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Abraham_HeschelFrom his roots in Eastern Europe to his years as a brilliant young scholar in Berlin to his career as a teacher, writer, and activist in America, Heschel became a prophetic voice in passionate pursuit of social justice and interfaith understanding. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma (“I felt like my legs were praying,” he said famously.) and opposed the Vietnam War.

“The cure of the soul begins with a sense of embarrassment, embarrassment at our pettiness, prejudices, envy, and conceit; embarrassment at the profanation of life. A world that is full of grandeur has been converted into a carnival.”

“The spirit of the prophet, the message of the prophet, is very much alive. It’s a kind of men who combine very deep love and very powerful dissent, painful rebuke, with unwavering hope.”

“The opposite of good is not evil; it is indifference.”

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”

“We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.”

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.”

“How can I pray when I have on my conscience the awareness that I am co-responsible for the death of innocent people in Vietnam? In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.”

“God is not a hypothesis derived from logical assumptions, but an immediate insight, self-evident as light. He is not something to be sought in the darkness with the light of reason. He is the light.

“Friends, at the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. And Moses’ words were, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, let my people go.” While Pharaoh retorted, “Who’s the Lord that I should heed his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord. I will not let Israel go.” The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The Exodus began but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.”

“First of all, let us not misunderstand the nature of prayer, particularly in Jewish tradition. The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose of prayer is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song and men cannot live without a song. Prayer may not save us, but prayer may make us worthy of being saved. Prayer is not requesting. There is a partnership of God and men. God needs our help.”

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Quotable quotes from a couple of genuinely wise guys

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As long as we see the world as unredeemed, we will want to redeem it ourselves. The consequences of that impossible expectation are well known: Frustration, anger, impotence, guilt and despair . . .
For God is already at work here, suffering brokenness but always offering the gift of reconciliation.”

—- “In the Belly of a Paradox,” Parker Palmer, Quaker, author of “The Courage to Teacher, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.
****

The life of discipleship is not the hero worship we would pay to a good master; it is obedience to the son of God.”
—- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran priest and theologian and Nazi resister and martyr, from “The Cost of Discipleship”

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A Wise Wall Streeter on the Wisdom of Cultivating Wisdom

Him

Him

Chris Lowney is a seminary-trained economist who left the Jesuit world for Wall Street. He’s the author of Heroic Living, and another book, Heroic Leadership. This excerpt is from an interview with Nancy Lovell at thehighcalling.org:

This is a personal observation. In the last 20 years especially, we’ve grown in love with technology, fast decisions, mathematics, science—and we tend not to believe there’s such a thing as wisdom. People can learn wisdom over time, and a body of experience gives advantages in approaching problems. We tend to undervalue that. “Wisdom” has become an esoteric, religious thing. To me, if the last two years on Wall Street illustrate anything, it’s the importance of people with the good judgment who say, “I know what your math model tells me but are we running appropriate risks?” All those insights and judgments! Religious traditions have valued wisdom, and wisdom is spiritual. But it’s also a practical gift—the kind of gift all people but especially spiritual people should try to cultivate.

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eatprayloveHere’s an excerpt from Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, in which author Elizabeth Gilbert explains a difference in worldview between her and her sister Catherine:
“A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, ‘Dear God, that family needs grace.’ She replied firmly, ‘That family needs casseroles,’ and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.”

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It’s Barbara Brown Taylor Appreciation Month at JFJ

Her

Her

Our Appreciated One on fear and belief:
“Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light. It is suffocating inside, and dark. There is no room to turn around inside it. You can only face in one direction, but it hardly matters since you can’t see anyhow. There is no future in the dark. Everything is over. Everything is past . . .

“People can stop by and tap on your walls. . . . They might just make things worse. It is safer to stay where you are, where you know what is is what, even if you can’t breathe, even if you cannot move. That is how fear feels.

“Belief is something else altogether, although it is not what some would have us believe. It is not a well-fluffed nest, or a well-defended castle high on a hill. It is more like a rope bridge over a scenic gorge, sturdy but swinging back and forth, with plenty of light and plenty of air but precious little to hang on to except the stories you have heard: that it is the best and only way across, that it is possible, that it will bear your weight.

“All you have to do is believe in the bridge more than you believe in the gorge, but fortunately you do not have to believe it all by yourself. There are others to believe it with you, and even some to believe it for you when your own belief wears thing. They have crossed the bridge ahead of you and are waiting on the other side. You can talk to them if you like, as you step into the air, putting one foot ahead of the other, just that: just one step at a time.

“It takes a lot of courage to be a human being, but if Jesus was who he said he was, the bridge will hold. Believing in him will not put us in charge, or get us what we want or even save us from all harm, but believing in him, we may gradually lose our fear of our lives. Whatever the human condition we find ourselves in, we may finally learn to live it, maybe even to love it, if only because we believe he lives and loves it too.”

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What follows are excerpts from an interview with Barbara Brown Taylor by Becky Garrison, on Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith?

GARRISON: Who is the intended audience for Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith?
TAYLOR: Over the years, I have met a lot of people like myself—people who have grown up loving the church, who have been fed by the church, and who know they can never quit the church–but who have also come to the realization that loving the church and loving God are not the same thing.
Some of them have even discovered that serving the institutional church has diminished their capacity to serve God in the ways that give them life. These tend to be stubbornly loyal people—many of them clergy—who are convinced that putting this truth into words would amount to treachery. So they keep quiet, while the cracks in their souls widen. They learn how to live with the sense of being spiritual imposters even as they continue to serve the church. In many ways this is extremely admirable. As we have recently learned, Mother Teresa continued to serve both the poor of Calcutta and the sisters in her religious order while she suffered a sense of great separation from God. My book is for lesser souls like myself, who register that sense of separation as a danger signal and who set about amending their lives as best they can. In a sense, then, I wrote the book I needed to read when I left parish ministry—a book about how the love of God surpasses all institutional containers, and about how there are many, many ways to serve God, both within and beyond the local church. I wrote the book for people like me, even as I remain grateful for people whose experience is the opposite of mine.

GARRISON: How did God become real to you as you were playing around in black dirt?
TAYLOR: As I say in the book (Leaving Church), I had no concept of God while I was playing around in the black dirt of Kansas. What I sensed, instead, was my closeness to the basic elements of life—to earth, to dampness, to heat, to light—and because I had not learned to think of myself as separate from these things, I felt deep kinship with them. To put the word “God” on that experience later was to acknowledge that I had come close to what Paul Tillich called “the ground of all being.” I had experienced the one heart beating inside all living things. I discovered that I was not a discrete unit but a current in the divine sea. Or a clod of the divine dirt? Take your pick. Both are true.

GARRISON: What drew you to the Episcopal Church (a.k.a. the Frozen Chosen)?
TAYLOR: I was drawn to the Episcopal Church by the exquisiteness of the liturgy, which gave me a role to play in a drama much more ancient than myself. I was drawn by the Book of Common Prayer, which—significantly—was not a book of common doctrine or a book of common beliefs but a book of common practice.
I was drawn to the earth-loving aspects of Anglican Christianity, which has as many roots in the sacred groves and wells of the British Isles as in the caves and deserts of the Middle East. Above all, I was drawn to the community of people who were also drawn to these things. I recognized my kin in them, even if I did not know their names.

GARRISON: As you were being ordained to the priesthood, why did you say you were getting exactly what you wanted but you didn’t realize how much it would hurt?
TAYLOR: The person to be ordained kneels at the communion rail in front of the bishop. All the other priests come up out of the congregation to lay hands on the head of the newly ordained. Sometimes the ones in the back lean on the ones in the front, and they all lean on the person kneeling at the rail—which was what happened to be me. They all leaned on me, and I thought my neck would break. I also registered my unexpected distress as God’s little joke. There I was, feeling so special and privileged that I almost forgot I was signing up for a life of service. The neck pain was a helpful reminder that the yoke is not always easy, and the burden is not always light.

GARRISON: Why do you compare your time at Grace-Calvary as akin to living in a Flannery O’Connor novel?
TAYLOR: Like most rural southern towns, Clarkesville is a town full of characters, where the range of “normal” is much wider than it is in many cities. People don’t have therapists here; they have neighbors. They talk to their corn. They have twenty cats. They still drink moonshine and roll their own cigarettes. I say this fully aware that I am one of the characters.

GARRISON: Can you elaborate on what you meant by this reflection on your ministry that “as long as I fed them, I didn’t feel my hunger pains?”
TAYLOR: Most addicts could parse that reflection. One way to deal with your own pain is to use pain-killers. Another is to focus on other people’s pain. I chose the latter. Feeding other people was my way of avoiding my own hunger. As long as I focused on what was hurting them, I did not have to think about what was hurting me.

GARRISON: What went wrong between the church and you?
TAYLOR: Read my book! I think that something went right between the church and me. I think that when I resigned from parish ministry, I discovered the wideness of God’s mercy. I discovered that “church” means the whole of God’s family, and not just one particular group that meets for worship at 11:00 am at the corner of Wilson and Green Streets.
I discovered a whole slough of neighbors God has given me to love who will never darken the doorway of a church, but who are nonetheless eager to embrace the ways of peace and justice with me. I discovered a whole wide world of sorrow and jubilation that was unavailable to me while I was tending one particular flock of sheep.

GARRISON: What parts of the priesthood do you still keep and why?
TAYLOR: As best I am able, I still keep all my vows. I am diligent in the reading and study of the scriptures. I care for God’s family. I persevere in prayer. I offer all my labors to God. In the Episcopal Church, one is a priest forever. I would have to renounce my vows to stop being a priest. I have no plans to do that.

GARRISON: What is Sabbath sickness and how did you find a cure for this ailment?
TAYLOR: I devoted one whole chapter of my book to this. Sabbath sickness is what happens when you stop trying to earn God’s love for at least one whole day each week and consent simply to be loved for no good reason. The cure is to practice this every week, paying close attention to all your reasons why you do not deserve to be loved without reason.

GARRISON: How can church reach those whose lives are breaking down and they don’t feel welcome in a church setting?
TAYLOR: That’s what Christians are for—people of the Way—who are on that Way whether they are in church or not. The church can reach those whose lives are breaking down simply by forming Christians who know how to practice compassion, how to listen, how to withhold judgment, how to bake casseroles, how to look after other people’s children when those people are too confused or grief-stricken to do it themselves, how to give away their money and their time without expecting any direct return, how to be quiet with people in a noisy world, how to see God in the lost and the least, how to work for justice instead of just talking about it, how to make decisions that will benefit the widest number of people, how to swallow bitterness and choose peace, how to love God so much that they see God in every person they meet. Church is not a building. It is a community of people who know how to do these things and do them.

***** Becky Garrison’s books include The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church: Eyewitness Accounts of How American Churches are Hijacking Jesus, Bagging the Beatitudes, and Worshipping the Almighty Dollar.

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Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Brown Taylor


Yes, Jitterbuggers, we’ll be honoring this prolific and insightful writer in the month of September and you’ll want to tell all your friends, acquaintances and loved ones to go to jitterbuggingforjesus.com to find interviews with, articles about and excerpts from her much-acclaimed books.
If you’re not acquainted with her, here’s an introduction from her web site:
Barbara Brown Taylor teaches religion at Piedmont College in rural northeast Georgia and is an adjunct professor of spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur. She is the author of twelve books, including An Altar in the World, published by HarperOne in February 2009. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, met with widespread critical acclaim, winning a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. An at-large editor for The Christian Century and sometime commentator on Georgia Public Radio, Taylor lives on a working farm with her husband Ed and a yard full of animals.

Books
An Altar in the World, HarperOne, 2009
Leaving Church, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006
The Seeds of Heaven, Westminster John Knox, 2004
Speaking of Sin, Cowley, 2000
The Luminous Web, Cowley, 2000
Home By Another Way, Cowley, 1999
When God is Silent, Cowley, 1998
Mixed Blessings, Cowley, 1998
God in Pain, Abingdon, 1998
Bread of Angels, Cowley, 1997
Gospel Medicine, Cowley, 1995
The Preaching Life, Cowley, 1993

Education
Yale Divinity School, Master of Divinity, 1976
Emory University, Bachelor of Arts in Religion, 1973

Ordination
Deacon, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, 1983
Priest, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, 1984

Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degrees
Wake Forest University, 2006
The University of the South, 2005
Hastings University, 2005
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 2002
Colgate University, 2001
Virginia Theological Seminary, 2001
Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, 1997
Piedmont College, 1995

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