Barry Taylor, Steve Huber, and Isaiah 59


In RE BARRY TAYLOR: even after a very pleasant lunch with All Saints Rector Stephen Huber on Thursday 18 September 2014 (the day of the failed Scottish Independence Referendum) I still know absolutely no facts or details or real information about the man’s circumstances or the recent history of the past two weeks or so, but I feel the oppressive weight of Isaiah 59:9-11 on my shoulders:

“Therefore justice is far from us, And righteousness does not overtake us; We hope for light, but behold, darkness, For brightness, but we walk in gloom.  Therefore justice is far from us, And righteousness does not overtake us; We hope for light, but behold, darkness, For brightness, but we walk in gloom. we are like dead men. All of us growl like bears, And moan sadly like doves;   We hope for justice, but there is none, For salvation, but it is far from us.”

or if you grew up with the KJV as I did:

“Therefore is judgment far from us,
neither doth justice overtake us:
we wait for light, but behold obscurity;
for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
We grope for the wall like the blind, and
we grope as if we had no eyes:
we stumble at noonday as in the night;
we are in desolate places as dead men.
We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves:
we look for judgment, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far off from us.”

Steve Huber could not have been any nicer, nor could the stone wall he put up about revealing any details have been any thicker.  It is much easier to attack a man who’s being rude and dismissive to you than one who expresses extreme sympathy and condolences for your sense of loss and talks to you very graciously about life and theology and….everything.

Barry Taylor is apparently in England with his mother now, and will go from there to rest and recuperate in South Africa.  I know this routine: it’s called “running away”.  During the worst summer of my life, at my rock bottom, at my worst times, when I was subject to some of the worst setbacks and disappointments in my life, I went to the Bayreuth Festival in Bavaria, then returned to Harvard to refocus myself on Egypt, then went to England, Greece, and Egypt.  I am a privileged man who has led a privileged life, and I’m glad that Barry’s got similar privileges.  But I still feel that there’s something wrong in the State of All Saints’ Parish….. but Steve Huber has utterly disarmed me from trying to force any issues—-and indeed I have no right to do so…. everyone wants this situation quiet and so it’s going to be kept quiet.  Unlike England and Canada, we have the First Amendment wall of separation between Church and State, and so we cannot demand transparency or public disclosure from Churches as we would if they were part of the government and if (as in England) Parliament still approved the Book of Common Prayer…. (will the UK Parliament soon approve the implementation of Sharia Laws?  Will the Queen or future King still be titled “Fidei Defensor” if that happens?  Luckily, these meditations have nothing to do with Barry Taylor whatsoever).

All I know for sure is that in April of 1974, I was confirmed at All Saints in Beverly Hills by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Robert Claflin Rusack, the then brand-new, newly ordained 4th Bishop of Los Angeles, after completing confirmation classes with Canon Noble L. Owings at St. Thomas the Apostle in Hollywood.

The Church was going through the “New Prayerbook” Crisis (which ultimately “gave birth” to the 1979 Prayerbook we still use…which is now so old and well-established most younger folks cannot imagine what a trauma its introduction created…. I had made myself, my mother and my grandparents proud by learning all the basic prayers and creeds (in both of our English 1662 and American 1928 Prayerbooks) by rote before I was ten, and Canon Owings was impressed too.

But then they changed the prayerbook, and I was frustrated and angry then too. I have been a half-hearted Episcopalian ever since. Too brow beaten and bigoted, I guess, ever to try any other Church seriously, but resentful that I had memorized all my prayers and creeds for nothing. I often still mutter things like “and with thy Spirit”, “remission of sins”, “it is meet and right so to do”, “the quick and the dead” during the normal Rite II services they have everywhere.

I have gone to school, worked, and traveled all over the USA, actually, the world, but I had never met the likes of Barry Taylor anywhere, and when I first heard him preach, I was immediately smitten by his amazingly erudite mixture of pop culture, true insight Gospel, and modern skepticism. As I have said, his series of sermons just last month in August, “Drugs, Art, Sex, and Religion” and “Religion without Illusions” seemed like a major watershed transformational event in my own spiritual life, but it was not over.  I needed to learn so much more from Barry…. and now he’s gone…apparently…..

Part of the reason I loved Barry’s sermons so much was that, although I had been loyal to the Church of my birth, it’s just very hard to “buy” the Bible as truth once you’ve completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology and History, focusing on Comparative Religion and Structural Analysis, ready James G. Frazer’s “Golden Bough” and about ten thousand books and articles written since then, including three hundred or more books about Kingship and Sacrifice as rituals essential to the socio-political lives of the people of Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Polynesia, and the New World—and yes, even pre-Christian Europe and the Near East.  But Barry bridged the intelligence gap between Darwin and Freud on the one hand and Jesus and the Apostles on the other.  

Somehow, in Barry’s sermons, going to Church no longer seemed merely a nostalgic retreat into childhood comfort for me.

POST SCRIPT: WHEN I SAY I HAVE BEEN LOOKING ALL OVER NORTH AMERICA AND THE WORLD FOR AN INSPIRING REASON TO LOVE MY CHURCH AGAIN, I’M NOT KIDDING—I have travelled all over and attended Churches everywhere.

My list of favorite Episcopal Churches in the USA starts with St. Thomas on Fifth Avenue, where I was baptized (I was born in Texas but my academically oriented parents “forgot” to have me baptized until they were about to set sail on the Queen Mary, when I was six months old, and they suddenly realized, “our baby isn’t baptized, what if the ship sinks?” And that is how a baby born in Commerce, Texas in April was baptized in October in mid-town Manhattan. I make it back to New York an average of once a year, and always go to St. Thomas—it has the most conservative and traditional liturgy of any church I know.  They have a phenomenal set of choirs and musical program, as well as the most spectacular altar reredos anywhere I have seen in North of Mexico in the USA or outside of Europe.  

Now my parents were married in New Orleans, where my grandmother had grown up, and as it happened I did my undergraduate college years there at Tulane.   From an early age I knew the Christ Church Cathedral as well as Holy Trinity on Jackson and St. George uptown. Confederate General Leonidas Polk is buried at Christ Church on St. Charles Avenue. In addition to being President James K. Polk’s first cousin, L. Polk was the first Bishop of Louisiana, the founder of the Trinity Church in Natchitoches (where my grandmother was baptized and most of her relatives buried), and the only General in that saddest and bloodiest of all American Wars to wear both a grey uniform and a Bishop’s Mitre.

But they lived in and I spent my elementary school years in Dallas, where I was in the boys’ choir under Russell John Brydon, Jr. at the Church of the Incarnation on Central Expressway, while occasionally enjoying the extravagant displays of wealth at the place somewhat sarcastically called “St. Michael and all Minks” (aka “St. Michael and all Angels”).

During my Harvard years I got to know Christ Church on Cambridge Common, where George & Martha Washington prayed after George took the Command of the Continental Army in the summer of 1775, to rise up against the monarch for whom he had until then prayed as “Our King and Sovereign Lord.”

And then I spent some time working in Palm Beach, Florida, and there my son was Baptized at Bethesda-by-the-Sea on the Feast of the Epiphany in 1993. Later on I lived in Pinellas County and attended the Cathedral of St. Peter there.  I could go on listing all the Anglican Churches in which I have knelt down to pray….but it would grow quite tedious…. from Maui to Fort MacLeod, Moose Jaw, and Moncton in Canada to Manchester, Magdalene College and All Saints Margaret Street in England, to Malta, Montego Bay and Mumbai in what used to be outposts of Empire….it would get VERY tedious….

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