Monday, May 31, 2010

here in peace...

This from:



"MID the flower-wreathed tombs I stand,
Bearing lilies in my hand.
Comrades ! in what soldier-grave
Sleeps the bravest of the brave ?

Is it he who sank to rest
With his colors round his breast?
Friendship makes his tomb a shrine;
Garlands veil it; ask not mine.

One low grave, yon trees beneath,
Bears no roses, wears no wreath ;
Yet no heart more high and warm
Ever dared the battle-storm.

Never gleamed a prouder eye
In the front of victory;
Never foot had firmer tread
On the field where hope lay dead,

Than are hid within this tomb,
Where the untended grasses bloom ;
And no stone, with feigned distress,
Mocks the sacred loneliness.

Youth and beauty, dauntless will,
Dreams that life could ne'er fulfil,
Here lie buried, — here in peace
Wrongs and woes have found release.

Turning from my comrades' eyes,
Kneeling where a woman lies,
I strew lilies on the grave
Of the bravest of the brave.

Newport, R.I., Decoration Day, 1873."


Sunday, May 30, 2010

bless my feeble endeavors...

Henry Miles gathered the prayers for the collection "Altar at Home: Prayers for the Family and the Closet" from Unitarian
"Clergymen in and near Boston."  First published in 1855 "Alter" went through many editions and one can readily imagine thousands of Unitarian individuals and families praying from its pages. 
   As a DRE I would love to meet with our wonderful teachers on Sunday mornings and pray this prayer from the collection:

"Prayer To Be Used By a Sunday School Teacher Before Engaging in Religious Instruction"

0 Thou who seest my whole heart, and knowest all my unfaithfulness, how can I hope, except by thy special blessing and surpassing mercy, to be an instrument of spiritual good, while I am myself so low in spiritual attainments, so worldly, so indifferent, so weak in faith, and so unworthy in thy sight. Yet, 0 my God. thou canst cause the earthen vessel, the broken vessel, the too often dishonored vessel, to receive and convey the balm and medicine of thy heavenly truth, to the praise and glory of thy own name. 0 deign to bless my feeble endeavors and ministrations this day. Let the prayers which shall be poured out be uttered in a believing, contrite, grateful, earnest spirit. Let the words of comment and enforcement which may be offered be words of truth and soberness, conducing to the edification of Christians, and the conviction and renovation of those who as yet believe not.

0 Thou that hast all hearts in thy almighty hand, be pleased so to move and guide my failing mind and heart, and those of others, that we may derive from these means of grace wisdom, and strength, and new devotedness. Fix in my soul, and in every soul present, more forcibly than ever, the practical and prevailing persuasion, that to depend on thy help is indispensable; that to be spiritually-minded is life and peace; that to serve thee in simplicity and godly sincerity, through Jesus Christ, is the way of true freedom and exaltation, of true content and joy ; that nothing in the tents or palaces of wickedness or earthly pleasure can compare with the happiness of walking in the light, as thou art in the light. 0 let the blood of Christ purify us from all iniquity; and do thou take away every evil thought and imagination of the heart, confirming each right and self-denying aim and resolve within us, that we may live and die unto the Lord, and be meet for his undefined home and rest.

Heavenly Father, make all the services of the day, and of the remaining Lord's days which thou mayest grant us upon earth, effectual for these great ends to us and ours, and to all in every place whom we love or ought to love; and bring us all together in the one temple of thy eternal grace and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen."

(Maybe I better pray this one in the closet!)
Have a blessed Sabbath

Saturday, May 29, 2010

sweeter fruits of daily living...

Do any of you use a daily devotional? I went to the Boston Athenaeum yesterday-a beautiful New England Morning-and found three specimens of AUA Daily Devotional, all from the latter half of the 19th century. "Day unto Day," "Daily Praise and Prayer." and "Alter at Home" (a collection of Prayers and Collects.) Today, the preface and the May 29th entry from "Daily Praise"  compiled by Rush Rhees Shippen.

"The spirit shrinks from too weighty an encumbrance of letter and form ; and the neglect of daily prayer in the home is doubtless partly due to the formalism with which it has been burdened. The trellis is not the vine; much less is it the fruit. Yet the trellis has its value if it serves to lift the vine from the earth into the fresh air and gracious sunlight that shall quicken it to bear more ample and luscious fruit. With its slight framework of ritual, may this book of "Praise and Prayer" help our souls to rise " Daily " into the celestial atmosphere, where the Holy Spirit shall inspire that life more abundantly, the best expression of which is found in richer, sweeter fruits of daily living."

(and the sweet fruit for May 29th...)

HEAR the right, O Lord ; attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of false lips.
Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes see what is right.
Prove my heart; visit me in the night; try me, my thoughts shall not vary from my speech.
Show thy loving-kindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee.
Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

True Sun ! upon our souls arise,
Shining in beauty evermore ;
And through each sense the quickening beam
Of the eternal Spirit pour.

Rule thou our inmost thoughts ; let no
Impurity our hearts defile;
Grant us a true and fervent faith ;
Grant us a spirit free from guile.

O GOD, our everlasting hope, who holdest us in life, and orderest our lot: we ask not for any prosperity that would tempt us to forget thee. As disciples of one who had not where to lay his head, may we freely welcome the toils and sufferings of our humanity, and seek only strength to glorify the cross thou layest on us. Every work of our hand may we do as unto thee; in every trouble " trace some lights of thine ; and let no blessing fall on dry and thankless hearts. Redeeming the time, may we fill every waking hour with faithful duty and well-ordered affections, as the sacrifice which thou hast provided. Strip us, O Lord, of every proud thought; fill us with patient tenderness for others, seeing that we also are in the same case before thee ; and make us ready to help, and quick to forgive. And then, fix every grace, compose every fear, by a steady trust in thine eternal realities, behind the changes of time and the delusions of men. Thou art our Rock: we rest on thee. Amen."


Friday, May 28, 2010

pure and lofty action...

The Boston Unitarians were accused of many things-not the least of which was making the religion of Jesus seem a little...bloodless or dispassionate. While I think that assessment inaccurate and unfair, I can sometimes see where it comes from. It was, however, a criticism rarely applied to William Ellery Channing.  This from the sermon:

"THE GREAT PURPOSE OF CHRISTIANITY  (Discourse at the Installation of the Rev. M. I. Motte, Boston, 1828.)

Timothy 1. 7: " For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

"Why was Christianity given? Why did Christ seal it with his blood ? Why is it to be preached ? What is the great happiness it confers ? What is the chief blessing for which it is to be prized ? What is its pre-eminent glory, its first claim on the gratitude of mankind ? These are great questions. I wish to answer them plainly, according to the light and ability which God has given me. I read the answer to them in the text. There I learn the great good which God confers through Jesus Christ. " He hath given us, not the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." The glory of Christianity is the pure and lofty action which it communicates to the human mind. It does not breathe a timid, abject spirit. If it did, it would deserve no praise. It gives power, energy, courage, constancy to the will ; love, disinterestedness, enlarged affection to
the heart ; soundness, clearness, and vigor to the understanding. It rescues him who receives it from sin, from the sway of the passions ; gives him the full and free use of his best powers ; brings out and brightens the divine image in which he was created ; and in this way not only bestows the promise but the beginning of heaven. This is the excellence of Christianity."


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why I love James Freeman Clarke...

Today's reading from JFC's "Messages of Faith, Hope and Love" (also posted at Wonderful Epoch)

"WE may throw ourselves away; but God will not throw us away. We belong to him still; and he "gathereth up the fragments which remain, that nothing be lost." In order to become pure, we may need sharp suffering; and then God will not hesitate to inflict it. In the other life, as in this, he will chasten us, not for his pleasure, but for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. It is thus that God's love for the soul, and its worth, appear eminently, in that he will not let us destroy ourselves. When we pass into the other world, those who are ready, and have on the wedding-garment, will go in to the supper. They will find themselves in a state of being where the faculties of the body are exalted and spiritualized, and the powers of the soul are heightened; where a higher truth, a nobler beauty, a larger love, feed the immortal faculties with a divine nourishment; where our imperfect knowledge will be swallowed up in larger insight; and communion with great souls, in an atmosphere of love, shall quicken us for endless progress. Then faith, hope, and love will abide,— faith leading to sight, hope urging to progress, and love enabling us to work with Christ for the redemption of the race."


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Liberal or Christian..

This from the Memoir of Rufus Ellis looking back at the development of Unitarianism in his century...

"What has come in these days to represent here the Liberal Christianity of the beginning of the century would largely depend for its distinctive definition upon which of those two words, " Liberal" or "Christian," we should lay the stress of emphasis. Shall the term " Christian " be held in any way to limit the scope of liberality in sentiment or opinion ; or is the utmost freedom of speculation and belief concerning the historic elements of Christianity consistent with a loyal discipleship of Christ ? There is one very strongly distinguishing feature by which we may identify even the most advanced and radical style of Unitarianism of our days with the denominational tenets of the ministers and laymen who were first known as Liberal Christians. The late Dr. Hedge gave, in a public address, a fit expression to this identifying element when he said that" Humanitarianism " should have had preference to " Unitarianism" as a denominational title. If one should look through the early controversial literature, and especially the series of tracts issued by the American Unitarian Association, he would find that creeds, dogmatic beliefs, and systems of defined doctrines are always subordinated in their relative importance to Christian rules and principles for character and life. " Righteousness the central truth of Christianity ;" " Character, not Creeds;" " Practical Christianity;" "A good Life the true discipleship," are the themes on which the changes are rung in sermons and pamphlets. So the ethical and humane, the reformatory and benevolent elements which draw their quickening inspiration from the great Teacher have come to displace all dogmatic teachings concerning him. Those who ask the cynical question, " Has not Christianity proved a failure?" are readily confounded with the answer that " the world has never yet put true and essential Christianity to the trial."


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the only practical question...

Rufus Ellis was a Unitarian of the Old School who felt himself  part of a tiny minority as his years went on.  In this longish post, Ellis, in a letter, describes his view of Jesus which he calls "the only practical question."

Bar Harbor, Me., 11 Sept., 1878.
My Dear C., —. . . One of the questions which you put to lately as to the beliefs of the Unitarians, I am moved to answer myself in a few words. The lines which once divided Unitarians from Trinitarians are becoming very faint, because Christians have really moved forward, and are not much interested any more in the old issues. I find that those who profess to believe in the Trinity, and say that there are three persons in the Godhead, really mean only that God is manifested in three ways, and do not use the word " person" as it is commonly used. The only practical question any more is this: Was Jesus really and truly human; and are we to understand his divinity in any such way as to overshadow his humanity and make it unreal, or, as the phrase is, phenomenal ? Trinitarianism says Jesus had two natures, divine and human, and one person, and that one person was divine. He knew that he was God, though he seemed to be a man; he knew that he was God, though he was truly tempted, as the Bible says " God cannot be;" he knew that he was God, though there were things of which he was ignorant,— as, for example, of " the day and hour " of the world's end. His divinity was personal; his humanity was impersonal. Now, to me such a humanity is wholly unreal; I can make nothing of it. It would be no example to me. Such a being would be only God playing a part, — seeming to pray, to exercise faith, etc. Now, I believe, on the contrary, that the humanity of Jesus was a perfect humanity, and that a part of his perfection consisted in this, — that he was perfectly at one with God, conscious of being absolutely guided, controlled by Him, filled with all His blessed fulness, so that he was indeed for us the true light. It was a difference between him and others, not indeed of quality, but of quantity of being ; and yet there may be a difference of quantity which practically amounts to a difference of quality. Jesus was so pervaded and possessed by the holy love which said He is Our Father, and to whom he bids us pray (not to himself), that the distance between himself and God wholly disappeared, and he said, " I and my Father are One," — recognizing his own personality, which was human, by saying " I;" confessing God, not as another self, but as his Father when he rejoiced to be at one with Him. So he manifests the Holy Love and Divine Wisdom. God, so far forth as He is the perfect Holiness, dwells in him. When we see him we see the Father. God is no longer unknown. We worship God in Christ God in Christ reconciles us unto Himself. God in Christ forgives us. And we also see what man was meant to be; that it is the perfection of our nature not to yield to temptation, to be holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners; that sin is not a necessity (would it be sin if it were ? Is a sour peach to blame for being sour ? Is it not of the very essence of sin that we are not doing as well as we might ?). I think that all Christian Unitarians will gradually come together in magnifying " the Man Christ Jesus" as the one of all who have lived on earth in human form in whom the Word (that is, the God who manifests or "utters" Himself) becomes flesh; that is truly human, lives our life, shares our limitations, encounters our temptations, bears our sorrows, finds the way of Nature sometimes hard to bear, dies our death, and goes up again into the life of God. Jesus was all this, and yet was not God. I have seen and known two men who claimed to be so possessed by God; but they soon lost their mental balance and became insane. They lost their human personality; Jesus retained his,—was the best balanced human personality that the world has ever known, and because God was in him and with him, gathered and inspired and now masters a society which is destined to gather into its beneficent fellowship all the earth. I am a Unitarian because I affirm, for this world and for the world to come, the proper personality of Jesus, and through him and with him, when I pray, say " Our Father.."


Monday, May 24, 2010

Skeptics, Mystics, and Dyspeptics...

Rufus Ellis reminisces about transcendentalism and the Harvard Divinity School of his day:

"Of Buckminster and Channing we have no experience,— they were before our day; but of what was known somewhat vaguely and often incorrectly as " Transcendentalism " we have experience. Our lines were appointed in the very midst of it. Eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, at home and abroad, at Cambridge and in Boston, and all the way from the one to the other, we had our conversation with it. Our first parish had had it very badly. The Divinity School in our time was characterized by the somewhat famous distribution into " Sceptics, Mystics, and Dyspeptics." They were sad days, — instructive, doubtless, but fearfully sad; and the fact that any who passed through them still remained in the ministry may be taken for pretty good evidence that it was meant they should, and that they did not act " out of their own minds."


Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Holy Spirit...

This on the Day of Pentecost, or Whitsunday, from Andrew Preston Peabody:

"The Holy Spirit." — Luke xi. 13.

"THIS is the anniversary of the day of Pentecost, called Whitsunday, from the white robes of the newly baptized catechumens who used formerly to be then received to their first communion. I doubt whether we know precisely what took place on that day. Yet perhaps we know as much as the persons present could clearly recall and tell; for it is often those who are most immediately involved in a rapid series of remarkable and exciting incidents, who are least able to define them with precision, and this may be the reason why the author of the Acts of the Apostles, whose circumstantial minuteness indicates his accuracy and honesty as an historian, has left some points in this particular narrative less distinct and intelligible than we might desire. But this we learn, — that there occurred external phenomena which filled a large number of persons with amazement, secured for the name and cause of the late crucified Jesus a sudden accession of honor and influence, and multiplied his disciples more than twenty-fold. This, too, we learn, that on the same day the primitive disciples found themselves possessed of a zeal for the truth, a love of God and man, and a spiritual might, which never left them afterward, so that for them the Pentecost was the beginning of a new and momentous epoch in their lives."


Saturday, May 22, 2010

A hymn for Pentecost...

A hymn for Pentocost from "Hymns of the Spirit," the 1889 edition:


Come, deck our feast to-day
With flowers and wreaths of May,
And bring an offering holy, pure and sweet
The Spirit of all grace Makes earth His dwelling-place ;
Prepare your hearts your Lord with joy to meet!

O golden rain from heaven !
Thy precious drops be given
Upon the Church's waiting, thirsty field;
And let thy waters flow,
Where'er the sowers sow
The seed of Truth, that living fruit it yield.

Come, O thou trackless wind!
Breathe quickening o'er our mind ;
Let not the flesh to rule the soul aspire ;
O sunshine of pure Love !
Thy sweet glow let us prove,
And fill our hearts with thy soft quenchless fire.

O Spirit! stir our will
Its high aims to fulfil;
Be with us always when we go and come:
Deep in our spirits dwell,
And make their inmost cell
Thy temple pure, Thine ever-holy home."


Friday, May 21, 2010

freedom from fear...

As much as I love the idea of self-culture, it has some dangers, the chief of which, at least for me, is its tendency to promote the idea that we should be able to completely change, order or determine our own lives.  Though the Boston Unitarians tended to emphasize submission or reliance less than their "orthodox" counterparts, it was central in their view of our walk on this earth.  This from John Emery Abbot:


When we think of our moral weakness, the strength of our passions, and the power of those sins which most easily beset us; when we reflect on our dangers from without, the obstacles that impede, and the temptations that try us; when we remember how often our best resolutions have failed, and how easily they may fail again; when we see others, whose virtue and piety once seemed most secure, sinking in the day of trial, and think how distressful the temptations to which we too may soon be called; when we then think what heaven is, and how much must be done to fit us for its attainment; the heart of the sincerest is ready to sink in fear and sadness. We feel our own insecurity and exposure, and look forward with anxiety. We feel the need of protection from above, of a strength which is not our own. And here the gospel meets us with encouragement and peace. It assures us of an aid which will ever be sufficient for us, which will sustain the weakness of nature, and give to our exertions a victory. And it calls us to rely on that merciful Being, who " remembers whereof we are made," and pities our infirmity ; who will bring us to no trial without furnishing us with strength; who beholds with joy the advances we make in virtue, and will reward us at last, not according to the perfection of our obedience, but the sincerity of our endeavors."


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

use it or lose it...

James Freeman Clarke's "Message of Faith, Hope, and Love" (regularly posted over at Wonderful Epoch) for today is a classic statement of Unitarian self-culture...

"MAN has faculties by which he perceives God, duty, and immortality. But these faculties must be exercised, or they lose their power. The more we exercise the spiritual faculty, the more certain do spiritual things become. He who habitually obeys conscience sees more and more clearly the eternal distinction between right and wrong. To him who constantly looks forward with trust to a future life, immortality becomes more and more certain. The pure in heart who habitually look up to a heavenly ideal of goodness see God more and more. He who trusts in Providence comes to stand so firmly on that rock that no doubt can disturb, no disappointment shake his confidence that all things are working together for ultimate good. If a man does not use his spiritual powers, he gradually loses them."


Monday, May 17, 2010


The Roman Poet Virgil:  "Death twitches my ear. "Live," he says, "I am coming."


Sunday, May 16, 2010

the perpetual question...

"Reminiscences of Dr. Channing" by Elizabeth Peabody from "The Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine," 1877:

"Whether the individual consciousness of Jesus dated back of his human birth into God, as other men's did not, was, as he once said to me (when I endeavored to draw him into conversation upon the Arian and Humanitarian controversy), not so interesting a question with him as what was the community of Jesus' nature with the men of his own day and of our day. He found this in the moral sentiment and life; in whose more spiritual light the intellectual abstractions of trinity, atonement, unconditional election, reprobation, etc., constituting the written creeds of the churches, — seemed to him transient figments of the brain. That oneness of Jesus and the Father, which he affirmed to Philip, Dr. Charming interpreted as a spiritual union, such as he had enjoined on his disciples with each other, and with himself; and for which he prayed at the Last Supper. The practical question with him was, how to expand the narrowness, warm the coldness, cast out the selfishness of human hearts, and realize in life the unity of spiritual brotherhood amidst all the antagonisms of human intercourse, as Jesus had done; and as he had more than intimated that all men could do, and in process of their life would do. How was this assimilation to Jesus to be effected, was his perpetual question."

Have a blessed Sabbath

Saturday, May 15, 2010

on the side of truth...

This gem from Theodore Parker's "The Fourfold Form of Piety"

"Love of truth in general is the intellectual part of piety. We see at once that this lies at the basis of all intellectual excellence, — at love of truth in art, in science, in law, in common life. Without it you may love the convenience of truth in its various forms, useful or beautiful; but that is quite different from loving truth itself. You often find men who love the uses of truth, but not truth ; they wish to have truth on their side, but not to be on the side of truth."


Friday, May 14, 2010

just proportions...

A fine description of self-culture from Theodore Parker from the first sermon in his collection (dedicated to Ralph Waldo Emerson,) "Ten Sermons of Religion"

"I shall take it for granted that the great work of mankind on earth is to live a manly life, to use, discipline, develop, and enjoy every limb of the body, every faculty of the spirit, each in its just proportion, all in their proper place, duly coordinating what is merely personal, and for the present time, with what is universal, and for ever"


Thursday, May 13, 2010

hearts loves remain...

Ralph Waldo Emerson on:


Wilt thou not ope thy heart to know
What rainbows teach, and sunsets show ?
Verdict which accumulates
From lengthening scroll of human fates,
Voice of earth to earth returned,
Prayers of saints that inly burned, —
Saying, What is excellent,
As God lives, is permanent;
Hearts are dust, hearts' loves remain;
Heart's love will meet thee again.

(Rest in blessed Peace Judy)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the philosophical mind...

William Ellery Channing exalts a certain expression of the intellect especially necessary for self-culture...

"Intellectual culture consists, not chiefly, as many are apt to think, in accumulating information, though this is important, but in building up a force of thought which maybe turned at will on any subjects, on which we are called to pass judgment. This force is manifested in the concentration of the attention, in accurate penetrating observation, in reducing complex subjects to their elements, in diving beneath the effect to the cause, in detecting the more subtle differences and resemblances of things, in reading the future in the present, and especially in rising from particular facts to general laws or universal truths. This last exertion of the intellect, its rising to broad views and great principles, constitutes what is called the philosophical mind, and is especially worthy of culture. What it means your own observation must have taught you. You must have taken note of two classes of men, the one always employed on details, on particular facts, and the other using these facts as foundations of higher, wider truths. The latter are philosophers. For example, men had for ages seen pieces of wood, stones, metals falling to the ground. Newton seized on these particular facts, and rose to the idea, that all matter tends, or is attracted, towards all matter, and then defined the law according to which this attraction or force acts at different distances, thus giving us a grand principle, which, we have reason to think, extends to and controls the whole outward creation. One man reads a history, and can tell you all its events, and there stops. Another combines these events, brings them under one view, and learns the great causes which are at work on this or another nation, and what are its great tendencies, whether to freedom or despotism, to one or another form of civilization. So one man talks continually about the particular actions of this or another neighbor; whilst another looks beyond the acts to the inward principle from which they spring, and gathers from them larger views of human nature. In a word, one man sees all things apart and in fragments, whilst another strives to discover the harmony, connexion, unity of all. One of the great evils of society is, that men, occupied perpetually with petty details, want general truths, want broad and fixed principles. Hence many, not wicked, are unstable, habitually inconsistent, as if they were overgrown children rather than men. To build up that strength of mind, which apprehends and cleaves to great universal truths, is the highest intellectual self-culture ; and here I wish you to observe how entirely this culture agrees with that of the moral and the religious principles of our nature, of which I have previously spoken. In each of these, the improvement of the soul consists in raising it above what is narrow, particular, individual, selfish, to the universal and unconfined. To improve a man, is to liberalize, enlarge him in thought, feeling, and purpose. Narrowness of intellect and heart, this is the degradation from which all culture aims to rescue the human being."

(painting is Rembrandt, "Philosopher With an Open Book")

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Noble features...

I am writing this month about self-culture, the idea of making your life an art.  A particularly vivid example of self culture for me is my Mother in Law.  Not a particularly athletic person, she took up running several years ago and ran in marathons (one of which I got to see.)  A few years ago she decided she wanted to ride a bicycle across the country for a charity for which she invested much time.  She trained hard and accomplished what must have been a grueling thing...She developed an interest in archeology, studied, read, and took classes and went on digs.  Our children were blessed for years with beautiful knitted sweaters that "Nana" made for them-truly works of art.  And all of this just scratches the surface. In other words, she carved out a noble life for herself and for others...  Henry David Thoreau put it this way:

"Every (person) is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the God he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead.  We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.  Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man's features, any meanness or sensuality in imbrute them."

Thanks, Nana, for the example and

Monday, May 10, 2010

genius runs wild...

Channing continues with the intellectual aspect of Self-Culture:

"Again. Self-culture is Intellectual. We cannot look into ourselves without discovering the intellectual principle, the power which thinks, reasons, and judges, the power of seeking and acquiring truth.... By education, men mean almost exclusively intellectual training. For this, schools and colleges are instituted, and to this the moral and religious discipline of the young is sacrificed. Now I reverence, as much as any man, the intellect; but let us never exalt it above the moral principle. With this it is most intimately connected. In this its culture is founded, and to exalt this is its highest aim. Whoever desires that his intellect may grow up to soundness, to healthy vigor, must begin with moral discipline. Reading and study are not enough to perfect the power of thought. One thing above all is needful, and that is, the disinterestedness which is the very soul of virtue. To gain truth, which is the great object of the understanding, I must seek it disinterestedly. Here is the first and grand condition of intellectual progress. I must choose to receive the truth, no matter how it bears on myself. I must follow it, no matter where it leads, what interests it opposes, to what persecution or loss it lays me open, from what party it severs me, or to what party it allies. Without this fairness of mind, which is only another phrase for disinterested love of truth, great native powers of understanding are perverted and lead astray ; genius runs wild ; " the light within us becomes darkness." The subtilest reasoners, for want of this, cheat themselves as well as others, and become entangled in the web of their own sophistry. It is a fact well known in the history of science and philosophy, that men, gifted by nature with singular intelligence, have broached the grossest errors, and even sought to undermine the grand primitive truths on which human virtue, dignity, and hope depend. And on the other hand, I have known instances of men of naturally moderate powers of mind, who by a disinterested love of truth and their fellow-creatures, have gradually risen to no small force and enlargement of thought. Some of the most useful teachers, in the pulpit and in schools, have owed their power of enlightening others, not so much to any natural superiority, as to the simplicity, impartiality, and disinterestedness of their minds, to their readiness to live and die for the truth. A man, who rises above himself, looks from an eminence on nature and providence, on society and life. Thought expands as by a natural elasticity, when the pressure of selfishness is removed. The moral and religious principles of the soul, generously cultivated, fertilize the intellect. Duty, faithfully performed, opens the mind to Truth, both being of one family, alike immutable, universal, and everlasting.

I have enlarged on this subject, because the connexion between moral and intellectual culture is often overlooked, and because the former is often sacrificed to the latter. The exaltation of talent, as it is called, above virtue and religion is the curse of the age. Education is now chiefly a stimulus to learning, and thus men acquire power without the principles which alone make it a good. Talent is worshipped ; but, if divorced from rectitude, it will prove more of a demon than a god."


Sunday, May 9, 2010

in the name of womanhood...

Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation from 1870.  By 1872 Howe, a Boston Unitarian (and member of James Freeman Clarke's Church of the Disciples) writer, lecturer, and social reformer had established the National "Mother's Day for Peace"...

"Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,

whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice."

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of

Julia Ward Howe
Boston  1870

Happy Mother's Day and

Saturday, May 8, 2010

become what we adore...

William Ellery Channing continues his discussion of the elements of self-culture:

"In the next place, self-culture is Religious. When we look into ourselves, we discover powers, which link us with this outward, visible, finite, ever changing world. We have sight and other senses to discern, and limbs and various faculties to secure and appropriate the material creation. And we have too a power, which cannot stop at what we see and handle, at what exists within the bounds of space and time, which seeks for the Infinite, Uncreated Cause, which cannot rest till it ascend to the Eternal, All-comprehending Mind. This we call the religious principle, and its grandeur cannot be exaggerated by human language ; for it marks out a being destined for higher communion than with the visible universe. To develop this, is eminently to educate ourselves. The true idea of God, unfolded clearly and lovingly within us, and moving us to adore and obey him, and to aspire after likeness to him, is the noblest growth in human, and I may add, in celestial natures. The religious principle, and the moral, are intimately connected, and grow together. The former is indeed the perfection and highest manifestation of the latter. They are both disinterested. It is the essence of true religion to recognise and adore in God the attributes of Impartial Justice and Universal Love, and to hear him commanding us in the conscience to become what we adore."


Friday, May 7, 2010

this disinterested principle...

I notice that this is my 500th post and it is appropriate that it should be from William Ellery Channing on Self-Culture." I have been recently thinking about how this Midwestern Lutheran ended up a Boston Unitarian and the idea of self-culture is one important reason.  Though I loved (and love) my home state and my "home" religion, I found historical Unitarianism (the Boston Unitarians) resonating with me again and again.  This excerpt continues Channing's discussion of "Self-Culture and talks about disinterestedness-central to Channing and one of those "resonating ideas"...

"First, self-culture is Moral, a branch of singular importance. When a man looks into himself he discovers two distinct orders or kinds of principles, which it behoves him especially to comprehend. He discovers desires, appetites, passions which terminate in himself, which crave and seek his own interest, gratification, distinction; and he discovers another principle, an antagonist to these, which is Impartial, Disinterested, Universal, enjoining on him a regard to the rights and happiness of other beings, and laying on him obligations which must be discharged, cost what they may, or however they may clash with his particular pleasure or gain. No man, however narrowed to his own interest, however hardened by selfishness, can deny, that there springs up within him a great idea in opposition to interest, the idea of Duty, that an inward voice calls him more or less distinctly to revere and exercise Impartial Justice, and Universal Good-will. This disinterested principle in human nature we call sometimes reason, sometimes conscience, sometimes the moral sense or faculty. But, be its name what it may, it is a real principle in each of us, and it is the supreme power within us, to be cultivated above all others, for on its culture the right development of all others depends. The passions indeed may be stronger than the conscience, may lift up a louder voice; but their clamor differs wholly from the lone of command in which the conscience speaks. They are not clothed with its authority, its binding power. In their very triumphs they are rebuked by the moral principle, and often cower before its still, deep, menacing voice. No part of self-knowledge is more important than to discern clearly these two great principles, the self-seeking and the disinterested ; and the most important part of self-culture is to depress the former, and to exalt the latter, or to enthrone the sense of duty within us. There are no limits to the growth of this moral force in man, if he will cherish it faithfully. There have been men, whom no power in the universe could turn from the Right, by whom death in its most dreadful forms has been less dreaded, than transgression of the inward law of universal justice and love."


Thursday, May 6, 2010

the self-forming power...

After self-examination comes action.  An action we are all capable of though we little know it.  Channing's "Self-Culture" continued...

"But self-culture is possible, not only because we can enter into and search ourselves. We have a still nobler power, that of acting on, determining and forming ourselves. This is a fearful as well as glorious endowment, for it is the ground of human responsibility. We have the power not only of tracing our powers, but of guiding and impelling them, not only of watching our passions, but of controlling them, not only of seeing our faculties grow, but of applying to them means and influences to aid their growth. We can stay or change the current of thought. We can concentrate the intellect on objects which we wish to comprehend. We can fix our eyes on perfection, and make almost everything speed us towards it. This is indeed a noble prerogative of our nature. Possessing this, it matters little what or where we are now, for we can conquer a better lot, and even be happier for starting from the lowest point. Of all the discoveries which men need to make, the most important at the present moment is that of the self-forming power treasured up in themselves...It transcends in importance all our power over outward nature. There is more of divinity in it, than in the force which impels the outward universe ; and yet how little we comprehend it! How it slumbers in most men unsuspected, unused ! This makes self-culture possible, and binds it on us as a solemn duty."


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

the self-searching power...

Self Culture month begins, naturally with William Ellery Channing.  Delivered in Boston in 1838 before a largely "working class" audience, "Self-Culture" has sometimes been accused of condescension. Its message, however, of our ability, and therefore, our duty to develop makes up a vital strain of Unitarianism.  And it all begins with "self searching," what the 12 Steps call a fearless moral inventory:

"Before entering on the discussion, let me offer one remark. Self-culture is something possible. It is not a dream. It has foundations in our nature. Without this conviction, the speaker will but declaim, and the hearer listen without profit. There are two powers of the human soul which make self-culture possible,— the self-searching and the self-forming; power. We have first the faculty of turning the mind on itself: of recalling its past, and watching its present operations; of learning its various capacities and susceptibilities, what it can do and bear, what it can enjoy and suffer; and of thus learning in general what our nature is, and what it was made for. It is worthy of observation, that we are able to discern not only what we already are, but what we may become, to see in ourselves germs and promises of a growth to which no bounds can be set, to dart beyond what we have actually gained to the idea of perfection as the end of our being. It is by this self-comprehending power that we are distinguished from the brutes, which give no signs of looking into themselves. Without this there would be no self-culture, for we should not know the work to be done; and one reason why self-culture is so little proposed is, that so few penetrate into their own nature. To most men, their own spirits are shadowy, unreal, compared with what is outward. When they happen to cast a glance inward, they see there only a dark, vague chaos. They distinguish, perhaps, some violent passion, which has driven them to injurious excess : but their highest powers hardly attract a thought; and thus multitudes live and die as truly strangers to themselves as to countries of which they have heard the name, but which human foot has never trodden.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

unfold into something...

The idea that first attracted me to Unitarianism was that of "Self-Culture;" of making your life an art.  From William Ellery Channing, through James Freeman Clarke, to Emerson and Thoreau, self culture stands as a central and animating idea.  And spring is the perfect season to revisit, and better live, this idea of constant growth and unfolding.  This blog will devote the rest of May to Self Culture beginning with a (rare) cross post from Wonderful Epoch: Messages of Faith, Hope and Love from James Freeman Clarke that serves as a good introduction:

"IF God finishes everything in nature, if he makes the rhodora beautiful in the wood where no human eye can see it, and paints in exquisite tints the shell at the bottom of the ocean, we may trust that he will not rest till he has made all our souls and all our lives pure, generous, noble, beautiful. We are as yet only the roots of a future beautiful plant. The best man or woman is only a shoot a little way out of the ground. We are God's plants, God's flowers. Be sure that he will help us to unfold into something serenely fair, nobly perfect, if not in this life, then in another. If he teaches us not to be satisfied till we have finished our work, he will not be satisfied till he has finished his.

If we can believe this of God, then we can love him as we love our father, as we love our friend, in whose answering love we have perfect confidence. Such a confidence in God as this is alone the source of genuine piety. Not till we cease thinking of him as justice, as power, not till we are able to trust in him as one who means to save us perfectly, and unfold us into all the strength and beauty for which he has designed us, can we love him with all our heart, or love our brother man like ourselves."


Monday, May 3, 2010

stretched in smiling repose...

This in response to the UU Salon May question. Emerson on the soul (from "Spiritual Laws")  This central idea is so compelling to me but requires much faith...

"The soul will not know either deformity or pain. If, in the hours of clear reason, we should speak the severest truth, we should say, that we had never made a sacrifice. In these hours the mind seems so great, that nothing can be taken from us that seems much. All loss, all pain, is particular; the universe remains to the heart unhurt. Neither vexations nor calamities abate our trust. No man ever stated his griefs as lightly as he might. Allow for exaggeration in the most patient and sorely ridden hack that ever was driven. For it is only the finite that has wrought and suffered; the infinite lies stretched in smiling repose."


Sunday, May 2, 2010

worship in spirit and truth...

Last week marked the anniversary of the founding of James Freeman Clarke's influential "Church of the Disciples."  Following is an excerpt from their "Service Book"-Introductory Sentences and Hymns for Morning Prayer. 

"The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a spirit, and they who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Minister. Lift up your hearts.
Congregation, rising. We lift them up unto the Lord.

Ancient of Days.

Come, thou all-gracious Lord,
By heaven and earth adored,
Our prayer attend;
Come, and thy children bless;
Give thy good word success;
Make thine own holiness
On us descend.

Never from us depart;
Rule thou in every heart,
Hence, evermore.
Thy sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
 Love and adore."

Have a blessed Sabbath everyone

Saturday, May 1, 2010

beauty of holiness...

Yesterday, Andrew Preston Peabody spoke of an unlovely kind of "holiness."  Today its more beautiful side:

"On the other hand, there is a beauty of holiness, in which there are the hardier muscles and sinews that do the heavy lifework, but filled in and rounded out in perfect symmetry and grace. Such are the characters that wear the aureola of a perpetual sainthood, recognized not by this or that sect or party, but by all who love what is good of every type, the Fe'nelons, the Oberlins, the Florence Nightingales, those whose names the heart thrills in hearing, those who cease not to shine on earth when they become stars in heaven. It is beauty that makes their sainthood as precious to man as to God. Without it, they might still be diamonds, yet diamonds in the rough, of which only the expert can know the value; but God, when he "makes up his jewels," polishes the precious stones, cuts facets on them for the multiform reflection of his own ineffable beauty, and sets them in the purest gold."