Hafiz, Kalidasa, or Anonymous?

Two readings in Singing the Living Tradition, the 1993 Unitarian Universalist hymnal, have been bothering me. I’m not sure I believe their attributions.

(1) The first, #607, is a reading attributed to Khwaja Shams-ud-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Shirazi, better known by his pen name Hafiz (or Hafez):

“Cloak yourself in a thousand ways, and still I shall know you, my Beloved.
Veil yourself with every enchantment, and yet I shall feel your Presence, most dear, close and intimate.
I shall salute you in the springing of cypresses, and in the sheen of lakes the laughter of fountains.
I shall surely see you in tumbling clouds, in brightly embroidered meadows.
O beloved Presence, more beautiful than all the stars together,
I find your face in ivy that climbs, in clusters of grapes, in morning sun on the mountains, in the clear arch of the sky.
You gladden the whole earth and make every heart great. You are the breathing of the world.”

I didn’t find this poem searching either Google Books or Archive.org. Admittedly, Hafiz wrote hundreds of poems, so I can’t say that I’ve made a definitive search. However, I did notice that when searching the Internet for specific phrases from this reading, what comes up are mostly Unitarian Universalist Web sites.

I have no idea where this reading came from. It sounds somewhat like Hafiz. But who’s the translator? Where’s the reference to the Persian original? And then when I do a Web search for the final phrase, “breathing of the world,” there’s a lot of Unitarian Universalist sources that turn up. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be a Unitarian Universalist interpretation of a genuine Hafiz poem. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be another poem by that most prolific of American poets, Anonymous. Given all this, the best attribution for this reading is probably “Unknown.”

But a big part of the attraction of this poem is that it’s supposed to be a Sufi poem. Many American Unitarian Universalists get their God fix by finding a non-Western author who expresses theistic sentiments; God seems less threatening when it comes from the non-Western world. I have to wonder if some Western religious liberal wrote this, using a pastiche of Sufi-sounding sentiments, to safely express their theism — which sounds like a kind of religious colonialism that I don’t want to have any part of. With that ugly possibility in mind, until someone can prove to me that this is a genuine translation of a Hafiz poem, I don’t think I want to use it.

Update, 5/31: Lisa identified this as a quote from Goethe; see the comments.

(2) The second reading which has been bothering me is #419, the one that begins begins “Look to this day!” The hymnal says, “Attributed to Kalidasa.” But should it really be attributed to the ancient Sanskrit poet? The first appearance of this quotation on Google Books appears in the 1895 Cornell University class book; thereafter, it appears in many different popular publications. But a search of Google Books and of Archive.org brings up no instance of this reading appearing in any translation of Kalidasa’s work, nor in any translation of any Sanskrit poems. To me, it doesn’t sound much like Sanskrit poetry, but it does sound a lot like one of those late nineteenth century American verses used as fillers by editors of periodicals.

Here’s the version reprinted in the April, 1911, newsletter of Bullfinch Place Church (Unitarian), Boston:

“Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth—the glory of action—the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well-lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn.”

In the absence of proof that this really is a Sanskrit poem, the best attribution for this is “Anonymous.” With that attribution, this is still a good inspirational reading — no need to dress it up by calling it Sanskrit.

Saul and David

Another look at David’s story, part of a series of stories for liberal religious kids.

Once upon a time there lived a good and holy man named Samuel. Samuel lived in the land of Israel. He knew that Israel needed a good and strong leader. Samuel decided that Saul, son of Kish, would be the best person to rule over Israel, and so he anointed Saul king, and then served Saul as a holy man and an advisor.

Saul was a handsome man. There was not a man among all the people of Israel who was as handsome as he, and he was so tall that he stood head and shoulders over everyone else.

Saul was a likeable man. When he was a boy, he was easy-going and treated his parents with respect. When he became a man, he remained easy-going and friendly.

But even though he was handsome and likeable, every once in a while Saul would fall into a dark mood. It was more than just a bad mood. When Saul fell into one of these dark moods, the light went out of his eyes. When he was in one of his dark moods, he didn’t want to talk with anyone, he just wanted to stay by himself in his throne room. When he was in one of his dark moods, sometimes he would do things that were dangerous or foolish.

One day Samuel sent Saul off to do battle with the evil tribe of the Amakelites. Samuel warned Saul that if he won the battle, he must slaughter all the Amakelites’ cattle. This was because their cattle was diseased, and if Saul brought the diseased cattle back to Israel, all the cattle of Israel would grow sick and soon die.

Saul fought the battle, and he won. But unfortunately, after the battle he fell into one of his dark moods. He forgot what Samuel had told him, and he brought all the diseased cattle back to Israel.

Samuel met him, and cried out, “What is all this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Suddenly Saul remembered what Samuel had him — but it was too late. The cattle were already in Israel. Sail felt terrible. He worried that Samuel could no longer trust him, and his mood grew even darker.

Samuel saw that Saul kept falling into these dark moods. He feared that Saul’s moods were growing worse and worse, and might some day overcome Saul entirely. So he decided to find a successor for Saul.

Samuel found David, the son of Jesse. David was a shepherd, he was short and cheerful, with red hair and bright eyes. Samuel anointed David in secret, and told David that soon he be the next king of Israel.

Saul knew none of this. But soon he fell into one of his dark moods again. His servants said, “One of your dark moods has come again! Command us to go and find someone to come an play beautiful music for you. The music will ease your pain and lighten your mood.”

One of the servants said, “I know a young man named David, the son of Jesse. He plays beautifully on the harp. He is also a warrior, and he doesn’t gossip.”

“Fetch him here,” said Saul.

So David came to live with King Saul, and his music helped to soothe the king when one of his dark moods came upon him.

But Saul’s dark moods got worse and worse, and they came more and more frequently. Sometimes Saul wouldn’t recognize David, and several times he attacked David.

Finally, it got so bad that David had to leave the king, and go live in the wilderness….

To be continued…

Source: Hebrew Bible, 1 Samuel 10-16, 31; 2 Samuel 1-3. The suggestion that Saul’s dark moods might have been a manifestation of mental illness comes from lectures given by Carole Fontaine, professor of Hebrew Bible, at Andover Newton Theological School in 1997.

The Story of David: David and Goliath

Going through my archives, I found my retelling of this classic story. I’m posting it here as part of my series of stories for liberal religious kids.

Once upon a time there was a shepherd named David. His three older brothers went off to fight in the army of Israel, under the command of King Saul. But David stayed behind with their father, Jesse, in the town of Bethlehem.

One day after his brothers had been gone for forty days, David’s father said to him, “Go take some bread and cheese and corn to the camp where your brothers and the rest of the army are — give this food to the captain of their company.”

When David got to the place where the army of Israel was, they were just getting ready to go to battle with the army of the Philistines. A great warrior, a man named Goliath, had just come out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall. He wore a helmet of brass on his head, he was armed with a coat of mail, and he wore brass armor on his legs and back. He carried a long spear, with an iron tip that weighed six hundred shekels.

Goliath stood in the valley between the two armies, and called out to army of Israel. “Why have you come to set your battle in array?” he shouted. “Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man from among you, and let him come down to me. We will fight, and if he can kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him, and kill him, then you shall all be our servants.”

David came up to the camp of the army of Israel right after Goliath had issued his challenge. All the men in the army were talking about it. “Have you seen this man who has come up from the army of the Philistines?” they said. “King Saul has promised that if any man dares to take Goliath’s challenge, and also manages to kill Goliath, the king will give that man great riches, and give him the princess in marriage.” But Saul and all his army were afraid of Goliath.

Eliab, David’s eldest brother, saw David just then. “What are you doing here?” said his brother angrily. “You’re proud and your heart is naughty. You just came down so that you could watch the battle.”

“No,” said David to Elia. “Our father sent me. But now that I’m here,” he went on, “I’m going to go fight this Goliath.”

Saul heard that David wanted to fight Goliath. Since no one else seemed willing to take on Goliath’s challenge, Saul sent for David. But when he saw how young David was, Saul said, “You’re not able to fight Goliath.”

“I have watched my father’s sheep,” said David, “and when a lion and a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went after them. I took the lion by his beard and killed him. And I killed the bear. And I can kill this Goliath, too.”

Saul decided to let David try. He tried to give David a helmet made of brass, and a sword to buckle around his waist. But David took off the helmet and the sword. Instead, he took his shepherd’s staff, and he took five smooth stones from the brook, and he took his sling.

When Goliath, the Philistine, saw David, the young shepherd, he laughed. “Come to me,” said Goliath, “and I will give leave you dead for the vultures to feed upon.”

“You come with a sword and a shield,” said David. “But I come in the name of Adonai, the god of Israel. Adonai will deliver you into my hand, and I will leave you dead for the vultures to feed upon.”

Goliath got up and started walking forward to meet David. David put his hand in his bag and took one of the five smooth stones. He ran ahead to meet Goliath, put the stone in his sling, and flung the stone so it hit Goliath right in the forehead. Goliath fell down dead.

When David returned to the camp of the Israelites, the soldiers took him to Saul. Saul adopted him as one of his own sons. And David became best friends with Saul’s own son, Jonathan.

To be continued…

Source: Hebrew Bible, 1 Samuel 18.

Why some white people need to worry about U.S. policing

I recently finished reading Howard Zinn’s memoir You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. In the chapter “Growing Up Class Conscious,” Zinn talks about going to his first political demonstration in Times Square, New York City, when he was in his late teens:

“In the midst of the crowd, banners were unfurled, and people, perhaps a thousand or more, formed into lines carrying banners and signs and chanting slogans about peace and justice and a dozen other causes of the day. I was exciting. And non-threatening….”

Except that expressing such political ideas was not exactly non-threatening to the powers-that-be:

“We heard the sound of sirens and I thought there must be a fire somewhere, and accident of some kind. But then I heard screams and saw hundreds of policemen, mounted on horses and on foot, charging into the lines of marchers, smashing people with their clubs. I was astonished, bewildered. This was America, a country where, whatever its faults, people could speak, write, assemble, demonstrate without fear.”

Zinn quickly learned that the freedom to assemble and demonstrate without fear is not actually a right for working class whites:

“As I absorbed all this, as my thoughts raced, all in a few seconds, I was spun around by a very large man, who seized my shoulder and hit me very hard. I only saw him as a blur. I didn’t know if it was a club or a fist or a blackjack, but I was knocked unconscious.”

This was a key moment in Zinn’s political awakening:

“Those young Communist on the block [where Zinn lived] were right! The state and its police were not neutral referees in a society of contending interests. They were on the side of the rich and powerful.”

U.S. Communists were wrong about a number of things, including the Soviet Union, but they were absolutely right about the police and the state. No wonder Communism was made functionally illegal in the U.S. during the 1950s, just a few years after Zinn’s political awakening.

We’re seeing this play out in Congress right now. The people who stormed the Capitol on January 6 did so at the behest of the rich and powerful. The Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed a bipartisan inquiry into the storming of the Capitol, but the majority of Republicans in the House voted against it. (Not that I trust the Democrats to institute an objective inquiry — they too are the rich and powerful, and their goal is mostly to score political points off their equally rich and powerful rivals.) My liberal and progressive friends like to say: if the people who stormed the Capitol had been black, they would have been stopped pretty quickly. But it’s equally true that if the people who stormed the Capitol had been working class whites, or homeless people, or Communists, they would have been stopped just as quickly.

If you’re an upper middle class white person — these days, that means a white person with a college degree — you probably don’t have worry about police. But three quarters of white people in the U.S. are not upper middle class. True, they don’t have to worry about policing in the same way as non-white people — but as Howard Zinn discovered in the late 1940s, the police are most definitely not on their side.

One final, obvious, point: the problem does not lie with individual police officers. The police officers I’ve know, and know, are courageous, kind, and dedicated public servants. The rich and powerful would love for us to believe that the problem can be solved by disciplining individual police officers. But the problem can only be solved when the state no longer protects the rich and powerful at the expense of non-white and working class people.

A divided nation

The United States is divided so badly that it’s hard to believe. My liberal and progressive friends blame it all on the Republicans. Not surprisingly, the conservatives blame it all on the liberals. No one seems to listen to anyone but the people they agree with any more.

I’ve been blaming this unhealthy division on social media. But in his new book How Rights Went Wrong, Jamal Greene, professor of law at Columbia Law School, argues that the U.S. Supreme Court, and lower courts, are also to blame:

“…The job of the courts in a pluralistic democracy isn’t to please their base. It’s to work to resolve conflicts, to ratchet them down rather than up. Courts should be reminding us of what we have in common. They should be granting just enough constitutional leverage on each side that we have no choice but to sit down across from each other at the table, to look each other in the eye, and to speak to each other….” How Rights Went Wrong: : Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021), p. 163

Instead, Supreme Court decisions have become a zero-sum game, with clear winners and clear losers. Rather than trying to work people we disagree with, to find some common ground, we just want to eliminate them. As a result, progressives now hope that some of the conservative justices on the Supreme Court will die so Joe Biden can appoint some more progressive justices. Conversely, conservatives hope that the conservative justices can live another four years.

Unitarian Universalist congregations are supposed to support the democratic process in our congregations, and in society at large. But these days, most Unitarian Universalists have unthinkingly bought into the anti-democratic notion that Supreme Court decisions are a zero-sum game. Maybe it’s time for us Unitarian Universalists to reflect seriously on Jamal Greene’s thoughts — maybe we need to stop hoping that conservative Supreme Court justices will die, and start thinking about how to strengthen democracy.

The Pool of Enchantment, part one

Rolf, Sharpie, Possum, and the gang decide to act out another story from the Ramayana.

Click on the image above to view the video on Vimeo.

Full script below the fold.


Rolf: I want to hear the story of the Pool of Enchantment!

Sharpie: Oh, yes, the story from the Ramayana. I’ll act out the part of King Yudhisthira.

Possum: The King, or rather the Queen, and her siblings were chasing a deer who had stolen the wood needed to start a Brahmin’s sacred fire. After chasing the deer for a long time, they sat down under a tree, so thirsty they couldn’t go on.

Sharpie: If we don’t find water soon, we’ll die. Nakula, climb this tree to look for water.

Birago: There’s water over there.

Sharpie: Go get some water and bring it back to us.

Possum: Nakula soon found a pool of clear water. A Crane stood at the far edge of the pool.

Birago: Water! I’m so thirsty!

Voice: Do not drink, O Prince, until you answer my questions.

Possum: Nakula was thirsty, so he ignored the Voice. He drank the cool water, and in a few moments lay dead beside the pool.

Sharpie: Where is Nakula? Sahadeva, you’ll have to go and bring us some water.

Castor: On my way!

Castor: Nakula, dead! I’m so thirsty, I’ll drink before I find out what killed him.

Voice: Do not drink, O Prince, until you have answered my questions.

Possum: But Sahadeva had already drunk from the water, and also lay dead beside the pool.

Sharpie: Arjuna, find our siblings, and bring us water.

Nicky: I’ll take my bow and arrows, just in case.

Nicky: My two siblings, dead! I’ll find who or what killed them. But first, I’m so thirsty.

Voice: Do not drink, O Prince, until you have answered my questions.

Nicky: Who are you? Come out and fight with me.

Voice: Bwa ha ha ha. Do not drink, O Prince.

Possum: Soon Arjuna, too, lay dead beside the pool.

Sharpie: Bhima, go find our siblings, then bring water back to me.

[Nods silently.]

Possum: Seeing his siblings, Bhima wondered what evil demon had killed them.

[Looks around in silence.]

Voice: Do not drink, O Prince, until you have answered my questions.

Possum: When the Queen realized that her siblings were not going to return, she went to the pool herself.

Sharpie: This must be the work of some evil spirit. But I am so thirsty, I will drink first.

Voice: Do not drink, O Queen, until you have answered my questions!

Rolf: They shouldn’t have drunk the water!

Nicky: Who’s that strange Voice that speaks?

Possum: We’ll have to wait until next week to find out….

Lend a hand

Many years ago, quite a few Unitarian churches (this was long before consolidation with the Universalists) had a “Lend-a-Hand Club.” These Lend-a-Hand Clubs grew out of a story written by Unitarian minister, “Ten Times One Is Ten.” In the story, ten people realize that they’ve all been helped by one man. But what if they, in turn, each help ten people themselves, and all those people help another ten people, and so on? Then perhaps helpfulness and goodness could circle the globe. This fictional story inspired real-life imitations. Hale tells of one such real-life imitation:

“Soon after the publication of ‘Ten Times One,’ with no expectation of mine, the parable of the story took form immediately in actual life. Miss Ella Elizabeth Russell, of New York, in the end of May, 1870, read this story to a class of boys whom she met every Sunday, in a Sunday School. They were of different ages from thirteen to seventeen. She writes of them, ‘They felt that they were too old to go to any Mission School, but the idea of a Club to meet Sunday afternoons seemed a more grown-up affair. I had read them the story of Harry Wadsworth and as the class was ten in number, they decided to call themselves the Harry Wadsworth Helpers, to adopt the “Four Mottoes,” and to see what they could do to “lend a hand”.'” [Preface, Ten Times One Is Ten, Lend-a-Hand Society Edition, 1917]

Many more Lend A Hand clubs and groups formed after the publication of Hale’s story; according to one source, there were as many as 800 of them in the early twentieth century. But they slowly died out, until there were almost none left at the end of that century. When I worked at First Parish Church in Lexington from 1997 to 2002, there was still a Lend A Hand Club there; it was the last one, so we were told, in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. In this century, the “Lend A Hand” legacy continues in the form of the nonsectarian nonprofit Lend A Hand Society, based in Boston.

We Unitarian Universalists have dropped the Lend A Hand Club in favor of the Social Justice Committee; what worked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries no longer works for us today. Today’s Social Justice Committee goes much further than the old Lend A Hand Club: today, we understand better how doing good deeds sometimes isn’t good enough; it may not be enough to offer a helping hand, because an unjust system can erase everything your helping hand has done in a very short time.

So I’m not looking to reinvent Lend A Hand clubs, but I do find inspiration in their history. I especially like the “Four Mottoes” that Hale wrote about:

Look up and not down,
Look forward and not back,
Look out and not in;
Lend A Hand.

Social justice work can feel overwhelming. It is often dreary and thankless work. You often feel like you’re making no progress at all. I think that’s why I like the relentless optimism of the “Four Mottoes”; in the face of all the problems facing us, I could use some relentless optimism.

Bullying and abusive conduct by ministers: what’s it look like?

Recent events have raised my interest in bullying and abusive conduct my ministers. What does it look like? How can we know the difference between ministerial grouchiness or a minister occasionally losing their temper, and outright bullying and abusive behavior?

First of all, we want to look for patterns of behavior. Every minister I’ve known has lost their temper at least once; ministers are human beings, and human beings lose their tempers. Of course it would be best if we ministers never lost our tempers, but losing your temper once in awhile is not the same as a pattern of abusive behavior. So we’re looking for a pattern of behavior that happens over time.

Second, we want to look at power differentials. If, for example, there were three ministers on the staff of a large congregation, the senior minister has power over the junior ministers, and it’s much easier for the senior minister to bully the junior ministers; similarly, most of the time (not all of the time) the minister has more power than a non-ordained congregant. Determining power differentials is not always easy, though, and we can’t just default to a position that says ministers always have more power than congregants. For example, other types of power differentials make it possible for a male congregant to bully a female minister, or for a white congregant to act abusively towards a non-white minister. Even white male cis-gender ministers can be bullied or treated abusively by congregants who are in an entrenched power position within their congregation; in fact, because the minister is an employee, the minister’s lay leader supervisors have the potential for bullying or abusive behavior towards the minister. So we want to look for power differentials, though in themselves they won’t be diagnostic.

Third, we want to look for certain kinds of behaviors. Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical Christian whistleblower, posted on his blog the charges against Mark Driscoll, an evangelical megachurch pastor who was forced out his position as senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle due to bullying and abusive behavior. These charges, which you can read here, catalogue a number of bullying and abusive behaviors Driscoll allegedly engaged in. I’ll quote from some of these formal charges to show you what bullying and abuse can look like:

“Pastor Mark exhibits anger and ungraceful ways of dealing with those with whom he disagrees and who disagree with him… by putting people down, caricaturing, and dismissing.
“Pastor Mark … has created a culture of fear instead of a culture of candor and safety….
“Pastor Mark is verbally abusive to people who challenge him, disagree with him, or question him.
“Pastor Mark uses words to demean, attack or disparage others.”

I’ll also quote from one piece of evidence used to support the charges, so you can get a sense of the specific sorts of alleged behavior that’s considered abusive or bullying:

“Mark’s response to that elder was bullying, with some elders present recalling language to the effect of: ‘I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m trying to be nice to you guys by asking your opinion. In reality, we don’t need your vote to make this decision. This is what we’re doing.'”

It’s fairly clear that this kind of behavior should be characterized as bullying and abusive. But it’s wise to remember that there will be a continuum of potentially bullying and abusive behavior, and there won’t necessarily be a bright shining line between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior. In my historical researches of local congregations, I’ve uncovered a number of instances of behavior that aren’t easily categorized. In one example I researched, from the 1960s, a male minister was shouting at a female Director of Religious Education (DRE). There was a clear power differential here: male full-time supervisor and minister shouting at a part-time female DRE and employee. But while it may have a pattern of behavior, I couldn’t document that for sure. Obviously the minister should not have shouted at the DRE, but since I couldn’t document a pattern of behavior, I couldn’t be sure whether this was a momentary lapse on the part of the minister, or verbal abuse.

Which leads me to one final suggestion:

Fourth, we want to look at whether the congregation openly addresses momentary lapses of civility, or whether a lapse of civility remains hidden, secret, unaddressed. We are all human — ministers, too — and being human means we will make mistakes; we will do things like shout at people. Bullying and abuse in congregations — whether by ministers or by lay leaders, or by white people, or by whomever — is a pattern of behavior. If a congregation directly confronts lapses in behavior when they happen, I think it’s much less likely that the congregation is going to fall into a pattern of bullying or abusive behavior. But if people look away even once, I think that’s going to open up the possibility of establishing a pattern of behavior.

Another kind of misconduct

I recently received one of those emails from Sarah Lammert, the Executive Director of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), saying that a minister has been removed from fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). This email, sent to “Congregational Board Leaders and UU Religious Professionals,” informed us that Scott McNeill “was removed from UUA Fellowship by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee on April 11, 2021 for misconduct involving bullying/abusive behavior in the workplace.”

I can’t remember hearing about any other minister removed from fellowship for bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace. I’m not able to confirm that, because apparently the MFC doesn’t maintain a comprehensive, publicly available list of who’s been removed from fellowship. But in combing through old email, here’s what I came up with:

In 2020, the MFC removed Todd Eklof from fellowship “based on the Rev. Dr. Eklof’s refusal to engage with the fellowship review process.” In 2019, Jason Shelton resigned from fellowship “due to self-reported [sexual] misconduct” (and the MFC infamously sent out Shelton’s self-excusing explanation of his resignation). In 2018, David Morris was put “on a three-year probation” due to “a complaint of child abuse.” In 2017, Ron Robinson was suspended from fellowship following his arrest on child pornography charges, with the proviso that if he were found guilty, he would be removed from fellowship (I have no email stating he was removed from fellowship, though I found news stories stating that he pleaded guilty).

Prior to 2017, the MFC sent out these notifications via U.S. Postal Service. Thinking back, I don’t remember any other removal from fellowship due to bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace. Based on my research into UU history, I’m pretty sure workplace bullying by ministers is nothing new, but in the absence of a comprehensive listing of ministers removed from fellowship I can’t be sure how many ministers were actually removed from fellowship by the MFC for bullying and abusive behavior.

So the question for me remains: Is it a new development for the MFC to discipline a minister for bullying and abusive behavior?

In a subsequent post, I’ll write about what bullying and abusive behavior by ministers looks like.