Tuesday, May 1, 2012

keep learning...

My blogging has been pretty sparse over the past couple of months (Bill, if you are reading this, thanks for asking after me.) I plan to talk a bit about why this has been so over the next couple of days. For now, this from an early interview of Yo Yo Ma heard this morning on Boston Classical Radio. Ma talks of something his friend the great pianist Emanuel Ax once said to him. "The best thing about being a musician," said Ax, "is that you can keep learning all your life." Amen. I would only change the word "musician" to "human." blessings

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

your old nonsense...

This from Emerson's "Nominalist and Realist." If only...

"Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could.  Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations to waste a moment on yesterdays."


Sunday, February 12, 2012


O for an Abraham Lincoln today...


Thursday, February 9, 2012

lay on more fuel...

This from the 19th Century Unitarian Devotional, "Day Unto Day" often excerpted in these pages...

"My strength faileth because of mine iniquity. — Pa. xxxi. 10.

Oh, say not so! thou canst not tell what strength
Thy God may give thee at the length;
Renew thy vows; and if thou keep the last,
Thy God will pardon all that's past.
Vow while thou canst, while thou canst, vow; thou
may'st Perhaps perform it when thou thinkest least.
George Herbert.

"When a man is to run a race of forty furlongs, would you have him sit down at the nine and thirtieth, and so lose the prize. We do not keep a good fire all day. and let it go out in the evening when it is coldest; but then rather lay on more fuel, that we may go warm to bed." — But "He that is strong with his own strength falls before temptation; he is humbled in the dust. . . . Whence is our strength? From God alone."

The God of Israel is He that giveth strength and power unto His people. Blessed be God. —Pa. 1xviii. 35."


Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Over at her "Unitarian Universalist Quotes" Blog, Rev. Naomi King posts the greatest quote I have heard for some time.

"Whatever you may be sure of, be sure of this – that you are dreadfully like other people."
James Russall Lowell

(and thanks)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

highly risqué...

Dean Grodzins, in an excellent essay included in the truly outstanding "Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism" rightly describes the central difference between traditionalist Unitarians and the Transcendentalists as being centered in "the distinction...between two different kinds of religion, one "natural" and the other "revealed." He relates the following story to illustrate the point...

"In 1840, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller saw the Austrian ballerina Fanny Eissler dance-a performance that proper boston thought hightly risqué. They were very impressed. According to a story that made the rounds, Fuller told Emerson, "This is religion!" A Boston Unitarian lady, hearing the tale, exclaimed with a laugh" 'Both natural and revealed!'


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

women are now everywhere...

I preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago comparing football coach and commentator Jimmy Johnson, Henry David Thoreau, and Jane Austen, a central part of which was my changing view of the latter. Jane Austen has become, for me, the greatest of novelists and I think I am a little in love with her...
In Googling Jane Austen and Unitarian, I came across this article from "The Unitarian Magazine" (1888) called "The Intellectual Development of Women." Interesting for the day...

"Women have succeeded as novelists because this kind of writing enables them to use the knowledge which is most easily within their reach, because of their large social experience and observation, and because it makes no great demand on wide reading and large educational attainments. Fiction requires in its production an interest in persons, which women have in a larger degree than men; and it is promoted by their love of the personalities and the sympathetic interests of life. Women possess the narrative or storytelling gift in much perfection; and this is especially required in thp writing of novels. It is owing to the influence of women, to a large extent, that a genuine realism in lictioii has been developed, a realism which is in sympathy with human nature, and which interprets the common life of humanity. The two most successful writers of realistic novels in England have been Jane Austen and George Eliot.

In poetry, women have always manifested three remarkable tendencies: the acceptance of a pure and ideal love of man and woman as the basis of their work, the interpretation of daily life with sympathy and affection, and the giving their singing an emotional richness and beauty of the highest type. [jln the fragmentary remnants of that . greatest of lyrical poets, Sappho; in the sonnets of Vittoria Colonna, the friend and inspirer of Michael Angelo, and in the poetry of Mrs. Browning, we find the same characteristic features of a pure and consecrated affection for a great man, a tender and yearning interest in human beings, an intimate sympathy with the beauties of nature, and a lofty moral purity. These are qualities which women have embodied in some, of the most delicate and sympathetic poetry we possess; and they are qualities which women are more and more, with each generation, adding to the poetry of human existence.

In the fields of general literature women have shown talent, courage and skill. Such women as Madame de Staël and Harriet Martineauhave shown that genius is not confined to the masculine sex, and that intellectual industry may go hand in hand with womanly graces of a refined and delicate type.

The intellectual influence of women has been shown, not so much by the number of great thinkers and authors which have appeared among them, as by their general influence on the life of the last three centuries. The number of women of great intellectual gifts is limited, at least so far as the literary manifestations of those gifts are concerned, and but few great books have been written by women; but the general literary habit and taste which characterize our time are very largely the product of the influence exercised by women. They have been of the ut most importance to literature in creating a reading public, and in giving to authors that sympathy and appreciation which are necessary to the best results.

In the early days of Samuel Johnson, to take a single not remote example, literature had a most precarious existence, dependent upon patronage or else leading to beggary. Johnson's own career was full of bitterness and humiliation; for he was a denizen of Gnib Street, and Grub Street meant all that was distressing and abject, at that period, in the life of an intellectual man. Johnson broke away from the slavery of patronage, and established the career of literature upon an independent basis. One most important condition existed in his day, which enabled him to do this; and that was the influence of educated and intelligent women, who gave him a reading public. As soon as women were educated in considerable numbers a great reading public was created, and authorship became an independent and self-respecting profession.

Women are now everywhere, in civilized countries, the chief sustainors of the intellectual life; they form the great body of church goers, lectnre attendants, readers of books and teachers of the young. Women as a mass now give to literature and to ideas far more of time and appreciation than do the mass of men. If they have not as yet become the intellectual leaders of the world, they exercise a very great influence in giving tone and direction to the literary spirit of the time."


Thursday, January 26, 2012


This poem by Unitarian minister, translator and eminent musicologist John Sullivan Dwight was well read this morning. Truer words...

"    Is not true leisure
  One with true toil?
    Rest is not quitting
  The busy career,
Rest is the fitting
  Of self to one’s sphere.
    ’T is the brook’s motion,
  Clear without strife,
Fleeing to ocean
  After its life.
    ’T is loving and serving
  The Highest and Best!
’T is onwards! unswerving,
  And that is true rest.
    Work, and thou wilt bless the day
  Ere the toil be done;
They that work not, can not pray,
  Can not feel the sun.

God is living, working still,
  All things work and move;
Work, or lose the power to will,
  Lose the power to love."


Thursday, January 19, 2012

sawing wood...

This from the biography of John Sullivan Dwight discussing his years at Harvard Divinity School...

"In the Divinity School, as in the college, Dwight's one great interest was music. Near his own were the rooms of his lifelong friends, Theodore Parker and Christopher P. Cranch. Parker had no love of music and no capacity for its production, but Cranch was only less devoted to it than Dwight. When the two music-lovers were one evening playing together, they heard a great din in the hall. On Dwight's opening the door, Parker was discovered sawing wood. When asked why he was so engaged in that place, he replied, "You disturb me with your music when I wish to study, and I will have my fun in return." He kept on with his sawing until the music was silenced."


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

a one and a two...

Music has always been a deeply important part of my life. My father was a high school band director before becoming a school administrator and from as early as I can remember I sang in church and school, played the trumpet through high school (braces did a number on my trumpet playing)and played guitar in bands including the "Lightbulbs"-I'm sure you have heard of us...) As an adult I have tried to teach myself the cello (mostly a failure) and am now immersing myself in the recorder. My children are all singers and budding musicians playing flute, cello, piano, and trumpet.
I try very hard to appreciate the incredible blessing that modern times are in regards to music. When I want to listen to the greatest music ever written and performed I have only to push a button. This blessing, of course, has within it a curse. Many years ago, people had to play music in order to hear it. It's scarcity engendered a truer appreciation...
The Boston Unitarians and the Transcendentalists had various reactions to music. Thoreau loved his flute while Emerson had virtually no ear for music at all. Of all the Boston Transcendentalists, only John Sullivan Dwight dedicated himself to music.
An early champion of Beethoven, Dwight created and edited "Dwight's Journal of Music" for which this was the founding statement:

"The tone to be impartial, independent, catholic, conciliatory, aloof from musical clique and controversy, cordial to all good things, but not eager to chime in with any powerful private interest of publisher, professor, concert-giver, manager, society, or party. This paper would make itself the 'organ' of no school or class, but simply an organ of what may be called the Musical Movement in our country, of the growing love of deep and genuine music, of the growing consciousness that music, first amid other forms of Art, is intimately connected with Man's truest life and destiny. It will insist much on the claims of 'Classical' music, and point out its beauties and its meanings, not with a pedantic partiality, but because the enduring needs always to be held up in contrast with the ephemeral. But it will also aim to recognize what good there is in styles more simple, popular, or modern, will give him who is Italian in his tastes an equal hearing with the German, and will even print the articles of those opposed to the partialities or the opinions of the editor, provided they be written briefly, decently, and to the point."

More on Dwight to come...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marking the Hours...

Like most Unitarians, I have a strong Anglo-Catholic side...In that spirit I recommend highly "Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers 1240-1570" by the Catholic scholar Eamon Duffy. It is a riveting read.

(I suppose it is just barely possible that most Unitarians don't have a strong Anglo-Catholic side but the book is still a great read!)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

irreparable solitude...

This from William Alger's "The Solitudes of Nature and of Man: or the Loneliness of Human Life"

"Every man wrestles with his fate not in the public amphitheatre, but in the profoundest secrecy. The world sees him only as he comes forth from the concealed conflict, a blooming victor or a haggard victim. We hate or pity, we strive or sleep, we laugh or bleed, we sigh and yearn ; but still in impassable separation, like unvisiting isles here and there dotting the sea of life, with sounding straits between us. It is a solemn truth that, in spite of his manifold intercourses, and after all his gossip is done, every man, in what is most himself, and in what is deepest in his spiritual relationships, lives alone. So thoroughly immersed is the veritable heart behind the triple thickness of individual destiny, insulating unlikeness and suspicion, that only the fewest genuine communications pass and repass; rarely in unreserved confidence is the drawbridge lowered, and the portcullis raised... Occasionally, urged by overstress of curiosity and tenderness, taking the dearest ones we know by the hand, we gaze beseechingly into their eyes, sounding those limpid depths, if haply, reading the inmost soul, we may discern there a mysterious thought and fondness, answering to those so unspeakably felt in our own. But again and again we turn away, at last, with a long-drawn breath, sighing, alas, alas! No solicitation can woo, no power can force, admission to that final inviolate sanctuary of being where the personality dwells in irreparable solitude."

Have a nice day and...

Monday, January 2, 2012

the true destiny...

This from William Alger, cousin of Horatio, and a Unitarian Minister. He did much fascinating work not least this book, "The Solitudes of Nature and of Man: or the Loneliness of Human Life." I have been reading this book with amazement the last couple of days.

"The true destiny of man is the fruition of the functions of his being, the purest and fullest exercise of his faculties, in their due order, in internal unity and in external harmony. He should therefore seek to perfect himself in the light of the great standards of truth, virtue, beauty, humanity, and God ; and to be contented with himself as reflected by these standards. To seek, instead of this, to see himself flatteringly reflected in the estimation of other people, in whose judgments these standards are often refracted in broken distortions, is the sure way to wretchedness. He who aims at perfection, going out and up in thought and feeling from his defects to its standards, will be happy. He who aims at fame, coming down in thought and feeling from his rich desires to the poor facts, will be miserable. Happiness is the successful pursuit of an aim. Perfection is the grandest of aims, and the only one in which a continuous success is morally possible for all. The happiest of men are the saints and mystics, in whom the social exactions of self are lost in a fruition of the sublimest standard; each wave of force goes out and dies in ecstasyvon a shoreless good. But the selfish plotter feels each wave of force rise and move inward to die, with egotistic disgust, of extinction in the centre. Whoever would live contented and die happy must not pursue public applause, but must give more than is given him, and love without asking a return."