nonsermon #4: my unbelief

My fourth nonsermon is a celebration of unbelief alongside beliefs. How do we honor and hold in tension that which we believe, that which we don’t, and that which we are caught between and beyond?

New South

by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

Although these nonsermons are decidedly against preaching, I am still drawn to a particular Gospel narrative that speaks to me even now. The story of Matthew 9 states that when a man asks Jesus to rid his son of a bad spirit, Jesus tells him that all things are possible for those who believe. The man replies, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

This nameless man, whose son is afflicted by a spirit, asks for help, and Jesus tells him to believe. The agonized father has the audacity to tell Jesus that he does believe, but he needs something tangible to believe in beyond words and statements of conviction. This is not a man who is lazy and unwilling to do the work of believing, but a man in distress: his son needs help, and he’s putting his efforts into believing but not seeing the part where…

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nonsermon #3: my meanings

nonsermon #3, on finding meaning and honoring the meaning others find:

New South

by Ben Llewellyn-Taylor

For most of my life, Christianity defined my experiences of meaning-making in this world. I was raised in the church, came to my own beliefs in high school and college, and shaped my understanding of the world around mine and others’ interpretations of the Bible.

When I began to understand that my worldview was shaped by more than just Christianity, I wondered if it was dangerous to my faith to allow “outside”—that is, “non-Christian”—influences in. After all, outside influences were made out in my faith communities to be a no man’s land of sin and corruption. While all of my youth group friends in high school were listening to Relient K and Switchfoot, I was mining the lyrics of Manchester Orchestra and Bright Eyes. Of course, I also listened to the heavier Christian bands, but I felt far more rebellious wearing a Say Anything tee to…

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nonsermon #2: my selves

My second nonsermon, about the difficulty of being and becoming a self, is here:

New South

by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

If you’ll forgive me, I’m going to use this space to talk about myself, because I am both the subject I know the best and also—it sometimes seems—not at all. As these nonsermons are inspired by e.e. cummings’ nonlectures, I am drawn to his reasoning for spending so much time on the self: “Who, if I may be so inconsiderate as to ask, isn’t egocentric? Half a century of time and several continents of space, in addition to a healthily developed curiosity, haven’t yet enabled me to locate a single peripherally situated ego.”

Perhaps, he goes on to say, he hasn’t met the right people; perhaps neither have I.

I have returned to the subject in my mind already too many times, but I believe repetition is necessary in order to really live the lessons we claim to have learned. Maggie Nelson refers to this perpetual…

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nonsermon #1: my religion

I am thrilled to begin a biweekly series, entitled ‘nonsermons’, with New South Journal. The first nonsermon, “my religion,” is live.

New South

by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

In 1952, e.e. cummings was invited to Harvard for a series of what he referred to as nonlectures. From the outset, cummings clarified that he had no interest in the traditional lecture form: “Lecturing is presumably a form of teaching; and presumably a teacher is somebody who knows. I never did, and still don’t, know. What has always fascinated me is not teaching, but learning.”

I grew up in a conservative Christian home, set out to become a youth pastor in my college years, then found myself in my 20s somewhere between faithless and unsure, among friends who had similarly fallen out of love with religion, the church, God, or all of the above. Oddly, we had met years prior at a church that only a few of us now attend.

Finding ourselves lost within a story we had been a part of our entire lives, we…

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Soundtrack, 2018 (vol. 6)

Last year, I started writing for DJBooth, a publication that covers hip hop and which I deeply revere. I wrote three articles in 2017 and set a personal goal to double that in 2018. I’m now ending the year with 14 articles written for DJBooth in 2018, in addition to my first academic article on hip hop and religion going live in Black Theology: An International Journal.

That said, I am here to honor my annual tradition of sharing my favorite albums of 2018, in hopes that you might find something you like and might tell me about something I missed. This was a year marked for changes in my personal life: it was my first full year of marriage, I earned my Master’s degree, and I returned to teaching this fall. I also found my music choices transitioning, as older favorites began to disappoint and new favorites replaced them.

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Short Story & Anniversary Article

Two places you can find my writing today:

I have a short story in PIVOT Literature‘s very first issue. Years ago I started a story featuring Adam and Eve’s domestic troubles, and I gave it an update. You can read “The Hole in Everything” here.

For my tenth article with DJBooth, I had the chance to reflect on one of my all-time albums, Kanye West’s Yeezus. It turns five today, and I wrote about its creator, his followers, and his detractors. You can read “Listeners in the Hands of a Projected God” here.

As always, thanks for reading.

To Catch Up With Oneself

Almost two years ago, I made the decision to leave my role as a middle and high school teacher to pursue a Master’s in Theological Studies. It was both a difficult step to take, and also one I felt was necessary in order to follow a dream I had to research religion and music more deeply.

If I am being truthful, I regretted the decision almost immediately. As my first semester of classes began in the Fall of 2016, I found myself struggling to justify why I had left a job which had given me purpose to earn a degree that would just require another degree to get me as far as I believed I wanted to go. I started to experience the feelings I felt when I was 12 and 19, those feelings that became the days themselves and cast their long shadows over months. It didn’t make sense: I was privileged enough to study for my Master’s, something few people get to do, and I was about to propose to my then-girlfriend, whom I had loved for years.

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