Plain words

This week, I’m taking one of my weeks of study leave. Most Unitarian Universalist ministers receive four weeks of study leave each year, during which time we are relieved of ordinary duties (although we remain on call for emergencies), and can read, take courses, engage in spiritual reflection, or otherwise study and take in new material.

The congregation here at First Unitarian seems to like responsive readings, but the worship committee and I have become bored with the unison and responsive readings in the back of the current Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition. Increasingly, I have found myself finding such readings elsewhere; so the members of the worship committee suggested I assemble a collection of such readings. That has become my central project for this week of study leave.

It’s an interesting project, because I’m trying to use material that’s in the public domain. Fortunately, some of the best English translations of various scriptures and writings from the world’s religions are now in the public domain. I have been collecting printed copies of some of these, and these days I can find many more on the Web.

Eventually, I’ll post my collection of responsive readings on my Web site. In the mean time, maybe you’ll like this reading, taken from the Taoist tradition, as much as I did:

Plain Words

By abandoning the appetites and restraining the passions, you may escape trouble and anxiety.

By keeping clear of calumny and beyond the reach of suspicion, you may avoid hindrance to your affairs.

By abhorring the wicked and expelling slanderers from your presence, you may put a stop to disorder.

By extensive study and eager questionings you may greatly enlarge your knowledge.

By a high course of conduct and a reserve in conversation, you may cultivate the person.

By providing against disaffection and knowing how to use your power, you will be able to unravel complications.

By firmness and stability of purpose, you will establish merit.

By impregnable virtue, you will be able to preserve yourself securely until death.

By consulting with the benevolent and making friends of the outspoken and blunt, you may receive support in seasons of adversity.

By doing to others as you would wish to be done by, and being sincere and honest in all your dealings, you may attract all people to become your friends.

From “The Su Shu: The Book of Plain Words,” in Taoist Texts: Ethical, Political, and Speculative, collected and trans. Frederic Henry Balfour (London, 1884).

It never hurts to make friends with the outspoken and blunt….