MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #23.]
Among American Christian clergy, few preachers have offered more provocative theologizing from the pulpit than Carlyle Marney. With the personal background of a Baptist, the heart of an ecumenist, and the mind of an existentialist philosopher, Marney was acutely in tune with the cultural twists and turns of societal transformations in the latter half of the 20th century.
Whether preaching in pulpits in Tennessee, Texas, or North Carolina, or prophesying at seminaries and college lecture halls across the land, Marney marked his feverish engagement with the issues of his day by an emphasis on certain themes:
* Iconoclasm — in all of its enlivening, well-thought-out forms — is always welcome when it helps us grow in grace and trust in God.(1)
* Ministry, when it is enacted most authentically by both the ordained and the laity, is person-centered.(2)
* God is best understood as “Person,” (3) as “One who loves.” (4)
* Humility is in order in all theological, ecclesiological, Christological, biblical, and philosophical discussions. About Karl Barth’s voluminous trust in words to describe God: “Nobody knows fifteen hundred pages about God, even in German.” (5)
* Relation is the key to understanding life, faith, family, and all institutions.”In the beginning is relation…. All real living is meeting.”(6)
One of the keys to understanding Marney and his take on faith and spirituality was his voice, a rich basso that could boom with enraged incredulity in the face of the idiotic and, alternately, could woo his hearers with soft entreaty.
Marney always understood himself to be still “seeking another way to be a true believer,” (7) ever on the lookout for “new light.”(8)
Inspired by John Bunyan, Marney eventually understood the Church to be a place for rest, renewal, instruction, and self-integration, “a house for the relief of Pilgrims.” (9) From Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress Marney got the name “Interpreter’s House” for the retreat center he would establish, with the programmatic assistance of James Fowler, at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, for the renewal of clergy and laity.
Marney also described what he called one’s “private church,” (10) which is made up of those most intimately included in one’s life sphere, those, who “know so much about gospel and forgiveness and joy-filled love and what welcome is all about that they are the closest approximation, this side of glory, of what the face of Christ surely looks like.” (11)
Marney became famous for “Marney-isms”:
* What the author of Hebrews calls “the great cloud of witnesses” Marney would term “balcony people,” (12) those who behold our faith journeys, inward and outward, and offer their encouragement, their examples, their legacies, their losses, and their love.
* In giving advice to a clergy colleague regarding leadership, he said “You know, if you get too far ahead of your folks, they mistake you for the enemy and start shooting.” (13)
* To a man who once asked “Have you ever seen God?,” he said, “No, but I have known a couple of Jesuses in my lifetime.” (14)
* About guilt and responsibility, Marney said, “It’s too late to learn innocence. And, besides, who would teach the course?” (15)
* Always, the person and proclamation of Jesus was central to Marney: “A person who keeps Jesus too godlike doesn’t have to be responsible as a human being.”(16)
Regarding prayer, Marney was straightforward, blunt and humble. During his pastorate in Austin he mused during one evening service, “I am just beginning to learn that the study of prayer is a major obligation of the pastor and that there is an awful lot to know that none of us know about prayer.”(17) During that same occasion he also uttered a firm resistance against provincialism, a conviction which he would live out the entirety of his ministry: “I am not interested in the kind of prayer that tries to make God a tribal chieftain who will give this tribe or that tribe victory…. With all my heart I deplore and decry the kind of prayer that assumes the God to I whom pray is on my side.” (18)
PRAYING WITH CARLYLE MARNEY: SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day 1 On this day, give thanks for God’s “personal” love for you as you launch a new week of activities.
Day 2 Pray today assuming God is One who is a Person in deep relation with you.
Day 3 Today, confess to God what you do not know, where you would like to receive “new light.”
Day 4 Pray today for a sense of release from guilt and a renewed sense of responsibility to act ethically in all aspects of your life.
Day 5 In the evening, offer a prayer of gratitude for those instances today when Jesus’ life was present for you and for others, particularly in relationships.
Day 6 Give thanks for the growth in grace you have experienced today.
Day 7 Consider the people in your “private church” and your “balcony people.” What would they (what do they) say about your endeavors this past week?
BIOGRAPHICAL TIMELINE — July 8, 1916, born Leonard Carlyle Marney, in Harriman, Tennessee, the oldest of three children of John Leonard Marney and Sarah Victoria (Mays) Marney; long before entering ministry he is known for having a gift for speaking; during his boyhood reads over three thousand books from the Andrew Carnegie Library in Harriman; 1925, Scopes “Monkey Trial” occurs in Dayton, Tennessee, forty miles from his home; his extended family includes Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, and Unitarians, along with the ever-present Baptists; 1933, enters Carson-Newman College on football scholarship; 1935, after “academically disastrous” experiences, dean of college advises a year off, which Marney spends digging ditches; 1936, itinerant evangelist inspires him to commit to church vocation; during his last two years at Carson-Newman is re-baptized; 1938, graduates from Carson-Newman and becomes Education Director at First Baptist Church, Kingsport, Tennessee; June 20, 1940, marries Rita Elizabeth Christopher at First Baptist Church, Kingsport; enters Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; 1941, ordained as a Baptist minister; 1943, earns Th. M. in church history from Southern;1943-1944, serves small congregation, Fort Knox, Kentucky; 1944, accepts call to First Baptist in Beaver Dam, Kentucky; 1946, completes dissertation and receives Th.D. from Southern; 1946, accepts call to Immanuel Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky, where abject poverty of members and citizens makes a lasting impression on him; 1948, accepts call to First Baptist, Austin, Texas; serves as adjunct faculty at Austin Presbyterian Seminary; begins publishing sermons and other writings; his commentaries on television and in other venues are noted for opposition to racism and segregation; because of his free-thinking ways and his ecumenical attitudes, becomes known as a “renegade” among Southern Baptist circles; his theological liberalism begins to be reshaped by the impact of person-centered pastoral theology; 1958, accepts call to Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, on the conditions of open membership, open communion; 1960, Beggars in Velvet published; 1961, Structures of Prejudice published; 1963, The Recovery of the Person published; begins to be regarded as “pastor to pastors;” 1965, Christmas services are nationally broadcast (NBC) from Myers Park sanctuary; September 1966, suffers first heart attack, which is subsequently complicated by lung surgery and colon difficulty; Good Friday 1967, resigns from Senior Minister position; moves with Elizabeth permanently to their Wolf Pen Mountain retreat home; establishes Interpreter’s House, a retreat center for clergy and laity, at Lambuth Inn, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina; serves as guest lecturer in many venues, including Cunningham Lectures (Austin College), Peyton Lectures (Southern Methodist University), Wells Lectures (Texas Christian University), Willson Lectures (Texas Tech University); 1967-1978, Vice President, National Council of Churches; also serves on U.S. Commission on Rural Poverty; 1972, begins 6-year stint as Adjunct Professor of Preaching at Duke University Divinity School; 1973, PBS special on Interpreter’s House; 1974, Priests to Each Other is published; 1976, Visiting Professor in the Conquest Chair in Humanities, Virginia Military Institute; is awarded D.D. from University of Glasgow, the first American pastor since Harry Emerson Fosdick to be so honored; invited to give the 1980 Beecher Lectures in Preaching at Yale; July 3, 1978, dies of a massive coronary at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina; July 5, 1978, Memorial Service is held at Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina; at Elizabeth’s request, is buried in his crimson Glasgow doctoral robe, in Evergreen Cemetery, Charlotte, North Carolina; memorial services are also held at Princeton and Duke universities.
(1) One of the most powerful examples of Marney’s iconoclastic capacities is to be found in “Peace But Not Yet,” his 1965 Christmas sermon at Myers Park Baptist Church, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in which his text is the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4ff. The service and sermon, which was broadcast live on the CBS television network, prompted more than 800 letters of negative criticism. See https://myersparkbaptist.org/forever-forward-interviews/
and/or Carlyle Marney, “Christmas Eve,” Dec. 24, 1965, Original Sermon Recording, CD-1, issued in conjunction with Marney and Ministry: A Symposium on Carlyle Marney and Ministry for the 21st Century, Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, February 8, 2004; see also Mary Kratt, Marney (Charlotte, North Carolina: Myers Park Baptist Church, 1979), pp. 20-23, and John J. Carey, Carlyle Marney: A Pilgrim’s Progress (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1980), p. 102.
(2) “Fundaments of a Competent Ministry,” Duke Divinity School Review, Vol. 41, Winter 1976, No.1, pp. 5-15.
(3) Carlyle Marney, The Recovery of the Person: A Christian Humanism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1963), p. 51.
(6) See Carlyle Marney, “The Tent of Meeting;” Carlyle Marney, The Recovery of the Person: A Christian Humanism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1963), pp. 149-150; and John Stanley, “Carlyle Marney: An Essay of Pastoral Biography,” Highland Park Baptist Church, Austin, Texas, 1993.
(7) Quoted in numerous lectures by Marney and in Carey, Carlyle Marney: A Pilgrim’s Progress, p. 56.
(8) Carlyle Marney, The Coming Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970), p. 141.
(9) See Carey, Carlyle Marney: A Pilgrim’s Progress, p. 50.
(10) See Carlyle Marney, Priests to Each Other (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1973).
(11) While the search for the origin of this beautiful phrase has been exhaustive, the securing of its exact source been elusive.
(12) One of the most quotable “Marneyisms,” frequently cited by Christian preachers in reference to the celebration of All Saints Day and Hebrews 12:1ff; see one of the more recent citations of this phrase in John Buchanan’s Editor’s Desk: “City prayers” column in The Christian Century, October 5, 2010, Vol. 127. No. 20., p. 3.
(13) Kratt, Marney, p. 14; see also Carey, Carlyle Marney: A Pilgrim’s Progress, p. 45.
(14) This quote is recalled from remembering a recorded lecture by Marney, the specifics of which are now lost.
(16) Kratt, Marney, p. 89.
(17) “Prayer,” June 28, 1953, evening service, Carlyle Marney Papers, 1899‑1979, Duke University Libraries Archives, Box 55, File: May 1953 – Oct. 1953, p. 1.
FOR FURTHER STUDY, AND REFLECTION
John J. Carey, Carlyle Marney: A Pilgrim’s Progress (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1980)
John J. Carey, “Carlyle Marney as Ethicist,” Theology Today July 1980 37: 170-182
Mary Kraft, Marney (Charlotte, North Carolina: Myers Park Baptist Church, 1979)
Carlyle Marney, Beggars in Velvet (New York: Abingdon Press, 1960)
Carlyle Marney, The Carpenter’s Son (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967)
Carlyle Marney, “Christmas Eve,” Dec. 24, 1965, Original Sermon Recording, CD-1, issued in conjunction with Marney and Ministry: A Symposium on Carlyle Marney and Ministry for the 21st Century,Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, February 8, 2004.
Carlyle Marney, The Coming Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970)
Carlyle Marney, Priests to Each Other (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1973)
Carlyle Marney, The Recovery of the Person: A Christian Humanism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1963)
Carlyle Marney, Structures of Prejudice (New York: Abingdon Press, 1961)