Monthly Archives: November 2005

Parking garage

There’s a fellow I chat with now and then who works nights at the parking garage where I park my car. He found out I’m a minister (don’t ask me how — for a city of 100,000 people, New Bedford feels like a small town). Turns out he’s a churchgoer. Though we don’t talk theology or narrow denominational differences, we appreciate the fact that we are each religious in our own way. The closest we have come to a theological discussion went something like this:

“So where are you pastor?” he said.

“First Unitarian,” I said.

He nodded, paused for a moment, then said, “What I like to say is:– Got God?” He tends to talk in short epigrammatic sentences.

I replied, “That about sums it up.”

As I said, we don’t talk narrow denominational differences. Anyway, tonight I had a meeting of the endowment committee. It was a good meeting, but when I got done I realized that I was exhausted. Felt like maybe I’m fighting off a cold. I drove over to the supermarket to buy some chicken broth, just in case. As I pulled into the parking garage, I was maybe feeling a little sorry for myself.

The friendly fellow from the parking garage saw me as I waved my pass in front of the sensor to let the gate up. He slid back the window in his booth. “They got you working late,” he said.

“Yup,” I said.

We sat there for a moment with our windows open to the damp November evening.

“Night meeting,” I said.

He nodded, and I slipped the clutch back in. I parked near the top, climbed down the stairs, and started to head across the street. When I was in the crosswalk, I heard the window to his booth slide open.

“Keep up the good work,” he said.

Telegraphically short, but somehow the right thing to say. I turned, stood there in the middle of the empty city street, and pointed back at him. “You, too,” I said.

It’s not exactly cold tonight, but too damp to linger, so I turned and walked home.

Upcoming event

I just received notice of this celebration of a momentous anniversary, and wanted to share it with those of you who live nearby:

Honoring Rosa Parks

On Thursday, December 1st at 7:00pm, there will be a Celebration of Justice and Freedom honoring the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ December 1, 1955 refusal to give up her seat on the bus. All are welcome to join us – children, youth and adults – as we seek to be sure that our history is not forgottten and that its message of hope remains a part of our present and future.

Our speaker will be Dr. Jibreel Khazan, who was one of four students whose request to be served at a “whites only” lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 sparked a national movement that ultimately led to the end of segregation. That lunch counter is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute – Dr. Khazan’s picture is in textbooks across the country. Dr. Khazan and his family have lived in New Bedford since 1965.

We will sing the songs that gave voice to our hunger for justice and freedom – and offer new music that tells this important story.

Please join us at Pilgrim United Church of Christ, located at 635 Purchase Street, on the corner of Purchase and School Streets in downtown New Bedford. There is parking behind the church, which can be accessed from either School or Pleasant Streets.

A flyer is available at For further information, please call Pilgrim Church: 508-997-9086.

I hope to make it to this event, and perhaps I’ll see some of you there.

Religion online

You’ll find today’s sermon is now up on the Web site of First Unitarian in New Bedford. [Note: no longer on Web site.] I ad libbed more than usual this morning, so if you were here to hear the sermon, you’ll find the written version is significantly different.

I remain ambivalent about making sermons available in written form, because I don’t think of them as a written genre, but rather as an oral genre. I found a little booklet of a sermon series preached here at First Unitarian in 1943 by Duncan Howlett, and they are prefaced with this note:

Through the generosity of one of our members, the series was taken down stenographically. As theses sermons were delivered without notes or manuscript, it has been necessary to rework the material for printing. The spoken word rarely makes good reading.

The last sentence expresses my thoughts exactly; I’d only except a few of Jonathan Edwards’s sermons. Nor do I feel audio recordings do justice to sermons. There’s something about a sermon which requires you to be there, to be a part of the congregation. You’re not just listening to a sermon, you’re sitting there with other people, you’re singing hymns together, the sermon is just one little piece of an entire worship exeperience.

Yet at the same time, there is a long American tradition of sermons serving as a means for exchanging theological ideas. Maybe that’s why I am ambivalent about reading contemporary sermons: too many contemporary sermons do not address theological issues at all.

Evangelicals and politics

Justin Webb, BBC’s Washington correspondent, posted an article on the “From Our Own Correspondent” series today, titled “Dinosaurs, evangelicals, and the state.” It gives some insight into how the Brits and perhaps other Europeans view the United States today….

As the nation recovers this weekend from the worldly pleasures of the wonderfully inclusive festival of Thanksgiving, a festival which can appeal equally to atheist and Bible-thumper, it seems to me that the central political question facing everyone here, far more important than any to do with Iraq or the deficit or Guantanamo Bay, is whether or not the Republican party, after decades of flirting, has finally got into bed with an irrational sect.

Describe an American as a Roman Catholic and you say nothing about his or her political and social beliefs. Left-wing flower-power Democrats can be Catholics, so can right-wing socially conservative Republicans. American Jews, Hindus, even Muslims are not politically defined by their faith.

But evangelical Christians, operating inside the Republican party, have coalesced their energies and their resources around a set of beliefs on homosexuality, abortion and Darwinism which place them on the authoritarian right of every political question and at odds with science campaigning. For instance, to tell visitors to the Grand Canyon that this wondrous sight is not millions of years old, which it is.

When Webb writes, “American Jews, Hindus, even Muslims are not politically defined by their faith,” it gets at something central that I believe many Unitarian Universalists have missed. We already know that we Unitarian Universalists are not defined politically by our faith. But sometimes when we try to stand up to the religious right, we do so by adopting politically liberal stands. But we do not need to get into bed with any political party. When we make political stands we should be standing up to the religious right, not from any partisan position, but as good Americans who want to keep religious rigidity out of our government.

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Saronic wave

On our walks across the bridge to Fairhaven for the past couple of days, we’ve been walking by the bow of the Saronic Wave. She’s one of the larger ships that comes into this port (7326 gross ton), and is docked over by the Maritime Terminal building. (When I first saw her name on the bow, I read it as “Sardonic Wave,” but that was too good to be true.) Today, we saw that they were unloading pallets of oranges, or rather Clementines, from her hold. It can be difficult to find shipping information on the Web, but we found Saronic Wave and learned that she passed through the Port of Gibraltar on 14 November, spending less than ten hours there on her way from Nador, Morocco, to New Bedford. She must be mostly unloaded by now: looking at her Plimsoll line, there can’t be all that much left on board.

Vintage pre-1920 recordings online

The Special Collections department of the library at University of California at Santa Barbara has an ongoing project of digitizing pre-1920 wax cylinder recordings, and making the digital files available online. I found out about this project from the blog Ukulelia, who reported on some great early recordings of Hawaiian music. But you’ll find music from classical to popular song to early jazz as well.

My favorite recording so far? Well, there are some good recordings by the Ford Hawaiians, but I really like “Clarinet Squawk,” by the Louisiana Five, hot jazz from 1920.

Panda cam

Yup, the National Zoo in Washington DC now has a PandaCam video feed on their Web site. They’re getting so much traffic, visits are limited to 15 minutes, and even at that it took us two tries to get access to PandaCam. That’s OK, though, because while you wait they have entertaining daily written updates you can read that tell what Tai, the baby panda, is up to today.

Best baby panda photo, however, is at today’s story on Tai at BBC News. Click on the photo to enlarge it, so you can see Tai’s expression. Way too cute. And, well, life-affirming.

Peter Drucker

The Economist online has an excellent appreciation of Peter Drucker, the management theorist who died on November 11. The article’s assessment of Drucker’s legacy makes it worth reading if you have the slightest interest in this field. After a thoughtful, balanced examination of Drucker’s achievements in business management, the unsigned article says:

Moreover, Mr Drucker continued to produce new ideas up until his 90s. His work on the management of voluntary organisations—particularly religious organisations—remained at the cutting edge.

Cutting edge, and very useful — his work continues to guide what I do in congregational life. I only hope that Drucker’s work in management of voluntary organizations is now taken up by a new generation of talented thinkers.