After spending something like 36 hours editing Hosea Ballou over the Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve got Ballou on the brain. So I can’t resist posting one more Ballouvian quote. This time, I’ve edited and updated the language somewhat. You shouldn’t go reposting this and attributing it to Ballou, but I think my edited version does capture the essence of his meaning for early twenty-first century readers:
The ideas that sin is infinite, and that it deserves an infinite punishment; and that God took on a natural body of flesh and blood, and actually suffered death on a cross to satisfy God’s infinite justice and thereby save human creatures from endless misery; — these are ideas which appear to me to be unfounded in the nature of reason, and unsupported by the Bible. Such notions have, in my opinion, served to darken the human understanding, and have rendered the Bible a subject of discredit to thousands who, I believe, would never have condemned the scriptures had it not been for those gross absurdities….
The finance committee of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Aipotu was trying to develop a budget that would finally pull the church out of the red. One member of the committee presented a severe austerity budget. “If we follow this budget,” he said, “we can cut our operating expenses in half.”
The chair of the committee said, “I have an idea how we can live on less than that.”
“How?” everyone asked.
“Live on two budgets.”
A member of the our congregation forwarded a photograph his daughter took in her local WalMart. In the background of the photo you can see a nice ham, and in the foreground there’s a sign that reads:
Delicious for Chanukah
Boneless Smoked Ham
UU World magazine just published a short piece I wrote titled “The end of religion?: What’s wrong with a mathematical model predicting religion’s extinction?” This is a rewrite of a March 22 post from this blog.
Lots of comments over at UU World, or you can argue with me in the comments here.
The ancient Greek poet Archilochus, by tradition the first poet after Homer, and the inventor of iambic verse, wrote: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one great thing.”
The following tale, in which the professor takes the role of the fox and the boatman the role of the hedgehog, gives one interpretation of this saying:
A professor was being ferried across a river by a boatman, who was no scholar. So the professor said, “Can you write, my man?” “No, Sir,” said the boatman. “Then you have lost one third of your life,” said the professor. “Can you read?” again asked he of the boatman. “No,” replied the latter, “I can’t read.” “Then you have lost the half of your life,” said the professor. Now came the boatman’s turn. “Can you swim?” said the boatman to the professor. “No,” was his reply. “Then,” said the boatman, “you have lost the whole of your life, for the boat is sinking and you’ll be drowned.”
Rev. Henry Woodcock, The Hero of the Humber: History of the Late Mr. John Ellerthorpe, Foreman of the Humber Dock Gates, Hull, 2nd. ed. (London: 1880), p. 32.
Scott Wells has started me thinking about what I’d like to do to introduce an online component to sermons. Here are some preliminary ideas:
- On Thursday (the day I usually write a sermon), post a reading and a question for reflection on a sermon blog; the reading would be used during the service three days hence.
- On Sunday morning, just before preaching, post the reading text of the sermon on the same sermon blog. The sermon would have embedded hyperlinks, and bibliographic references for further reading as relevant.
- In addition to comments on the sermon blog, the order of service would give a hashtag for a Twitter conversation. The sermon would be streamed live online, so shut-ins and people who were traveling could hear the sermon, and participate through Twitter and online comments.
- After the Sunday service, comments would remain open on the sermon blog, and I’d join in the online conversation when it made sense to do so.
This would fit into my normal weekly work flow: I have often posted a reading or reflection question a few days before I preach a sermon, and I already post a text of my sermons online before I preach them. At present, I don’t have comments enabled on my sermon blog (because I got too many comments by evangelical Christians and Hindus who wanted to argue without listening to anyone else), but it wouldn’t be a big deal to enable comments once again. The only thing listed above that I can’t do right now is stream the sermon live online (yes, I know I’m at a Silicon Valley church, but we don’t have the volunteers who could oversee the streaming, and our Internet connection is woefully slow). And for you diehard Facebook people, there could be a Facebook page with the sermon blog’s RSS feed.
The real question is: would anyone actually participate in a Twitter conversation, or read the sermon online and comment on it? Would you? Or is there some other online enrichment strategy that I’m missing?
Carol has a post on her blog about green burial at a Bay area “green cemetery.” I’m in favor of green burial myself, but as a minister I can tell you that it can be pretty difficult to avoid the default burial method of our society: embalmed body in the most expensive sealed casket you can afford, placed in a sealed concrete grave liner in a conventional cemetery, with the most expensive stone marker you can afford. Death and burial has been consumerized like everything else in our society: embalming and caskets are big business; and the funeral home industry is dominated by big chains that put profit margins before family desires. And green burial, which should offer cost savings, sometimes becomes just another marketing ploy. So if you’re hoping for a green burial, it’s best to start planning well in advance. The Funeral Consumer’s Alliance (FCA) has a pretty good brochure on green burial and a short FAQ on green burials. FCA also links to the non-profit Green Burial Council (GBC); I have no personal experience with GBC so can’t recommend them myself.
And I’d love it if any of my readers who have had personal experience with arranging a green burial would tell us about it in the comments.
Musicologist Susan McClary writes about how the blues was adopted by white British middle class men in the early 1960s, e.g., by Eric Clapton, and turned into rock:
Thus the priorities of the genre [i.e., the genre of blues music] changed when it was adopted by British rockers — as they had, for that matter, when the blues had passed from Bessie Smith to Robert Johnson. That the principal interests of the British differed from those of the African American musicians they initially idolized became clear when musicians and critics alike announced that they were ready to leave their black mentors behind and move forward into art rock. As Motown historian Dave Morse complained in 1971: “Black musicians are now implicitly regarded as precursors who, having taught the white men all they know, must gradually recede into the distance” ….
When middle-class kids and British art students “universalized” blues by making it the vehicle for their own alienation, many black musicians chose to develop other modes of expression. For some of them, in any case, the blues had come to recall times of rural poverty and victimization — the genealogy sedimented into the blues had moved to the foreground for them, drowning out other registers of meaning. Thus it is no coincidence that rap musicians have worked to construct a different heritage, tracing their roots through sampling and quotation back not to the blues per se but to James Brown and soul — a genre of black music that emerged during the decade when white rockers arrogated the blues unto themselves. For African Americans the blues was always just one particular manifestation of a number of deeper elements that live on in other genres. It was never a fetish, but simply a vehicle for expression. When historical conditions changed, when it became reified, it could be left behind.
Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form, pp. 58-59.
I read this as a healthy reminder that the genre of rock is not somehow universal — and therefore rock can not become the be-all and end-all of liturgical music; indeed, no musical genre can serve as some kind of a universal liturgical expression.
Old Isaac Watts has a poor reputation among religious liberals. He’s old-fashioned. He writes those four-square hymns we love to hate. He’s rooted in the Bible and talks about God as male. Bad hymnodist!
Yet here’s an Isaac Watts hymn that would be a very nice addition to today’s liberal religious hymnody:
In vain the wealthy mortals toil,
And heap their shining dust in vain;
Look down and scorn the humble poor,
And boast their lofty hills of gain.
Their golden cordials cannot ease
Their pained hearts or aching heads,
Nor fright nor bribe approaching death
From glitt’ring roofs and downy beds.
Thence they are huddled to the grave,
Where kings and slaves have equal thrones;
Their bones without distinction lie
Amongst the heap of meaner bones.
“The Rich Sinner Dying,” Hymn 1:24 from Hymns and Spiritual Songs by Isaac Watts.
Various media sources are reporting that singer Marianne Elliot-Said has died of complications of breast cancer at age 53. Elliot-Said was better known under the stage name Poly Styrene, a name she used while singing with X-Ray Spex.
X-Ray Spex had a short career. In 1976, Elliot-Said was taking voice lessons, learning how to sing opera, and recording derivative reggae songs on the side, when she saw the Sex Pistols perform. This exposure to punk rock galvanized her, and she decided to form her own punk band, X-Ray Spex. The band performed together for about three years, recorded a handful of singles and one album, then disbanded in 1979.
Following the demise of X-Ray Spex, Elliot-Said joined the Hare Krishnas — more properly, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a branch of Hinduism that worships Vishnu, and is devoted to bhakti yoga, or expressions of devotion to God. I had not known that Elliot-Said had joined the Hare Kishnas, but I was not entirely surprised. When she was singing with X-Ray Spex, her voice had a transcendent, joyful quality to it — even when she was singing about the horrors of genetic engineering, or screaming (in late 1970s punk vocal style) “Oh bondage! up yours!” Although the punk rock idiom of the late 1970s was fairly limited, as practiced by someone like Poly Styrene the vocal style could approach a raucous and ecstatic transcendence. There was often a hint of rapture in her voice, even a hint of a connection to something larger than herself.
Elliot-Said has been interpreted as an early exponent of what came to be called third-wave feminism; she had a clear influence on later feminist bands like The Slits, and it’s hard to imagine the riot-grrrl movement without her example. She allied herself with the anti-racist forces within punk rock and was bi-racial — a Somali father and an English mother — and perhaps she will be claimed as an early adopter of multiracial identity. She also had a preference for day-glo colors and wore braces on her teeth, though it’s harder to know what to make of those attributes.
But I prefer to remember her simply for her full-throated, no-holds-barred singing, a kind of punk bhakti devotion that invited us all to transform and transcend. The hell with the anemic pablum of praise bands — if you’re gonna make me have amplified music in a worship service, I won’t settle for anything less the raw full-throated raucous singing of someone like Poly Styrene.