Archive for the ‘William Shakespeare’ Tag

Fates of Kings and Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah Tells the King That Jerusalem Shall Be Taken

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIII

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Jeremiah 21:1-22:30

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For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,

and tell sad stories of the death of kings….

–William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2

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Jeremiah 21-25 consists of oracles in the last years of Jerusalem.  Zedekiah (born Mattaniah) in the regnant monarch named in 21:1.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), lists his reign as having spanned 597-586 B.C.E.  Outside of the Book of Jeremiah, one can read about King Zedekiah in 2 Kings 24:18-25:26; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; and 1 Esdras 1:47-58.

Passhur the priest (21:1) was a different person than Passhur the priest (20:1), just as Zephaniah the priest (21:1) was a different person than Zephaniah the prophet (Zephaniah 1-3).

The theme of divine retribution in exchange for rampant, persistent, and systemic social injustice recurs.

There was bad news all around.

  1. Jerusalem was fall to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.E.
  2. King Zedekiah (r. 597-586 B.C.E.) would suffer an ignominious fate.
  3. King Jehohaz/Jeconiah/Shallum (r. 609 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; 1 Esdras 1:34-38), would die in exile in Egypt.
  4. King Jehoiakim (r. 608-598 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 23:36-24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:39-42) either died peacefully in his palace (2 Kings 24:6), became a captive in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:40), or died outside the walls of Jerusalem in 598 B.C.E. and received no burial (Jeremiah 22:19; 36:30-31).
  5. King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah (r. 597 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; 1 Esdras 1:43-46) would become a prisoner in Babylon, too.

I detect odd editing, without regard to chronology.  Follow my reasoning, O reader:

  1. Zedekiah was the last King of Judah.  Material concerning him establishes the present tense at the beginning of Chapter 21.
  2. The material concerning Jehoahaz/Jeconiah/Shallum would have been contemporary to the Zedekiah material.
  3. Yet the material concerning Jehoiakim comes from during his reign.
  4. Likewise, the material concerning Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah comes from during his reign.

The divine condemnations of rulers who did not try to govern righteously remain relevant, sadly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARNABAS THE APOSTLE, COWORKER OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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The Death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes   Leave a comment

Above:  The Punishment of Antiochus, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XVIII

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1 Maccabees 6:1-17

2 Maccabees 9:1-29

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Retribution is a theme in 2 Maccabees.  Enemies of pious Jews died ignominiously in that book.  Consider:

  1. Andronicus, who had killed High Priest Onias III (4:34), died via execution (4:38).  “The Lord thus repaid him with the punishment he deserved.”–4:39, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)
  2. High Priest Jason “met a miserable end” (5:8, RSV II).  He, shunned, died in exile in Egypt.  Nobody mourned him after he died.  Jason had no funeral (5:9-10).
  3. High Priest Menelaus died via execution.  He, pushed off a tower about 73 feet high, died in a pit full of ashes.  Nobody held a funeral for Menelaus (13:3-8).
  4. Nicanor, who had commanded the siege of Jerusalem, died in combat.  This his severed head hung from the citadel of Jerusalem.  Furthermore, birds ate his severed tongue (15:28-36).

Is this not wonderful mealtime reading?

Then we come to King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, an infamous blasphemer, “a sinful root” (1 Maccabees 1:10), and “a little horn” (Daniel 7:8) who made “war with the saints” (Daniel 7:21).

When we left off in the narrative, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, short on funds, was traveling in the eastern part of the Seleucid Empire and raising money to finance the struggle against Judas Maccabeus and his forces (1 Maccabees 3:27-37).  At the beginning of 1 Maccabees 6 and 2 Maccabees 9, the blasphemous monarch was in the area of Susa, in the region of Elam.  King Antiochus IV Epiphanes was engaging in one of his favorite fund-raising tactics–trying to plunder a temple full of valuable treasures.  (Read 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:15f, O reader.)  He failed this time.  News of the developments in Judea reached the king, whose world was collapsing around him.  He died, allegedly penitent, in the year 164/163 B.C.E. (149 on the Seleucid/Hellenistic calendar).

2 Maccabees elaborates on the account in 1 Maccabees.  2 Maccabees describes vividly the pain in the monarch’s bowels (9:5f), the infestation of worms (9:9), his rotting flesh (9:9), and his body’s stench (9:9).

So the murderer and blasphemer, having endured the most intense suffering, such as he had inflicted on others, came to the end of his life by a most pitiable fate, among the mountains of a strange land.

–2 Maccabees 9:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had appointed Philip the regent and the guardian of the new king, Antiochus V Eupator (reigned 164/163 B.C.E.).  There were two major problems, however:

  1. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had previously appointed Lysias to both positions (1 Maccabees 3:32-33), and
  2. Lysias had custody of the young (minor) heir to the throne.

Philip attempted a coup d’état and failed (1 Maccabees 6:55-56).  Meanwhile, Lysias had installed the seven-year-old King Antiochus V Eupator on the Seleucid throne.  Philip, in mortal danger from Regent Lysias, fled to the protection of King Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 180-145 B.C.E.) in Egypt.  

1 and 2 Maccabees differ on the timing of the death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes relative to the Temple in Jerusalem–the first Hanukkah.  1 Maccabees places the king’s death after the purification of the Temple.  2 Maccabees, however, places the death of the blasphemous monarch prior to the first Hanukkah.  Father Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., writing in The New Collegeville Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 832, favors the relative dating in 2 Maccabees.  Harrington also proposes that news of the death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes may have reached Jerusalem after the first Hanukkah.  That analysis is feasible and perhaps probable.

I agree with the evaluation of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 2 Maccabees.  I agree that his repentance was insincere and self-serving.  The monarch was like a criminal who regretted getting arrested and sentenced, not having committed a crime.

An interesting connection to the New Testament deserves comments here.  I start with the Wisdom of Solomon 4:17-20:

These [wicked] people [who look on, uncomprehending] see the wise man’s ending

without understanding what the Lord has in store for him

or why he has taken him to safety;

they look on and sneer,

but the Lord will laugh at them.

Soon they will be corpses without honour,

objects of scorn among the dead for ever.

The Lord will dash them down headlong, dumb.

He will tear them from their foundations,

they will be utterly laid waste,

anguish will be theirs,

and their memory shall perish.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

This is the reference in the Lukan account of the death of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-20).  That account differs from the version in Matthew 27:3-10 (suicide by hanging, without his entrails bursting out), like that of Ahitophel (2 Samuel 17:23), during Absalom’s rebellion against King David.  (Ahitophel had betrayed King David.)  Both Acts 1:15-20 and 2 Maccabees 9:5-29 echo aspects of the Wisdom of Solomon 4:17-20.  The Lukan account of the death of Judas Iscariot purposefully evokes the memory of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Obviously, one part of the Wisdom of Solomon 4:17-20 does not apply to King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Judas Iscariot.  We know their names.

The evil that men do lives after them;

the good is oft interred with their bones.

–William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

(I memorized that in high school, which was more years ago then I like to admit some days.)

In reality, we may know the names of evildoers in greater quantity than those of the righteous.  Think about it, O reader.  How many gangsters, serial killers, Nazis, Nazi collaborators, terrorists, dictators, would-be dictators, and genocidal dictators can you name?  And how many saints, humanitarians, and other kind-hearted people can you name?  Which category–evildoers or good people–has more names in it?

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had started down his destructive path by seeking to impose cultural uniformity–Hellenism–on his culturally diverse empire.  He was neither the first nor the last ruler to commit some variation of the error of enforced cultural homogenization.  He learned that defining unity as enforced cultural homogeneity increased disunity by inspiring rebellion.

Cultural diversity adds spice to communal life.  The world would be boring if we were all homogenous.  Mutual respect, toleration, acceptance, and tolerance maintains unity in the midst of cultural diversity.  When acceptance is a bridge too far, tolerance may suffice.  However, there are limits, even to cultural diversity.  Tolerance is a generally good idea.  A good idea, carried too far, becomes a bad idea.  Correctly placing the boundaries of tolerance amid cultural diversity is both necessary and wise.  On the left (where I dwell), the temptation is to draw the circle too wide.  On the right, the temptation is to draw the circle too small.

I am a student of history.  My reading tells me that many rulers of culturally-diverse realms have succeed in maintaining unity.  They have done so by practicing respect for diversity in matters of culture and religion, although not absolutely.  But these rulers have not insisted that everyone fellow a monoculture.  Therefore, very different people have peaceably found their places in those societies.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SCHOLASTICA, ABBESS OF PLOMBARIOLA; AND HER TWIN BROTHER, SAINT BENEDICT OF NURSIA, ABBOT OF MONTE CASSINO AND FATHER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT OF ANIANE, RESTORER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM; AND SAINT ARDO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF JULIA WILLIAMS GARNET, AFRICAN-AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST AND EDUCATOR; HER HUSBAND, HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET, AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; HIS SECOND WIFE, SARAH J. SMITH TOMPKINS GARNET, AFRICAN-AMERICAN SUFFRAGETTE AND EDUCATOR; HER SISTER, SUSAN MARIA SMITH MCKINNEY STEWARD, AFRICAN-AMERICAN PHYSICIAN; AND HER SECOND HUSBAND, THEOPHILUS GOULD STEWARD, U.S. AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL MINISTER, ARMY CHAPLAIN, AND PROFESSOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT NORBERT OF XANTEN, FOUNDER OF THE PREMONSTRATENSIANS; SAINT HUGH OF FOSSES, SECOND FOUNDER OF THE PREMONSTRATENSIANS; AND SAINT EVERMOD, BISHOP OF RATZEBURG

THE FEAST OF PHILIP ARMES, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST

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Second Maccabees: Two Letters   Leave a comment

Above:  Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART II

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2 Maccabees 1:1-2:18

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The Second Book of the Maccabees is, according to scholarly consensus, inferior to the First Book of the Maccabees.  1 Maccabees, like any legitimate work of history, has a thesis.  History, by definition, is interpretation of the past, based on written sources.  1 Maccabees, therefore, is not objective.  It is, however, a legitimate work of history.  Its thesis is that the Hasmonean Dynasty was, by right, the ruling family of Judea.

The Second Book of the Maccabees also has a thesis:  Egyptian Jews ought to celebrate Hanukkah, the feast of the rededication of the Temple on Kislev 25 (December 14), 164 B.C.E..  The author of 2 Maccabees is anonymous.  Scholars refer to him as the Epitomist.  In contemporary analogy, 2 Maccabees is the Reader’s Digest condensed book form (from circa 124 B.C.E.) of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene.  The longer, original work is lost, unfortunately.  x

I wonder if the condensation is the major reason for problems with 2 Maccabees.  Perhaps the following analogy is crass, but it is the best one I can muster.  Consider, O reader, one of the three Flash Gordon serials:  Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).  Neither one is Shakespeare, obviously, but each one is, within the context of its complete run, intelligible.  Then consider, in contrast, the condensed version of one of those serials.  The pacing makes no sense.  Plot threads dangle.  Certain scenes make no sense, given the editing.  This is not the optimum way to watch the story; one should watch the full serial.

As in 1 Maccabees, the dates are according to the Hellenistic/Seleucid calendar.  Therefore, the year 169 equals 143 B.C.E.  As an attentive student of history should know, the C.E/A.D.-B.C.E./B.C. scale did not exist until our 500s C.E./A.D.

Today’s portion of 2 Maccabees consists of two prefatory letters from the Epitomist.  The first one, in order, spans 1:1-10a, and dates to the year 188 (124 B.C.E.).  This letter refers to events from the year 169 (143 B.C.E.).  In the first reign of King Demetrius II Nicator (145-139/138 B.C.E.) of the Seleucid Empire, “we Jews” had written of previous perfidious acts by the High Priest Jason (2 Maccabees 4:7-22; 5:1-14).  Jason had led his followers in rebellion against the covenant (therefore God) and the Seleucid Empire.  Jason was also responsible for a fire at the Temple and the slaughter of his own followers.  The first letter mistakes Hanukkah (in Kislev–that is, November-December) for the Feast of the Tabernacles (in Tishrit–that is, September-October).  This error makes sense, for the length of Hanukkah is, on purpose, the length of the Feast of Tabernacles.

The theology of the first letter is clear:  God is faithful.  Be reconciled to God.

The second letter (1:10b-2:18) predates the first one.  The second letter dates to 164 B.C.E.  This letter, also addressed to Egyptian Jews, also encourages these Jews of the Diaspora to celebrate Hanukkah, then a new feast.  Hanukkah was so new that the very old Torah did not command keeping it.  But the victory of Judas Maccabeus was for all Jews, even Jews of the Diaspora.

This second letter contains references that require explanation.

  1. “King Antiochus” was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) of the Seleucid Empire.  He was an extremely bad man.
  2. “King Ptolemy” was Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 80-145 B.C.E.) of the Ptolemaic Empire.
  3. Aristobolus was a Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt, and a teacher of Ptolemy VI Philometor.
  4. Nanaea, also known as Aniatis, was an Elamite goddess equivalent to and associated with Diana/Artemis.
  5. “Friend of the King” was an official position.  There were, in fact, four ranks of the “Friends of the King.”  Those ranks were:  Friend, Honored Friend, First Friend, and Preferred Friend.
  6. Antiochus IV Epiphanes seemed to enjoy invading and defiling temples of various religions.  He did not die (Sorry, 2 Maccabees 1:16), just yet–not until 2 Maccabees 9.

In the second letter, we read a summary of part of Ezra-Nehemiah, followed by a story (2 Maccabees 1:18-36) absent from Ezra-Nehemiah.  The point of this account is to emphasize the continuity of worship from one Temple to the next one.

The story in 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 is false at worst and unlikely at best.  (See Jeremiah 3:16.)  Besides, 2 Maccabees 2:7 contradicts Deuteronomy 32:49, where the place was known.

Jews of the Diaspora were family of the Jews of Judea.  Jews of the Diaspora were insiders, not outsiders, despite their distance from Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

That inclusive attitude is admirable.  It is one to emulate.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Judith’s Hymn of Deliverance, with Her Renown and Death   Leave a comment

Above:  Blanche Sweet as Judith in Judith of Bethulia (1914)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VIII

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Judith 16:1-25

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O Lord, thou are great and glorious,

wondrous in strength, invincible.

Let thy creatures serve thee,

for thou didst speak, and they were made,

thou didst sent thy Spirit, and it formed them;

there is none that can resist thy voice.

For the mountains shall be shaken to their foundations with the waters;

at thy presence the rocks shall melt like wax.

But to those who fear thee, thou wilt continue to show mercy.

For every sacrifice as a fragrant offering is a small thing,

and all fat for burnt offerings to thee is a very little thing,

but he who fears the Lord shall be great forever.

–Judith 16:13b-16, a.k.a. Canticle 69 in The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) and Canticle 622 in The Methodist Hymnal (1966)

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But the Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman.

For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of the young men;

nor did the sons of the Titans strike him down,

nor did tall giants set upon him;

but Judith daughter of Merari with the beauty of her countenance undid him.

–Judith 16:5-6, The New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (1989)

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The hymn of Judith acknowledges what Achior, soon to convert to Judaism (14:6-10), said in Chapter 5:  God is the strength of the Israelites.  The hymn of Judith places her accomplishment in proper context.  That context is God.

The rest of the story:

  1. Judith refused all offers of marriage.
  2. She freed her maid/servant.
  3. She lived to a ripe old age (Job 42:16; Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29).
  4. People held her in high esteem.
  5. Her grave was next to that of her late husband.

The end of Chapter 16 likens her to various heroes in the Book of Judges.  Judith 16:25 tells us that nobody spread terror among the Israelites for a long time after her death.  For a similar motif, read Judges 3:11; 3:30; 5:31; 8:28.

Interestingly, the Hasmonean period (168-63 B.C.E.) lasted 105 years, the lifespan of Judith.  Given the composition of the Book of Judith circa 100 B.C.E., we have a coincidence.

Judith placed God at the center of her life.  She revered God and acted to protect her community.  She was a fictional military heroine long before a historical military heroine, St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).

The Book of Judith also contains a warning to fatuous gas bag, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers.

[Holofernes’s] bloated self-image clouds his judgment, so that he not only sees in himself what he wants to see, but also sees in Judith what he chooses.  If Holofernes had been clever enough to catch Judith’s irony, he would have been clever enough to avoid her trap, even get the best of her.  But he was not.

–Lawrence M. Wills, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999), 1089

The warning is that they leave themselves open to their own undoing.  Their fate is in themselves, not in their stars, to paraphrase William Shakespeare.

At the end of the Book of Judith, Nebuchadnezzar II, not a major character since Chapter 2, is still on the throne.  I suppose the fictional version of that monarch in this book gave up his plan to take revenge on disloyal servants.  After all, he is not the king of all the Earth.  No, God is.

So, fatuous gas bags, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers, beware.  God is the king.  God is sovereign.  Even fatuous gas bags, authoritarian rulers, and their enablers are subject to the judgment of God.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Book of Judith, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERSON PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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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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