Monthly Archives: March 2009

Sixth anniversary

Today is the sixth anniversary of the invasion of the war of Iraq. So here’s a meditation for pacifists….

Jesus of Nazareth allegedly said:

“Don’t react violently against the one who is evil: when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile. Give to the one who begs from you….” [Scholar’s Version, Matthew 5.38-42]

All these suggestions are, of course, absurd. If someone slaps your right cheek, why wouldn’t you just walk away from that person? — and how does this advice apply if someone slaps you on the left cheek? Absurd, absurd. As for that business about the shirt and coat, you have to remember that in a society where people only owned two garments, wouldn’t that would leave you standing around naked? Absurd. Carry a Roman soldier’s pack for an extra mile? Absurd. Give to the one who begs to you? — also absurd.

OK, maybe these things are absurd. But the alternative is the old eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth morality, e.g., when “Axis of Evil” kills some of our people, we automatically go and kill some of their people. Isn’t that old eye-for-an-eye morality just as absurd, in its own way?

Now I tend to be a pragmatic guy, and if someone slaps me on either cheek, I’m going to just walk away. For that matter, I’m not going to give away all my clothes and be naked, I’m not going to carry a Roman soldier’s pack. But as a pragmatist, results matter, and I don’t see that my pragmatism has done much to bring about world peace, either.

I don’t have the answer. But I am drawn to the clarity and elegance of Jesus’s moral philosophy. I’m not sure I want to try everything he suggests, but I do wish I had given money to the beggars I passed on the street today, just to live out his absurd teaching in a small way.


Carol gets press coverage…

Carol, my sweetheart and life partner, got some good coverage in an article in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor titled “Waterless urinals: Cheap. Green. But many think ‘gross’”. She got even more extensive coverage in a March 9 article in the Lowell Sun “Making the Most of Human Waste” (I was sitting there while she was doing the phone interview, and it’s interesting to see what made it innto the article and what didn’t).

Thank you for indulging me while I brag about Carol.

A true story…

I ran across a true story last week, with a plot worthy of a 19th C. novelist. It’s such a good story, I can’t resist writing it down here. (Even though all those concerned with this story are dead, I have changed dates and identifying characteristics anyway — and no, this story has no connection to New Bedford.)

The story begins in 1857, in a small town in northern New Hampshire, when a baby boy is born to a young couple. We’ll call him Albert. Everything is fine until Albert is two and a half, when his parents die, leaving him an orphan. This is a backwoods place, and the only household that can support him is a house of working men; for some reason, they agree to take care of this little toddler. But this is not a fairy tale where cute little Albert reforms these rough, tough men — instead, Albert grows up wild, swearing and cursing from the time he could talk, hearing about the men’s sexual exploits from a young age, having little or no moral guidance (at least, that’s how he remembers it late in life).

When Albert is twelve he becomes friends with a girl three years younger than he. We’ll call the girl China. She lives in a nearby house, and her father is a foul-mouthed drunk, and her older sisters are little better than prostitutes (who knows where the mother disappeared to); in other words, she belongs to the same social class as Albert. Their friendship is the one bright spot in his otherwise miserable childhood. Then they hit adolescence, and before long they start having sex, and by the age of sixteen China is pregnant.

In 1876, society was not tolerant of girls getting pregnant outside of wedlock, and this was especially true for girls living in small New England towns. The townsfolk try to bring legal action against Albert, but under New Hampshire law of that time he is still a legal minor, so they can’t take legal action against him. But they separate China from Albert: he is sent away, and she stays in town and bears the child, a healthy baby boy named Saul. By the time Saul is five, the owner of the town livery stable, a man named Mr. Brewster, marries China and adopts Saul as his own son.

Meanwhile, Albert heads south to Concord, New Hampshire, where he attends school, and eventually winds up studying law with an established lawyer. The lawyer sends him off to Bowdoin, where he doesn’t get a degree, but he does get a year and a half of college. Then he goes back to Concord, New Hampshire, is accepted as a partner in the law firm where he had been working, and almost immediately marries a young woman named Belle who’s from Concord. Before they get married, he tells Belle all about China, and she is broad-minded enough that it doesn’t worry her. They have a child together. When the old lawyer in the law firm dies, Albert decides to try his luck in boston, where he practices law for a time. Then Belle and Albert decide to move to Lowell, and Albert practices law there for a few years before he moves to Somerville.

Thirty-odd years after they marry, Belle dies. While Albert hasn’t been wildly successful as a lawyer, he has done well enough, and over the years he has served with the Massachusetts Bar Association, and has many respectable friends in the Massachusetts legal world. By now, it’s 1925. Albert decides to make a sentimental visit to that little town in northern New Hampshire where he had grown up. He has been gone for nearly half a century now, and he doesn’t expect to find many people whom he remembers, or who remember him; yet whom does he meet but China herself. Mr. Brewster died only eight years after they were married, and she has been single ever since. Albert and China fall in love all over again, and they get married.

Two years after China and Albert marry, a close friend of Albert’s begins to put two and two together. By some freak happenstance, this friend happens to find out when China got married to Mr. Brewster. The friend knows that China and Albert were in love with each other before China married to Mr. Brewster. And this friend knows how old Saul, China’s son, is now. The arithmetic is easy, and the deduction is logical…. Albert realizes his friend has figured out the skeleton of the story. He writes a long letter to his friend, and fleshes out the rest of the story. Albert writes that while he’s thoroughly ashamed of his wild youth, both he and China were victims of their circumstances, they were not immoral but amoral; they are different people now than they were then; and now he is proud of his son Saul, and he is happy, not ashamed, to be married to China. Albert begs his friend to keep this secret, and declares that he would not burden his friend with the story except “I knew when you saw Saul, you figured out that he must have been born before China married Mr. Brewster.”

That’s the end of the story. The friend did keep the secret — at least, he kept the secret until Albert and China and Saul and he had all died. And although I stumbled across this story by pure chance, now I have kept the secret, too; because the real secret is not the story itself — a story that I am sure has happened frequently in the unwritten history of the human race — the real secret is knowing just who the people really were who were the chief characters in the story.

I’m a felt-board wanna-be

My sister Abby the children’s librarian has been doing some amazing things with felt boards. She has put two posts on her blog about using felt board with Eric Hill’s fabulous picture book Where’s Spot? The first post has photos of some of the felt board creations which she has made — the second post includes a narrative account of how she used actually the felt board in a children’s story hour at her library.

Abby is really good at making and using felt board props. I have to admit that I’m still scared of using felt boards myself, but Abby has got me convinced that a felt board well-used can really add to the story.

Moses George Thomas, minister-at-large

This is the second in a two-part series on the ministers of Centre Church, New Bedford. Part One.

Rev. Jonathan Brown, of Naples, N.Y., was the second minister of Centre Church, from 1845-1848. Following his unsuccessful ministry, the congregation “voted not to employ any but Unitarian ministers.” (13) They then called Rev. Moses George Thomas as their next minister.

Moses George Thomas was born on January 19, 1805, in Sterling, Mass. He was graduated from Brown University in 1825, and from there went directly to the divinity school at Harvard. (14) While he was still a student at Harvard Divinity School, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) hired him to travel through the Western frontier, to find out where the AUA might fruitful ground in which to plant new Unitarian churches. From 1826-1827, Thomas traveled some 4,000 miles on horseback, through Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, going as far west as St. Louis. (15)

Following his graduation from divinity school in 1828, Thomas served as minister of the Unitarian church in Concord, N.H., from 1829 to 1844. He was ordained there, and he was the first Unitarian minister settled in that city. He laid the cornerstone of the first Unitarian church building, and gave the sermon at the dedication of that building. In his early years at Concord, N.H., he became good friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had supplied the pulpit there before Thomas arrived. (16) While serving in Concord, N.H., Thomas officiated at Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first marriage, to Ellen Tucker. (17) The next year, 1830, Thomas himself was married, to Mary Jane Kent. Thomas’s time in Concord was later reported to be perhaps the happiest time of his life. (18)

Thomas was settled at the Broadway Church in South Boston in 1845, soon after the church was organized; here again, Thomas was the founding minister of the church. This congregation never owned its own building, but met in rented space; it seems to have dissolved by about 1853. (19)

After leaving the Broadway Church, Thomas came to New Bedford and was installed as the minister of Centre Church in 1848. Continue reading

Rev. Charles Morgridge, a not-quite-Unitarian

Charles Morgridge was born in Litchfield, Maine, ion August 28, 1791. He attended Bowdoin College, from about 1817 to about 1820. (1) I have been able to find out nothing about his early life.

He entered Bowdoin College as a sophomore when he was 26 (i.e., probably in 1817), and probably was graduated in 1820 or 1821. At some point, he decided to become a minister in the Christian Connection (or Christian Connexion) denomination. He was ordained as a Christian Connection minister in Fairhaven on September 14, 1821; (2) and thereafter he led a peripatetic life, moving frequently from church to church.

While at Fairhaven, his salary as a minister was inadequate, so he also taught in the Fairhaven high school. After spending a year or two at the Fairhaven church, he went to serve for a year as a minister in Portsmouth, N. H., then perhaps two years as a minister in Eastport, Maine, and then he served at the Christian Connection Church on Summer Street in Boston. He left Boston and was settled at the North Christian Church (later called First Christian Church) in New Bedford from 1827. He left New Bedford in 1831 to become the minister of the Christian Connection church in Portland, Maine, at that time the largest church in that denomination, and stayed there until 1834. He returned to New Bedford to serve North Christian Church in New Bedford from 1834 to 1841. (3) Here’s a first-hand account by one Eleazar Sherman of what North Christian Church was like in 1834:

“This house will seat about fifteen hundred people. — In the time of the great reformation in 1834, this house was opened every day for more than three months, day and night; scores of weeping souls came out of their pews for prayer, and bowed before the Lord and the gazing multitude; and the prayers of God’s people prevailed; the angel of the everlasting covenant presented the humble prayer of the penitent before his Father; the angel of mercy descended and pat the cup of salvation to the lips of the dying sinner, and bade him drink the wine of the kingdom and live forever. Oh, what shouts of praise flowed from young converts, whose hearts were filled with hearenly love at this day of God’s power. Continue reading

A peace hymn that’s not so bad

OK, here’s a peace hymn that’s not too horrible.

Words: I found the words on Mudcat, made about three changes to make them gender-neutral, and smoothed out one or two rough transitions. I have been unable to track down who wrote these words, so I’m attributing them to “Unknown”; this is not great poetry, but it’s no worse than many of the hymns we sing on a regular basis.

Music: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” I’m providing sheet music for the hymn in two forms: (1) melody and words only, on a 5-1/2 by 8-1/2 inch sheet suitable for inserting into a typical order of service; and (2) full score for choir, SATB on a full 8-1/2 by 11 inch sheet.

Earlier entry on a peace song.