Archive for the ‘C. S. Lewis’ Tag

The People’s Lament and God’s Response   Leave a comment

Above:  Valley of Hinnom

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 63:1-66:24

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Isaiah 63:1-6 depicts God as a warrior taking vengeance on Edom (Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Obadiah; Isaiah 34:5-17).  For more about Edom, follow the links.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance, as in the previous section.

Most of Isaiah 63 and 64 consist of a grand tour of Biblical history, in the form of a lament in the voice of Third Isaiah.  It is a recounting of divine faithfulness, human faithlessness, and divine punishment.  Third Isaiah’s questions of why God has allowed terrible events to occur and not prevented them stand the test of time.  One may ask them, for example, about millennia of anti-Semitic violence, especially the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 64 concludes on a combination of trust and uneasiness.  This makes sense, too.

The divine response, at the beginning of Isaiah 65, is consistent with Covenantal Nomism.  Those who disregarded the mandates of the covenant consistently and unrepentantly dropped out of the covenant and condemned themselves.  God will punish sins, we read.  We also read that God will also regard faithful servants.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the new divine order (65:1-66:24), circumstances will be idyllic and the relationship between God and the faithful population will be close.  The process of getting to that goal is underway, we read.  The old prophecies of heaven on earth will come to pass, we read.  And Jews and Gentiles will recognize the glory of God, we read.  Yet not all will be puppies and kittens, we read:

As they go out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.  All mankind will view them with horror.

–Isaiah 66:24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Isaiah 66:24 refers, literally, to Gehenna, in the Valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Commentaries tell me that, when Jewish Biblical authors (perhaps including Third Isaiah) sought a properly terrifying metaphor for Hell, they used the Jerusalem garbage dump, where corpses of criminals either burned or decomposed, without receiving burial.  Yet, in Isaiah 66:24 (perhaps of later origin than 66:22-23, the bodies of those who rebel against God will neither burn nor decompose.

Regardless of when someone composed 66:24, as well as whether 66:23 originally ended the chapter, I push back against the desire to end the Book of Isaiah on an upbeat note.  I read that, in Jewish practice (as in The Jewish Study Bible), people reprint 66:23 after 66:24, to have an upbeat ending:

And new moon after new moon,

And sabbath after sabbath,

All flesh shall come to worship Me

–said the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet 66:23-24, taken together, balance divine judgment and mercy.  Brevard S. Childs, conceding the possibility of the later composition of 66:24, argues that 66:24 fits the theme of

the division between the righteous and the wicked.

Isaiah (2001), 542

This division exists elsewhere in Third Isaiah, too.

In spite of God’s new heavens and death, the exaltation of Zion, and the entrance of the nations to the worship of God, there remain those outside the realm of God’s salvation.

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 542

They remain outside the realm of God’s salvation because they have condemned themselves.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey though Third Isaiah.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along next to the Book of Joel.  This journey through the Hebrew prophetic books is much closer to its conclusion than to its beginning.  Nevertheless, much to learn remains.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Salvation and Damnation, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Saint Bartholomew, by Antonio Veneziano

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Amos 5:6-15 or Proverbs 1:20-33

Psalm 115:12-18

1 Timothy 2:1-15

John 1:43-51

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Without getting lost on a side trip through cultural context in 1 Timothy 2, I focus on the core, unifying theme this week:  We reap what we sow.

Now they must eat the fruit of their own way,

and with their own devices be glutted.

For the self-will of the simple kills them,

the smugness of fools destroys them.

But he who obeys me dwells in security,

in peace, without fear of harm.

–Proverbs 1:33, The New American Bible (1991)

The crucifixion of Jesus, the blood of the martyrs, and the suffering of the righteous contradicts the last two lines.  O, well.  The Book of Proverbs is excessively optimistic sometimes.  The Book of Ecclesiastes corrects that excessive optimism.

Righteousness is no guarantee against suffering in this life.  Nevertheless, we will reap what we sow.  Some of the reaping must wait until the afterlife, though.

The New Testament readings point to Jesus, as they should.  1 Timothy gets into some cultural details that do not reflect the reality of Athens, Georgia, in December 2020.  I denounce the male chauvinism evident in 1 Timothy 1:9-15.  That sexism is of its time and place.  I focus instead on God desiring that people find salvation.  They do not, of course.  Many of them are like the disobedient people in Amos 5 and Proverbs 1.

The divine mandate of economic justice present in Amos 5 remains relevant.  It is a mandate consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the ethos of Second Temple Judaism.  That divine mandate, built into the Law of Moses, is crucial in Covenantal Nomism.  According to Covenantal Nomism, salvation is via grace–birth into the covenant.  One drops out of the covenant by consistently and willfully neglecting the ethical demands of the covenant.

In other words, damnation is via works and salvation is via grace.

The reading from John 1 requires some attempt at an explanation.  The parts of John 1:35-43 that need to be clear are clear.  But, after consulting learned commentaries, I still have no idea what amazed St. Bartholomew/Nathanael the Apostle about Jesus seeing him under a fig tree.  I recall having read very educated guesses, though.  The crucial aspect of that story is the call to follow Jesus.  Also, John 1:43 links Jacob’s Ladder/Staircase/Ramp (Genesis 28:10-17) to the crucifixion (“lifting up”) of Jesus.  The Johannine theme of the exaltation of Christ being his crucifixion occurs in Chapter 1, too.  The crucifixion of Jesus was the gate of Heaven, according to John 1:43.

That gate is sufficiently narrow to exclude those who exclude themselves.  Those who carry with them the luggage of bribery cannot enter.  Those who haul along the bags of exploitation of the poor cannot pass.  No, those who exclude themselves have done injustice to God and Jesus while exploiting “the least of these.”  Those who have excluded themselves must eat the fruit of their own way.

C. S. Lewis wrote that the doors to Hell are locked from the inside.  

Think about that, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (TRANSFERRED)

THE FEAST OF JOHN BURNETT MORRIS, SR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PHILIPP HEINRICH MOLTHER, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, BISHOP, COMPOSER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS BECKET, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, AND MARTYR, 1170

THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERRILL ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d-humes/

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Consolation and Encouragement   Leave a comment

Above:  Road Through Desert

Image in the Public Domain

Photographer = Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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READING BARUCH AND THE LETTER OF JEREMIAH

PART IV

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Baruch 4:5-5:9

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Take courage, my children; call out to God!

The one who brought this upon you will remember you.

As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God,

so turn now ten times the more to seek him;

For the one who has brought disaster upon you

will, in saving you, bring your eternal joy.

–Baruch 4:27-29, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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The story of the Book of Baruch continues with assurance of divine deliverance.  Baruch 5:9 reads:

For God is leading Israel in joy

by the light of his glory,

with the mercy and justice that are his.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The poem in Baruch 4:5-5:9 is beautiful.  Part of it is an Advent reading every three years.

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  As I keep writing, I do not pretend to know what that balance is or should be.  I insist, however, that keeping the balance of divine judgment and mercy in mind is crucial to having a balanced theology.  Hellfire-and-damnation theology is heretical.  So is love without standards.  This is why I affirm the existence of Hell while arguing that God has never sent anyone there.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors to Hell are locked from the inside.

The author of Baruch 4:5-5:9 understood Israel alone to be the people of God.  He lived before the time of Christ and the rise of the Church.  The author of Baruch 4:5-5:9 died before the birth of St. Paul the Apostle.  I, as a Gentile and a Christian, stand outside the people of God, as the author of Baruch 4:5-5:9 defined them.

Anthony J. Saldarini wrote:

We (in the churches) must complement the punishment for sin that Baruch promises to the nations with the story of God’s mercy and ongoing relationship with all nations in history.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (2001), 982

The love of God does extend to all people, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Salvation and Damnation, Part I   1 comment

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers,

that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright,

grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers,

and carry us through all temptations;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 131

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Job 38:1-21

Psalm 119:1-16

Romans 4:16-25

Luke 14:25-35

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Contrary to a widespread misconception, Second Temple Judaism was not a legalistic religion with works-based salvation.  No, it was a religion that taught covenantal nomism–salvation by grace (birth into the covenant) and self-exclusion from that covenant by habitually defying the ethical obligations of God’s law.  E. P. Sanders cited Second Temple Jewish writings to make that case in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977).

Read Psalm 119:1-16 again, O reader.  Read it as saying what it does, not what theology with a Protestant Reformation hangover thinks the text says.  Nothing in Psalm 119 contradicts Christianity.

St. Paul’s critique of Second Temple Judaism was that it lacked Jesus, not that it was legalistic, with works-based righteousness.

God, who has been creating the natural world, has also created salvation and free will.  Salvation is of divine origin.  Damnation is of human origin.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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The Census, the Plague, and the Altar   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of King David

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XLIX

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2 Samuel 24:1-25

1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1

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Whenever I am afraid,

I will put my trust in you.

–Psalm 56:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Theology changes.  A careful reading of the Bible reveals theological evolution in the Bible.  This is the reason I cannot be a fundamentalist.  Inconsistencies exist in the texts.  For example, did God or “a satan”(“adversary,” literally) persuade King David to conduct the census for which God punished the kingdom for years?  The answer depends on whether one accepts 2 Samuel 24:1 or 1 Chronicles 21:1.

This discrepancy exists because of theological evolution.  As a serious student of the history of Jewish theology ought to know, Satan as a free agent (rather than as one of God’s employees, as the tester of loyalty to God, as in the Book of Job as in Numbers 22:21-40) is a relatively late development.  The understanding of Satan as a free agent and an opponent of God dates to the postexilic period, when Zoroastrianism was influencing Judaism.  The Persians may have been correct.  That is a separate matter for another post.  In terms of the history of religion, Satan as the chief rebel against God in Judaism and, by extension, in Christianity, is a legacy of Zoroastrian influence, objectively.

The question of God and evil interests me, an intellectually honest monotheist.  Saints, theologians, and philosophers have tackled the thorny problem.  I harbor no delusion that I settle it in this post.  I do, however, refer to C. S. Lewis, who acknowledged that God is in the dock.  Ultimately, I, as a monotheist, cannot honestly blame anyone except God for evil–for permitting it to exist, at least.  The author of 2 Samuel 24 accepted this perspective.  The author of 1 Chronicles 21, writing during the Persian Period, did not.

If, however, one accepts the pre-Persian Period concept of “the Satan” as one of God’s employees–the loyalty tester, as in the Book of Job, God remains responsible for evil, too.  God is still in the dock.  If one accepts “the Satan” as one of God’s employees, then one must accept that “the Satan” cannot function or exist apart from God.  In Genesis, the language in certain passages uses “God” and “angel” interchangeably.  This is not a difficulty if one accepts that angels can exist and function only in the context of God, that, whatever they do or say, they do on divine orders.  Therefore, the words and actions of an angel are those of God, practically.  Therefore, if one accepts the pre-Persian Jewish understanding of “the Satan,” one must accept that “the Satan” acts and speaks only when following divine orders.  God is still in the dock.

Or maybe the ancient Zoroastrians were correct regarding the existence of independent agents of evil.

If I preferred easy answers, I would not wrestle with God.  If I did not prefer wresting with God, this great monotheistic conundrum of the problem of God and evil would perturb me more than it does.  Ultimately, though, I must agree with David and Job.  God is God.  God refuses to fit into our boxes, regardless of how piously we define them.  And we have no feasible alternative to turning to God, do we?  Part of the life of spiritual growth is learning to distinguish between our biases and God’s thoughts.

Nevertheless, may we exercise caution in how we think, speak, and write of God.  May we refrain from portraying God as a celestial gangster.  I hear some people speak of God in terms that should lead one to recoil in terror from God.  An Episcopal priest I know has a wonderful strategy for engaging with people who profess not to believe in God.  He asks them to describe the God in whom they do not believe.  Inevitably, he hears a description of God he rejects.  “I don’t believe in that God either,” the priest replies.

I, as an Episcopalian, seek moderation.  I follow the Anglican Via Media, after all.  I am neither fully Protestant nor fully Roman Catholic.  I am not a Biblical literalist.  I reject, however, the excesses of John Dominic Crossan and that ilk.  My intellect is always in gear; it constitutes one-third of my faith.  Nobody who tells me I should think less often gets far with me theologically.  I accept the primacy of scripture without shutting down my brain’s higher functions and advocating for scriptural inerrancy and infallibility.  A frontal lobotomy and willful ignorance are not prerequisites for salvation.  And I affirm that God is trustworthy while admitting that no human being can fully understand God.  The image one sees when looking into one’s mirror may be the most alluring idol of all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

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Psalms 108 and 109   1 comment

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POST XLIV OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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NOTE:

Versification in the Book of Psalms is not universal.  One style of versification is that which one finds in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.  Another is the versification in Protestant Bibles.  When I prepare these posts, I consult a range of Bibles and commentaries.  At any given time, the totality of these sources cover both styles of versification.

The versification in this post is that of The New Revised Standard Version (1989).

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Psalm 108 consists of two parts:  verses 1-5 (nearly identical to Psalm 57:7-11) and verses 6-13 (almost the same as Psalm 60:5-12).  [I know, for I laid opened three copies of The New Revised Standard Version, placed them next to each other on my desk, and read slowly.  I did not rely exclusively on the notes in commentaries.  I noticed an extra “and” as well as the changing of “us” into “me” in Psalm 108.]  Tradition attributes Psalm 108 to David.  I am not so sure, however, given the ancient custom of attributing authorship of a famous dead person.  Unlike some other psalms, in which the distinct parts have little to do with each other, the first section flows organically into the second.  The text is, anyway, a prayer for victory.

The author (allegedly David) of Psalm 109 also seeks victory; that is straight-forward.  The ambiguous element of the text is the question of the identity of the speaker of the curse (which God has the power to subvert into blessing, by the way) in verses 6-19.  The New English Bible (1970), The New Revised Standard Version (1989), The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993), and The Revised English Bible (1989) preface the prolonged curse with

They say.

The 1991 revision of the Book of Psalms for the New American Bible prefaces the long curse with

My enemies say of me.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966) and The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) start the section with quotation marks.

However, the Revised Standard Version (1952 and 1971), the Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (1965), the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002), Mitchell J. Dahood (1970), TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), and the 1970 and 2011 editions of the New American Bible do not set the prolonged curse apart as to indicate that another party is speaking.

If the speaker of the prolonged curse is the aggrieved party, i.e., the psalmist, “David,” Psalm 109 is consistent with other angry psalms up to this point.  The emotion is certainly predictable.  It is, as C. S. Lewis explained,

the natural result of injuring a human being.

–Quoted in J. Clinton McCann, Jr., Volume IV (1996), The New Interpreter’s Bible

Psalm 109 concludes with an affirmation that God stands with the needy.  In a real sense, however, whenever one victimizes another, there are only victims.  After all, whatever we do to each other, we do to ourselves.  If we, for example, seek to keep others “in their place,” or to restrict their opportunities, we harm the progress not only of them but of society as a whole, and thereby restrict our own opportunities.  Are we not, therefore, also among the needy because of our nefarious actions?  Yet, as I have written many times, when oppressors refuse to cease oppressing, divine deliverance of the oppressed is catastrophic for the oppressors.

Analysis of Psalm 109 in The New Interpreter’s Bible includes an affirmation of the importance of expressing anger when one is a wronged party.  That analysis also emphasizes the importance of submitting that anger to God.  The word “anger” comes from the Old Norse angr, which means grief, affliction, and sorrow.  These underlie anger, which is a burden too great to carry for long.  We should, therefore, surrender it to God.

I have carried much anger to God.  I have also spoken some of it in the presence of a priest and left it under the seal of confidentiality.  Uttering my strong, negative, and understandable feelings was a process that contributed to my spiritual recovery.  I have learned the wisdom of abandoning grudges and not picking new ones.

That is the spiritual journey of the author of Psalm 109.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ERDMANN NEUMEISTER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PORCHER DUBOSE, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

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