Monthly Archives: September 2008

Goodbye to North Cambridge

For the past three or four years, Carol has been taking care of a friend’s cat when he is away. This friend have been living in North Cambridge, near Porter Square since he travels ten or twelve weeks a year, Carol has been spending quite a bit of time in North Cambridge. And when Carol was in Cambridge, I went up as often as I could to spend time with her. But soon Carol’s friend will be moving out of the country, taking the cat with him, so there will be no more cat-sitting in North Cambridge for us.

Carol had to go up to sell her books at a fair in Maine this weekend, so I took care of the cat. When I left, I gave the cat one last scratch behind the ears, and she purred and went back to sleep, and I went down and got in my car and drove away from North Cambridge. I will miss some things about cat-sitting in North Cambridge: — I will miss the cat, who is sociable, good-natured, and affectionate; and I will miss being able to walk to McIntyre and Moore bookstore in Porter Square.

But I find the overall feeling on the streets and sidewalks of North Cambridge unpleasant. People generally seem rude, and abrupt, and aggressive, and entitled. I’ll give you one particularly egregious example of what I mean: — last night I was in a bookstore, with prominent signs asking customers to refrain from cell phone use; — and yet one man talked on his cell phone for a good hour, giving someone details of a pending lawsuit in a resonant, penetrating voice. His funny round potbelly stuck out between his suspenders, and his face was unlined and unperturbed by anything around him, and his carefully blow-dried grey hair curled down from his bald head, and his accent spoke of his privilege and his expensive education and the fact that if he was from New England he had scrupulously removed any trace of regionalisms from his speech. I’m sure he was a very nice man, but as I watched him walk yet again past a sign asking him to refrain from cell phone use which his sense of entitlement allowed him to serenely ignore, my blood boiled and I resented him. In fact, I started feeling rude and aggressive myself.

Of course I know that there are plenty of polite, courteous, non-aggressive people in North Cambridge. And of all the people I know who live in North Cambridge, only one is rude and aggressive; most everyone is nice. Yet somehow the general feeling on the streets is that people who live in North Cambridge are rude. This is in distinct contrast to the feeling on the streets here in New Bedford, where I get the feeling that politeness and courtesy are the norm, in spite of the fact that I know plenty of nasty, rude, aggressive people live down here. But every time I have traveled between New Bedford and North Cambridge, I have always been struck by the difference in public manners. It hit me again when I pulled into a parking place in front of our building: — relief that I was back in New Bedford. I’ll miss the cat, who is very sweet, but I won’t miss North Cambridge.


Aye, Matey, hope ye didn’t ferget that today be National Talk Like a Pirate Day.

If ye did ferget, why ye still have time t’ go out ‘n’ talk like a pirate. Go down t’ the fast food joint on the corner an’ say, “Arrr, mateys, bring me a hunk o’ hardtack an’ a jug o’ grog, and be quick about it, or ye’ll be strung from the yard arm afore sunset.” An’ when the scurvy dogs with the white coats come t’ take ye away, why jist tell ’em that ’twas I, Bloody Dan, that told ye t’ do it.

(An’ thanks be t’ Ms. M., the bonniest and wickedest pirate lass ever t’ sail the Seven Seas, who reminded us afore ’twas too late….)

Edward Merrill, ship captain and Unitarian

Because it’s the 300th anniversary of our church, I’m in the process of researching interesting people from the church’s past. It’s easy to track down past ministers, but after a while they all blur together. So I’ve been trying to identify members and friends of the church who led interesting lives.

Today I turned up Captain Edward Merrill, “an attendant” at First Unitarian Church in New Bedford. He was born in Durham, Maine, in 1800, and his family moved to Portland when he was two. He ran away to sea when he was eleven years old. He didn’t return home until more than twenty-five years had gone by, and he had become a ship’s master. I haven’t found out much about his sailing career, and perhaps there is very little extant documentation. I don’t even know what kinds of ships he sailed on — whaling ships? merchant ships? — I just don’t know. He married Mary Converse of Durham in 1825, and they had six children together.

After he retired from the sea to live here in New Bedford, Merrill became an inventor, developer, and manufacturer. He was a partner in a business that refined oil and manufactured candles from whale oil, and at one point he and some others got a contract to supply whale oil for U.S. lighthouses, a contract which resulted in litigation. On March 28, 1838, he was awarded U. S. Patent number 626 for his design for a “hydrostatic press.” This press was “a new and Improved Mode of Pressing Oil by the Help of the Common Hydrostatic Cylinder and Piston.” What exactly was the improvment that he claimed? — “The advantages that my presses possess over any others are that they cost only about one-half as much as the hydrostatic presses now in use inasmuch as it requires about four thousand pounds less iron to make one and obviates the necessity of more than one pump for several presses and takes up less room and answers a better purpose.” The patent is online courtesy the U. S. Patent Office here.

He built the 826-foot-long Merrill’s Wharf between 1841 and 1849, and then erected a three-and-a-half story stone counting house at the head of the wharf. He also built Coal Pocket Pier. These structures still stand today, and are part of the Merrill’s Wharf Historic District — you can find pictures and more info here.

Beyond his business interests, even though he had little formal education he seems to have been a man of some learning and cultivation. He was known as a “wide and careful reader.” He was a painter of some minor talent. You can see one of his paintings, which depicts a gorge in Mexico, here — I imagine that he must have seen the actual gorge on one of his sea voyages. Later in life, he purchased Nasahwena Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands lying southwest of New Bedford across Buzzard’s Bay. He went off to the island with friends and reportedly “indulged his love of nature.” When he died in 1884, his children had a hard time selling the island — no one wanted it until members of the Forbes family (yes, that Forbes family, the rich ones) bought it to add to their holdings of Buzzard’s Bay islands. They still own it, and no, you aren’t allowed to visit unless you’re one of their relatives.

You can find a photograph of Merrill here.

Archives (mostly) online now

Alas, I didn’t have time to write a real post today, because I spent the evening rebuilding my online sermon archives. They’re pretty much all there — the good sermons, the mediocre ones, the real stinkers — although some of them were just so bad I restricted access, just to save you the anguish of reading even the first paragraph. And I’ve lost several sermons over time (though generally speaking, they’re no loss). Everything up through January, 2008, is now up. The rest will be up soon. No extra charge for typographical errors.

Do church and politics mix?

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a survey on August 21 which reveals that for the first time in a decade, the majority of United States residents believe churches should stay out of politics. The overview of the survey begins with these words:

Some Americans are having a change of heart about mixing religion and politics. A new survey finds a narrow majority of the public saying that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and not express their views on day-to-day social and political matters. For a decade, majorities of Americans had voiced support for religious institutions speaking out on such issues.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that most of the reconsideration of the desirability of religious involvement in politics has occurred among conservatives. Four years ago, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50% of conservatives express this view.

As a result, conservatives’ views on this issue are much more in line with the views of moderates and liberals than was previously the case. Similarly, the sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared….

Full report

I’m part of the majority that believes that churches should stay out of electoral politics. I don’t think churches or clergy should support individual candidates, nor do I think that churches or clergy should even do things like host presidential debates (yeah, I mean you, Rick Warren). Speaking in my role as a minister, I don’t believe that I should get involved in supporting or promoting any candidate or political party, at the local, state, or national level. (Frankly, I don’t even want to be in close proximity to politicains — oh wait, that’s my personal revulsion creeping in — go back into your cave, personal revulsion, this is a serious post!)

My reasons for wanting to stay out of politics are religious reasons. No political party or candidate lives up to my religious ideals. For example, my religion tells me to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, which means I cannot ignore anyone — whereas politicians can safely ignore those who cannot or do not vote, such as non-citizens, the poor, and the disenchanted. Or here’s another example — both major presidential candidates have proposed health care initiatives that will not cover large numbers of Americans, but I find this unacceptable because my religious values tell me that all persons should have equal access to decent health care.

But while I’m part of the majority that believes churches should stay out of electoral politics, it’s only a narrow majority. What’s your opinion — should churches stay out of politics, or not? You can write your answer in the comments section below — and if you do, tell us what your reasoning is for your answer….

Why I hate talking about politics

I talk with my dad every Sunday evening. Usually we talk about computers, birding, family members, our respective churches, photography, books we’re reading, courses we’re taking — things like that. Tonight we somehow got to talking about politics. It’s not good for us to talk about politics, for while we basically hold similar political views, part of our shared political outlook is that we don’t like the political direction of the United States. Finally dad said, “I’m getting all worked up. Let’s talk about something else.” But by this time it was after ten, and time for me to get ready for bed so I can go to work tomorrow. “I’m not going to sleep well tonight,” said dad. “Neither am I,” I said. “I’m going to make a hot cup of Ovaltine to calm down,” said dad. I’m going to go down and make some nice chamomile tea.

I hate talking about politics. I don’t understand it, I know I’m being manipulated, and it all makes me feel powerless and hopeless. So there’s going to be a politics ban in effect on this blog for the next few weeks, or maybe longer.

Palin and the religious right

Turns out Sarah Palin is aligned with a church that is affiliated with the “Third Wave,” a religious movement so far to the right it was declared heretical by the religious right:

The pastor [of Wasilla Assembly of God], Ed Kalnins, and Masters Commission students have traveled to South Carolina to participate in a “prophetic conference” at Morningstar Ministries, one of the major ministries of the Third Wave movement. Becky Fischer was a pastor at Morningstar prior to being featured in the movie “Jesus Camp.” The head of prophecy at Morningstar, Steve Thompson, is currently scheduled to do a prophecy seminar at the Wasilla Assembly of God. Other major leaders in the movement have also traveled to Wasilla to visit and speak at the church.

The Third Wave is a revival of the theology of the Latter Rain tent revivals of the 1950s and 1960s led by William Branham and others. It is based on the idea that in the end times there will be an outpouring of supernatural powers on a group of Christians that will take authority over the existing church and the world. The believing Christians of the world will be reorganized under the Fivefold Ministry and the church restructured under the authority of Prophets and Apostles and others anointed by God. The young generation will form “Joel’s Army” to rise up and battle evil and retake the earth for God.

While segments of this belief system have been a part of Pentecostalism and charismatic beliefs for decades, the excesses of this movement were declared a heresy in 1949 by the General Council of the Assemblies of God, and again condemned through Resolution 16 in 2000.

The beliefs and manifestations of the movement include the use of ‘strategic level spiritual warfare’ to expel territorial demons from American and world cities….

Full article.

Well, at least we can say that Sarah Palin isn’t a Biblical literalist. “Strategic-level spiritual warfare” and “Joel’s army” and “Fivefold Ministry” — none of this is in the Bible. They just made this stuff up. I know that as a religious liberal, I’m supposed to be religiously tolerant and all, but this is utter crap. Dangerous crap, too — this is the woman who could be one heartbeat away from the American presidency. God (or someone) help us.


Autumn watch

The autumnal equinox is a week away, and I am very aware of the rapidly shortening days. I don’t mean that I say to myself, Gee, we lost another four minutes of daylight today. Rather, my whole being responds to the lessening daylight : I want to sleep longer; my spirits are lower; I grow anxious if I can’t get outdoors for an hour or so while the sun is still high.

A couple of weeks ago, I planted some Swiss chard in our tiny little garden between our building and the building next door. It has been warm, and we have had plenty of rain, and the seeds sprouted and started to grow, but they have gotten spindly with that look that they’re not getting enough light. The sun has gotten so low in the sky that the buildings to the south block direct sunlight for all except half an hour a day. I don’t hold out too much hope for our Swiss chard.

I usually look forward to autumn, but this year I only seem to notice the loss of sunlight.