Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the owner of the sphere...

School starts today for our three children (Grades 8, 6, and 4-sounds amazingly well planned doesn't it?)  During my years as a middle and high school history teacher, Emerson's great essay "History" pointed the way.  Blessings to all students who are being "admitted to the right of reason" this back-to-school season.

"There is no great and no small
To the Soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are;
And it cometh everywhere.

I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Caesar's hand, and Plato's brain,
Of Lord Christ's heart, and Shakespeare's strain.

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."


Monday, August 30, 2010

this side the mouldering grave...

It was a mission of Bernard Whitman (from whom we heard yesterday) to broaden Unitarianism's appeal beyond its fairly affluent base. Some of that is apparent in this continuation of his "Excuses for Neglecting Public Worship Examined"...(not, of course, that he is speaking flame throwing radicalism)

"The other class who make this excuse (of not having proper church-going clothes), are those whom misfortune has reduced from more affluent circumstances. They are indeed deserving of christian sympathy. But, my friends, because infinite wisdom has deprived you of one favor, will you deprive yourselves of greater blessings ? Will you let an unsubmissive spirit detain you from the sanctuary for the afflicted ? The church is the only place this side the mouldering grave, where the rich and the poor, the learned and ignorant are taught to forget the momentary distinctions of birth and rank and station and fortune, and to realize their dependence on that all wise Governor, who makes one to differ from another, and who is still the Father of all his family. Here is offered to your acceptance that good portion which can never be taken away. Here you may obtain those spiritual treasures which cannot be corrupted or consumed. Here you may acquire that heavenly love which casts out all fear of man. Here you may secure a title to an inheritance, uncorrupted and undefiled and unfading. Here you are offered an adequate remedy for all your temporal afflictions. And because you have lost some of those things which perish with the using, will you refuse imperishable riches ? O forsake not this last resort of disappointed hope. Reject not the invaluable legacy of your risen Saviour. Ever imitate his uniform custom of visiting your Father's house on each returning sabbath. Any apparel which does not attract attention or excite observation, either by its meanness or splendor, is proper for the house of God. And I presume there are none in our religious society who are unable to obtain such raiment consequently this is not a satisfactory excuse for either class."


Sunday, August 29, 2010

the Sunday dresses of your souls...

Most of our churches will begin their regular program year in just a couple of weeks.  In honor of that start, I will excerpt, over the next few days, Bernard Whitman's sermon, "Excuses for Neglecting Public Worship Examined."  More on Whitman (1796-1834) later (see his DUUB bio here.)  His first stated common reason for neglecting worship is, perhaps, not a large issue in our churches these days...

"I shall take occasion to examine some of the common excuses for neglecting public worship. I would not be severe or unreasonable or uncharitable in my remarks. I well know that many persons are necessarily detained from the house of God on certain days and particular occasions. Ill health, domestic concerns, bad weather and travelling, and a variety of other causes furnish satisfactory excuses.

1. The first excuse which I shall notice is this; the want of proper clothing. This is offered by two different classes of persons. The first are those who are unwilling to appear at church unless they can make as showy an appearance as any in their station. Hence they are frequently detained at home by this ambition. Now is not this a false principle of action ? Does it not originate in unbecoming pride ? And is it not productive of pernicious consequences ? With such vanity, even when assembled with spiritual worshippers, your thoughts will probably be confined to yourselves. And while thinking of your external appearance, can you receive useful instruction? While securing the applause of your fellow creatures, can you heartily unite in the worship of your Creator? Will the beauty and splendor of your garments render the sacred exercises more acceptable to your Saviour? Do you assemble on the sabbath to display your taste and fashion, to attract notice and excite observation? Or to bow down with reverence and gratitude before the Father of your spirits, who is no respecter of persons, and who judges not according to the outward appearance, but looks on the heart and gives grace to the humble ? O let not sinful pride detain any one of you from assembling with those who keep holy time. Think more of the Sunday dresses of your souls, and less of the outward adorning of your bodies, when you prepare to enter the house of your heavenly Father."


Friday, August 27, 2010

comfort books...

Gabriel Betteredge, the house-steward , is the first narrator in Wilkie Collins "The Moonstone" generally considered the father of the English detective novel (and a wonderful read.)  Betteredge is a fascinating character with a great love for "Robinson Crusoe." Early in his narrative he writes,

"I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way. Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond. You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again. I have tried that book for years—generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco—and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad—Robinson Crusoe. When I want advice—Robinson Crusoe. In past times, when my wife plagued me; in present times, when I have had a drop too much—Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoes with hard work in my service. On my lady's last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain."

Do you have a comfort book?


Thursday, August 26, 2010

that which is divine...

James Freeman Clarke expresses the true heart of religion in today's "Message of Faith, Hope and Love."  With Paul my response is "I believe, help my unbelief."...

"I THINK that we believe in God when we believe in that which is divine in all things, when we see in men something divine and noble in the midst of all that is evil, when we see in childhood something divine, and revere the innocence yet unstained by the world. So, too, we believe in God when we love our friends, not because they are of use to us, not because our tastes and theirs happen to agree just now, but because we see and admire in them some innate beauty which God gives to each soul when he makes it; some connate and inborn charm of spontaneous sweetness, or courage, or honor, or aspiration, or reverence, or humility, or conscience, which God gave to it in his counsel before the foundation of the world. And we see God when we love all his creatures, whether they are sympathetic with us or antipathetic, when we overlook their faults and pardon their offences, and care for their souls, as God and Christ care for their souls. This is divine love, true love, which sees God, which whosoever has dwells in God and God in him. He may have many faults, vices, follies, sins. But this generosity in his heart is the redeeming element. This is Christ born within him, the hope of glory. This gives him a solid inward peace and satisfaction, and makes him assured and confident before God."


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

to touch inward springs...

As a school-teacher for some years before becoming a stay at home father (and, now for seven years, a DRE) I always loved the days leading up to a new school year. I still do. It is, of course, a time of sometimes stressful preparation. But it is also a time to examine and to reflect on and absorb into our souls the nature of this work. Our really outstanding Lifespan Religious Education Committee met earlier this week and we started with a chalice lighting using these words of William Ellery Channing:

"The great end in religious instruction, whether in the Sunday-school or family, is, not to stamp our minds irresistibly on the young, but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own; not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth; not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs; not to burden the memory, but to quicken and strengthen the power of thought;"


Monday, August 23, 2010

to stand...

Among the many sayings ubiquitous in AA (and elsewhere) is "Let Go and Let God."  Like most sayings, its meaning to any individual person at any given time may change.  It came to my mind this morning reading George Putnam's Sermon, "CHRISTIAN MANLINESS-DOING AND STANDING." (manliness would, of course, in this context have been a non-gender virtue...)

"And having done all, to stand." — Ephesians vi. 13.

We have presented here, in the text, one phase, and that a most comprehensive one, of the manly character, according to his conception of it. We will hold it up to our own view a while, if possibly by the contemplation of it we may rise up and grow into a better appreciation of it.

Having done all, to stand. Putting these words into a fitting paraphrase, the Apostle seems to say to us : Do your best in any matter which you have to do with, and then calmly abide the issue. Use your best faculties and your best light, to get at the truth in matters that concern you, and having done that in all diligence and good faith, respect your own convictions, declare them boldly, and abide by them firmly. Do your whole duty in any exigency, and then keep yourself clear of all nervous anxiety about the consequences. Perform your part in any work that falls to you, and tranquilly leave the rest to God. Secure a good conscience, make as sure as you can of the right, and having secured that, plant yourself on it, take your stand upon it, set down your foot and hold up your head, unconcerned as to what may come of it,—unmoved, unshaken, come of it what will. This is the interpretation of the text, and if we consider it well, and make full application of it to actual life, I do not see but it exhibits pretty fully the style of manliness that we would cultivate and acquire. We do not always analyze it, or name it, but we do always render homage to it when we see it; we feel the dignity of it, and see that it constitutes a grand superiority among men, makes a man verily a man, and that is a great character to attain to, and a rare one, too, in its completeness. We see nothing better than approximations to it, falling short of our idea, indeed, yet complete and noble enough to inspire reverence and excite emulation."


Sunday, August 22, 2010

a living omnipotence...

In his sermon, "Life a Voyage" George Putnam describes why the sea has been such a "fertile analogy" of this life...

"Behold also the ships."  James 3:4

"Our text suggests one of these analogies, — and one of the most impressive and fertile of them. " Behold also the ships." Life is a voyage. The sea and men's dealings with it have always supplied many symbols to body forth men's earnest thoughts on the career, the fortunes, the experiences, the dangers, and the hopes of the human being, as he passes over the narrow straits of time into the ocean of eternity. To one familiar with the aspects of the sea, and yet not so familiar with them as to make them commonplace, and limited to the mere associations of business, — to such an one the sea is perhaps the most impressive part of the creation, and is fraught with moral suggestions of the most striking and elevated character. There is nothing in nature, except perhaps the evening sky, —which is almost too familiar a spectacle to preserve its lessons fresh, — there is nothing else that gives such an impression of infinity as the ocean. To the eye, and almost to the imagination, it is boundless. To the plummet, it is unfathomable. Its depths are secret and mysterious. Abroad on its open expanse no objects intervene to help us to compass its vastness, or to weaken our sense of its grandeur. And the power which the sea exhibits deepens this feeling of infinity. The sea, ever moving, never resting, heaving every moment from its foundations, and sending its huge tidal waves as by one act, and in one unbroken series, around the globe, — one hour so tranquil and beneficent, and the next a devouring monster, — to-day bearing the navies of the earth gently upon its friendly bosom, and to-morrow, it may be, ready to wrench them to pieces by its violence, and to engulf them in its opening depths, — it is as it were a living omnipotence — omnipotence in action,—the visible type of Almighty power, put forth in sensible reality. In other departments of nature the omnipotence of God is rather an inference of the understanding, — something that was displayed at some remote and uncertain period of creation. The sea is a present image and expression of it. And then the sea is so unchanging. The land is always varying its aspect. The seasons diversify it constantly. The face of it is altered by the works of man, from generation to generation, and from year to year. The very heavens are changed, as to the place and arrangement of the stars, every night and every hour. But the sea changes not. The first families of men saw it as we see it. Age after age, men have looked forth and ventured upon it, and through all time it has been to them what it is to us, — presenting to the eye and to the ear and to the feeling the same boundless expanse, the same mounting and breaking of its waves, the same solemn moan and roar, the same unwearied flowing and ebbing of its tides. When we look upon Niagara, who is not constrained, among the multitude of thoughts which crowd upon one in that stupendous scene, to ask himself: Is it possible that it has been rolling over thus; flowing on and sounding on, so vast and so majestic, through the long ages ? And when we have come home, does not the question arise: Can it be that it still keeps on, just the same, day and night, summer and winter, and is to keep on so forever ? The same questionings are natural to one who muses by the sea-shore. There it is, the mighty deep, rolling on the same forever. The waves advancing, breaking, and retreating to-day, just as they did unknown ages ago, and will keep on doing without rest or interruption, for unknown ages to come. I do not know anything in the other aspects of nature, — certainly not in any numerical calculations, — or any efforts of abstract thought, that give so vivid and solemn an impression of the vast stretch of time, of the unbounded continuity of existence, so near an approximation to a sense and an appreciation of eternity."

(photo: daughter Anna at our local beach by Mike Sanborn)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

bore them to death...

George Putnam (1807-1878) was the longtime minister of First Church in Roxbury and a founding member of the Transcendental Club.  Over the next few days I will excerpt from his sermons.  Today, an anecdote from his biography in "Heralds of a Liberal Faith"

"He (Rev. Putnam) almost immediately took a high rank among the preachers of the day, but devoted himself as earnestly to the cares of his parish as to the preparation of the weekly discourse. But, if his calls were faithfully performed, they were not long or professional. Rev. Nathaniel Hall, of Dorchester, says that one time Dr. Putnam said to him, “Hall, how long do you stay when you make a parish call?” Mr. Hall replied in his quiet, gentle way: “Oh, it depends upon the nature of the conversation we fall into. If it prove very interesting or helpful or religious, thirty or forty minutes or a little longer.” “Why, Hall, replied Dr. Putnam, “I should think you would bore them to death. I never stay more than five minutes.”


Thursday, August 19, 2010

bitter controversialists...

We live in adversarial days. The present controversy over the building of a mosque near ground zero is only the most recent example.  It is no great insight that we now have a "crossfire" media fostering and profiting from hear at the expense of light.  I understand this-in my younger days I worked in politics and relished ideological combat. I am not proud to say that, even though I believed what I was saying, the "combat" became more important than the ideas. No political party or religion has a monopoly on adversarialism (I use a photo of Rush Limbaugh because he is a nearly iconic controversialist)-some of the worse offenders are those who demonize those who demonize...
James Freeman Clarke has a word today that deeply expresses what I now strive for...

"THE bitter controversialists are popular in their time; for men are fond of fighting, and always admire great warriors, whether their weapon be sword, pen, or tongue. But this kind of controversy is time and thought thrown away. To convert a man from his opinions, you must sympathize with him, and, by sympathy, understand what he means, see the truth in his error, lead him, by the truth he already holds, toward some higher truth or some different truth which he has not yet reached.

Do not despise the sceptic, but, if you have any faith, help him to it. Sympathize with him, for some of his disease is in us all. We are all obliged to pray, " Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief! "

(I would only add that while we must "see the truth in his error" we must be willing to see the error in our truth as well)


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

it is safe...

This from James Freeman Clarke's "Messages of Faith, Hope and Love" for August 18th.

"THERE is but one thing which can fill the soul full, so as to drive out all evil thoughts and passions, and to keep them from returning with others worse than themselves. It is love,— love to God, looking up to him in daily submission, penitence, and prayer; love to man, animating to generous labors and constant sacrifices, to thoughtfulness and interest for all around us. When a heart is thus full of love, it is safe. No evil thought can enter it. No gloomy feelings of doubt, despair, and life-weariness can conquer its habitual courage and peacefulness. Love is what we need, which suffers long and is kind, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. This never fails. Knowledge cannot always support us. There are hours in which the richest and keenest intellect is clouded, and the throne of thought is shaken. But, when the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint, love, faith, and hope continue to possess the soul, and give it light in its darkness, and serenity amid the stormy hours of trial. Persecuted, we are not forsaken; cast down, we are not destroyed."


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sunday school...

East of Midnight recently examined various aspects of Sunday School in a provocative series of posts that garnered several responses.  Among many other issues raised was the wisdom of using Sophia Lyon Fahs in seminary religious education courses.  I also question that as she is far to modern for me!
   William Greenleaf Eliot (1811–1887), born in New Bedford, became a Unitarian Minister and founder of various educational and civic institutions in St. Louis (he was also the grandfather of T.S. Eliot.)  The next couple of days will include excerpts of his,

"Early Religious Education Considered as the Divinely Appointed Way to the Regenerate Life" 

In fact, for today, the title alone is sufficient!


Monday, August 16, 2010

Rules for the Good Life...

The start of the Church School year draws near and I offer this from O.B. Frothingham's "A Child's Book of Religion" (1866.)  Octavius Brooks Frothingham was a Unitarian Minister, chronicler of Boston Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, and leader of the "radicals" (being the first President of the National Free Religious Association)


Let us now repeat together the Rules of the Good Life.

1. To revere God and his purposes with a filial trust.

2. To love God, the heavenly Father, with filial love.

3. To love man, the child of God, with brotherly affection.

4. To study the works of God, desiring to discover their beauties.

5. To make .duty, or the will of God, our first object, and the only title to happiness.

6. To delay and neglect nothing that we ought to do.

7. To keep our bodies clean, our clothes tidy, things about us in order, our appearance simple and neat.

8. To keep our blood pure by exercise in the open air; since, by means of the air, we live.

9. To avoid too much eating and drinking, too much pleasure and excitement, and every thing that is excess.

10. To be kind to all, willing to please and to be pleased; not out of good nature only, but from a sense of duty.

11. To avoid slander, gossip, and foolish talking, as unworthy of creatures whom God has made, and placed in so fair a world.

12. To set examples of perfect truthfulness in word and deed.

13. To be large-hearted; trying at all times to think and do generous and noble things, without being afraid of rebuke or ridicule.

14. To be modest, and willing to submit to correction and censure.

15. To inflict no pain on any creature for the sake of a pleasure.

16. To shrink from no pain which it is needful that we should bear.

17. To help the weak, teach the simple, cheer the sad, visit the sick, encourage the hopeless, bear with the dull, excuse the ignorant, forgive the erring, and pray for the wicked.

18. To cultivate and encourage the free spirit of inquiry, to censure narrowness of mind, to struggle against prejudice, to cherish the disposition to believe in new truths, and to give welcome to thoughts not known before.

19. To respect the rights of others; to regard the happiness of others as equally important with our own; and to feel in our hearts the desire and the purpose that all people, so far as we know them or can serve them, may have all the opportunities, privileges, and enjoyments they are able to receive.

20. To look up with admiration to all men and women who lead noble lives, though they may be misunderstood and hated; to honor those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake or for truth's sake; and to revere especially those who stand alone, with the rich and the great and the fashionable against them ; never to speak evil of such as are disliked and despised, and never to take, the part of the strong against the weak.

21. To keep before the mind the images of great and good men and women who have lived and died for their fellow-creatures, and especially to keep in view the character and example of Jesus.

22. To keep before the mind the hope of our immortality, and the faith in our perfect happiness at last.

23. To keep before the mind the belief in our power to improve ourselves in every way, to soften our manners, tame our passions, curb our tempers, and grow more and more in loveliness.

24. To keep before our minds the truth that the child is father to the man, and that we cannot hope to be good men or good women unless we are good boys and good girls.

25. Never to forget that good habits are more easily formed in childhood than in manhood or womanhood, and that the proper time to begin to form them is the present moment.

26. To be patient and steadfast in cultivating holy desires, the spirit and the habit of prayer; lifting the heart to the Father, and imploring his help, in full faith that there is no real strength but that which comes from the Source of all good."


Saturday, August 14, 2010

living in enchantment...

Some Saturday morning Ralph Waldo (from "The Sovereignty of Ethics")...

"Man is always throwing his praise or blame on events, and does not see that he only is real, and the world his mirror and echo. He imputes the stroke to fortune, which in reality himself strikes. The student discovers one day that he lives in enchantment: the house, the works, the persons, the days, the weathers - all that he calls Nature, all that he calls institutions, when once his mind is active are visions merely, wonderful allegories, significant pictures of the laws of the mind; and through this enchanted gallery he is led by unseen guides to read and learn the laws of Heaven. This discovery may come early, - sometimes in the nursery, to a rare child; later in the school, but oftener when the mind is more mature; and to multitudes of men wanting in mental activity it never comes - any more than poetry or art. But it ought to come; it belongs to the human intellect, and is an insight which we cannot spare."


Friday, August 13, 2010

a roaring lion...

Beacon Broadside reminds us of the anniversary of the burning of the Ursuline Convent   Caleb Stetson gave a sermon on that bleak event  "DISCOURSE ON THE DUTY OF SUSTAINING THE LAWS, OCCASIONED BY THE BURNING OF THE URSULINE CONVENT." in August of 1834.  An excerpt...

"It cannot be disguised that we " have fallen upon evil tongues and evil times." Who can predict what tomorrow may bring forth ? There is a stern and angry questioning of principles which have been held sacred for centuries. Old establishments are breaking * loose from their strong foundations in public affection. The common respect for what is permanent and venerable is giving way to an alarming extent. The influence of great and good men is despised and rejected. The whole bosom of the community is heaving with profound and unwonted agitation. The incoming tides and currents of opinion are rushing with restless violence from their time-worn channels; and who can calculate their direction or their force? The riotous destruction of churches and dwelling-houses in some of our large cities, and a similar act of outrage in our immediate neighborhood, are the more alarming, because they are* to be regarded as nothing more than partial outbreakings of this unquiet spirit which has long been fomenting and agitating society. We are amazed at the delusion, as well as the wickedness of our fellow-citizens ! What results can they expect from disorderly violence, which fills the friends of humanity with grief and dismay ? If an exasperated mob is allowed to supersede the laws—if vengeance may take the place of justice—if unpopular persons or establishments may be destroyed without trial, or jury, or judge, there is an end of our civil and religious freedom. Every observer of the " signs of the time " has perceived a vehement tendency to the reign of will and passion, instead of the government of law and reason. If this wild spirit of anarchy and misrule should continue and increase, the laws can derive no efficiency from public regard; all veneration for authority and right will be done away; and our cherished institutions, whose deep foundations are laid in the supposed virtue and wisdom of the people, must perish in the general wreck of liberty, order, and social justice. I am afraid of the downward tendency of the public mind. The multitude seem to be driven about by fierce passions; and demagogues enough are found to inflame and mislead them. " The land is full of idols." The laws and principles which bind together the elements of society, are falling into contempt and reproach. Many of our fellow-citizens, otherwise virtuous and estimable, are coming under the influence of a wild and absurd political fanaticism, fatal equally to the security of private rights and of public tranquillity.

I am afraid of the direction which public sentiment is taking. It no longer comes up in its majesty to the support of law and justice, and the institutions of the country. It "goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking what it may destroy."

The full sermon can be found at Google Books.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Unitarian Tea Party...

I offer this from a 1903 issue of "The Pacific Unitarian" with no comment: 

"A Unitarian Tea(ty) Party. 
(Given as questions to be answered.)

This tea we claim as the chief characteristic of Unitarianism.

And it is manifest to the world by our

When accused of appropriating all the intellectual greatness of the world we must plead

Do we need a sip of Moses's favorite brew?
Humility '?

In one brand of tea we acknowledge we are below the average, that is,

This tea is our bond,

One issue of modern politics we should serve to other denominations.

Of this brand we ourselves should partake.

But we of all others should avoid this.

One of our Christian endeavors is

We must drink deeply of

And stand always for

This tea, although the soul of wit, is only the form of our covenant.

To be true to our church and each other we need

And to respond to the calls upon us with

Always do our

And assume a degree of

Not leaving all to the overworked

And the result of all will be

(Illustration:  Beatrix Potter,  Toad's Tea Party)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

an intimate and active reverence...

What is your view of Jesus?  The casual way in which many religious liberals profess an admiration for his teachings can often seem pretty thin and the reverence that many Christians profess seems to focus less on those teachings than on what Marcus Borg calls the "post Easter Jesus."  William Henry Furness strikes me as having it about right.  His "Mystery of the Gospel" continued...

"This would seem at first sight to be a very easy and small result. Is this all ? Simply to be impressed with the character of Christ ? Are we not already familiar with that? Is it not everywhere acknowledged and revered ? Does not the fact that He has been for ages literally deified, show what an exalted idea of Him is cherished ?

It would seem to be so. And yet the more we consider the matter, the more clearly will it be seen that the one thing which Christianity has to give us, the one thing which we most need, is an intimate and active reverence for Jesus Christ. How I wish it were in my power to do full justice to my thought! The one special thing, I say, which Christianity through all its instructions and institutions has to give us, and without which all else is of little avail, is an inspiring veneration for Jesus Christ. " The glory of this mystery is Christ in you."

The world goes to him for creeds, theologies, sacraments, ecclesiastical organizations, mysteries, arguments for another life, and I know not what. He was sent, men say, to bring them these. It was his express purpose. And what an imposing show, what a continual noise, musical and otherwise, is made with them! One would imagine the kingdom of Heaven was instantly to appear. But, although the movement is great, there is no progress. The world's welfare, instead of being helped, how painfully is it hindered by the very things which are advertised as the instruments of its salvation! Amidst the din of dogmatism and controversy respecting modes of worship and of thought, the sacred laws of personal duty, which Christ so explicitly enforced, are habitually violated or ignored; the eternal voice of God, speaking through the natural affections of the human heart, is drowned, and the grand and varied lessons of nature and providence, written out on earth and sky, and in the course of all human events, are hidden and superseded by the little structures of human forms and traditions ; and the great temple, not made with hands, all alive and flaming with the glory of God, is forsaken for the fabrics reared by art and man's device."


Monday, August 9, 2010

an active heart knowledge...

Yesterday, Rev. Furness asked, "What is the mystery of the Gospel of Christ?"  Today, the beginning of his answer.

"...with what confident familiarity do some people talk of " the scheme" of the Gospel, as if they saw through it all, and knew exactly the design of the Almighty in sending Christ into the world !

It is not my present design to attempt anything of this kind. I cannot tell the final purpose of God. The question is: What is the office which Christianity is to discharge here and now ? What special advantage do we receive from it ?

The office of Christianity is discharged, its meaning is interpreted to all our intents and purposes, when we are reached and moved by the divine force of the personal character of Jesus Christ. This is "the glory of this mystery, Christ in you, the hope of glory." Christ in you, not mystically, not by any extraordinary union of his nature and yours, but in you, through an active heart-knowledge of his divine excellence; in you, as every friend whom you revere is in your heart, animating that with lively sentiments of reverence and affection. We are baptized, we are regenerated, we are members of his body and his Church, when the life of his personal character circulates in our being, kindling us into a like beneficent activity. Then we have obtained from Christianity its chief good. It is accomplishing its main work in us."


Sunday, August 8, 2010

baffled and bewildered...

I had planned to move on from William Henry Furness but have really been taken by the sermons in his volume "Discourses."  This from the beginning of "THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL".

THE Glory of this mystery which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

"From the beginning of the world, and from the constitution of our nature, mysteries have always had an irresistible attraction. Although baffled and bewildered, we return to them again and again with a curiosity which may be wearied for awhile, but which can never be exhausted. A religion without mystery the world never has endured, and never will. When it could not find mysteries, it has invented them out of the rankest absurdities.

But the difference between true mysteries and false is decisive. Mysteries falsely so called cheat and forbid inquiry, while true mysteries most urgently invite and most abundantly reward it.

As then we are naturally prompted to search into deep things, and as the result, although of necessity partial, will be worth all the pains that we may take, let us look now into the mystery of the Gospel of Christ. All the pains that we may take! Could we only become as little children, blessed would be our eyes, for they would discern what learned men, theologians, and philosophers, have desired to see and have not been able.

The mystery of the Gospel of Christ; in other words the meaning of Christianity—what is it ? what is its work, purpose, influence in the world ?"...more tomorrow.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

a perfect contentment...

Off in a couple of hours to the annual Regatta hosted by one of our wonderful church families and just came across this from Ralph Waldo  in his "Spiritual Laws"...

"Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment. "


Friday, August 6, 2010

truly ecumenical...

This from the "Notebooks" of William Ellery Channing...

"None can enjoy God's favor but by believing that he has no favorite."


Thursday, August 5, 2010

an interest in living...

A final excerpt from "Stand Upon Thy Feet" by William Henry Furness...

"O the blessedness of the man who, leaning on no human support, standing on his own feet, yields himself like a little child to the Divine Guide in the heart! In the sacred monitions that come to him from within, he hears the music of the Eternal Voice, majestic in its authority, unutterably tender in its love. Contradiction and violence cannot even ruffle the flow of his good will; for the Everlasting Mercy of God is in his bosom, and, as a bird gathereth her young under her wings, that would take under its protection the meanest and the most unworthy. He may be reviled, persecuted, crucified, but while his innocent blood is flowing away, the sacred stream of pity and forgiveness, at once human and divine, gushes forth from his inmost heart, only the more abundantly upon his destroyers. He never loses himself in a vague and barren ecstasy. He flings himself, heart and soul, into the dear cause of human welfare, even though every pleasant tie of life is sundered in the act. Though, at the Divine bidding, he is ready to give up his life at any moment, yet he has an interest in living, which we, who live only for some small purpose of our own, know not of. Standing on his own feet, seeing with his own eyes, hearing with his own ears the voice of God, he knows by his own experience, that such is the possible privilege of every living man ; and he cannot be silent or inactive when those who might hear God, who might know the Truth, are prostrate in the dust, under the weight of heavy chains, or weakly leaning upon others as weak as themselves. My friends, we may agonize to feel for our fellow-men the profound sympathy that we should, and from the depths of which we may draw strength to toil and suffer in their behalf: but it is all in vain. We shall continue hard and cold, until, by our own living experience, we know what man is, and how, if he will, he may hear God speaking to him."


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

adore the Unsearchable...

   How science has swept us off our feet-and not in the good way...His "Stand Upon Thy Feet" continued...

"The old French Revolution, as has often been said, was owing in great part to the dying out of all religious awe in the heart of the nation. The men of science and philosophy of that day fancied they were going to analyze everything, pick all nature to pieces, and get within the clutch of their understanding the Original Cause. Science, they flattered themselves, would soon show how things were made, and what they were made of, and what for; and in the midst of impenetrable mysteries and miracles, they looked about almost with contempt, saw nothing that could not easily be set right, nothing more admirable than their own sagacity, which was soon to solve the mighty riddle, when it might possibly appear that the Universe was no very great things after all; that it was full of defects, and improvements might be suggested. Then all sense of sacredness, everything that could prompt men to walk humbly before God, vanished ; and the nation, being without God, plunged into an abyss of blood and crime, and men were stript of the common attributes of humanity. The same absence of a faith, that adores the Unsearchable, is always and everywhere followed by sin and woe: without faith in a holy and mysterious Presence, the world ceases to be sacred as a temple. It is only a quantity of matter, blindly obedient to certain laws impressed upon it, and man degenerates into an animal, living only for his own pleasure. He grovels. He no longer stands upon his feet. The mechanical theory of nature takes all life from us.

The inevitable consequence of our prostrate estate is, that God does not speak to us; or, when he speaks, we cannot hear. In other words—to drop the metaphor—we do not know what is True as a thing of complete personal conviction. We are never perfectly sure that it is Truth. It is not what it was to prophets and holy men of old, the word of the Lord, the voice of Almighty God, beyond every audible voice, and heard where no other voice can sound, in the heart, and to be obeyed instantly, let what may be the cost. So far are we from all authoritative conviction of this sort, that it is everywhere maintained that, without an interposing miracle, it is, and always has been, impossible for God to speak to man; in other words, that man cannot possibly know the truth as certainly as if God had spoken with him by a miracle; that the individuals who, from time to time, have appeared in the world speaking Truth with authority, were the subjects of miraculous illumination. Such being the almost universal belief, we never stand up to listen for the Divine Voice. We fold our arms and shut our eyes, or lie down and go to sleep, muttering in our dreams some unintelligible creed. And Religion, instead of being the recognition of man's immediate and intimate relationship to the Highest, becomes a phrase and a form; and, at the best, we only think, or fancy, or incline to believe, we do not know, the Truth. We cannot hear God when we have decided that it is impossible for Him to speak to us."


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

our most abundant prosperity...

William Henry Furness continues his sermon, "Stand Upon Thy Feet"...

"2. Again, all faith in God is destroyed within us, by our most abundant prosperity. We are heaped with the means and appliances of self-indulgence. The Giver is lost in his gifts. No observation is more common. Nothing does experience more abundantly attest. We are carried along by the rich full stream of the Divine Bounty, far away from its source; and we lose, as we go, all sensibility to generous emotions. Even natural affection and common humanity die away from our hearts. We lose faith in God and man. How little do the self indulgent care to quit their luxuries, and follow the guidance of self-denying duty! How deaf are we to the cry of our suffering brother! It is not of necessity that prosperity should have this effect upon us. But it does have this effect. It makes men so hard and selfish, that one feels as if he were committing an impertinence in suggesting to them the claims of humanity. The very stones in the streets, will cry out in answer to those claims as soon as they. Where common human sympathy has ceased to be, it is in vain to seek God."


Monday, August 2, 2010

justified in our own eyes...

I found these words from William Henry Furness powerful today.  His sermon "Stand Upon Thy Feet" continued:

"There are various causes that conspire to alienate us from the Highest, and reduce us to a condition of lamentable weakness.

1. In the first place, there is an uncomfortable consciousness of a want of harmony with the Best. Fixed as we may be in our self-indulgent habits, and ingenious as we are in deceiving ourselves, we cannot wholly escape a misgiving that there is a better than we are, which we are not, and that it is our own fault that it is so. But let our minds misgive us as much as they may on this score, we must guard and keep our self-esteem as the apple of the eye. It will never do to part with that. We should have no comfort in life, were our self-satisfaction tumbled in the dust; it would embitter every drop of the poor peace that we contrive to maintain. Accordingly, we are afraid to deal honestly with ourselves. We are afraid to change the comfortable posture of our self-ignorance, and stand up upon our feet, and look, and hearken, for the True Voice. We fear lest, finding ourselves standing in the presence of God, with a clearer vision of his perfections, and a more vivid apprehension of the Holiness, Rectitude, and Love, which are the attributes of God, we should be forced to see with grief and shame how impure, unjust and selfish we are. And, therefore, that we may keep ourselves, as well as we can, justified in our own eyes, we preserve the greatest possible distance from what will wound and condemn us; and lie down and let the music of this world's enchantments fill our ears. We desire only to be let alone, that we may sleep and dream. We will harm nobody if we can help it. We want only our pleasurable sensations undisturbed. We do not desire to see God as He is, lest we should see ourselves as we are. And so, although a sense of obligations unfulfilled haunts and troubles us, we evade and put off, living at best very precariously, and yet satisfied on the whole so to live; having the countenance of so many, leaning on others, kneeling now and then, professing to pray, but, in reality, doing no such thing; only pretending and trying to persuade ourselves that our prayers are what they purport to be. Thus, a vital atheism is produced, and we cut ourselves off from the Supreme Good, by the love and pursuit of which the real life of man is nourished and matured. No wonder that our life, instead of power, becomes weakness, instead of honor, shame, instead of a triumphant conflict, a camp of vanity and sloth."


Sunday, August 1, 2010

we vegetate merely...

William Henry Furness (1802-1896) was born in Boston and attended Harvard Divinity School before becoming pastor of the then small Unitarian congregation in Philadelphia, a position he would hold for 50 years (followed by 21 as minister emeritus.)  More on Furness over the next few days.  Today, an excerpt from the sermon, "Stand Upon Thy Feet:"


Such is the word of the Lord that came to an ancient prophet. How truly is the same word addressed to every son of man! " Stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee."

Truth is the word of the Lord. To hear that word spoken to us by God himself, or, in other words meaning exactly the same thing, to know the Truth as clearly as if it were sounded in our ears by a supernatural voice, the indispensable condition is, that we stand upon our feet, upright.

Who is there that is thus standing ? Thousands lie bound hand and foot by those appetites that seek their food in the dust, and are deaf to everything but their own indulgence. And they hear not the voice of Truth, even when the very ground under them shakes and yawns at its thunders...

We are, or profess to be, greatly shocked by any speculations that so much as seem to bring into question the being and providence of God. Yet we are ourselves, to all vital purposes, fearfully atheistic. There is an atheism that infects us, which is the only kind of this form of unbelief that is worthy of any attention, or should cause any alarm. And this it is, alienation from the great Source of Life, that causes beings so rarely organized, so miraculously endowed, to live and die without exerting the power that we may. We vegetate merely. Or we are machines set in motion by external influences, or the abject victims, broken in spirit and strength, of low desires which use us at their will. We might be godlike spirits, in intimate communion with the Highest Power, victorious over all obstructions, and rendering all things subservient to our triumphs. But we are not. And the reason why we are not is, that we have not centred ourselves in God. We have no conviction of His being overpowering all other loves and fears. There is a superstitious reverence for His name; but He, whom even religious people profess to believe in, is scarcely anything more than a name, the tradition, the phantom, of a God."