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John the Baptist and Flowers in the Wilderness

During the season of Lent, certain Eastern Orthodox churches deviate from the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for several weeks and employ that of St. Basil the Great. In the reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, it says of John the Baptist, “Your abundant tears made the wilderness bloom.  In your deep sighs of the heart, your labors grew a hundred fold.”  This occurs during the Apolytikion, or dismissal hymn. In other words, this is the last word that is given to the people of God before they are sent out into the world: John’s tears made the wilderness bloom. 

 

Somehow, in our desert places of sorrow, and perhaps because of them, flowers grow in our walk with the Lord in His Kingdom. 

 

It still feels like Winter outside, and for that reason (and maybe more for some than others), it seems very much like wilderness, whether you formally observe the season of Lent or not. Here is what I want to say to you in this: in your walk with God, do not despise tears of repentance and heaviness of heart for those you love in the world.  Embrace your grief and sorrows.  They can be used to help cultivate a the flowers of Christ’s love.  And yes, the Lord can irrigate a garden even with salt water.  Perhaps especially with the salt water of tears. He is God.

 

Gregory Alan Thornbury, Ph.D.

"Take Me With You," Virgil Wood

Destination: The National Civil Rights Museum

Late in the afternoon toward the close of business several months ago, a coworker knocked on my office door and said, “Dr. Thornbury, there’s someone out here to see you.”  I stepped out into the reception area and was greeted by a smiling, distinguished elderly gentleman. “Hello, my name is Virgil Wood.”  

I nearly fell over.

The Rev. Dr. Virgil Wood is a prominent Civil Rights leader and was a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King.  During the 1960’s, he emerged as an articulate spokesperson for the cause of freedom and served on the National Executive Board for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the last ten years of Dr. King’s life.  After earning a Doctor of Education at Harvard, Wood went on to teach in numerous prestigious academic posts at Northeastern University in Boston, Virginia Seminary, and Harvard, where he influenced key thinkers such as Harvey Cox.  Although his keen mind rivaled those of the best religion scholars in our time, he gave his heart and soul in service of churches, pastoring congregations in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.  A cursory Google search will turn up amazing television and conference footage of this pioneer in action.

I first became aware of Dr. Wood’s work with the publication of his book In Love We Trust in 2005.  The volume is an extension of MLK’s teaching itself, and emphasizes the fact that belief in God and belief in love cannot be separated from one another.  Further, he teaches that our modern notions of freedom are derivative from biblical concepts, especially that of jubilee. Jubilee is the provision from Leviticus 25 which stipulated that every 50th year, people received back their original property and slaves were set free from their masters. Wood further argues that economic development cannot be severed from cultural bedrock such as faith and family.  He sees his life and work as an outworking of Dr. King’s worldview.  His life philosophy is a powerful testimony that helps move us beyond the secular notion that one must give up belief in God to love and advance the cause of liberty.  

Standing with Dr. Wood in my office, I asked him incredulously why I was so honored to receive a visit from such a legendary civil rights leader.  He smiled and replied that a mutual colleague of ours told him that he thought we would be friends. After our visit, still awestruck, I asked him where he was headed. “The National Civil Rights Museum,” he said – the destination where he was involved in an event. 

“Take me with you,” I replied. He knew what I meant.

After he had departed, I thought about my most recent trip to the museum. I realized that although I had taken a friend visiting from Norway, I should have brought someone with me from Jackson. So I’m telling you, the readers of this post. If you have never done so, ,ake that trip to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. If you leave without being reached deeply in your soul, the fault is yours, not the place’s.  And if you’re lucky, you just might find Dr. Virgil Wood there.  He will guide you.

Gregory Alan Thornbury is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the School of Theology & Missions at Union University

 – 

CHRISTMAS CHEER 

words and music by Gregory Alan Thornbury

I grew up along the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania, in Lewisburg, home of the hymnwriter Robert Lowry (“Shall We Gather By the River?”).  I always wondered what it would sound like if people who composed good old fashioned hymns tried their hand at a good old fashioned love song. So I took a shot at what that might sound like.

A couple of years ago, my erstwhile band Missileannie had a Christmas show coming up, and I thought, “I guess I’ll have to write a song for the holidays. Everybody has to eventually.”  This is a live recording in one take at Charlie Baker’s studio, so sorry for the rough edges. I was just trying to get it down, so the song wouldn’t be lost in my memory forever.

One last thing: that’s the amazing John Windham on the saxophone. 

"The Great American Novel" (Intergalactic Keeper Version)

I woke up on the Fourth of July with Larry Norman’s brilliant “The Great American Novel” stuck in my head. So here is the Intergalactic Keeper of Souls version.

https://vimeo.com/45197666

 – 

HOW CAN YOU REFUSE HIM NOW by Hank Williams, Sr. sung by myself and Natalie Wittman yesterday at Union University’s Maundy Thursday service. Posting it more appropriately on Good Friday. 

Here is Part Two of the Aporia mark. Part One is on the Daniel Johnston Poster

Here is Part Two of the Aporia mark. Part One is on the Daniel Johnston Poster

In Search Of St. Valentine

“Who was St.Valentine?”

It’s a question that I get asked often around this time of year.  And the answer is: “It’s kind of complicated.”

 

The truth is that we don’t really know that much about St. Valentine.  Actually, there are two, possibly even three, different persons in history connected with the name. One Valentine lived in Rome and served as a priest during the reign of Claudius II in the 3rd century AD.  The emperor purportedly banned the institution of marriage out of fear that men would not want to leave their wives and go off to war. In defiance, Valentine performed weddings, which prompted his arrest and execution.  

 

The other Valentine was a bishop in Terni, Italy who evidently lived at the same time.  He is credited for performing the first marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian, and the evil Claudius had him killed too. Both martyrs were buried on the Flaminian Way, just outside the Roman city gates. 

 

Although it is difficult to know whether these stories are historically true, people have been invoking Valentine’s memory ever since.  In 1381, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem to celebrate the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia.  He referenced a feast day named after St. Valentine and remarked that it was on this same date that every bird “comes forth to find its mate.”  The day was February 14.    

 

The connection between St. Valentine and early spring romance caught on, and continues to this very day.  Interest in the man appeared again in the 19th century when Pope Pius IX gave the saints bones to Bishop John Henry Newman, who brought the relics back to Birmingham, England. 

 

Recently, however, Saint Valentine has fallen on hard times. In 1969, the Catholic Church officially dropped his feast day from the church calendar, a concession to the fact that the historical man may be lost to us – buried under mountains of tradition. 

 

Today, modern people wonder whether love itself, the virtue which St. Valentine’s name evokes, is on its way out too.  The Billboard pop chart is filled with songs that mention love, but drip with cynicism and insincerity about the topic.  But that kind of skepticism usually comes from people who have never felt what it’s like to really be cared for and regarded with true affection. Instead, as Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented, “People live lives of quiet desperation.” And in the Gospel According to Our Comedians, love is little more than a cruel joke.  As Woody Allen once said, “I sold my memoirs about my love life to Parker Brothers and they’re going to make a game out of it.”  

 

In times of doubt, in moments of suffering and failure, we still cling to our faith that love is real.  As a a boy, I remember looking up at my mother in church as she sang what she believed about love, often with tears rolling down her face.  These days, I have come to understand better that Jesus also spreads his message of love through his friends.  In the times of our greatest sorrows, what can better calm a troubled heart like someone close to you saying what the Lord said to Joshua before he went to war to reach the Promised Land: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  

 

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis talks about how much The Inklings, his inner circle of friends that included J.R.R. Tolkien, meant to him.  He describes their ritual of gathering together at their Oxford pub, stretching out in front of a blazing fire, talking, laughing, and feeling genuine love and acceptance in that fellowship. “Life,” Lewis writes, “has no better gift to give.  Who could have deserved it?”  The answer is none of us.  So this Valentine’s Day, get rid of your cynicism and give thanks for those who love you – just as you are.  

 

Gregory Alan Thornbury – What Would Nietzsche Say About Your Love Life?


The APORIA Seminar: 


In ancient Greek, the wordAporia meant “the unpassable path.” Plato used the term to describe propositions whose truth value were as-of-yet to be determined. Jacques Derrida revisited the matter to describe the phenomenon of ideas whose meanings could bear the weight of a contradiction (e.g. his classic example of this is that the Greek word pharmakon could mean both ‘poison’ and ‘antidote.’  

 

Poison and antidote as one and the same? This concept describes the mood about the way many of us feel about the most important things in life: our parents, families, beliefs, loves, and our faith(s).  The Aporia Seminar is an occasional gathering designed to consider some aspect of these commonplaces in our affections, and consider them from a range of philosophical, spiritual, and psychological viewpoints. Hosted by Dr. Gregory Alan Thornbury, a philosopher and theologian at Union University, Aporia takes the text of the world as a serious and Christ-haunted document. Further, it aspires to be a safe place where questions are as important as answers, but where credulity is not more shameful than cynicism. 


The title of the second Aporia Seminar considered the question: “What would Friedrich Nietzsche say about your love life?” 

 

Although the infamously inspiring and bewildering German philosopher continues to stir the hearts of his readers — both for and against him — over a century after his death, what would he say about your relationships?  He was unlucky in love, so would you listen even if you knew?  Then again, maybe that’s precisely the reason to take a moment and learn from one of the most important theorists in the history of planet earth.

 

NOTE: Audio file is from a cavernous room. You’ll have to turn your volume up! 

This event was held on November 3, 6:00 p.m, 2011 atJonny Gillette’s Zen Cathedral Home (2225 11th Avenue South) in Nashville, Tennessee.

Our special guest singer was the inimitable Shelly Colvin, who performed her amazing song, “The Staying Kind” from her forthcoming record.

John the Baptist and Flowers in the Wilderness

During the season of Lent, certain Eastern Orthodox churches deviate from the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for several weeks and employ that of St. Basil the Great. In the reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, it says of John the Baptist, “Your abundant tears made the wilderness bloom.  In your deep sighs of the heart, your labors grew a hundred fold.”  This occurs during the Apolytikion, or dismissal hymn. In other words, this is the last word that is given to the people of God before they are sent out into the world: John’s tears made the wilderness bloom. 

 

Somehow, in our desert places of sorrow, and perhaps because of them, flowers grow in our walk with the Lord in His Kingdom. 

 

It still feels like Winter outside, and for that reason (and maybe more for some than others), it seems very much like wilderness, whether you formally observe the season of Lent or not. Here is what I want to say to you in this: in your walk with God, do not despise tears of repentance and heaviness of heart for those you love in the world.  Embrace your grief and sorrows.  They can be used to help cultivate a the flowers of Christ’s love.  And yes, the Lord can irrigate a garden even with salt water.  Perhaps especially with the salt water of tears. He is God.

 

Gregory Alan Thornbury, Ph.D.

"Take Me With You," Virgil Wood

Destination: The National Civil Rights Museum

Late in the afternoon toward the close of business several months ago, a coworker knocked on my office door and said, “Dr. Thornbury, there’s someone out here to see you.”  I stepped out into the reception area and was greeted by a smiling, distinguished elderly gentleman. “Hello, my name is Virgil Wood.”  

I nearly fell over.

The Rev. Dr. Virgil Wood is a prominent Civil Rights leader and was a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King.  During the 1960’s, he emerged as an articulate spokesperson for the cause of freedom and served on the National Executive Board for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the last ten years of Dr. King’s life.  After earning a Doctor of Education at Harvard, Wood went on to teach in numerous prestigious academic posts at Northeastern University in Boston, Virginia Seminary, and Harvard, where he influenced key thinkers such as Harvey Cox.  Although his keen mind rivaled those of the best religion scholars in our time, he gave his heart and soul in service of churches, pastoring congregations in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.  A cursory Google search will turn up amazing television and conference footage of this pioneer in action.

I first became aware of Dr. Wood’s work with the publication of his book In Love We Trust in 2005.  The volume is an extension of MLK’s teaching itself, and emphasizes the fact that belief in God and belief in love cannot be separated from one another.  Further, he teaches that our modern notions of freedom are derivative from biblical concepts, especially that of jubilee. Jubilee is the provision from Leviticus 25 which stipulated that every 50th year, people received back their original property and slaves were set free from their masters. Wood further argues that economic development cannot be severed from cultural bedrock such as faith and family.  He sees his life and work as an outworking of Dr. King’s worldview.  His life philosophy is a powerful testimony that helps move us beyond the secular notion that one must give up belief in God to love and advance the cause of liberty.  

Standing with Dr. Wood in my office, I asked him incredulously why I was so honored to receive a visit from such a legendary civil rights leader.  He smiled and replied that a mutual colleague of ours told him that he thought we would be friends. After our visit, still awestruck, I asked him where he was headed. “The National Civil Rights Museum,” he said – the destination where he was involved in an event. 

“Take me with you,” I replied. He knew what I meant.

After he had departed, I thought about my most recent trip to the museum. I realized that although I had taken a friend visiting from Norway, I should have brought someone with me from Jackson. So I’m telling you, the readers of this post. If you have never done so, ,ake that trip to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. If you leave without being reached deeply in your soul, the fault is yours, not the place’s.  And if you’re lucky, you just might find Dr. Virgil Wood there.  He will guide you.

Gregory Alan Thornbury is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the School of Theology & Missions at Union University

"The Great American Novel" (Intergalactic Keeper Version)

I woke up on the Fourth of July with Larry Norman’s brilliant “The Great American Novel” stuck in my head. So here is the Intergalactic Keeper of Souls version.

https://vimeo.com/45197666

Here is Part Two of the Aporia mark. Part One is on the Daniel Johnston Poster

Here is Part Two of the Aporia mark. Part One is on the Daniel Johnston Poster

In Search Of St. Valentine

“Who was St.Valentine?”

It’s a question that I get asked often around this time of year.  And the answer is: “It’s kind of complicated.”

 

The truth is that we don’t really know that much about St. Valentine.  Actually, there are two, possibly even three, different persons in history connected with the name. One Valentine lived in Rome and served as a priest during the reign of Claudius II in the 3rd century AD.  The emperor purportedly banned the institution of marriage out of fear that men would not want to leave their wives and go off to war. In defiance, Valentine performed weddings, which prompted his arrest and execution.  

 

The other Valentine was a bishop in Terni, Italy who evidently lived at the same time.  He is credited for performing the first marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian, and the evil Claudius had him killed too. Both martyrs were buried on the Flaminian Way, just outside the Roman city gates. 

 

Although it is difficult to know whether these stories are historically true, people have been invoking Valentine’s memory ever since.  In 1381, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem to celebrate the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia.  He referenced a feast day named after St. Valentine and remarked that it was on this same date that every bird “comes forth to find its mate.”  The day was February 14.    

 

The connection between St. Valentine and early spring romance caught on, and continues to this very day.  Interest in the man appeared again in the 19th century when Pope Pius IX gave the saints bones to Bishop John Henry Newman, who brought the relics back to Birmingham, England. 

 

Recently, however, Saint Valentine has fallen on hard times. In 1969, the Catholic Church officially dropped his feast day from the church calendar, a concession to the fact that the historical man may be lost to us – buried under mountains of tradition. 

 

Today, modern people wonder whether love itself, the virtue which St. Valentine’s name evokes, is on its way out too.  The Billboard pop chart is filled with songs that mention love, but drip with cynicism and insincerity about the topic.  But that kind of skepticism usually comes from people who have never felt what it’s like to really be cared for and regarded with true affection. Instead, as Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented, “People live lives of quiet desperation.” And in the Gospel According to Our Comedians, love is little more than a cruel joke.  As Woody Allen once said, “I sold my memoirs about my love life to Parker Brothers and they’re going to make a game out of it.”  

 

In times of doubt, in moments of suffering and failure, we still cling to our faith that love is real.  As a a boy, I remember looking up at my mother in church as she sang what she believed about love, often with tears rolling down her face.  These days, I have come to understand better that Jesus also spreads his message of love through his friends.  In the times of our greatest sorrows, what can better calm a troubled heart like someone close to you saying what the Lord said to Joshua before he went to war to reach the Promised Land: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  

 

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis talks about how much The Inklings, his inner circle of friends that included J.R.R. Tolkien, meant to him.  He describes their ritual of gathering together at their Oxford pub, stretching out in front of a blazing fire, talking, laughing, and feeling genuine love and acceptance in that fellowship. “Life,” Lewis writes, “has no better gift to give.  Who could have deserved it?”  The answer is none of us.  So this Valentine’s Day, get rid of your cynicism and give thanks for those who love you – just as you are.  

 

John the Baptist and Flowers in the Wilderness
"Take Me With You," Virgil Wood

CHRISTMAS CHEER 

words and music by Gregory Alan Thornbury

I grew up along the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania, in Lewisburg, home of the hymnwriter Robert Lowry (“Shall We Gather By the River?”).  I always wondered what it would sound like if people who composed good old fashioned hymns tried their hand at a good old fashioned love song. So I took a shot at what that might sound like.

A couple of years ago, my erstwhile band Missileannie had a Christmas show coming up, and I thought, “I guess I’ll have to write a song for the holidays. Everybody has to eventually.”  This is a live recording in one take at Charlie Baker’s studio, so sorry for the rough edges. I was just trying to get it down, so the song wouldn’t be lost in my memory forever.

One last thing: that’s the amazing John Windham on the saxophone. 

"The Great American Novel" (Intergalactic Keeper Version)

HOW CAN YOU REFUSE HIM NOW by Hank Williams, Sr. sung by myself and Natalie Wittman yesterday at Union University’s Maundy Thursday service. Posting it more appropriately on Good Friday. 

In Search Of St. Valentine
Gregory Alan Thornbury – What Would Nietzsche Say About Your Love Life?


The APORIA Seminar: 


In ancient Greek, the wordAporia meant “the unpassable path.” Plato used the term to describe propositions whose truth value were as-of-yet to be determined. Jacques Derrida revisited the matter to describe the phenomenon of ideas whose meanings could bear the weight of a contradiction (e.g. his classic example of this is that the Greek word pharmakon could mean both ‘poison’ and ‘antidote.’  

 

Poison and antidote as one and the same? This concept describes the mood about the way many of us feel about the most important things in life: our parents, families, beliefs, loves, and our faith(s).  The Aporia Seminar is an occasional gathering designed to consider some aspect of these commonplaces in our affections, and consider them from a range of philosophical, spiritual, and psychological viewpoints. Hosted by Dr. Gregory Alan Thornbury, a philosopher and theologian at Union University, Aporia takes the text of the world as a serious and Christ-haunted document. Further, it aspires to be a safe place where questions are as important as answers, but where credulity is not more shameful than cynicism. 


The title of the second Aporia Seminar considered the question: “What would Friedrich Nietzsche say about your love life?” 

 

Although the infamously inspiring and bewildering German philosopher continues to stir the hearts of his readers — both for and against him — over a century after his death, what would he say about your relationships?  He was unlucky in love, so would you listen even if you knew?  Then again, maybe that’s precisely the reason to take a moment and learn from one of the most important theorists in the history of planet earth.

 

NOTE: Audio file is from a cavernous room. You’ll have to turn your volume up! 

This event was held on November 3, 6:00 p.m, 2011 atJonny Gillette’s Zen Cathedral Home (2225 11th Avenue South) in Nashville, Tennessee.

Our special guest singer was the inimitable Shelly Colvin, who performed her amazing song, “The Staying Kind” from her forthcoming record.

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Philosopher/Theologian, Professor, Guitarist, Impressario, Intergalactic Keeper of Souls

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