Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wishing all a Radically Moderate New Year

Monkey Mind ( had an excellent and thought-provoking post this morning noting the anniversary of the passing of Elliot Richardson. A modern "Boston Unitarian," Richardson sought in his career to live out the fundamental element of his Unitarian faith; the inherent dignity of all people. His memoir/manifesto "Reflections of a Radical Moderate" is based on this premise and contains these words:

"...radical moderates still strive to be practitioners of their predecessors' problem-solving capacity. they are resourceful in finding ways to deal with a matter of national concern at the lowest possible level of government. Though not hostile to regulation, they demand proof of the need for it and seek to make it minimally intrusive. They reject the tendency of liberals and conservatives alike to think in terms of class warfare. Instead, being community-minded, radical moderates work at promoting better community design and organization as well as broader citizen participation in dealing with matters of community concern. Above all, recognizing that the good health of every level of the American system depends on trust, they insist upon honesty in public discourse, are vigorous in combating corruption, and view cynicism as Public Enemy Number One."

Amen. And I wish everyone a radically moderate 2009. Blessings

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Brain of the Minister

Ever wondered what was in the brain of your minister? A thorough study of the bumps on their skull may do the trick. I am, of course, referring to Phrenology, a "science" quite popular in the 19th century. Used for good and for ill, Phrenology located certain traits in parts of the brain and then, through feeling skull bumps, sought to analyze the individuals propensities and qualities.
This from James Freeman Clarke on the brains of some local ministers (including his own), analyzed during his early years in Kentucky

"Some years since, when the writer of this essay resided in a Western city, a distinguished Phrenologist visited the place, and made an examination of the heads of six Protestant clergymen. He pronounced them all deficient in the organ of Reverence or Veneration, said they had no devotional tendencies by nature, and added, that they ought not, any of them, to have become clergymen. And, what is more remarkable, all of these six clergymen admitted the correctness of his observation. They all declared it to be true that they had no special devotional or religious tendencies by nature, and that their religion had come to them, not in the way of development, but in that of crisis. As one of these clergymen, however, while admitting the fact as regarded myself, I denied the inference. For I believed that a person might be as well fitted for the office of a clergyman, whose religion was a matter of experience and conviction, — born out of the struggles of life, out of self-conflict and earnest endeavor, — as if it had grown up out of a large organic tendency. More so, perhaps ; for such a nan would be better qualified to meet the needs of others, who had felt in himself, in distinct throes of consciousness, the birth of the religious life, than if it had come to him as a special gift of nature."

Thats using his "symbolical head" Blessings

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hub Tones

I am listening tonight to Freddie Hubbard, one of my favorites, who died today at age 70. RIP

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The streets filling with the currents of piety...

It is the final Sunday of the calendar year and that makes it a natural time for reflection on the nature and the decline of the Sabbath. As a DRE, I have long been saddened and frustrated by the many activities, sports, etc...that now take up a Sunday morning. Commerce, of course, continues unabated on the Sabbath and Church is, at best, a competing enterprise for many people. On the other hand, I am heartened by those who try to be involved in church life in the midst of this circumstance and welcome any suggestions from those who have found creative ways to encourage that involvement.
Meanwhile, a quick discussion of "Public Worship" by James Freeman Clarke (see all posts JFC)

"Public worship has this great advantage and value, — that it recognizes a public religious sentiment. It is a perpetual denial by the Christian Church of its own doctrine of Total Depravity. It assumes that the whole community, the converted and the unconverted, the regenerate and the unregenerate, can pray, ought to pray, wish to pray. It so far counteracts the pharisaic feeling engendered by these distinctions. It is, moreover, a religious education for the whole community. Who can tell the amount of influence exerted, directly and indirectly, by the fact of Sunday worship pervading the whole land, of Sunday stillness, cessation from business, of church-bells, and the streets filling with the currents of piety which set toward the house of God ? Who can estimate the impression made by the sight of young and old, rich and poor, all classes, all orders, equalized before God in a common worship, — by the great assembly kneeling together, responding together, lifting their voices with one accord in solemn hymns and anthems, moved by a common feeling and conviction in listening to the word read or spoken ? It is a humanizing influence, purifying and elevating the community, keeping alive the sense of God's presence in the world and nearness to the human heart, keeping up a Christian standard of duty and responsibility.

But not only does public worship tend to educate the community by awakening and developing religious ideas, but it also cultivates humane feelings, brings the different classes of society near to each other, makes one common platform on which all can stand together, and so counteracts continually the tendencies to separate and isolated life. People who live all other days apart from each other, whose lives are narrowed to little rounds of domestic duty, who see only small family groups and cliques, come into church on the Lord's day, and feel themselves for an hour at one with all classes of men. This hour... does much to emancipate them from a narrow and too individual life. All professions, conditions, characters, are side by side engaged in the same serious occupation. Political opponents here forget their disputes, — rivals in fashion, competitors in business, rich and poor, are here brought into a certain sympathy ; — and this is no small gain."

No small gain indeed. Blessings and may you have a blessed Sabbath.
(note: The photo above is of the Church of the Disciples, JFC's Church in Boston)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Old things passed away

A hymn from the 1865 edition of Hymns of the Spirit (see all posts hymns) as we prepare for the season of resolutions...written by my favorite, annonymous.

"Renewed in His Image"

I praise and bless Thee, O my God,
My Father kind and true!
For all the old things passed away,
For all Thou hast made new.

And yet how much must be destroyed,
How much renewed must be,
Ere I can fully stand complete
In likeness, Lord to Thee!

O God! work out Thy heavenly plan;
Within my soul unfold
The stature of the perfect man.
And Thine own image mould."


Friday, December 26, 2008

Here He is!

A couple of years ago, my son, then five, created this picture just before Christmas. When I asked him about it he told me it was a picture of God saying "here he is!" Look what I did...
Jesus is born and all have a new birth. I hope everyone had a blessed Christmas day and can, now that the busy-ness of pre-Christmas is over, take time to contemplate and receive the new spirit of the birth of Jesus. Here He is!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Devotional: Waiting for love

December 21st, The fourth Sunday in Advent We are waiting for Love (see all posts, Advent)

Begin with silent meditation

Light the four candles of your Advent Wreath or your chalice with these words: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

During the week, think about love that has no end or condition. How is that love demonstrated each day in small ways and large? How is that love related to “peace” and “compassion?”

End with prayer or silent meditation: A Prayer:

We gather together in love. May our feet bring the good news of love to all people today and everyday. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

MF and JFC at GA

I was just catching up with my blog reading and noticed Transient and Permanent's trivia question about GA. JFC (see all posts JFC on this blog) is a particular hero of mine and I am involved in the celebration of Margaret Fuller at GA 2010. I have recently been reading much about their friendship which was amazing and fascinating. It is a great joy that they both will be celebrated!

Pray without the Mall

Last Saturday, in the midst of the snow and wind, I went to the mall. I dislike the mall but had to go to the mall. At the mall (am I saying "the mall" a lot?) I stood in various lines to get information about the electronic accouterments that apparently are necessary to operate an electronical device that Santa (who for me looks just like the FedEx man) is bringing for Christmas. I am profoundly clueless about these standing in line for information from people young enough to be my children who, I must say, maintained admirable composure during the onslaught, is a necessity. I was tempted to yell out, "How many people in this line are going to use the weather as an excuse to skip church tomorrow morning?" but resisted. I would like to say that I maintained a heart of gratitude and good will during this trip but...
This morning's meditation included a section of James Freeman Clarke's "Prayer" (see all posts jfc) on "Prayer without ceasing" Some excerpts:

"This spirit of constant prayer was a natural growth of Christianity; one peculiarity of which...was to insist on a permanent union of the soul with God, and an immanent presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart...Hence Christianity is spoken of as a life; as a constant, regular activity of the spiritual nature..."eternal life abiding within us"...Therefore to pray without ceasing intends the unbroken union of the soul with God, so that all of life shall flow from God and to God...Therefore to pray without ceasing is to work for man in constant reliance on God; to work for Christ, and in every moment of need to look to God for strength wherewith to work. While this habit of intercourse with God is maintained, while we thus bring all parts of our life before Him in thankfulness, penitence, or supplication, we fulfil the command to pray without ceasing."

Even at the mall, the Saturday before Christmas, in a snowstorm. Blessings

Saturday, December 20, 2008

That love may abound

"And this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1: 9-11)

So writes Paul to his friends in Philippi and it demonstrates his overriding concern, the deep and passionate love of the community of believers. The commentary I am using for my study of Philippians makes some fascinating points here, chief among them that "Paul's passionate simply the outflow of his theology and the spirituality that issues from such theology." It matters what we believe. How can we know that what we believe is true? If it's issue is ever abounding love, approval of what is excellent, purity and righteousness we can feel we may be on the right track.

The commentator goes on to point out that Paul, "emphasizes love not as an affection, but as a behavior." Life and love is not one Hallmark moment after another, but the active result of a certain kind of life. James Freeman Clarke make a related point in his "Prayer" (see yesterday's post.)

"But Christianity" says Clarke, "is neither a cold moral effort, on the one hand, nor a pious emotion on the other, but a life. It is a life in the soul, rooted in conviction, manifesting itself in action, bearing the fruits of love and joy. It is activity, conscious yet spontaneous. It is at once a happy growth and a determined effort; perpetual progress outward into the universe, to meet God more and more fully in the variety of his works; perpetual inward rest in the centre of the soul in full communion with the One Alone."

Love and Blessings

Friday, December 19, 2008

Where is the heat?

I have an autograph collection consisting of one name, James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888). Famous for his five-fold definition of the Unitarian Faith, which became "creed-like" for some years:
1. The Fatherhood of God, 2. The Brotherhood of Man, 3. The Leadership of Jesus, 4. Salvation by Character, and 5. The Progress of Mankind, onward and upward forever, Clarke was a beloved minister, theologian, bridge builder between orthodoxy, Unitarianism, and Transcendentalism and much else. This blog will, God willing, have much, much more from Rev. Clarke.
I have acquired several of JFC's many books and though he was not an original thinker on the level of his friend Ralph Waldo, his was a catholic, generous, pastoral mind-one made for reconciliation and the love of God and man.
My morning's devotions began with the opening of Paul's Letter to the Philippians in which he prays prayers of thanksgiving for his partners in the Gospel, the Philippian church. Then to Clarke's "The Christian Doctrine of Prayer." After loaning out my first copy of this small gem some years ago never to be returned, I received a new (1856) copy yesterday.
Clarke begins, in his preface, with the old distinction between the prayer of faith and the prayer of form. He believed that with the coming of the age of reason and science, people ceased to believe in the prayer of faith and turned to a prayer of form designed to put the pray-er in a good state of mind. The result of this view of prayer and religion is that:

"We live at present in an age saturated with these ideas. We live in an age turned wholly outward, — an age of science, of steam, of rails, and of telegraphs, — an age of cheap postage, and of all sorts of devices to make our outward life comfortable and joyous. Many run to and fro, and knowledge is increased. The Christianity of the world bears good fruit in attempts to mitigate the horrors of barbarous customs, which come down unmitigated and unrelieved through the ages of faith, — slavery, and war, and popular ignorance, pauperism, intemperance, and manifold evils. Strong, wise, and good men do not now go on their knees and wrestle all night with God in prayer; but they sit up all night by their study-table, and marshal hosts of facts into such shape as shall convince mankind what a mountain of ills they labor under, and how they shall throw them off. Good men of to-day — the saints of our day — do not dream dreams, see visions, commune with angels, they are caught up into no third, nor even second heaven ; but they visit prisons and penitentiaries, they establish hospitals for the blind, deaf, lame, dumb, and insane, they labor to elevate public instruction, they struggle to make the laws more equitable. And for all these labors let us be thankful to God, for in them is surely to be found the Christian seed ; they are Christ-like works.
But the effect of these doctrines as regards prayer, we see all around in other forms, not so good as those. It appears in our empty churches; in young men and women deserting the house of God, where whole generations used to bend together in awe and love, the old man with white hair kneeling humbly by the little child with silky curls, — where they used to pray in earnest, and go away refreshed at heart and stronger for any work, happier for any joy. We see it in sermons changed to popular lectures,— no longer earnest arguments, appeals from dying men to dying men, hut rhetorical essays on some theme of philosophy, taste, politics, or social utility. We feel it, moreover, in the emptiness of our own hearts, in our secret consciousness that we are not acting out our highest nature, not living for the great end of our being, not growing into all that God desires and intends for us. We give ourselves to the world, though the world does not satisfy us. We labor to do good in some way to those about us, but we feel that, while we are ourselves empty of spiritual life, we can do them no real, no lasting good.
And look, too, at our philanthropic efforts. They are efforts, all of them, in the right direction. This age applies Christianity as Christ himself would have it applied, and as those ages of Faith and Prayer never applied it. I therefore am not looking for salvation in the past. I thank God for the immense advances we are making, and have made, in a true understanding of the Gospel. But with all this light, where is the heat ?... let our philanthropy be animated by a religion like theirs, — let us not merely say, " To work is to pray" but " Pray that we may work"

Amen and blessings

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Laymen's League

An interesting discussion at East of Midnight (with ChaliceChick and others) about adult education (among other things) put me in mind of the old Laymen's League, Women's Alliance, and Young People's Religious Union, all AUA/UUA (I believe) Unitarian laypeople organizations (of course the Alliance lives on, blessedly, in many congregations.)

I happened to find the other day, a program for my local Mass. town's chapter of the Laymen's League from 1927-28.

The objectives of the League were:

1. Promotion of Liberal Religion
2. Education
3. Social Service and
4. Good Fellowship.

Their program for 1927-28 in my town included:

Nov. "International Banking"

Dec. "Recent Developments in Modern Surgery"

Jan. "Three English Men of Science"

Feb. "A General Diuscussion of Town Affairs"

March "Making Tires: from Raw Material to finished Product (Illustrated with Moving Pictures)

April "Ladies Night. Speaker to be Announced

May "A meeting devoted to some aspect of Foreign Policy

June "The Ideal Layman. (given by the local Unitarian Minister)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Boston Unitarian is reading "Old World, New World" by Kathleen Burk, a massive study of the relationship between "Great Britain and America From the Beginning." Bristling with information and insight, I was struck just now by this passage on politeness as it emerged in the 18th century:

"...The concept of politeness, of a polite society, was increasingly important in Great Britain...The term polite had a more substantive meaning than today's use of it to mean manners or etiquette: it meant not using violence and the sword to deal with opposition, nor even sharp command or aggressive argument, but persuasion; it meant a lack of bigotry in religion or politics; it meant depending on reason and reflection... It was a means of uplifting society, of separating it from barbarity, of polishing rude manners."

The all too brief era of the Boston Unitarians was, in some ways, the culmination and the last gasp of this (always minority) view of politeness in America. The transcendentalists would seek to usher in a self-consciously American literature and the Jacksonians would foster a democratic celebration of decidedly un-polite virtues. For better and for worse (mainly the latter), the admittedly largely elite concept of politeness would retreat-and the flight goes on to the point that even the more superficial view of politeness as "manners and etiquette" (especially in public discourse) is a fond memory. Politeness is dead. Long live politeness.


Monday, December 15, 2008

"Likeness to God" your New Year's Resolution?

Tis the season of resolutions (or getting close) Are you a maker of resolutions? I must confess that I am an inveterate resolution maker (but only an occasional keeper.) I was put in mind of such questions by this morning's scripture reading which came from Ephesians (that wonderful and challenging letter) 5:1, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children." This verse serves, of course, as the epigraph for one of William Ellery Channing's most enduring sermons, "Likeness to God" Some excerpts:

"The text calls us to follow or imitate God, to seek accordance with or likeness to him; and to do this, not fearfully and faintly, but with the spirit and hope of beloved children. The doctrine, which I propose to illustrate, is derived immediately from these words, and is incorporated with the whole New Testament. I affirm, and would maintain, that true religion consists in proposing as our great end, a growing likeness to the Supreme Being. ..I begin with observing, what all indeed will understand, that the likeness to God, of which I propose to speak, belongs to man's higher or spiritual nature. It has its foundation in the original and essential capacities of the mind. In proportion as these are unfolded by right and vigorous exertion, it is extended and brightened. In proportion as these lie dormant, it is obscured. In proportion as they are perverted and overpowered by the appetites and passions, it is blotted out. In truth, moral evil, if unresisted and habitual, may so blight and lay waste these capacities, that the image of God in man may seem to be wholly destroyed...To hold intellectual and moral affinity with the Supreme Being, to partake his spirit, to be his children by derivations of kindred excellence, to bear a growing conformity to the perfection which we adore, this is a felicity which obscures and annihilates all other good... I would show that the highest and happiest office of religion, is to bring the mind into growing accordance with God, and that by the tendency of religious systems to this end their truth and worth are to be chiefly tried."

To the charge that God cannot really be approached by our depraved natures, Channing replies:

... to me, scripture and reason hold a different language. In Christianity particularly, I meet perpetual testimonies to the divinity of human nature. This whole religion expresses an infinite concern of God for the human soul, and teaches that he deems no methods too expensive for its recovery and exaltation. Christianity, with one voice, calls me to turn my regards and care to the spirit within me, as of more worth than the whole outward world. It calls us to ' be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect;' and everywhere, in the sublimity of its precepts, it implies and recognises the sublime capacities of the being to whom they are addressed. It assures us that human virtue is ' in the sight of God of great price,' and speaks of the return of a human being to virtue as an event which increases the joy of heaven...
We call God a Mind. He has revealed himself as a spirit. But what do we know of mind, but through the unfolding of this principle in our own breasts ? That unbounded spiritual energy which we call God, is conceived by us only through consciousness, through the knowledge of ourselves...
The same is true of God's goodness. How do we understand this but by the principle of love implanted in the human breast ? Whence is it, that this divine attribute is so faintly comprehended, but from the feeble development of it in the multitude of men ? Who can understand the strength, purity, fullness, and extent of divine philanthropy, but he in whom selfishness has been swallowed up in love ?
The same is true of all the moral perfections of the Deity. These are comprehended by us, only through our own moral nature. It is conscience within us, which, by its approving and condemning voice, interprets to us God's love of virtue and hatred of sin; and without conscience, these glorious conceptions would never have opened on the mind. It is the lawgiver in our own breasts, which gives us the idea of divine authority, and binds us to obey it...
What then is religion ? I answer ; it is not the adoration of a God, with whom we have no common properties; of a distinct, foreign, separate being ; but of an all-communicating Parent. It recognises and adores God as a being, whom we know through our own souls, who has made man in his own image, who is the perfection of our own spiritual nature, who has sympathies with us as kindred beings, who is near us, not in place only like this all surrounding atmosphere, but by spiritual influence and love, who looks on us with parental interest, and whose great design it is to communicate to us forever, and in freer and fuller streams, his own power, goodness, and joy. The conviction of this near and ennobling relation of God to the soul, and of his great, purposes towards it, belongs to the very essence of true religion ; and true religion manifests itself chiefly and most conspicuously in desires, hopes, and efforts corresponding to this truth. It desires and seeks supremely the assimilation of the mind to God, or the perpetual unfolding and enlargement of those powers and virtues by which it is constituted his glorious image. The mind, in proportion as it is enlightened and penetrated by true religion, thirsts and labors for a godlike elevation. What else indeed can it seek, if this good be placed within its reach? If I am capable of receiving and reflecting the intellectual and moral glory of my Creator, what else in comparison shall I desire ? Shall I deem a property in the outward universe as the highest good, when I may become partaker of the very mind from which it springs, of the prompting love, the disposing wisdom, the quickening power, through which its order, beauty, and beneficent influences subsist ? True religion is known by these high aspirations, hopes, and efforts. And this is the religion which most truly honors God. To honor him, is not to tremble before him as an unapproachable sovereign, nor to utter barren praise which leaves us as it found us. It is to become what we praise. It is to approach God as an inexhaustible Fountain of light, power, and purity. It is to feel the quickening and transforming energy of his perfections. It is to thirst for the growth and invigoration of the divine principle within us. It is to seek the very spirit of God. It is to trust in, to bless, to thank him for that rich grace, mercy, love, which was revealed and proffered by Jesus Christ, and which proposes as its great end the perfection of the human soul...To complete my views of this topic, I beg to add an important caution. I have said that the great work of religion is to conform ourselves to God, or to unfold the divine likeness within us. Let none infer from this language, that I place religion in unnatural effort, in straining after excitements which do not belong to the present state, or in-any thing separate from the clear and simple duties of life. I exhort you to no extravagance. I reverence human nature too much to do it violence. I see too much divinity in its ordinary operations, to urge on it a forced and vehement virtue. To grow in the likeness of God, we need not cease to be men. This likeness does not consist in extraordinary or miraculous gifts, in supernatural additions t6 the soul, or in anything foreign to our original constitution ; but in our essential faculties, unfolded by vigorous and conscientious exertion in the ordinary circumstances assigned by God. To resemble our Creator, we need not fly from society, and entrance ourselves in lonely contemplation and prayer. Such processes might give a feverish strength to one class of emotions, but would result in disproportion, distortion, and sickliness of mind. Our proper work is to approach God by the free and natural unfolding of our highest powers, of understanding, conscience, love, and the moral will." (this in only a hint of the richness of this discourse: for the full depth and breadth,

This disccourse is one of the first that I read in the Unitarian corpus and it has an important place in my heart and mind. Many of Channing's great themes are included; the nobility of human nature, God as benevolent Father, virtue and morality as spiritual path, and the belief that you can start where you are...Blessings

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Waiting for Joy: the Third Week in Advent

(For background and the first two weeks of this devotional for individuals and families, see posts labeled Advent)

December 14th, The Third Sunday in Advent We are waiting for Joy
Begin with silent meditation

Light the first three candles of your Advent wreath or your chalice with these words:
“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; all the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

What are the simple things that give you joy? Again, encourage examples that are simple, not material, and can be shared.

End with a prayer or silence: A prayer:

We gather together in joy. May our feet bring the good news of great joy to all people today and everyday. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Habitual Gratitude"

Meister Eckhart famously said that "If the only prayer you ever uttered was Thank You, that would be sufficient" and like most spiritual maxims, it is easily read, understood and ascribed to but deeply difficult to practice. And yet, grace breaks through.
My devotions this morning included part of William Ellery Channing's sermon, "Unitarian Christianity Most Favorable to Piety" which includes this definition of that word (piety) so little used in our times, yet so rich with meaning:

By piety... "I mean, filial love and reverence towards God, habitual gratitude, cheerful trust, ready obedience, and though last not least, an imitation of the ever-active and unbounded benevolence of the Creator."

A little later, I happened to read over at One Day Isle ( a wonderful post that concludes: "Is it any wonder that gratitude always trumps grief in my experience, and that optimism rather than mourning remains the principal mood of the day...." Thanks Eclectic Cleric and...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

These bad times a product of bad morals...

In 1837, an economic Panic brought on by excessive speculation launched America into a depression with many bank closings, a restriction of credit and high unemployment. In May of 1837, the Rev. Samuel J. May, an ardent abolitionist, crusader for women's rights and educational reform, and, at the time, minister at Second Parish in Scituate MA (now First Parish Norwell) preached a sermon that was later published as "These Bad Times the Product of Bad Morals" Some excerpts:
"...let any one go to our cities, and he will see in almost every face the expression of anxiety, and hear from almost every lip the language of lamentation and alarm. Thousands, who a few weeks ago were at ease in their possessions, were accounted by others and believed themselves to be rich, have suddenly been waked up from their dream of prosperity, and find themselves stricken with poverty. And thousands more, who have been honestly earning a comfortable livelihood by the labor of their hands are now-as it were at a stroke-thrown out of employment, and know not where or how to get their daily bread.
And yet more than all this have we to fear. The obligations between the merchants of this country and Europe are supposed to be very large. The failures that have happened here will undoubtedly cause similar misfortunes there...
I do not presume to think that I am wise enough to understand all the proximate causes of the present disasters of our merchant people. But is is very plain to my view, that they may all be traced back to this great ultimate cause, that the people have forsaken the law of the Lord, and have not obeyed his voice (italics in the original)...I trust, indeed I have no doubt, that great good will issue from this present evil, but the benefit will extend only so far as the people are brought to see the errors of their ways, and to amend them...
My hearers, I conjure you not to look at the commercial disasters of our fellow citizens with the eyes of political partisans. Look at them in a moral point of view. Look at them in the light of Christianity...
Time forbids me to speak of all the sins that have become prevalent in the land. I can mention only two or three. They are idolatry, covetousness and oppression. Enough to ruin any people!...
There are two objects of worship in our country, whose votaries are tenfold more numerous than are the servants of the true God,-Office and Wealth. These are our popular idols...
It is said by foreigners that you cannot be an hour with a citizen of the United States, without hearing something about dollars and cents, or about some pecuniary speculations...Our cities are crowded with chapels, in which the service of Mammon is busily conducted for six days, if no more, of every week...But worse, far worse than all, the unrequited toil of millions of the poor and needy is offered upon the alter of this insatiable divinity, wet with the tears and blood of our victims...
Think not that I would discourage enterprise. I delight to see it. But I long to see it expanded in the pursuit of what is incomparably more valuable than silver and gold. I long to see rational, moral, immortal beings earnestly engaged in endeavors to lay up those treasures, which moth and rust cannot corrupt...treasures of knowledge and virtue and piety, which cannot be shipwrecked, but will float with them, ay, bear them up over the waves of trouble, through all the storms of adversity, to the haven of eternal safety...
My heart's desire and prayer for my fellow citizens is, that they may have a happy issue out of their affliction. happy indeed it will be, if they are thereby withdrawn from their idols, and brought back to the service of the true and living God...Seek happiness, I beseech you, where alone the happiness of rational and moral beings can be found-in the treasures of knowledge, virtue and piety...They shall endure when all else shall fail."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Generous self-control

More on Piety in the Home by Caleb Stetson (see post ) Following are illustrations of the basic premise that the domestic sphere is the primary Christian proving ground...

"Our domestic relations are far more intimate, and have far greater influence on our characters, than any other. Every family is a little community, bound together by the tenderest and holiest sympathies...This intimate union, or rather identity, of interests, gives rise to many duties, out of which must grow habits of virtue. One of the best of these habits is that of generous self-control—not seeking our own gratification so much as the comfort of the domestic circle—' preferring one another in love.' As all the members or" a family are dependent on each other for a large part of their comfort, each must be willing to sacrifice, not only his whims and caprices, but sometimes his reasonable wishes. How lovely and excellent is domestic affection, prompting unselfish and untiring exertions, and finding happiness while seeking only to bestow it!...There is indeed no school like home for the discipline of the temper and the heart. Whether your position requires you to command or obey—to work with the hands or the mind—to give or to receive, you may always find occasion for forbearance, and self-denial.
The Christian character is never more likely to grow strong and healthful than in this perpetual round of obscure and unostentatious duties. Its virtues then are genuine and substantial; for they have not been practised to be '" seen of men ;'—no one can be always a hypocrite at home..." The full text, of which this post is only a very small part, can be found at

Many of the central tenets of Boston Unitarianism are illustrated in this wonderful text. Calm and unostentatious virtue and morality, disinterestedness, self-denial, and the excellence and happiness of such a life...Amen and blessings.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Excellence in Ministry: An Historical Case Study

Over at iMinister, Peacebang, and Eclectic Cleric, among other places, an excellent discussion has been taking place concerning the Unitarian Universalist ministry." I post the following not to "take sides" but to illuminate a particular example from our not all that distant past.

A particular exemplar of mine is William Phillips Tilden (see post Tilden was a Scituate, MA shipbuilder turned Unitarian minister who had a long and distinguished career in several parishes. This is how he was launched on his ministerial journey.
In 1836,William Phillips Tilden, under the influence of Caleb Stetson's preaching in Medford (see post was burning with his desire to be a minister. He mustered his courage and confessed all in a letter to Stetson and waited his response. "A day or two after," in the words of Tilden, "as I was at work in the ship-yard, I saw my portly pastor coming, looking through his glasses, first one side and then the other, as was his wont, going up the broad aisle. I dropped my axe to welcome him, and soon found he had a gospel of hope for me…and had come to tell he thought-yes I might enter the ministry. That spot of ground is still sacred."
His lack of a college education, however, seemed daunting, and he returned to his home in Scituate where the First Parish Church had just called a new minister after a two-year search. And what a call it was. Rev. Samuel J. May, recently the general agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, was know for the passion of his political ideals.
For our friend William Phillips Tilden, Samuel J. May was literally a Godsend. May, when he learned of Tilden's desire for the ministry, took him in, studied with him and guided him. In the words of Tilden, " my best text-book, intellectual, moral, and religious, was Mr. May. He set me at work; made me superintendent of his Sunday-school; took me with him to school-house meetings, educational, temperance, anti-slavery, and religious." The Sunday-School, organized by May and directed by Tilden was the first at First Parish.
Tilden more than fulfilled his great and passionate desire to become a minister of the Unitarian Gospel. The only training he would receive would be from May, but that would prove enough. In 1840, Tilden was “Approbated to Preach” by the Plymouth and Bay Association of Ministers, thus fulfilling his dream. He served parishes in Concord, Walpole, Fitchburg and most famously at the New South Free Church in Boston where he was so loved he received the name "Brother Tilden." His enthusiasm for the ministry carried him to parishes well into his seventies.
Few have ever loved the ministry, or sought to live up to its high calling, more than Tilden. His book "The Work of the Ministry" is still of great value to ministers and all church workers (it can be found at

For what its worth. Blessings

Monday, December 8, 2008

Piety at Home

Caleb Stetson, 1793–1870, was a Unitarian minister, mainly in Medford, Mass. and also in Scituate (Norwell) A early member of what is most commonly called The Transcendental Club, Stetson was a friend of Emerson and spoke at a meeting against slavery on the step of Thoreau's hut at Walden Pond.
Known for his sense of humor, Stetson could make even Emerson laugh (see comments on earlier post:

I am thinking about Stetson today because I am thinking about one of my favorite words, piety, and, especially, the idea of teaching or inculcating a healthy piety in children. As a DRE and (esp) as a parent of three children, the issue is deeply important to me.
Children have, I firmly believe, a natural piety or capacity for wonder that often deepens my own personal piety. I worry, though, that just about every signal they get in society, in much of daily life, and in just "growing up" work to slowly deaden that natural gift and, for the most part, I feel I don't do nearly enough to counter that.
So back to Stetson. Following are excerpts from Stetson's "Piety at Home", published as an AUA Tract in 1832:
"ST. PAUL, in his epistle to Timothy, charges him to exhort the younger members of families, ' to learn to show piety at home,' as their first duty...I fear it is the tendency of this age, to underrate that kind of piety, which consists in doing right in a natural and quiet way. There is an inordinate appetite for strong sensations and startling effects...When religion is understood to consist in a burning excitement, or an eagerness to exert influence at the greatest possible distance, the commonplace pursuits of daily life do not seem to have dignity enough to be taken under its 'direction. Yet what can Christianity do for a man, better than to make him good in those very relations, which demand his chief care and duty ? In what possible way can it minister to human virtue and happiness more largely, than by rendering us kind, gentle, and faithful in our domestic connections ?...Common virtues are more frequently wanted, and therefore more valuable, than extraordinary ones. If religion has any power in our hearts, it must be manifested chiefly in our doing little things well. When a man separates his religion from his morality, making the former one thing, and the latter another and a different thing, there is great danger that neither will be very good...All duties are religious ones.There may be but little glory, but there is a great deal of merit, and of happiness too, in ' showing piety at home' — in that narrow circle of duty, which God has made the principal sphere of our action."
Tomorrow, more from Stetson's sermon. What are your views on this question? Are all duties religious? Should we be fostering piety in our children? If so, how best? If not, why not?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Advent Devotional: The Second Week

A family devotional for the Second Week in Advent (for more and for week one, see posts labeled "Advent")

December 7th, The Second Sunday in Advent We are waiting for Hope

Begin with silent meditation

Light the first and second candles or your chalice with these words: “And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7

During the week to come, look for things, events, and actions that make you hopeful. Don’t overlook the very small words and acts that make up the fabric of our hope.

End with a prayer or silence: A Prayer:

We gather together in hope. May our feet bring the good news of hope to all people today and everyday. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen


A Martyr's Spirit: Thoughts on Ministry

Channing's famous "Unitarian Christianity" address was, of course, delivered at the "Ordination of the Rev. Jared Sparks" in 1819. What a moment that must have been...In the bulk of the discourse, Channing seeks to delineate the Unitarian view on the Bible, God, Jesus, and morality. His concluding statements express the reason and motive for spreading the Unitarian message, and gives Rev. Sparks (and all since who answer this lofty call) a high charge. Some excerpts:

"I have thus given the distinguishing views of those Christians in whose names I have spoken. We have embraced this system not hastily or lightly, but after much deliberation: and we hold it fast not merely because we believe it to be true, but because we regard it as purifying truth...That we wish to spread it, we have no desire to conceal; but we think that we wish its diffusion because we regard it as more friendly to practical piety and pure morals than the opposite doctrines, because it gives clearer and nobler views of duty, and stronger motives to its performance, because it recommends religion at once to the understanding and the heart, because it asserts the lovely and venerable attributes of God, because it tends to restore the benevolent spirit of Jesus to his divided and afflicted church, and because it cuts off every hope of God's favor except that which springs from practical conformity to the life and precepts of Christ. We see nothing in our views to give offence save their purity, and it is their purity which makes us seek and hope their extension through the world."

And then to brother Sparks:

"My friend and brother,-you are this day to take upon you important duties; to be clothed with an office which the Son of God did not disdain; to devote yourself to that religion which the most hallowed lips have preached, and the most precious blood sealed. We trust that you will bring to this work a willing mind, a firm purpose, a martyr's spirit, a readiness to toil and suffer for the truth, a devotion of your best powers to the interests of piety and virtue...My brother, may your life preach more loudly than your lips! Be to this people a pattern of all good works..."


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Drainage, drunkenness, and divorce

Francis Greenwood Peabody (1847-1936) was born on this day to Mary Jane and Rev. Ephraim Peabody (see several recent posts) Peabody served as Minister at First Parish in Cambridge before entering on what would become a wide-ranging career at Harvard, eventually becoming the Dean of the Divinity School.
Peabody would become best know for his work in Social Ethics and would be instrumental in introducing this discipline at Harvard Divinity School. His Social Ethics course would famously be called, by his students, “Peabody’s drainage, drunkenness, and divorce” class.
Among his numerous writings was the influential "Jesus Christ and the Social Question" Some brief excerpts:

"WHEN one turns from the problem of the existence of the rich to the problem of the care of the poor, he enters a region of thought and duty much more familiar to the follower of Jesus Christ. From the first days of Christian history until now the duties of compassion for the unfortunate and of help for the helpless have been among the elementary virtues of the Christian life. The transition made by the ministry of Jesus in the history of philanthropy is hardly less remarkable than the transition made in the history of theology. With the new thought of God came a new love for man... No body of Christians, however humble, can maintain its self-respect without an elaborate organization of compassion and relief. The Church welcomes for itself not only the test of truth, but the test of public utility. " I by my works will shew thee," it says, "my faith."

(For the full text of "Jesus and the Social Question" see


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Old Books

My copy of Channing (The Complete Works of William Ellery Channing with an Introduction, New and Complete Edition, Rearranged, to Which is Added The Perfect Life) is in bad shape. In fact it is held together by duct tape and prayer. Some time ago I bought a backup copy for the sad yet ineveitable day when my "working" Channing becomes unreadable but it sits in (I hope) long delayed anticipation.

I love old, used books though I am not a collector in the sense of caring much about editions, market value etc...When a "new" old book arrives from Alibris (, my main source, I love to look for signatures, notes and underlines-all wonderful evidence that the book was once lovingly read, or given as a gift. I have books that have three different signatures, to which I have added my own to be found in another 100 years by someone who will, I hope, love them as much as I do.
I am relatively new to the world of computers and computer commerce having been a confirmed neo-luddite for several years. It is only about six years past since I first learned how to turn one on. So deeply ignorant of what I would find...I remember searching for information about Unitarians and expecting a paragraph or two! The first time I searched for the books that now are so deeply important to me, I found several copies (proabably at Alibris)...I was so excited by this that I immediatly told my wife that I must hurry and buy these books as it must be a rare and wonderful thing that they are up for sale and I was afraid they would all be snatched up. She (who had considerably more computer savvy than me) looked at me with that particular look and assured me that probably the copies would be safe from a mad rush of antique Unitarian book buying...
Channing, Clarke, Abbot, and so many more are now my constant companions on the Way and I thank God for this "rare and wonderful" gift. Blessings

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An Advent Devotional for Individuals and Families

What Are We Waiting For?
An Advent Devotional for Individuals and Families
First Week in Advent

What are we waiting for? Advent is a time of anticipation. We are all waiting for something. For children, it is the excitement of gifts and all the “trappings” of the season. For merchants, it is the hope and the worry of a few weeks that can make or break a year. For others, memories of past holiday seasons mixed with “new family traditions” paint Christmas in complex colors. All, however, share a vague (or not so vague) feeling that we should make more of the season than snow globes and Christmas music at the mall in late October. What are we waiting for? This simple advent devotional for individual people or for families seeks to help us answer this question and to focus our hearts and minds on the answer of Christmas which is the birth of Jesus in history and in our heats.

Preparation for a season of Advent devotional practice:
* Prepare your hearts and minds for your devotional by discussing what it is you will be doing during this time. If you have never set aside personal or family devotional time, it can seem an awkward and uncomfortable practice. Talk (or think) in advance about what you will be doing during your devotions and why you will be doing it.
* If you will be practicing this devotion as a family, make sure that every member has a regular part in the service whether lighting the candles, reading the scripture, praying the prayer etc…Talk about what each person’s role will be in advance so that all are comfortable and invested in the service.
*Prepare a personal or family advent wreath with candles. A family chalice will work as well
*Think about the time, and space in which you will have your devotions and keep to them as much as possible. The dinner table in the late afternoon may be a good option but, of course, everyone’s schedule differs.
*Pray that God may be with you or in the midst of your family before each meditation.

What Are We Waiting For?
The Promise of Advent

November 30th, The First Sunday in Advent: We are waiting for Peace
Gather together in your established place and begin with a moment of intentional silence. Light the first candle of your advent wreath or chalice with these words:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace. Who brings good news of happiness and publishes salvation. Who says to Zion, your God reigns. (Isaiah 52:7)

Think about how you can publish peace during each day of the week to come. How can your feet bring good news? Encourage (or think about) simple and practical responses.

Close with a prayer or intentional silence: A simple prayer: (perhaps memorized and led by younger children)
We gather together in peace. May our feet bring the good news of peace to all people today and everyday. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

If you can, repeat the Sunday devotional, using the same readings and prayers each day of the week following the Advent Sunday devotion. Daily devotional time will help the practice to become part of the fabric of your lives during this season of Advent.
Prayers, poems, music, and much else can, of course, be added to this basic structure depending on your personal or family interests.

May God bless you and keep you. Amen

Monday, December 1, 2008

"An immortal germ"

Along with Ralph Waldo, William Ellery is probably among the most quoted and little read in the pantheon. This is much to our detriment as reading Channing is a challenging and very rewarding experience. In the "Introductory Remarks" of his Collected Works, Channing summarizes his main themes:

"Some topics will be found to recur often, perhaps the reader may think too often; but it is in this way that a writer manifests his individuality, and he can in no other do justice to his own mind...The following writings will be found to be distinguished by nothing more than by the high estimate which they express of human nature. A respect for the human soul breathes through them...the greatness of the soul is especially seen in the intellectual energy which discerns absolute, universal truth, in the idea of God, in freedom of will and moral power, in disinterestedness and self-sacrifice, in the boundlessness of love, in aspirations after perfection, in desires and affections, which time and space cannot confine, and the world cannot fill. The soul viewed in these lights, should fill us with awe. It is an immortal germ, which may be said to contain now within itself what endless ages are to unfold. It is truly an image of the infinity of God..."

This is not all, however, as Channing makes clear:

"There is, however, another and very different aspect of our nature. When we look merely at what it now is, as its present development, at what falls under present consciousness, we see in it much of weakness and limitation and still more, we see it narrowed and degraded by error and sin..."

It is just this part of our natures, for Channing, that makes the high view so crucial:

"An enlightened, disinterested human being, morally strong, and exerting a wide influence by the power of virtue, is the clearest reflection of the divine splendor on earth; and we glorify God in proportion as we form ourselves and other after this model...We do not honor him by breaking down the human soul...It is his glory that he creates beings like himself, free beings, not slaves; that he forms them to obedience, not by physical agency, but by moral influences; that he confers on them the reality, not the show of power; and opens to their faith and devout strivings a futurity of progress and glory without end. It is not by darkening and dishonoring the creature that we honor the creator."

In becoming a Unitarian, one of the first intellectual hurdles I had to overcome was this view of human nature. I was a Christian of the "We are born in sin and cannot free ourselves" variety (I still partly am and do not find a complete contradiction in Channing) We are free. Our souls shroud us with immense dignity and worth. We often fail to live up to that dignity and worth. This only intensifies my belief in that ultimate dignity. In striving for that disinterestedness, love, self-sacrifice and in "aspirations after perfection" we live religious lives and become like God. Blessings