Sunday, June 30, 2013

Margaret O'Bryan Brodnax, Teacher Extraordinaire

I came late in learning of the passing of one of my English professors, Dr. Margaret Brodnax. She died at her home  on March 30, 2013 at the age of 80.  There was a nice obituary in Samford University’s Seasons which came in the mail this week and gave me the news.  She lived a full life with academic achievement, lay leadership in the Episcopal Church, and was an early advisory board member for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.  I knew Margaret Brodnax as one amazing teacher. She knew her topic and she kept her students engaged in the material. My first encounter with her was in a World Lit class my sophomore year and she certainly helped to make that a memorable year.

“It Was All about Sex and Jesus”

Margaret Brodnax did two things to shake up my world that semester.  The first shake up came when my first written assignment was handed back to me full of red marks. There was a “C” grade  and a note to see her after class. I went to her in shock, not accustomed to C’s, wondering what was wrong with the work I had turned in.

“For one thing,” she said, “it wasn’t written very well…” My head must have been spinning by then. Not written very well! I could not believe what I was hearing. The bottom line was that she wanted me to re-write the brief paper addressing all of her comments in the margins.  I think she wanted me to realize that I was just skimming the surface of the reading material, responding with some cursory answers. She wanted me to delve into the reading assignment to find the nuances of meaning and to take note of some core life issues.  After I did the re-write, she gave me a better grade, smiled and said, “That was so much better, Charles.”

The second thing she did was the astounding way she brought ancient Greek literature to life. I was a 19 year old ministerial student who had not seen much beyond my rural Baptist environment in Tallapoosa County before arriving at Samford. It seemed that with every Greek drama or myth that we studied, Dr. Brodnax brought it home to us by appealing to our adolescent hormones and our Sunday School lessons from home. I was in no small way unnerved by that. Back in the dorm I told my friends, “No matter what our reading assignment is, she relates everything to sex and Jesus!”  Years later, after I had finished grad school, traveled the world and was on my second job, I took it upon myself to read Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God series. Campbell opened up the ancient world and their grounding mythologies to explain not only their world but the heritage we have received from those ancient times. As he explained the ancient fertility rites and the spiritual concepts of our ancient forebears, it hit me: “Margaret Brodnax was right! It all comes down to sex and Jesus!”

It Was All about Being Fully Engaged in Life

Well, in my early college days, I was glad to get out of Dr. Brodnax’s class with a decent grade, but I was afraid she was a little too much for me to handle. Then came my senior year when I needed one more elective to complete my English Major. Dr. Brodnax was teaching a graduate level course on Edmund Spenser, with the bulk of the course addressing The Faerie Queene.  She granted me permission to take that graduate curriculum to be counted as a 400 level course  in order to fulfill my academic requirements. I was a little bit intimidated at first. There were only five in the class and I was I there with those graduate students! In addition, we had to actually present our term papers in class.

Throughout that course, Margaret Brodnax was nothing but supportive.  One of the texts that she wanted us to use was a specific edition of The Faerie Queene. She told me, “You don’t need to buy that one; I’ve got an old copy you can have.” The course unfolded into a wonderful experience.  My paper dealt with Sir Gawain and the Red Night, and my research actually became for me a process of spiritual enrichment.  Her final note to me written on the last page of my paper was, “I hope you enjoyed writing this as much as I enjoyed reading it.”  That was a long way from the first comment she had made back during my sophomore year. It also indicated progress that I would not have made without dedicated and engaged teaching.

That is the way she was.  Nothing was routine or matter-of-fact for her. In her classes, she did not simply impart information. She made connections with the students to bring the subject matter to life.  Literature was intensely important and she took her role as teacher very seriously. She intended to see that every student was awakened to the essence of life that was reflected in the stories we read. She wanted us all to be fully engaged in life.  Margaret O’Bryan Brodnax, teacher extraordinaire! May she rest in peace.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Walking the Dog at Night

  Crickets in the grass,
        bats chirping in darkened skies;
        unseen life abounds!
                                                                          ~ CK

Photo: "Midnight Mist" by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalh
            Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

    "Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you."
                                                                                    ~ Florida Scott-Maxwell
                                                                                   (from The Measure of My Days)

Last week one of the TV stations was running back-to-back episodes of the 1980s comedy series, Cheers.  I was busy with other things so I wasn’t attending to the program, but each time I heard the theme song, something glad arose inside. That was part of the attraction of the series. Not only was the writing excellent and the acting from the ensemble cast top notch, the theme song effectively gave us the gestalt of the fictional bar in Boston.  When the series originally aired, I tried to catch it each week, and I would always listen to the theme song that began and ended each episode. For some reason, listening to the theme was just as important as watching the episode.

We Need Community

That Cheers theme reminded us of the need for community. It reminded us that when life throws us a curve, when disappointments abound, it is important to have a place to go “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” None of us escapes hardship in this life. No one is immune to misfortune. That is why it is important to have a community we can turn to.

What’s more, even in the good times we cannot do what we need to do to have a good life without help from others.  There are numerous things I cannot do for myself and would not even know where to start. For example, I like to bake.  One day it occurred to me that even though I rely upon baking soda for many recipes, I had no idea where it comes from. If other people were not producing it and packaging it, my life in the kitchen would be sorely limited.  

There are numerous other examples of how we all need others for everyday living: flipping the light switch, turning the water faucet, setting the thermostat in the room, placing the garbage out on the curb – all represent actions which require a host of others to make work properly.  Yet these are just everyday factors that occur and we seldom see any of the people who make those things happen. Our real sense of belonging comes from the people with whom we interact face-to-face, the people we personally connect with. They are our family, our community, our strength and our support.

Finding Community, Creating Family

We all have those days when life deals a cruel blow – an accident on the road, an illness, or a family tragedy.  Maybe it is a betrayal, a job loss, or turn of events that seems to make the bottom fall out. Those are the days when community and friendship are all the more important.  I hope you have that community. From my experience community occurs in two ways: it arises and it is sought out.

For most of us, though we have a family of origin, we also have a family of our own choosing. Sometimes the family of origin is fraught with so much baggage and unnecessary expectations, that one cannot find that support that is needed. Robert Frost famously wrote in his poem, The Death of a Hired Man that “Home is the place where, when you go have to there, they have to take you in.” Certainly, that is important to remember, but we also need that family that is there to cheer us on and support us, not just to take us in if they have to. That is where we find our true community and our true family.

That true community will often just arise out of out friendships and contacts. Community, however, is too important not to be sought out.  Some find that community at church. Some find it in their neighborhood (though our modern neighborhoods are becoming places of isolation where we may be living in the company of strangers).  Others find community in service organizations, civic clubs or in community projects. Your community could be a reading group, a choir or a Bible study group.

Whatever your community is, wherever you find family, be sure to nourish it during the good times so you will have someone to turn to in the bad times. On any given day, good or bad, it’s always good to go “where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paula Deen and the Supreme Court

I told myself that I would stay away from politics for a while on my blog, then politics reared its ugly head.  I find it unfortunate that within a week’s time,  Paula Deen, whose primary sin is promoting food that that is part of an unhealthy lifestyle, has been vilified in the media for admitting to having used the “N” word in the past while in Washington, D.C. the legal system has made racism more acceptable. Paula Deen became a scapegoat for a nation still living with institutionalized racism even as the Supreme Court issued a decision that eviscerates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Now we can all eat our fried chicken and pecan pie, AND keep minorities away from the polls. I have one question: Which is worse, to long for the days of plantations and minstrel shows, or to legalize the disregarding of the Voting Rights Act? Okay, both are pretty lame and both reveal an innate, perhaps unconscious racism. Paula Deen finds black servants in white coats and gloves appealing as a quaint look at an idealized past. The U.S Supreme Court has just allowed for disenfranchisement of minorities in the basic right of American citizens to vote.  But no one on the Supreme Court used the “N” word. They just made it easier for minorities to be treated as that which we are uncomfortable in naming. The Supreme Court decision allows the country to continue with its institutionalized racism while giving lip service to racial progress by shunning Paula Deen.

A couple of years ago I quoted Will Campbell in a blog post discussing a new “revised” version of Huckleberry Finn. It had to do with the use of the “N” word vs. how we actually treat people:

Sometimes we educated folk can get so caught up in political correctness that we end up missing the point entirely, living in a dull, flat landscape, so to speak. It reminds me of something Will Campbell relates in his acclaimed memoir, Brother to a Dragonfly. Campbell tells of a salty Baptist preacher, Brother Thad Garner, he knew in the Deep South. One of his stories is about how Brother Garner used his influence in the local Lion’s Club to make them aware that it was wrong to support a bond issue for a swimming pool in their town when earlier a bond had been defeated that would have provided running water for those living in the Black community (who were having to draw water from a single well). This was a decade prior to the civil rights movement. Brother Thad had first warmed up the crowd with some jokes, including one about an “ole colored preacher.” After the meeting, Will chided his friend for telling “ole colored preacher" jokes. To which his friend Thad replied:
“That’s the trouble with you shithook liberals, Willie. You had rather see a hundred children die of dehydration than to have the sound of ‘nigger’ heard from your lips. Whether I say ‘nigger’ don’t matter a damn. If one of those young’uns die of thirst he ain’t nothing. Just one more dead nigger, whether I say the word or not, or whether I go to Hell for saying it or not. But if he lives to get grown, maybe he can lead his people out of this godawful Egypt and there won’t be no more niggers."
May the Supreme Court justices enjoy their fried chicken and pecan pie which will probably be prepared by some people who won’t quite make it to the polls next time. As the song says, “Not dark yet…but it’s gettin’ there.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Music: What'll I Do?

I have a penchant for poignant songs and haunting melodies. They can take me to another place and allow me to dwell with my feelings and perhaps even take me to a new awareness of life. Irving Berlin's song, "What'll I do?" is a masterpiece. It has been recorded by a long list of performers through the years. It was featured on the soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 film The Great Gatsby and has been used countless times on television as well as the big screen to convey in a few words what some find it difficult to communicate in a thousand lines. The melody itself even without the words has a powerful effect.

I looked at many renditions on You Tube. The song has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, and a host of others. The version That I liked the most was recorded by Linda Ronstadt in her 1983 album, What's New which features standards from the great American songbook. Ronstadt collaborated with the famous bandleader and arranger, Nelson Riddle, giving it that authenticity of the era in which the song first became famous.

You may be interested to hear other fine renditions of this song. Art Garfunkle did a version which is a faithful rendition using more modern orchestration and well worth hearing. Bea Arthur, in an excellent performance, sang the song in an episode of the TV show, The Golden Girls.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Crepe Myrtle

      Blossom-laded limbs
            feeling the sacred tension:
            abundance at rest.
                                         ~ CK


Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Solstice Reflection


Summer Storm

Sudden darkness at midday
Swiftly followed by thunder claps
     and sheets of rain.
Grateful trees bow their branches
Until their gratitude stretches
To the point of fear,
But trust remains
As water and wind become
     the only audible sounds.

Stillness comes as the sun breaks through.
Humidity ebbs and flows
     in invisible eddies and swirls.
A wasp circles a carefully offered blossom
While the mocking bird sings
     every song she knows.

Up on the wire,
A dove dries her rain drenched feathers,
Stretching out her wing
With the grace of a ballet dancer –
A grace not often seen in a dove –
A grace neither sought nor dwelt upon
As she whiffles through the air
On dry wings.
                                                     ~ CK


Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Music: World Spins Madly On

A friend shared this video that features an indie folk rock group called The Weepies. It is a beautiful short film, but I was just as taken by the music as by the film. The Weepies are a new discovery for me and I am glad to find them. A quick tour of their offerings on You Tube demonstrated a delight for anyone longing for thoughtful lyrics, lovely harmonies, and beautiful instrumentation. Songs titles that particularly got my attention were, "How You Survived the War," and "A Painting by Chagal" ("We float like two lovers in a painting by Chagall / All around is sky and blue town / Holding these flowers for a wedding gown").

Enjoy the video and the music!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Day Memory

[For Father's Day , I am re-posting  blog that I did on Sept 9, 2010]

 A Local Hero
                                                                              by Charles Kinnaird

“The time is always right to do what is right.” 
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

I grew up under an apartheid system of government in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. Many things began to change in 1970 when, after years of resistance, the public schools were finally completely integrated. I was sixteen years old at the time. Governor George Wallace's segregationist anti-federal sentiments still held sway among most of the people that I knew. Both of my parents were public school teachers, so we all witnessed the anxious transition that most of us felt had been imposed upon us. It was not until 25 years later that I learned about my own father's significant contribution to that transition.

My father, Clyde Kinnaird, was Old South. He did not grow up during the Depression; he grew up just before the Depression, graduating from high school in 1928. He went on to college and seminary to become a Baptist minister. When he was 56 years old, he became bi-vocational, working full time with the Tallapoosa County School System while continuing part-time as a pastor. He was not a segregationist. He bragged about never having voted for George Wallace in his life. Neither was he a civil rights advocate. As I mentioned, he was Old South. He would probably have preferred to maintain the status quo. He agreed in sentiment with civil rights, but like many of us in the Old South, he thought things were moving too fast. He believed in "helping 'those people' to improve their circumstances," and while he was not a racist, I considered him to be paternalistic in his view toward African Americans.

In 1967, as part of the system's delay in implementing de-segregation, the county school system began placing a few white teachers into the black schools and a few black teachers into the white schools. My father was made principal of Council High School, which was the all-black school in town. I was vaguely aware at the time that my father moved the school from out of the red financially and that he worked on instilling pride in the teachers. I was also vaguely aware that he had some conflicts with the school superintendent. After his successful tenure at Council High, he was given no more jobs as principal but continued to teach in the classroom until he retired at age 66.

My father died at the age of 86. A year or so before his death, I was visiting with him when he was in a reminiscent mood. It was on that day that I learned that my father had been more of an activist than I had ever realized. He told me about driving out to the old neighborhood where Council High School had once been. He was pleased to see that a recreation center with tennis courts had been built. "I tried to get the city to do something like that 25 years ago," he told me. "I told them we need to do something to help the neighborhood and to give the kids something to do." In those days, the black neighborhood was filled with shacks occupied by people who did hard labor to try to earn a living. City Hall was unmoved. All my father had been able to do was to get a road crew to level off a field with a bulldozer so that he himself could put up a couple of basketball goals outside.

My father continued to recollect about his days at Council High School. "When I went there, the school was operating in the red, and I saw right away that a lot of the budget was going into the lunchroom because so many of the kids could not afford to pay for their lunch. I found out about the federal lunch program that would subsidize school lunches for low-income people. I went to the superintendent and explained to him that if we could get on the federal lunch program, then our school could put more money into the needs of the classroom. We could give the kids a better chance to learn."

In my father's words, the superintendent was a racist who "didn't want to do anything that would help the blacks." The superintendent told him to forget it, that the county would have nothing to do with any federal lunch program. "So I just decided to write to Washington, D.C." my father recounted. "I explained my situation to them and asked if there was any way our school could get the federal program. The next thing I knew I got a letter back from Washington stating that all of Tallapoosa County was now on the school lunch program. They sent a copy of my letter and theirs to the county superintendent. The superintendent didn't have a kind word to say to me after that, but we got the school operating within budget, and we got classroom materials that teachers had too long been without. We managed to give them something to be proud of."

Suddenly, it became clear to me why the superintendent had gone from favoring my father to giving less lucrative assignments. I also saw my father less in terms of Old South. He exemplified to me quiet ways in which change could be brought about. He had made choices that had cost him in his career, but choices that brought him no regrets. He had been able to bring some sense of dignity to professional colleagues who had seen apartheid from a different vantagepoint. I saw an old man who could look with pleasure upon the changes that had come about since 1967, and could recall with pride the unrecognized role that he had in bringing about those changes.

In Memoriam: Richard Clyde Kinnaird, Sr.
September 8,1910- December 18,1996


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Honeysuckle

 Climbing vines of green,
       Blossoms of yellow and white.
       Fragrance fills the air.
                                         ~ CK


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sacred Harp and the Sound of Eternal Essence

In Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Ravi Shankar is heard to say that sound is God. Today I made a connection with that concept as I attended the opening sessions of the National Sacred Harp Convention.  Sacred Harp is an old acapella style of singing that came to this country by way of the English settlers. It was taught to people by using shaped notes to designate  and a "fa-sol-la" method for vocalizing each note. It was kept alive in this country primarily by the Primitive Baptists in Appalachia. Back in 2011, I wrote an essay about my first experience with sacred harp singing. 

When I described that initial encounter, I wrote, “I was captivated, stirred on the inside, tears threatening to well up – and no words had been sung yet. It was that bracing harmony of pure notes filling the sunlit space. The sound reminded me of the Bulgarian women’s folk singing that has attracted many listeners since the 1990 recording, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares. There was a similar directness and exuberance, a hearty primitive and uplifting – even startling – vocal effect.”

Not Your Ordinary Words

As I attended the Sacred Harp Convention this year, I was fascinated by the turn of phrase used in many of the lyrics and song titles. For example, Hymn 112 is titled, “The Last Words of Copernicus.” It speaks of the day when this life is over and the light from the heavenly orbs, the sun and moon, will no longer be needed.

In Hymn 450 (Elder) the lyrics include:

Life’s an ever varied flood,
Always rolling to its sea:
Slow or quick, or mild or rude,
Tending to eternity.

Hymn 504 (Woodstreet) is an account of Psalm 137 in which the psalmist mourns the Babylonian captivity saying, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”  Poems and songs have been written about “The waters of Babylon,” but this hymn phrases it:

When we our wearied limbs to rest
Sat down by proud Euphrates’ stream
We wept with doleful thoughts oppressed,
And Zion was our mournful theme.”

I don’t think I have seen references to the Euphrates or to Copernicus in other Christian hymnals.  The lyrics to Hymn 450, in spite of the typically conservative orientation of sacred harp, are beautifully reminiscent of the Buddhist or Hindu concept of all of life returning to its source.

Experiencing the Sound

Yet in spite of the fascinating words in the text of those sacred harp hymns, it is the sound that is the most impressive thing.  The singers are arranged in a square with sopranos, altos, tenors and basses each seated on the sides of the square. The one leading the song stands in the open space in the middle of that square. Sacred harp singers call this space “The holy of holies” because they say it is the absolute best spot to be in to get the full effect of the music.  At this point, I can only imagine what the sound must be like in that holy of holies because simply sitting in the congregation hearing the music is enough to lift me into a divine presence. The effect of that powerful sound brings me back to the words of Ravi Shankar, that sound is God.

I found a fuller quote from Ravi Shankar that elaborates upon the concept of sound and God:

“Our tradition teaches us that sound is God- Nada Brahma. That is, musical sound and the musical experience are steps to the realisation of the self. We view music as a kind of spiritual discipline that raises one’s inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss. We are taught that one of the fundamental goals a Hindu works towards in his lifetime is a knowledge of the true meaning of the universe - its unchanging, eternal essence….The highest aim of our music is to reveal the essence of the universe it reflects, and the ragas are among the means by which this essence can be apprehended.”
                         [From David Murphy Conducts at ]

Of the hymns I heard today, there were many glorious moments. One of those hymns whose lyrics and musical sound converged quite beautifully was Hymn 178 (tune: Africa)

Now shall my inward joys arise,
And burst into a Song;
Almighty Love inspires my Heart,
And Pleasure tunes my Tongue.

God on his thirsty Zion-Hill
Some Mercy-Drops has thrown,
And solemn Oaths have bound his Love
To shower Salvation down.

Why do we then indulge our Fears,
Suspicions and Complaints?
Is he a God, and shall his Grace
Grow weary of his saints?

The words are by the English hymnist Isaac Watts. The tune is by the American choral composer, William Billings. To hear sacred harp singers render this beautiful hymn, go here.

[To hear 504 (Woodstreet) about mourning by the proud Euphrates, go here]

For our sacred harp finale, here is a recording of “The Last Words of Copernicus.” The recording was made my Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist who recorded and preserved so much of American folk music.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Music: Sacred Harp

The National Sacred Harp Convention is this week in Birmingham, Alabama. The sound track to the movie Cold Mountain featured sacred harp singers from Alabama. Here is one of their recording sessions. Many of these very same people are sure to be at the National Sacred Harp Convention this week, so head out to First Christian Church to hear some of this amazing music first-hand.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Trouble with War

"War on Terror" montage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The trouble with war, or I should say, one of the many troubles with war, is that it unleashes evil on all sides. I have written before about the atrocities of war and the problems of modern warfare. This week, the topic has again been raised by television and on my social media page. One of my friends who is living overseas put the following post on Facebook:

Are believers in the U.S. aware of the Christian genocide going on in Syria ... the people killing the Christians are American backed "free Syrian" Al-Quida terrorists....I hope some of you have been calling your elected officials to log your level of opposition to U.S. funds going to kill Christians in Syria.
My friend brought to light a problem that will inevitably occur when we embrace war. We will find that those we care about, or would care about if we knew them, suffer terribly. This is one reason I am continually appalled when Christian Churches so easily accept our country’s repeated call to war. In the Iraq war, Christian communities as well as Jewish communities that had been there for centuries were displaced. Of course, any community torn apart by war is a tragedy, whatever their ethnicity or faith. Here is how I responded to my friend:  

The USA is a big nation living in fear. Unfortunately all we know to do is to fight, whether it is “boots on the ground,” “drones in the air,” or guns in dissident's hands.  War is not the answer, and if you could convince evangelical Christians of that, you would deserve the Nobel Prize. We are Christians living in affluence but we've gone from faith to fear and desperation.
My point was that while my stance on war is in line with the Quakers, I see too many people of faith, especially my evangelical friends  align themselves too quickly with the state when the state chooses war, rather than offering an alternative to the state's socio-political actions.

Someone else responded to my friend’s Facebook post with another perspective:

As an Orthodox Christian (like those in Syria) I am very aware and very heartsick about this. I have opposed US interference in the Middle East all along. So few Americans understand that Christians constitute a significant portion of the population there--or did, until war and persecution began to drive them out.
On the same day that I had this exchange on Facebook, another friend posted an essay by Mark Sandlin which I was glad to read. It was titled, “Ten Political Things You Cannot Do while Following Jesus.” Among the things listed that one cannot do is advocate for war. You can read Sandlin’s essay here
Also on the topic of the atrocities of war is story that aired on CBS Sunday Morning last week (June 2, 2013). The piece was titled “A Dark Side of WWII.” World War II is one we like to hold up as a “good war.” We were fighting against the evil and tyranny of fascism and the fighters for freedom were victorious. It was, after all the heroic accomplishment of “the greatest generation” as Tom Brokaw phrased it in his book by the same title. In spite of heroic and valiant efforts, however, it is inevitable that war will bring out the worst in humanity.

The network gave the following introduction to the news story:

With the upcoming anniversary of the 1944 D-Day invasion, an untold story is coming to light about some of the soldiers who participated in that turning point in WWII. David Martin reports it's all part of a story that's not easy to hear.

My point in posting this information today is to emphasize that war is not a glorious campaign to be entered into lightly, though in recent years our leaders have, in my opinion, been too cavalier in their calls for military action. Furthermore, it should be the role of the Christian community to offer an alternative to war rather than to fall lock-step behind political leaders who stoke public fears in order to justify military solutions.

You can see the 15-minute segment from CBS Sunday Morning below:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Summer Rain

   Rain on stone pavement
         On a summer afternoon
         Sings a joyous song.

                                                                                                 ~ CK

[The picture, depicting a rainy day in Paris, is from an oil painting by French artist Henri Royer (1861-1938). 
Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

For All the Saints: Remembering Andrew Greeley and Will Campbell

Andrew Greeley
Will Campbel

I am a dedicated ecumenist, and have found much to be savored in a number of faith communities.  Thirty-five years ago I was a Baptist seminarian and in the years since that time I have found much benefit by worshiping within Episcopalian, Unitarian, and Roman Catholic communities.  For that reason I must stop to honor two great champions who have departed this life within the past week: Andrew Greeley, and Will Campbell. Will Campbell showed me how to live the faith as a Baptist. Andrew Greeley likewise gave me great encouragement within the Catholic community. Both men demonstrated how to live faithful authentic lives without mindlessly caving in to convention.

Will Campbell’s book Brother to a Dragonfly was published while I was in seminary in Mill Valley, California.  A couple of my friends were reading it and speaking high praises for it, so I bought a copy for myself. As I began reading, that book quickly took precedence over all of my official studies that I was involved in that term.  Will Campbell’s eloquent memoir was monumental in helping me to understand what it means to be a southern white Christian having grown up during the 1960s. It remains one of the handful of books that I count as landmarks in my own pilgrimage of faith. 

Will Campbell was a renegade among Southern Baptists, standing up for the oppressed black community in the South but also recognizing that the white bigots were just as much slaves to the system as were the blacks they tried so desperately to keep down.  Campbell was an outlier whose life was a prophetic call for justice, love, equality, and redemption.

You can read a Campbell’s compelling account of his spiritual awakening as recounted in Brother to a Dragonfly in a Sojourners magazine article here.

Andrew Greeley was a priest, a sociologist, a writer, a teacher, a newspaper columnist and a novelist.  He was often controversial in his critique of the Catholic Church and clerical culture, advocating such things as equality for women and ordination of married priests. As a sociologist, he dared to conduct research to find out what Catholics at large actually believed and how they lived. He met with the expected ire of the Church hierarchy for reporting such sociological data.  Many also wondered how a priest could write such steamy novels which often pointed out the hypocrisy of church officials.

Several years ago I picked up a copy of Greeley’s autobiography, Confessions of a Parish Priest and found it to be a warm and delightful read as well as an encouragement in my desire for the authentic expression of faith. He was obviously at heart a parish priest who cared about people and cared about the faith.  One of my favorite quotes from Andrew Greeley is from The Catholic Myth:

“Catholics differ from other Americans in that their imaginations tend to be more ‘sacramental.’ By that I mean that Catholics are more likely to imagine God as present in the world and the world as revelatory instead of bleak…”
To me, that quote is reflective of Greeley’s unflagging delight in life itself. As a Protestant turned Catholic, I appreciate that brightness and that hopeful aspect of seeing the world as a sacramental revelation of God. My own spiritual pilgrimage has been a continual stepping into broader and brighter places.  Father Andrew Greeley was always a welcome voice along that path.

You can read an article by Andrew Greeley in which he discusses his novels, his audience, and his Catholic critics here.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Monday Music: Siyahamba (Zulu hymn)

"Siyahamba ekukhanyeni kwenkos'," (We are marching in the light of God)

I tracked down this song "Siyahamba” after reading Maria Evans’ beautiful post on Daily Episcopalian. About the song she states:

I'm willing to bet that "Siyahamba" has been the most universally translated African song in the last 30 years. We have something really awful – the struggle for civil rights in South Africa – to thank for its universal nature. Yet at the same time, every time I sing it, the image of Bishop Desmond Tutu comes to the forefront of my mind. This awful thing gave the world a beautiful song and an amazing saint on earth. It's a reminder that we need more verses to "Siyahamba" – verses like, "We are listening in the light of God," "We are being still in the light of God," and "we are sharing in the light of God." "Being African" means these things are not incongruous with singing, dancing, and praying in the light of God.

Maria Evans is a surgical pathologist who blogs at Read her entire essay, “Siyahamba,” here

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Blackberry Winter

Blackberry winter
     Keeps the mind from assuming
     How the seasons turn.

                                                            ~ CK

(Photo of blackberry leaves by Vera Buhl, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
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