that the people of Israel are, metaphorically, sheep, and their rulers are, metaphorically, shepherds.  Unfortunately, the shepherds, we read, are usually bad at their jobs.

Shepherds tended the sheep, property of others.  Shepherds were employees.  Likewise, the leaders of Jesus in Matthew 21:33-43 were, metaphorically, tenants, not owners.

God is the owner of the sheep and the land in both metaphors.  God has sufficient power in self; we do not.  We are dependents.  If we imagine otherwise, we deceive ourselves.  May we be grateful and faithful dependents, behaving differently than the wicked tenants in Matthew 21.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCDONALD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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Trusting in God, Part IX   Leave a comment

Above:  One of My Crucifixes

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For the Fifth Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Lord Jesus, good shepherd of the sheep, who came to seek and to save the lost:

so lead thy church that we may show thy compassion to the helpless,

rescue those in peril, and bring home the wanderers in safety to thee.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 127

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Isaiah 41:8-13

1 Peter 4:12-19

Matthew 6:25-34

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Worry is negative, but concern can be positive.  Worry can lead only to bad results, but concern can compel one to take necessary and proper actions.  Worry indicates a lack of trust in God, but concern can work well in the context of faith.

Whether one suffers for the sake of righteousness, as the consequences of one’s sin(s), the consequences of the sins of another or others, or another reason (perhaps not a discernible one), one need not imagine that one suffers in isolation.  One need not worry; God is present.  God may permit the negative consequences of one’s actions to afflict one, but one does well to remember that mercy frequently follows judgment in the Bible.  One does well to learn spiritual lessons from one’s mistakes.  One does well to manifest proper concern not to repeat those mistakes.

Trusting in God can prove difficult.  We human beings tend to prefer that which is tangible.  “Yes,” you, O reader, may reply, “but what about the Incarnation?”  I reply, “You are correct, but the historical figure of Jesus lived on earth about 2000 years ago.”  God remains invisible, but not remote.  God is all around us.  We live in the Presence of God, evident in everything from rocks and trees to people.  God is intangible, but infuses our environs.

Trusting in God can prove difficult.  Indeed, I experience problems in this regard frequently.  Yet I persist in faith.  When you, O reader, struggle likewise, I advise you to persist in faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCDONALD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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Posted December 14, 2018 by neatnik2009 in 1 Peter 4, Isaiah 41, Matthew 6

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A Faithful Response, Part XVI   Leave a comment

Above:  Paul Writing His Epistlesby Valentin de Boulogne

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Thou who from the beginning didst create us for life together:

grant that, by thy fatherly grace, we may put aside suspicion and fear,

and live as one family on earth, praising thy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 127

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Genesis 3:22-4:7

Ephesians 6:1-9

Matthew 8:14-22

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I begin this post by addressing and dispensing with the proverbial elephant in the room in Ephesians 6; I reject all forms of slavery in all places and at times as immoral.  Nobody should ever reconcile Christianity to any form of slavery.  Unfortunately, the history of Christianity contains people doing just that, since antiquity.

The image of sin crouching at the door, waiting to ambush, in Genesis 4:7, is memorable.

Yet you can be its master.

–Genesis 4:7f, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I recall owning and framing a napkin that read,

LEAD ME NOT INTO TEMPTATION.  I CAN FIND MY OWN WAY.

That describes much of human experience accurately.  Yet we need not commit every sin we experience temptation to perform.  We can, by grace, follow God and not offer excuses for not doing so.  We can demonstrate the love of God in how we behave toward our fellow human beings.  The Golden Rue can define our lives.

Sin crouches at the door, waiting to ambush us daily.  The first step in avoiding a trap, of course, is knowing of its existence.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCDONALD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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Posted December 14, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Ephesians 6, Genesis 3, Genesis 4, Matthew 8

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