Saturday, August 20, 2011

neither justice nor wisdom...

The very first time I stepped foot in a Unitarian Universalist church was to give a lay sermon on Unitarian Piety. Invited by a couple I had met through a public library book group, I was then an Episcopalian but had read, studied and loved the 19th century Unitarians (the Boston Unitarians) for years. I was listened to respectfully but remember the looks on most of the people's faces who clearly thought I was bringing a message from another planet. I thought of this yesterday when Bill Baar used the words of James Freeman Clarke on Piety to illuminate the massive contrast between the Unitarianism of our past and the UUism of our present. I appreciated that because all these years later, it is still my "mission" to put forward our rich and wonderful history as well as to promote a way of being religious that is so important to my life.

I have also sought to do so with respect. A defining trait of the "Boston Unitarians" though, of course, one not universally shared-one thinks especially of Andrews Norton and Theodore Parker, was their lack of desire to engage in vilification and extreme partisanship. James Freeman Clarke provides a good example of why...

"THE conservatives in our community are a well-disposed set of men, meaning to be just, but, instead of making themselves acquainted with the spirit and motives of reformers, they avoid them, and refuse to associate with them. Instead of noticing the proposition, they impute a bad motive to the proposer. They say that the man is a demagogue; that he seeks notoriety; that he wants office, he wants money. Many others are led by their example into a like unreasoning scorn and invective.
But, if conservatives understand the art of scolding, reformers understand it likewise. This habit has grown to be one of the chief obstacles in the way of reform. A man who is not a reformer goes into some reform meeting, wishing to hear a calm, strong statement of the evils under consideration, the steps tp be taken, practical measures to be discussed, and the duties of friends of the cause. Instead of this, he often hears ridicule and sarcasm against the churches, and sharp witticisms against every person of influence who is supposed not to sympathize with the reformer. He sees neither justice nor wisdom in this torrent of invective, and he is repelled by it. Meantime this is what is most liked and applauded by the reformers themselves. The man who says the sharpest thing is the favorite orator. And, as each class of reformers talk only with each other, this habit increases all the time; and so you have, instead of a great league made up of all the friends of truth, a little coterie who spend their time in scolding, and a great public which goes on its way indifferent to the whole subject."

Not a bad description of what politics and religion has become in America. Its long been my belief that, in their lives and words, people like Clarke and Channing had the only real antidote.

Blessings to all

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