Friday, October 31, 2008

Noah Worcester

Noah Worcester (1758- 1837), died on this day in 1837. He was a Unitarian minded minister, writer, editor and passionate peace advocate. His Bible News is one of the Boston Unitarian's favorite books. Worcester had a large influence on the development of Unitarianism in America.


BeWare: Halloween Edition

A Universalist Pumpkin (In honor of a dear friend)

Halloween is decidedly not my favorite holiday. In fact, during my years as a school teacher, I positively dreaded it. But as a father of three young children, one part of Halloween makes good sense. My children start talking about "what they are going to be for Halloween", the day after Halloween and throughout the year, every once in awhile, they will announce that they have a new idea for the coming year's costume...
The desire to "put on new garments" is, I suppose, universal and is certainly at the heart of most religious practice. To a certain degree, it is the reason Blogging has become so prevelant.

It is also why the Apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthians to imitate him (see post Oct. 25th). This morning, as I continued the study of 1 Corinthians and of Ware's Formation of the Christian Character, Paul, again, writes, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1.) In between these two posts, Paul has talked much about sex and diet, his conclusion being in v. 10:31, "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (Well, sort of...)

We last left Henry Ware calling for an entire submission of the mind, heart, and body to the development of the Christian Character and with a celebration of the fruits of such a submission. Ware continues (still in Chapter One):

"Living thus with his chief sources of happiness within him, he (the seeker after Christian Character) bears with equanimity the changes and trials of earth, and tasts something of the peculiar felicity of heaven, which is 'righteousness, and peace, and joy in a holy spirit;'...But if you would discern the full excellence and loveliness of the religious life, do not rest satisfied with studying the law, or musing over the descriptions of it. Go to the perfect pattern, which has been set before the believer for his guidance and encouragement. Look unto jesus, the author and finisher of your faith...This is the model which you are to imitate. And it is when you shall be imbued with this spirit, when you shall be filled with this sentiment, when your words, actions, and life, shall be only the spontaneous expression of this state of mind,-it is then that you will have attained the religious character, and become spiritually the child of God...To attain and perfect this character is to be the object of your desire, and the business of your life..."

"The Full excellence and loveliness of the religious life" may it be so for all. BeWare AND be Square (sorry.) Happy Halloween

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Boston Unitarian as Politician

John Albion Andrew (1818– 1867) was a big man. Richard F. Miller, in his fascinating history of the the 20th Mass. Infantry, Harvard's Civil War, quotes a journalist who said that Andrew was "of such bulk that it seemed as if, while he sat still, nothing could move."
Born in Maine, Andrew graduated from Bowdoin College before becoming a lawyer in Massachusetts. His work on divorce and crmminal law did not endear him to the Boston Aristocracy nor did his staunch abolitionism. He become a Representative in the Mass. General Court, worked for the legal defence effort of John Brown, and, in 1860 was nominated for Governor "by," according to an 1880 memoir, "a genuine popular impulse which overwhelmed the old political managers who regarded him as an intruder upon the arena, and had laid other plans."
Known as the Great War Governor, Andrew immediatly began raising troops for the defence of the union, and Massachusetts soldiers would be first to the defence of Washington after Fort Sumter. Perhaps most famously, he would be an early advocate for the inclusion of African Americans in the military and would authorize the creation of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, which included men from several states. Finally, though Andrew was a strong proponant of emancipation and a vigorous prosecutor of the war effort, he would counsel tolerance and generosity in reconstruction-advice that was all too little followed.
A very active member of James Freeman Clarke's Church of the Disciples (See the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography of Clarke at:,) Andrew's deep Unitarian faith sustained and informed his politics. "His Pastor, Mr. Clarke," records the above mentioned memoir, "has frequently given public testimony to the religious character of his parishioner and to the value of his services in the church. His heart was in this thing. He gave more time and devotion in this direction than will ever be known in this world; for many of his works were as quiet and unostentatious as they were earnest and effective." He served on committees, gave lay sermons, and much else for his churh. In 1865 he would preside over the first national Unitarian convention.
His biographer would sum up Andrew thus, "In what did his greatness consist? The answer is and always must be, 'In his character.' He was most emphatically what Milton calls a square and constant mind. He stands to-day the embodiment and representative of manliness, simplicity, truthfulness, justice,-of all the qualities which go to make up the spiritual substance of our being, which is all we can take with us when we leave this world, and which will never cease to influence those who may occupy the places we now occupy, and who may try to do the works that are set before us to do."
Andrew would be elected to five terms as Governor, refusing the nomination for a sixth in 1866. Tragically, he would die the following year.
The Boston Unitarian as Politician. Blessings

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What we are to seek...

My copy of Henry Ware's Formation of the Christian Character: Addressed to Those Who Are Seeking to Lead a Religious Life is a later edition (1866) and is a discard from the Bowdoin College Library. Like most of my old Unitarian books, it came from Alibris ( It is wonderful to hold a book that, I imagine, was held by students for decades as they did research or just sought inspiration and wisdom for living a more meaningful life. Bound together with its sequel, Progress of the Christian Life, and published by the American Unitarian Association, this little volume resides by my favorite chair with Bible and current reading.
In the Introduction (see post on October 25th) Ware lays out his intention to speak to "those who are sincerely desirous of knowing themselves, and are bent upon forming a religious character. " This morning, in Chapter 1, "The Nature of Religion and What We Are To Seek" he commences to determine just what that means. Some exerpts:
"Let us begin, then, with considering what is the object at which we aim when we seek a religious character...Religion with us, is the Christian religion. It is found in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ...You desire to be a Christian. To this are requisite three things: belief in the truths which the gospel reveals: possession of the state of mind which it enjoins; and performance of the duties which it requires: or, I may say, the subjection of the mind by faith, the subjection of the heart by love, the subjection of the will by obedience. This universal submission of yourself to god is what you are to aim at. This is Religion...Observe how extensive a thing it is. It is a principle of the mind...It is a sentiment or affection of the heart...It is a rule of life...
In the general complexion of Scripture, and in many particular passages, these several views are united: thus we are told, that 'the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;' that the blessing of God belongs to the humble, penitent, meek, pure in heart, merciful, and peaceful; that the Christian character consists in 'whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report;' in adding to 'faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;' and 'in denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly.'

Sounds easy enough! Ware wrote his manual in 1831 and by the time the edition that I have was published, the AUA was already starting to splinter over the place, nature, and role of Jesus and Christianity in the denomination. Emerson gave his Divinity School Address in 1838 and Ware would famously rebut it with his "The Personality of the Deity"the same year, but the tide was (for better and for worse) with Emerson.

I read (and post) Ware not to fight those battles, but to celebrate a religion of the mind, heart, and life. If your scripture is other than the Bible and your Teacher other than Jesus, Ware's message of "universal submission" and the "extensivness" of the religious life, as well as its great rewards will, I hope, still ring true.


Many Thanks

Deep and heartfelt thanks to Peacebang ( for her "shout-out" yesterday. High praise from a MASTER and I appreciate it very much. If you are reading this via Peacebang, a warm welcome and I hope you find something of interest here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Glad we could be there for you

A Sanitary Commission Sock Drive "Ply fast your needles!"

Ephraim Peabody (1807-1856) was in many ways the very model of the Boston Unitarian. As the minister of King's Chapel in Boston, Peabody preached character and personified it (see Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography at . This morning, during my weekly visit to Boston and the Athenaeum (see post 10-7) I spent some time reading a memoir of Peabody that introduces a collection of his sermons (a penciled-in note reports that the memoir was written by Samuel Eliot.) As a young man, Peabody went to Cincinnati as a missionary. Cincinnati has a fascinating place in American Unitarian history, but for now this from Eliot. "A small Unitarian congregation found themselves there, surrounded by the various sects which are called Orthodox, and who agree in few things so entirely, as in considering Unitarianism a dangerous heresy."

Just a couple of days ago I was reading the Memoir of Charles Lowe (see post on 10-12). In it, Lowe writes of the "Orthodox" of various stripes all working to support (and evangelize) soldiers during the Civil War, and all united in suspicion of the Unitarian Founded Sanitary Commission.

Its great to be a uniting force!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Be Ware

I get up most every morning at 5:00 and I love this time of quiet before my family wakes, and the dog announces his demands. It is cold these days in the morning-the night before last was the first frost of the season, so that first cup of coffee is all the more welcome as I burrow into my chair with lapdesk and moleskin notebook.

The most consistent spiritual practice in my life has been my morning devotions. Through good times and bad, times of spiritual connectedness, and through long dry deserts, I have started most days with reading and prayer. My practice is (of course) an old one and very similar to that practiced by the Boston Unitarians. I begin with Scripture, move to a devotional work (almost always, a 19th century sermon), pray with the days reading present in my my mind, and finish with a few minutes of reading in history or a memoir.

This morning...

Scripture: in I Corinthians 4

The Apostle Paul is writing to a church that he established yet seems to be in an early stage of revolt against him. They are becoming arrogant, breaking into factions and much else. Paul needs to establish authority yet his core message of servanthood makes it difficult.

He writes:

To this very hour we (Apostles) go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.
We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;
when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children.
Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

This is not the only place in Paul's writing where his readers are urged to imitate him. It may seem an arrogant thing telling people to "be like me" but, of course, it must be remembered that Paul is urging people to be like Christ who has crucified the old Paul and made him anew.

And speaking of imitation: I am beginning yet again, "Formation of the Christian Character" by Henry Ware Jr. (1794-1843 ). This classic Unitarian devotional manual is a deeply important book for me. Over the past five years or so I have pondered my way through it many times. It is the essence of Boston Unitarian spirituality in its deep piety wedded to practical, daily life practice.

From the Introduction:

I AM anxious to bespeak the reader's right attention before he enters on the following pages. They have been written only for those who are sincerely desirous of knowing themselves, and are bent upon forming a religious character. They can be of little interest or value to any other person, or if read with any other view than that of self-improvement. I venture, therefore, to entreat every one, into whose hands the book may fall, to peruse it, as it has been written, not for entertainment, but for moral edification ; to read it at those seasons when he is seriously disposed, and can reflect upon the important topics presented to his view. I am solicitous to aid him in the formation of his Christian character, and about every other result I am indifferent.

The Boston Unitarians were often criticized for what James Freeman Clark summarized as "salvation by character" and yet, when it gets right down to it, what they were talking about was mindfulness, living an elevated life day by day. Doing the next right thing. The spirituality of that kind of life is profound and within the reach of all.

It is why I love the Boston Unitarians and why I seek to "imitate" them. If you, too, are "bent upon forming a Christian Character," you could do worse than to imitate them as well.
BeWare and be well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Despite the fondest wishes of all those who would love a Presidental campaign that was dignified and based on a substantive delving into the issues, it seems we are fairly doomed to something less. Perhaps most distressing is that the good old days in which such campaigns existed, never existed.

I think of the campaign of 1828 between the Boston Unitarian John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Probably the nastiest campaign ever waged, newspaper supporters of both candidates mercilessly tore apart the other with scandals real or imagined. Adams became so depressed that he suspended writing in his journal-something he rarely dd.

A line from a campaign song: The choice, it said, was "Between J.Q. Adams who can write/and Andy Jackson who can fight."

Adams was vilified for his heretical religion and called dangerous and un-American, while Jackson was blasted for his marital and moral past and his terrible and erratic temper.

On and on it goes...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Civil War Sabbath

Samuel Longfellow

As a "Friend" of my local public library, I occasionally help organize and shelve books that people donate for our book sales. This can be a dirty, musty, dusty and often moldy business, but it is a necessary service and, now and again, I find a treasure. Some months ago, the treasure came in the form of a small volume in very poor condition. It had clearly belonged to an individual and then had had an incarnation on the shelves of a library long ago. I opened it with that flash of anticipation rarely rewarded, yet always hoped for. And what a reward. It was an 1865 edition of the "Hymns of the Spirit" compiled by Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson. This Unitarian Hymnbook contained many hymns written by Longfellow (younger brother of Henry Wadsworth) and Johnson who were classmates and longtime friends. Both "second generation transcendentalists," Longfellow and Johnson are at the very end of the "Boston Unitarian" era.

A few selections for a Sabbath evening...


Thou Power and Peace! in whom we find

All holiest strength, all purest love,

The rushing of the mighty wind,

The brooding of the gentle dove,-

Forever lend Thy sovereign aid,

And urge us on, and keep us Thine;

Nor leave the hearts which Thou hast made

Fit temples of Thy grace divine.

Nor let us quench Thy saving light;

But still with softest breathings stir

Our wayward souls, and lead us right;

O Holy Spirit, Comforter!

Thanks For Daily Mercies

Tender mercies, on my way

Falling softly like the dew,

Sent me freshly every day,

I will bless the Lord for you.

Though I have not all I would

Though to greater bliss I go

Every present gift of good

To eternal Love I owe.

Source of all that comforts me

Well of joy for which I long,

Let the song I sing to Thee

Be an everlasting song.

(Anna Waring)

Published towards the end of the Civil War, it is not difficult to imagine families gathered together in the evening, sharing these hymns and praying for loved ones and for their world. Amen

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Problem of Emerson

When it came to Emerson, many Boston Unitarians tended to "love the sinner and hate the sin." That is to say, while they felt him a gentleman and an honorable man (which, to them, amounted to the same thing) they experienced his teaching as dangerous and ultimatly descructive of the liberal Christian world they sought to build. Those focused on his teaching (such as Andrews Norton, the Unitarian Pope) were vitriolic in their denunciations of Emerson while others, more focused on his character and personality, loved him and defended his teaching as essentially "Christian." I am firmly in the latter camp. It was, in fact, Ralph Waldo Emerson that introduced me to Unitarianism, albeit in a pretty backhanded manner.

Meanwhile, following are exerpts from the first essay in Emerson's First Book of Essays, "History" which figured prominently in a lecture I was recently honored to attend by Robert Richardson who wrote The Mind on Fire, a ground changing biography of Emerson.

"There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think: what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent. Of the works of this mind, history is the record...Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history...We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner; must fasten these images to some reality in our seret experience, or we shall learn nothing rightly."

Emerson is much caricatured as a starry eyed idealist, a radical individualist, a muddle headed optimist and more. The reality is much more complex. The Way of Emerson was, and is, not an easy road and his optimism was bought with hard struggle through difficult and tragic events. Yet he could say to Thomas Carlyle, "My whole philosophy-which is very real-teaches acquiesence and optimism." Surrender and faith.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Unitarian Sabbath

The incomparable Peacebang is entertaining questions concerning the spiritual practices of Unitarian Universalists and it is a vital question. I, myself, have been ardent tourist through the world of spiritual practices over the past few years and this is, I believe, a danger inherent in a denomination such as the UUA which seeks respect for the religious expressions of others and, at the same time, has largely forgotton (or rejected) its own root tradition (I say this not in criticism but as an expression of reality.) I will write later about my personal spiritual practices and the practices of the "Boston Unitarians," but right now many of my thoughts are centered around the Sabbath and its deep and vital (and largely declining) influence on our spiritual lives.
I am blessed to be a part of a wonderful congregation with a minister who takes very seriously the spiritual importance of the Sabbath. But the larger reality of Sunday Morning is that church is no longer the only game in town and, especially for our younger families with children, many other activities, once unheard of on Sunday morning, are routine. Like all spiritual practice, an element of habit must be included and our Sunday schedules don't seem to allow for that (much to our detriment.) For church workers, the issues are different and I hope to explore them in future Sabbath posts.
I found a book the other day.the "Memoir of Charles Lowe". Published in 1884, it is an old- fashioned "Life and Letters" biography consisting mainly of Journal extracts and letters strung together by short passages by the author, Martha Perry Lowe (the subject's wife). I confess a love of this type of memoir, now much out of style and all my other reading has been set aside. Lowe was a New England Unitarian Minister who served in New Bedford, Somerville and other parishes before becoming an Army Chaplain during the Civil War. He later served as the Secretary of the AUA and was very active and influential in denominational affairs.
In a sermon on "The Sabbath" Lowe lays out the historical progression of Sabbath recognition and admits no divine sanction for Sabbath Practice. And yet he gives to the day the holiest of benefits. Some extracts of his sermon and remembrences by Martha Perry Lowe...

"The Sabbath"

"He believed the value of Sunday lay in our own highest wants, and that its value was inestimable." But, Lowe laments, attendance is declining for many reasons and as the old injuctions for the Sabbath decline, reasons for staying home increase..."But" Lowe preaches, "let each one who sustains public worship feel that he has a duty which he cannot set aside. People do not realize how much the interest of a service depends upon those who attend. Nothing except enthusiasm is more contagious than indifference...Among the beautiful reminiscences which gather around the day, is one connected with its earliest observance. When the early Christians met on Sunday morning, their customary salutation was, 'Christ is risen.' It is related, that, when any of them had quarrels and differences with one another, this salutation was a signal and a pledge that all was forgiven and forgotten...Let the words, 'Christ is risen' still be the language of our hearts as this sacred day returns. And when, each Sunday morning, the church-bells send forth their clear tones over hill and dale, let them exclude every meaner sound. And let them shed all over our land the holy harmony of rest and peace."


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Boring but Important

I am told an election is going on, and that it is not being carried on with decorum, dignity, or the proper respect for truth and difference of opinion. It is tempting to look backwards to a "kinder, gentler" (alright, maybe a little further than that) eloctoral process but such a search would be in vain. Democracy will always be loud and messy-the more democracy, the more loud. And yet...

The economic "crisis" has, of course, knocked all other concerns off the electoral radar screen, but it was only a few short weeks ago that both candidates, spiritual hats in hand, made the pilgrimage to Pastor Rick Warren in an effort to court the "evangelical vote". Much was briefly made of Barak Obama's possible ability to "pick off" some of those reliable consevative votes. And indeed, the "Evangelical Block" is not the monolith that it has been made out to be. Much is changing in the world of religion and politics. Such is the only constant.

What, for instance, were the politics of the Boston Unitarians? A brief summary is offered by the historian, Daniel Walker Howe.

"...the Liberal moralists fought to preserve good order in America...According to Unitarian moral philosophers, the good statesman was engaged in a disinterested pursuit of the general good. The legislative process was conceived as an inquiry after truth, and the legislator was properly a "deliberative" man...Unitarians, with their organic conception of society, presupposed the existence of a common interest on the part of all members of society. Hence the lawmaker should not 'think so much of bringing a majority to his side, as of ascertaining which side is the true one for all.' To this end, it was essential that political men excercise 'mutual forbearance" and tolerate honest disagreements until these could be definitively reconciled." (from: The Unitarian Conscience)

"Honest disagreements" as an "inquiry after pursuit of the general good." What a difference from our "Crossfire" political culture that seeks to appeal to our baser desires for titillation and ease by passing scandal as substance, and promoting personality over true character. If that is democracy, give me a little less. The Week magazine has a small feature in every issue called "Boring but Important." Such should be the ideal of all political discourse!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Boston Unitarian's Secular Shrine

I spent the morning yesterday at the Boston Athenaeum (, the secular shrine of "Boston Unitarianism." This from the Athenaeum's self-description:
"The Boston Athenauem, one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries in the United States, was founded in 1807 by members of the Anthology Society, a group of fourteen Boston gentlemen who had joined together in 1805 to edit The Monthly Anthology and Boston Review. Their purpose was to form "an establishment similar to that of the Athenæum and Lyceum of Liverpool in Great Britain; combining the advantages of a public library [and] containing the great works of learning and science in all languages." The library and Art Gallery (established in 1827) were soon flourishing, and grew rapidly, both by purchase of books and art and by frequent gifts. For nearly half a century the Athenæum was the unchallenged center of intellectual life in Boston..." Of those "Fourteen Boston Gentlemen", only one, the Rector of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, was not a Unitarian.

One of those Unitarian founders was Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1784-1812), the young, magnetic, epileptic minister of the Brattle Street Church in Boston. Buckminster was held in awe by many of the founding generation of American Unitarianism, and he became the very model of the literary minister. Buckminster helped introduce German Biblical Criticism to America, thereby influencing the entire direction of the movement. His death following a siezure was devestating to the Boston Unitarians. The historian Daniel Walker Howe reports that "Forty years after Buckminster's death,...'there were Boston Merchants who could not speak of him without tears.'

When I moved to the South Shore just over five years ago, one of the first things I did was to become a member of the Athenaeum. Yesterday I visited the portrait of Buckminster (see above) and did some research next to a bust of Andrews Norton. Heaven on earth for the Boston Unitarian...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Unitarian Sabbath

Another Sunday comes to a close and another look at how the Boston Unitarians kept the Sabbath (or at least encouraged others to do so) begins. This week it is from John Emery Abbot , (1793—1819) young and intensly pious minister at Salem. His Sermons can be found at Considered to have great promise, Abbot suffered longtime poor health and died a very young man. His Sermons remain rewarding for their devotional passion. An extract:

"WE need private prayer as a preparation for that which is social. If we desire that God should hear and accept us, our prayers must be offered with fervor and earnestness. A devotional spirit must warm our hearts, and hallow the petitions that rise from our lips. But a devotional spirit can be nourished best, if not only, in private. It must be made habitual too, if we would have it pervade our prayers. It cannot be assumed at will, like the consecrated garments of the priest, but must at all times array us. And this habitual feeling of devotion can only be sustained by the frequent excitement, and often renewed expressions of it, in our solitary prayers. Without this private preparation, we may indeed bow with our families when the day rises or the shadows of night descend, but our prayers will be generally distracted and formal. We may gather at the temple and listen to the voice of others, but our minds will be wandering and our hearts be unaffected. The altar may be spread and the sacrifice may be prepared, but the fire will be wanting, and no accepted offering will rise. Without this private preparation, we cannot enter into the spirit of social prayer. Public prayer must necessarily be general ; and general expressions are unaffecting. But when we go from the solitude in which we have held communion with God, have acknowledged his goodness, and implored his mercy and support particularly to ourselves, then the voice of public prayer will awaken the remembrance of thoughts and feelings we have been indulging in private. When the public confession of sin is made, we shall think of our own deficiencies of character, neglect of duty., and acts of sin. And when all around us are rendering their common praise to God for his universal goodness, our praises will be quickened by the recollection of the private mercies he has bestowed on us. In this way we shall apply to ourselves all the general praises of the public devotion, and join in it with sincerity and with feeling. It is in a great degree the want of this private preparation which renders public prayers so uninteresting, and causes us often to wait on them with so much careless inattention or lifeless formality. "
What would the Sabbath be for us if we entered into it nourished by an "habitiual... devotional spirit?" For myself, I often resolve to keep the Sabbath starting Saturday evening then find myself working on a Church Bible study, gathering last minute supplies for Church School, and many of the other duties that make up church work. When I am able to do these things in a devotional way, the experience of the Sabbath is immeasurably increased. When I am rushing about and thinking of the next thing, they can become matters of "careless inattention and my experience of the Sabbath suffers. All depends on the health of my prayer life.
May "a devotional spirit warm your hearts" (and mine) this week and every week. Amen

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sin and Reception

Yesterday we heard T.T. Stone on Jesus dwelling in us. Today, how he gets there. But first a warning: It has much to do with SIN, not the most popular word in liberal religion circles. I truly believe, however, that a healthy view of sin is the the necessary basis of the spiritual life. Read on:
From: Influence and Reception, by Thomas Treadwell Stone

"That this great fact of influence may come to us, however, in the fulness of its practical effects, it is necessary that we obey the corresponding law of reception...Always the blessedness of the free communication depends on the unobstructed freedom of the reception. Nor does anything hinder this freedom, save as sin interposes itself between the Lord in his glory and man in his darkness. Whence, to put away sin, to abandon everything which we perceive to be evil and false, is the first and necessary condition of knowing the divine gift...When this is done, all is done; the only obstruction is romoved, the only cloud dissolved, the one eclipse which shaded the spirit passed off: there stands the undimmed sun, here rests the day, and that day is Sabbath. "

We are reluctant to speak the word sin because of the many psychological (and physical) abuses that have been perpetrated in its name. And yet, it speaks to a reality in my life and, I believe, a reality in all human life. It is important to feel the shift that Stone and most of the Boston Unitarians made in talking of sin. Instead of thoughts, words and deeds that make God angry and cause his retribution, Stone speaks of sin as creating a barrier that hinders our reception of the Divine truth and love. Reception, not retribution. This is, at least for me, a shift dramatic and deeply true.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jesus in us

The Unitarian theological view of Jesus has always been a little cloudy (these days it is downright opaque-or as spelled and defined in the 1828 Webster' Dictionary: Opake: meaning "Impervious to the rays of light"). I will talk much more (or will let the Boston Unitarians speak for themselves) about Jesus and the moral and spiritual walk. This morning's Sermon, still Thomas Treadwell Stone, presents a view of Jesus from the transcendental wing of Boston Unitarianism. Some exerpts:

Influence and Reception

2 Corinthians 4: 10

That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body

"There is one absolute life...And in this view the Christ, the living, historical man, becomes to us more than any particular word whih he spake, more than the greatest deed which he wrought, more than any measure of suffering which he endured...As we come into vital connection with the Lord, this his life becomes manifest also in our persons; the great fact in which Christianity, from an external form, passes into an internal reality...This real presence of the living God within us is not only the highest discovery of Christianity, but is Christianity itself...the very Life which Jesus contained and revealed is a present reality, not a mere memory...Through the joys and the sorrows, the hopes and the fears, the conflicts and the victories, of this fluctuating state the immortal energy is made manifest in our mortal body...

How does this happen? The second part of the sermon begins: "That this great fact of influence may come to us, however, in the fulness of its practical effects; it is necessary that we obey the corresponding law of reception."
I have in my life read dozens of books about Jesus from just about every theological perspective. I have sought a "ray of light" through my own efforts to know and understand the words, deeds and suffering yet always felt that I was missing something.
The words and deeds of Jesus are still deeply important to me but in a different way. Jesus is vital because he was "one with the Father" and taught that we could be as well. We need only be willing to receive...More from T.T. Stone and the "law of reception" to come.