Monthly Archives: October 2005

Blog news

My partner Carol got sick of hearing me complain about AOL’s blog software, got sick of hearing me worry about the direction AOL is taking as a company. On Saturday she said, we’re going to get you another Web host tonight. So we did.

So now I’m in the process of setting up a new Web site and transferring this blog over to my new hosting service. It’s going to take a while for me to set up the new blogging software and transfer the blog archives over to the new site. I don’t expect to be done for a couple of months, so this blog sill remain active for a while yet. And when I do get the new site up and running, I promise to make the transition for you, the reader, as easy as I possible can.

Later note: and now at last this post is transferred to the new improved blog.

Good news, bad news

Bad news: Saturday morning started out gray and raw. I was at the fall meeting of district congregations, walking with Laurie Bilyeu to another building for a workshop, when we both noticed that coming down out of the sky was… snow. Not much, but it was definitely snow. Carol and I were at the magazine store on Pope’s Island near sunset, and when we came out of the store, it was snowing hard. Snow in October… I’m not ready for this.

Good news: Yesterday, it was sunny, and it got up to about 70 degrees.

Bad news: We’ve gone back to standard time, and now the sunset is far too early… I’m not ready for this.

Good news: It’s warm again today, one of the trees across from our apartment still has green leaves and the other is a glorious red.

Religious liberals are everywhere!

Even though the religious right dominates the public discourse in the United States, we all know religious liberals are everywhere. I think we religious liberals should be willing to stand up and be public about who we are.

So as a small first step, add your name (yes, pseudonyms are OK) to the “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist Map” [LATER NOTE: map now removed] — ’cause if you read this blog, you must be a religious liberal. And if you’re not a Unitarian Universalist, you can add a comment to your name with your religious affiliation (or lack thereof). Stand up and be counted — and show the religious right that we are far cooler and more widespread than they are!

Footnote: I’ve become fascinated by the new phenomenon of Google Maps, and the so-called “mash-ups” that you can make with Google maps. Google has allowed programmers access to the code of their mapping software such that it is possible to make all kinds of custom maps. Philocrites noticed this mapmaking phenomenon recently, and used to create a map mash-up for his readers. is one of several programmers who are making Google map mash-ups easily available to those of us who are non-programmers.

I’d like to see someone with programming skills do a custom Google map-mash-up showing the locations of all Unitarian Universalist congregations in North America. I’ll bet Anna Belle, over at Talking UU Technology knows some developers who could do this — or maybe one of the readers of this blog has such skills (like maybe James?).

But the real point is that, in case you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a “culture war” here in the States. Rather than emigrate to Canada, or wring our hands and whine a lot, it’s time to become culturally creative — and make it obvious that it is far cooler to be a religious liberal than to be on the religious right. And yes, this is a call to action — you’re creative, get on it!

How could I have forgotten?

How could I have forgotten to celebrate on October 5? I mean, that’s such a big day in the history of American religion, it seems impossible to forget.

What’s that you say? You’re not quite sure what October 5 has to do with American religion? Why, it’s the birthday of our greatest native theologian! It’s the birthday of a minister and theologian and president of Princeton College, a man who seriously worked to integrate the latest scientific insights of his day into his theology, a man who was also a great prose stylist (it’s probably that you read some of his sermons in an English class at some point in your life) — and a man whom we can credit as being one of the major inspirations of Universalism.

Yes, I’m talking about none other than Jonathan Edwards, the man who wrote “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (that’s the sermon you may have read in English class), a man whose depictions of hellfire and brimstone set such high standards that many preachers felt they weren’t worth anything until they, too, had scared the living daylights out of their congregations with such a sermon — thus prompting people like Caleb Rich and other early Universalists to really read their Bibles and discover that hellfire and brimstone are not Biblical at all; to discover that the Bible actually depicts a loving God, not an abusive hate-filled God who takes pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Edwards, both for being such a good prose stylist, and for making it clear to the next generation that his theology of hellfire and brimstone went way too far.


Today was the last day of the downtown farmer’s market. I got there at five, and the three farmers who showed up were already packing up their trucks. But Mary Merhi stayed open long enough for me to get a fedw butternut saquash to put by, and a dozen eggs. Noelle Tripp stayed around long enough for me to get some late-season cherry tomatoes, shallots, dried tomatoes, and crabapple jelly. “What will I do without the farmer’s market?” I asked them plaintively, but they could only say, “Wait until next spring.”

I walked out to Pope’s Island today. About half of the recreational boats are gone, leaving empty slip after empty slip. Maybe a few of the bigger boats, like “Two-Can,” a converted Alaska fishing trawler, have gone south to warmer ports. Doubtless some of the smaller boats got put onto trailers and towed to their owners’ driveways. As the recreational boats disappear, the fishing boats become more of a presence.

The juncoes are back, and I saw a flock of them on Pope’s Island. You don’t see many different kidns of birds around New Bedford harbor — usually just three kinds of gulls, cormorants, pigeons, starlings, and hosue sparrows; maybe a crow passing through — so it’s a big event when the juncoes come back for winter.

The trees along our end of William Street are sheltered by the buildings on either side, and they have kept their leaves green — until the past day or two, when the uppermost leaves began to turn red and orange. Soon they will lose those leaves, and our street will take on a bare, stripped-down look that it will keep all winter.

It was sunny this morning, but the clouds moved in after lunch. People walking around the downtown were shrouded in jackets and coats this afternoon. The cold weather is on its way.


This evening, the greater New Bedford Women’s Center held a candlelight vigil here in downtown New Bedford to honor victims of domestic violence. Over a hundred people gathered in front of city hall, where mayor Frederick Kalisz and other New Bedford political figures spoke briefly. People took candles and walked from there to our church for an hour-long program arranged by The Women’s Center.

Local singer-songwriter Susan Lainey sang a couple of original songs, Pamela Macleod-Lima of the Women’s Center spoke about domestic violecne, and there was a moving tribute for all those who died of domestic violence this year in Massachusetts. For me, the most moving moment came when Mike Santos talked about his three year old grandson who died of domestic violence.

The Women’s Center had this statement in the printed program: “Each year, thousands of men, women, and children in this country fall victim to domestic violence. While the U. S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 90% of all domestic violence victims are female, domestic violence affects men, women, and children regardless of age, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, income, or religious beliefs.” If you or someone you know is living in domestic violence in the greater New Bedford area, call The Women’s Center’s business phone at 508-996-3343 to get information about safety planning — or call their 24 hour helpline at 508-996-6636 if you witness domestic violence. If you’re outside the New Bedford area, find out about local hotlines and helplines in your area now, before you need to know — or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

I wish you could have a better sense of what it felt like to be a part of this moving program. Unfortunately, it looks like news coverage will be light. There was one cameraman from Fox News in Providence; there may have been a reporter from the local newspaper (though I wasn’t aware of one)


At a minister’s retreat, Narragansett, Rhode Island

By three o’clock the rain had stopped, and I even saw a spot of blue sky, just for an instant, among the scudding clouds. I put on my rain coat, tied the hood under my chin, and walked down Hazard Road towards the ocean.

I started to feel rain, but realized it wasn’t rain. The wind was blowing hard enough to kick up drops of seawater and drive them a hundred yards inland. Over a fence and across a carefully manicured lawn, I caught a glimpse of gray ocean, and white waves crashing against light gray rocks.

At the end of Hazard Road, I scrambled down among the Japanese knotweed mostly stripped of leaves, and some of the stalks broken off, by the force of the wind. I came out of the knotweed down onto the rocks, and stopped there. That was close enough. Upwind, I saw a young woman with a camera crouched in the lee of an rock outcropping. The wind drove spray into my face. I quickly turned to face downwind. Bits of sea foam blew across the rocks, and now and again sheets of spray followed. There was little regularity to the waves; they came and went and boiled over the rocks and ebbed back again and bits of them blew off and hit my face, covering my glasses with tiny droplets of saltwater.

Yesterday, four of us has clambered over these same rocks, the ocean quietly moving to and fro just below our feet. Jan, the avid sport fisherman, was talking about stripers and how they’re migrating south down the coast right now. He said, They’re probably crossing over here from Cape Cod right now, and we discussed the comings and goings of the striped bass, and how sea squirts are taking over parts of the coast, and how little we understand ocean ecology. He said of himself, I should have been an oceanographer. We stood looking out over the sea for a moment, and then he added, We only understand the tiniest bit about that — pointing to the sea. Anyone who says otherwise, he said, is in for a rude awakening. We don’t understand it at all. I nodded, and thought about ships going down in Atlantic storms.

A wave crashed over the rock where yesterday I had seen someone surfcasting. The ocean beat against the rocks where yesterday we had walked in safety. Spray and seafoam and waves broke twenty feet into the air, covering that huge rock out cropping, draining down in white rivulets. I stood just watching, and then became aware of someone behind me. Imoved so the young woman could climb down the rocks.

“Quite something,” I shouted over the wind. “It’s amazing,” she shouted, pointing behind us, “I was out there taking pictures.” “I know, I saw you,” I shouted, “you won’t catch me out there.” She said something I didn’t quite catch, something about “beautiful.” “It’s beautiful,” I shouted back, and she climbed up to Hazard Road.

I walked around some, and at last I couldn’t resist; I climbed out to where the young woman had been taking photographs. It was actually quite sheltered, and she probably had been telling me how beautiful it was, that I should try sitting there. A tiny bit of sun broke through the clouds, lighting up the verge of the water down the rocks until it lit up the brilliant white of wavetops at the little point across the cove. Another bit of sun lit up a line of mysterious white wavetops far out at sea. The wind and waves and sun kept up with no discernable pattern except the randomness of power and beauty. I thought about what Jan had said: Anyone who thinks they know anything about that ocean is setting themselves up for a rude awakening.


The congregation of First Unitarian in New Bedford installed me as their minister this afternoon. (Carol says, “Installed, like an appliance!” — yes, it does sound a little strange, but it’s an old-fashioned term.) Installing a new minister is an old Unitarian Universalist tradition whereby the congregation and a new minister enter into covenant with each other. Typically, ministers from other nearby congregations also participate in the service, in no small part as a symbol of the wider covenant shared by Unitarian Universalist congregations, and really by all persons everywhere.

We did a pretty bang-up installation service, if I do say so myself. I have just a few criteria for good installation services: (1) Installations should last exactly an hour, no longer; (2) Installations should be welcoming to all ages, from 5 to 95 (after all, the new minister has a covenant with the whole community, not just with the adults); (3) Installations should be fun, entertaining, and theologically deep so it’s worth people’s while to show up; (4) Installations should have good music; (5) Installations should be followed by a reception where the food is substantial enough that you can make a pretty good meal out of it. These criteria are listed in approximate order of importance.

(For those who care, these criteria are based on the following foundations: Universalist theology (each and every person is worthy of love and acceptance), James Luther Adams’s understanding of power and religious communities, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.)

Well, I think we did a pretty good job meeting all 5 criteria. The installation service lasted just exactly an hour. The two six-year-olds I sat next two loved Jory Agate’s children’s story and were tolerant of the rest of the service — and the president of the youth group did the readings — and there were people there who were in their eighties. All those who spoke — Jory, Ellen Spero, Helen Cohen, Hank Pierce, Ann Fox — were fun, entertaining, and had theological depth (OK, Ellen did have the most theological depth, but she was preaching the sermon, she had more time, she was supposed to provide the theological depth.) Randy FAyan, our music director, provided superb music — especially the big bold postlude by Widori. And the food at the reception, coordinated by Nancy Crosby and company, was fantastic.

What more can you ask for on such an auspicious occasion?