Compiled by John Addington
On our Universalist mission, undated
The liberal spirit in religion shines most brightly when elsewhere it is most dark. This is as it should be. To exalt the human spirit, to widen human liberty, to promote and defend exercise of the individual mind and conscience, to uplift the dignity and hope of every human being is the unique mission of Universalism.
From a sermon on Oct. 26, 1975:
It is one of the happiest facts of human existence that, like every buried seed struggling toward the sun, every single generation has had a few poets, dreamers and prophets who have kept the star-gate open to a wider human consciousness.
From The Growing Place, undated
The dark night of the soul, those places of death, of bitter remorse, and sorrow and pain and loss and endings and pointlessness and despair and silence are not what they seem. They are growing places where the seeds of humanity are silently gathering strength down there in the dark for what Robert Frost called “our ever breaking newness.” Which is to say they are growing places. Greet them when they come as familiars if not friends . . . look them in the eye with courage. What time has wasted must be renewed. There is but one place where time and death have no dominion: that place is love.
The last paragraph of a sermon titled “Hard Places”
To sum up, then: (1) Suffering, as the Buddha once said, is universal, and hard places are the shortest and surest road to learning kindness, tolerance, forgiveness. (2) Acceptance of change is the second great lesson we learn from having been in hard places. The art of letting go; Life will not necessarily be worse, only different. (3) To find the true north within yourself and live to it will bring you ’round right, no matter what life does to you. These are the important uses of the hard places in every life. To use our hard places as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks, to be created by them rather than destroyed by them is our part in the great game of life.
A benediction given and the 163rd commencement of his alma mater, Bowdoin College on June 15, 1968
“As the generation of leaves, so is that of men.” HOMER.
Ye of the tender leaf, stand in the presence of those who are no more, and know that all men bear upon their frame the marks of the tortuous journey through ages!
Together have we traveled, and none has arrived far ahead of the others. Constrained are we by the same forces, and made mighty by the same powers. Travelers are we all whose eternal journey is toward the future: climbing barriers, crossing mountains, through the gaping centuries we stride out into the unknown, into the unseen; and in our blood the trumpet sounds: “Beyond all borders, go beyond!
FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO A BOOK OF HIS SERMONS, ‘THIS STRANGE AND WONDROUS JOURNEY’
What I would like to say to the people of the future is this:
You will look back on us with astonishment at the truths that stared us in the face, and which we did not see. You will look with wonder at the bright toys, which we created, and used only for the rape of the planet, and one another.
It will seem strange and beyond believing that we reached for the stars, and did not know the simplest keys for living well together.
But know this also, you of the future, you with your libraries and fountains, you in your star cities. Know that even in our slumbers we dreamed. In our fumbling, shadowed search for mistaken glories, even in our clumsy cruelties, it was for you that we dreamed.
Beneath the piled up centuries, below the lost and ruined rubble of our striving, it was you who lay safe-enfolded in the womb of our dreaming: you, the first cause of all our daring. Even now it comforts me to know that it shall be one day as the Way Showers have for centuries foretold.
In that far age and in the chrysalis of time, it shall be your glory and a cause of pride that, born into a universe without justice or mercy, our kind bethought itself of justice and mercy, and put them there.
Remember us for this: that in our wildest wanderings, never did we forsake that dream!
A QUOTATION FROM HIM CONTAINED IN A LETTER FROM THE PRAIRIE STAR DISTRICT NOMINATING HIM (SUCCESSFULLY) FOR THE DENOMINATION’S ANNUAL AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO THE CAUSE OF UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM:
The flame of the liberal spirit in religion shines most brightly when elsewhere it is most dark. This is as it should be. To exalt the human spirit, to widen human liberty, to promote and defend exercise of the individual mind and conscience, to uplift the dignity and hope of
every human being is the unique mission of Universalism.
In periods of human progress, they flower; in times of regression they are cut down and crucified; in bleak times, they sleep like seeds beneath the snow waiting for another spring. But they are always there! Let the doomsayers and the preachers about sin explain that away if they can!
On our historical forebears
A SONG IN THE FACE OF DEATH, UNDATED: MORE ON THE IMMORTALITY OF INFLUENCE:
We . . . are the living immortality of all those who have gone before us. Our art, music, our ideas and philosophies, our laws and civilizations, the very humanity we have slowly brought forth from out of the raw stuff of existence . . . All these are the living immortality of millions up on millions of human beings who have walked across the earth before us. . . . Each of us, a pilgrim, climbs eternally the mountain of the past, and when we reach the peak, and see what is to be seen therefrom, we lie down upon that mountain of human experience, and the small measure of our dust adds to its height, whereby our peers, companions, and those who come after us may see a small way further than we.
FROM JESUS OF NAZARETH, UNDATED
The error of history is simply to have chosen the wrong miracles, the miracle of superstition (because it was safer and less fearful) rather than the miracle of life. The true miracle is that goodness continues to blossom, in the human heart and in every season, like the flowers and the grass, and it never has been and it never can be killed. Because it IS there! And it can be there for us, if we so choose!
THE ELUSIVE VIRTUE OF TOLERANCE, UNDATED
I often feel a Unitarian Universalist has arrived when s/he can return, perhaps at Christmas, to the bosom of a more orthodox family and/or childhood church and attend its rituals with respect, tenderness and affection, knowing what it means to them and accepting it for that, and for the beauty of itself.
It has sometimes been said that the reasons Unitarian Universalists don’t sing hymns very well is because they are too busy reading the next line to see if they agree with it. If you have not arrived at the point where you can say, “You’re you, and I’m me, and that’s okay,” and mean it, then you have achieved a measure of tolerance.
. . . But aren’t there some things one ought to be intolerant of? Certainly, but not persons! If Adolf Hitler applied for membership in this church, we should admit him, figuring he needed it more than most. He would doubtless feel uncomfortable with our collection of values here, but we should have to welcome him, or drop the appellation UNIVERSAL, and our claim of belief in the supreme worth of every human personality.
THE FAITH OF AN ATHEIST, UNDATED
We all become atheists with regard to lesser beliefs as we outgrow and replace them with larger ones. It is a terrible mistake to categorize others who happen to be at a different place in their religious development than our own. To avow anything at any time of life is to disavow others. Real religion is a living, growing thing . . . . To equate the words irreligious, immoral and atheist is only to admit the dearth of your own understanding.
On UU Belief
JOURNEYS OF THE HEART, UNDATED
What is religion? Your religion is your total belief and behavior. No one living is without a religion. Atheists are religious. Agnostics are religious. Hedonists are religious. . . . You are religious! . . . If you really want to know what you believe, all you need to do is look at your check stubs. What you spend your time and money on that is what you believe in. . . Joining a liberal church never signifies that one has arrived at a set of beliefs, but only agreement to a process of open inquiry.
THE TRUTH ABOUT UNIVERSALISM, UNDATED
The chief criticism of Universalism by traditional Christians is that it is a patchwork of artificial borrowings from various traditions, a meaningless “potpourri” without roots or belonging, and as such is shallow, hollow, immature. This accusation . . . must be addressed. I address it briefly by pointing out that every religion on earth has always borrowed, knowingly or otherwise, from every religion around it, and every religion that went before it, including Judaism and Christianity. Thus Jesus . . . prayed “Our father, who art in heaven,” lifting a concept of “The Sky Father” directly from the Zoroastrian religion of Persia that existed centuries before he was born.
A SONG IN THE FACE OF DEATH, UNDATED:
(this could be part of a compilation on atheism, including ’the faith of an atheist’ in the book “this strange and wondrous journey.)
To traditional Christians who believe our salvation is dependent on the sacrifice of one person long ago, we must say . . . what Hamlet said to Horatio: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”
As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I am regularly asked what I believe about immortality. And the question implies that if I do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ, why then, what meaning can life possibly have for us? Do we just live and die, and there’s the end of it? My answer is, “Yes, we die; each of us and all of us go down to that great democracy from which there is no return. . . . Nor are we meant to live forever. No living thing endures. . . . And yet, no soul that ever lived, no spirit, however dim, no life, however brief, has ever tread this strange and wondrous journey between the gates of birth and death without leaving its precious and unique bequest with the ongoing stream of life. . . . It is the immortality of influence . . . Our victories of character remain to bless all humanity forever!
YOU, ME, AND SOME OTHER PEOPLE , 1971
We who are Christians, but not Christian, Jews who would be more than Jewish, have become like the ancient Phoenicians, inhabitant of no single culture but travelers and traders between cultures, interpreters of the Jew to the Moslem, the Buddhist to the Christian, the Catholic to the Protestant, of the agnostic to the believer, seeking to build a universal human community of understanding.
FROM A PAMPHLET TITLED THE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS, UNDATED
The speed of change has caught our generation driving down the super highway of modern technology in model “T” institutions and with antique concepts in our minds. That is not only disconcerting; it is dangerous! The past is littered with the ruins of civilizations and the graveyards of species that proved incapable of coping with changed situations that confronted them. Our ancient mindsets, the old provincialisms, religions, and national loyalties now dangerously divide the human family. There is desperate need in today’s world for a broader, more inclusive view of human life.
The Unitarian Universalists have created a religious movement that is intended to meet that need. It is based upon what we really know about the universe today. It seeks to appreciate the best in each of the religions that come down to us from the past, and to remain open to new understandings. It is appropriate to the needs of One World. . . . Unitarian Universalism is nothing less than a drawing together of all the ancient hopes and dreams of humanity in a new religious consensus, formulated in and appropriate for the new world that is coming to birth in our time.
On his beliefs
BEGGING FOR GOD, UNDATED
Those of you who know me well have seldom heard me use the word “God,” except possibly when I stub my toe. Begging for God, for all things good, for health, for wholeness, for holiness, is what ministers do. A truly liberating ministry stands always with both passion and compassion, between two worlds: the world as it is, and the world as it might be. . . . Every human community from the beginning of recorded history has felt the need of such a person. Like the oracle, the shaman, the witch doctor, the guru, the holy man, philosopher, poet, rabbi, the pastor, priest or prophet.
The minister is set apart from the normal routine of the marketplace, from “getting and spending” to reflect on the meaning of life, to range through the storehouse of human knowledge, and to measure the issue of the moment against the totality of human existence.
MY IDEA OF GOD, UNDATED
[It is not] in the least necessary to argue for belief in God. If God exists, then he exists, whether we believe in him or not. . . If, on the other hand, there is no God, but only an eternally existing universe, then, I think, our moral and religious duty is to develop a Doctrine of Human Destiny, based on the best we can know or find out, and base our actions on that . . . Some might say that this is an arrogant atheism, but I believe it to be a deeply religious and humble outlook on life.
A RELIGION OF YOUR OWN, ANOTHER TAKE ON THE IMMORTALITY OF INFLUENCE, UNDATED:
I have never believed in a hereafter . . . What I do believe is that each person born into the world is totally unique, a new creation, a fresh and radiant possibility. I further believe in the immortality of influence … that each life makes a contribution that is totally unique, and which only that person can make …which becomes a part of the ongoing stream of life. . . . I believe that our mistakes and weaknesses die with us, but that our victories of kindness and character remain to bless humanity forever.
WHY I AM A UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST, UNDATED
I am a Unitarian Universalist because . . . There is absolutely no evidence of a “hereafter,” nor for that matter is there any evidence of a “heretofore.” A short time ago, I did not exist. A short time hence, and I shall not exist. . . .
I am a prisoner of light, limited inexorably to those few golden moments of awareness in which I have been somehow thrown up out of eternity. I have examined every nook and cranny of my prison of light.
All Christian theologians and landings on the moon to the contrary, there is no escape. I am a mortal man and always will be. Yet, the darkness on either side of my life does not frighten me. It only makes the light in my crevasse of time that much more sharply, blindingly bright. . . .
I am a Unitarian Universalist because I believe there is no eternal life outside this prison, and if there were, I should wish for no salvation for myself unless or until I could take all other men of earth with me.
THE EARTH IS ONE, UNDATED. ITS ENTIRETY IS JUST THESE THREE PARAGRAPHS:
Thanks be for those of every age and tradition, of every land and religion, in whose hearts have been peace, and who have sought to invest the green and fruitful earth with the golden gifts of equity, community, and good will.
The earth is one! Let every mosque and temple, every roadside shrine and cathedral, proclaim it! Let the halls of nations ring with it! The earth is one!
And may every child of earth be increasingly free from bondage of the mind and of the spirit, until the hills and the skies and the seas shall dance, and almighty justice cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
FROM AN UNDATED THANKSGIVING SERMON
The offering of thanks often is, and ought to be, a deeply personal act —a delicate and private gesture which often may take the form of deed as well as words. When this happens, the giving of thanks becomes one the most fundamental and spontaneous of human deeds: the giving of goodness to one another. Giving is a holy act. What we give to the world, here or any place else, is the only true measure of our worth to the world: a healthy child, a creative idea, a kindness that eases someone’s pain. In such gifts rests our true worth and the seeds of our immortality. All else, what we get through accidents or fortune or acquisitiveness, is irrelevant and of no significance.
FROM GOD, PRAYER AND THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, 1982
Prayer is what you wish, want and hope for more than anything else in the world, the deepest desire of your soul. . . . It is wise and healthful for us human beings to take regular moments . . . To reflect and bring to the surface in our conscious minds just what our deepest desires may be.
In the end, however, prayer is action, for no one who has a truly held desire or belief fails to act upon it. . . . Hidden from view in the school prayer issue is the pernicious idea that those who don’t pray in accepted manner are really responsible for all America’s problems—immorality, drug use, crime, and the breakup of homes as we have known them, not to mention “secular humanism,” atheism and anti-religion.
FROM REAGANOMICS, FROM THE 1980s
Reaganomics, “supply side economics,” a return to the law of the jungle, is not only simplistic and cruel; it is also dangerous and unworkable. If any here still think it is a good idea, let him reflect that the comfortable American middle class of today was made possible by such things as the G.I. loan that gave a college education to millions, the Social Security act which protects his mother, and the 4% G.I. loan that finances his home; all of which are forms of “welfare.” . . . Civilization requires more than private morality. It requires social morality, morality in the system. Civilization did not rise out of the jungle and the swamp through competition but through cooperation; through reasonable distribution of the means of existence among all its members.
FROM A SERMON ON DEC. 12, 1963:
If freedom fails in this great complex, modern democracy, how will it fail? Certainly not from without, and certainly not from the enslavement of men’s bodies! But more subtly as befits our age, through the enslavement of men’s minds and loyalties . . . If you cannot destroy an idea, you can at least prevent it from reaching the mind to begin with . . . Through censorship . . . By library trustees who are selective about what they make available to the public . . . Through religious censorship boards . . . Through committees or public citizens who make themselves self-appointed guardians of other people’s children . . . Through parents who do not trust their children and young people to be exposed to all magazines, TV shows, and books, and to judge for themselves what is good.
How else, but by exposure to the good, bad, and indifferent, can they learn to discriminate for themselves? . . Through school committees which ban books on and the teaching of communism in the public schools, and through newspapers always slanted so that nothing under the communist label is ever right. . . . How can we fight communism if we don’t know what it is?
FROM WOMEN AS LEADERS, 1974
He recalls the milestones and struggles of Universalist and Unitarian women ministers:
Maria Cook, who preached to the General Convention of Universalists in New York in 1811 and was presented with an informal letter of recognition as a preacher of the Universalist Gospel but tore it up as “an insincere token of fellowship” and yet struggled on by preaching to small congregations on the western frontier.
Olympia Brown, ordained by the Northern Universalist Association in 1863, the first woman ordained by any U.S. denomination, and who served a number of small congregations in the Midwest.
Augusta J. Chapin, ordained also in 1863 and the first woman in America to receive a doctor of divinity degree.
“In the shadows are the many lesser known Unitarian Universalist women ministers who themselves earned doctorates and Ph.D.s, who wrote books and fought brilliantly for human liberties, but . . . served as little known and poorly paid circuit riders on the rural frontiers of America. . .
”The Universalist Register of 1904 showed only about 60 women ministers among us, about one-half of whom were in regular pastoral work — meaning that only half of them could persuade the churches to hire them. In the Directory of the Unitarian Universalist Association for 1973, there are only 30 women listed as ministers.
“Today as we face the issues of our engagement with life in the seventies, will there be those — even in the liberal church — who, faced with the prospect and possibility of women as leaders, will say, as did the College Dean of over 100 years ago, ‘I would be glad to have her, but several trustees and members . . . some of them no doubt women, . . feel it to be too great an experiment.’ ”
Will the day EVER come, I sometimes wonder, when a major Unitarian Universalist church in a major city will seek out and . . . employ a woman as their minister?“
FROM AN UNIDENTIFIED ARTICLE, PROBABLY FROM A NEIGHBORHOOD NEWSPAPER, ON JOHN’S INSTALLATION AS MINISTER OF FIRST UNIVERSALIST CHURCH IN 1963. THIS IS THE END OF A BRIEF ESSAY THAT WAS PUBLISHED ALONG WITH HIS RESUME.
The first truly religious insight of my life was given to me by a biology teacher in seventh grade who, on a field trip along the ocean beach, picked up a spiraled conch lying empty in the sand, recited Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “The Chambered Nautilus.”
“Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll,
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple,
Nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven
With a dome more vast
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outworn shell
By life’s unresting sea.”