Archive for the ‘William Shakespeare’ Tag

Regarding Asceticism and Fun-Damn-Mentalism   2 comments

33887v

According to the Reverend Henry Harbaugh, these man were sinning.

Image Creator and Publisher = Bain News Service

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ggbain-33887

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Therefore, my friends, I implore you by God’s mercy to offer your selves to [God]:  a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship offered by mind and heart.  Conform no longer to the pattern of this present world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.  Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

–Romans 12:2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Life is good.  My life is an enjoyable one, a time filled with graces small, medium, and large.  Today, for example, I ate lunch with my beloved.  It was a fine meal in terms of both cuisine and company.

During that meal my mind wandered into theological matters.  My recent background reading for a series, Liturgy in the Moravian Church in America, soon to debut at this weblog, has brought many details to my attention.  Among them is the porous boundary between the sacred and the secular in Moravian tradition.  Often one’s approach makes all the difference on that spectrum.  Yes, some matters in the secular realm can never be sacred, but many can.  Laurence Libin, writing in the Foreword to The Music of the Moravian Church in America, provided an excellent illustration of that principle on page xv.  Once a strict minister chastised some single members of the congregation for playing sacred music on instruments on Sunday and serenades on the same instruments during the week.  An elder replied that the pastor preached with the same mouth he used to eat sausages.

Asceticism is a religious tradition with Christian expressions.  In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, from the time of early Christianity to today, one can find examples of people seeking to make themselves uncomfortable, if not miserable, for Christ’s sake.  A partial catalog includes wearing a hairshirt, flagellating oneself, living atop a pillar, and having oneself nailed to a cross on Good Friday.  A few years ago I read about an Eastern Orthodox monk (later canonized) who lived in a cramped cell at the top of a winding and incredibly narrow staircase.  Such practices are foreign to my spirituality, for I do not seek opportunities to make myself uncomfortable, if not miserable, for anybody’s sake.  Asceticism has functioned as a self-imposed substitute for enduring persecution and facing martyrdom.  That makes three more things I hope to avoid, not that I endeavor to live rather than renounce Christ.

Related to asceticism is fun-damn-mentalism.  The Reverend Charles Finney (1792-1875) was a killjoy.  He condemned anything he considered self-indulgent, such as the consumption of meat, tea, coffee, and pastries or the practice of women wearing ribbons in their hair of fashionable clothing on their bodies.  On the other hand, he instructed people to maintain good posture, clean their nails, and do their laundry for the glory of God.  (“Sit up straight, sit up straight for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross….”  Sing along with me!)  Finney was suspicious of other appetites, such as that for fine literature.  He did not understand how a Christian could give time, attention, and shelf space to works of “a host of triflers and blasphemers of God,” such as William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord George Gordon Byron.  Likewise, the Reverend Henry Harbaugh (1817-1867), of German immigrant stock, had, in the words of Dr. Nathan C. Schaeffer, “hatred of every form of sham and humbug.”  This “sham and humbug” included not only such bad activities as drinking to excess and gambling, but dancing, reading novels, playing chess, playing dominoes, attending circuses, and wearing fashionable clothes.  (Be a joyless and overly earnest frump for Jesus!)

Contemporary killjoys, opponents of “worldly amusements,” continue to try to stamp out innocent entertainment.  I have heard (from a reliable source in Statesboro, Georgia) of quite strict Christian parents who will not permit their children to play soccer because the sport is “too worldly.”  Dancing has attracted criticism for a long time; the Roman Catholic Church condemned it before there were Protestants.  I can name at least one Protestant denomination which persists in its anti-dancing theological position.  These examples point to the misapplication of the Pauline ethic not being conformed to the world.  The Apostle did not mean to go through life as if one’s mother had weaned one on a dill pickle.

As for novels, just to focus on one of the targets of criticism by Finney and Harbaugh (and the Puritans before them), I make the following observations.  I have enjoyed a wide range of novels, from science fiction epics to historical fiction to comedy to serious works.  Some of them I classify as much theological as literary.  Others were just good reads.  Voltaire, a great intellect, writer, and smartass (It is better than being a dumbass!), gave us Candide, a hoot.  T. R. Pearson‘s A Short History of a Small Place, a hilarious story about life in a small North Carolina town from the perspective of a boy, contains an unforgettable account of a well-planned church Christmas pageant gone horribly wrong.  (The Virgin Mary dropped the baby Jesus, breaking his porcelain head, and startling the “camel,” who started barking uncontrollably.)  Graham Greene, a great Roman Catholic novelist, gave us both comedy and theology.  Our Man in Havana still makes me laugh, and I class The Power and the Glory with works of theology.  Frank Herbert‘s Dune and its sequels (I got lost in book five of six.)  are tales of politics, ecology, economics, religion, and struggles over scarce natural resources.  Philip K. Dick‘s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a meditation on hope, desperation, and what makes us human.  The book is much darker and better than even the final cut of the movie adaption, Blade Runner (1982), actually.  Graham Swift‘s Waterland, written in stream of consciousness, is a depressing tale which keeps me coming back for more.  The list of novels which has affected me deeply goes on and on.

Finally, where did I put my dominoes?  I feel like sinning again any moment now.  Wait, I cannot find them; perhaps I will have to settle for dancing instead.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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SOURCES (OTHER THAN MY MEMORY)

Haeussler, Armin.  The Story of Our Hymns:  The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.  St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1952.

Knouse, Nola Reed, ed.  The Music of the Moravian Church in America.  Rochester, NY:  University of Rochester Press, 2008.

Sellers, Charles.  The Market Revolution:  Jacksonian America, 1815-1846.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1991.

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Excellent and Admirable Things   1 comment

Above:  Johannes Brahms

Excellent and Admirable Things

NOVEMBER 10, 2012

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Philippians 4:2-23 (Revised English Bible):

Euodia and Syntyche, I appeal to you both:  agree together in the Lord.  Yes and you too, my loyal comrade, I ask you to help these women, who shared my struggles in the cause of the gospel, with Clement and my other fellow-workers, who are enrolled in the book of life.

I wish you all joy in the Lord always.  Again, I say:  all joy be yours.

Be known to everyone for your consideration of others.

The Lord is near; do not be anxious, but in everything make your requests known to God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving.  Then the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and attractive, whatever is excellent and admirable–fill your thoughts with these things.

Put into practice the lessons I taught you, the tradition I have passed on, all that you heard me say or saw me do; and the God of peace will be with you.

It is a great joy to me in the Lord that after so long your care for me has now revived.  I now you always cared; it was opportunity you lacked.  Not that I am speaking of want, for I have learned to be self-sufficient whatever my circumstances.  I know what it is to have nothing, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have been thoroughly initiated into fullness and hunger, plenty and poverty.  I am able to face anything through him who gives me strength.  All the same, it was kind of you to share the burden of my troubles.

You Philippians are aware that, when I set out from Macedonia in the early days of my mission, yours was the only church to share with me in the giving and receiving; more than once you contributed to my needs, even at Thessalonica.  Do not think I set my heart on the gift; all I care for is the interest mounting up in your account.  I have been paid in full; I have all I need and more, now that I have received from Epaphroditus what you sent.  It is a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.  And my God will supply all your needs out of the magnificence of his riches in Christ Jesus.  To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever!  Amen.

Give my greetings, in the fellowship of Christ Jesus, to each one of God’s people.  My colleagues send their greetings to you, and so do all God’s people here, particularly those in the emperor’s service.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Psalm 112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see that desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

10 The wicked will see it and be angry;

they will gnash their teeth and pine away;

the desires of the wicked will perish.

Luke 16:9-15 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

So I say to you, use your worldly wealth to win friends for yourselves, so that when money is a thing of the past you may be received into an eternal home.

Anyone who can be trusted in small matters can be trusted also in great; and anyone who is dishonest in small matters is dishonest also in great.  If, then, you have not proved trustworthy with the wealth of this world, who will trust you with the wealth that is real?  And if you have proved untrustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you anything of your own?

No slave can serve two masters; for either he will hate the first and love the second, or he will be devoted to the first and despise the second.  You cannot serve God and Money.

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and scoffed at him.  He said to them,

You are the people who impress others with your righteousness; but God sees through you; for what is considered admirable in human eyes is detestable in the sight of God.

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The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 26:  Saturday, Year 1:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/week-of-proper-26-saturday-year-1/

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Enjoyment of Music:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/a-prayer-of-thanksgiving-for-the-enjoyment-of-music/

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About ten years ago, in Statesboro, Georgia, I heard a secondhand story about an unnamed homeschooling parent in Bulloch County.  She objected to soccer because, as she said, it was “too worldly.”  This was an extreme case, for many homeschooling parents approve of a variety of sporting activities, including soccer, for their children.  Yet the story does highlight an unduly narrow understanding of what is proper.

I find that the boundary between the sacred and the secular is porous.  Brahms symphonies constitute sacred and ennobling music for me.  On the other hand, much popular music is vacuous and a great deal of religious music (especially Southern Gospel and contemporary Christian) is annoying.  And there is a great chasm between the sophistication of Cole Porter lyrics and those of many current popular songs.

Paul advised the Philippians to fill their thoughts with true, noble, pure, lovable, admirable, attractive, and excellent things.  This covers a wide range of material, from Johannes Brahms to Franz Schubert, from John Coltrane to Charlie Parker, from William Shakespeare to John Milton.   Yet I recall that Charles Finney, an evangelist of the Second Great Awakening, in the early 1800s, expressed disbelief

that a person who has ever known the love of God can relish a secular novel

or make book space for

Byron, Scott, Shakespeare, and a host of triflers and blasphemers of God.

(Finney quoted in Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution:  Jacksonian America, 1815-1846, New York:  Oxford University Press, 1991, page 230)  As one who relishes quoting Shakespeare, I oppose Finney in this regard.

I wrote the rough draft of this post in a composition book while listening to the Symphony #1 by Johannes Brahms.  I type this final draft while listening to classical music on the radio.  Such music is truly noble, excellent and admirable.  I prefer, in fact, to listen to such quality music in lieu of engaging in other activities, such as watching television.  (I live without cable television, something I do not miss.)  My spiritual journey entails entertaining the better angels of my nature.  Brahms fits the bill nicely, as does Shakespeare.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 10, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LEO THE GREAT, BISHOP OF ROME

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/week-of-proper-26-saturday-year-2/

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