A word about the situation we’re in

I usually write on a narrow set of subjects — worship, theology and church administration — so leave subjects of national or international importance to those who have a greater depth of experience or better vantage point. Say, the merciless change in policy that means migrant parents in custody are separated from their children. I can’t imagine their horror, or the life-long damage this causes them all.  The UUA made this statement; my heart is closer to this Greek Orthodox statement. There’s lots of religious objection from many quarters to this policy, and the Attorney General’s presumption of quoting Romans to defend his actions.

Of course I detest it. I want it to end. I want decency, democratic norms and accountability to guide national and international governance. But the list of the unbelievable and the unimaginable keeps getting longer. Defend against this, and the White House lobs that grenade into the crowd.

Overcoming these assaults will mean a lot of hard, wearing work, and success is not given. Things I used to care about deeply — employment rights for gay people, or the end of the death penalty — are (to me) now less important than the calculated and empowered de-humanization of target groups by the current Administration. God willing, we may step out of crisis in a few years, but I’m not banking on it.

I paused to make this statement because I was going to write a little post about automating and improving prayerbook typography, and that seems so small by contrast. Even a bit callous. But here’s part of my thinking: we will be called to fight and sacrifice for a very long time. There won’t be as much money or time to enjoy pleasantries, also because the economy is rigged against all but the very rich. We should make as much of what we can, that we might enjoy it the more. If the organ is broken or the plaster crumbles or can’t put a down payment of a church building of our own, we can at least have well-ordered services and (in this case) attractive printed material. We can have that much, and try not to be jealous for more. We must be careful not to be anesthetized to evil by heaping up things or meeting or processes. More than a policy change, the situation we’re in calls for a change in how we live.

So if the flower fund becomes someone else’s legal defense fund, we might better see the beauty of the Lord, and worship in spirit and in truth.

Twelve books for 2018

Like a lot of people, I want to read more. Unlike a lot of people I’m a very slow reader. So I’m making a resolution to read 12 books in 2018; I’ll start with this list but reserve the right to substitute those that don’t keep my attention. (This also shows how theological my bookshelf is, and it’s not like I’m going to put cookbooks on this list.)

Follow me on Goodreads, where I’ll record my progress.

  • Carl Scovel. Never Far from Home: Stories from the Radio Pulpit.
  • Richard Baxter. The Reformed Pastor.
  • A.A. Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh.
  • Von Ogden Vogt. Art and Religion.
  • Massey Hamilton Shepherd. The Liturgical Renewal of the Church.
  • Radcliff Hall. The Well of Loneliness. (The foundational lesbian novel.)
  • James A. Herrick. The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction.
  • Nathan O. Hatch. The Democratization of American Christianity.
  • Hilarion Alfeyev. The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian. (A Christmas gift.)
  • Peter Singer. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.
  • Gregory McDonald, editor. “All shall be well”: Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology from Origen to Moltmann.
  • Rene Girard. The Scapegoat.


Salvator Mundi is for everyone

This week, a previously-thought lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci, “Salvator Mundi” sold for $450 million, and making news because of it. It shows a serene Christ, holding a crystal sphere — the cosmos — and an upheld right hand in a posture of blessing.

The work is stunning, and the price is eye-watering. But the subject of the painting, Christ, Savior of the World is greatest treasure. We are not lost in this world, or to it. We have a sure and powerful savior, and we do not need the riches of the world to meet him. We carry the image within.

See the painting here; the image is probably in the public domain but was released by Getty, and they’re awfully jealous of their licences, whether or not they have the right to be.

Christ with clear orb and hasd-gesture of blessing
Andrea Previtali’s Salvator Mundi, with the same theme

Painting of the Universalist Church in Gloucester

Over the years, troves of images have been released into the public domain or under liberal licences. The most recent release is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Search page)

Here is “The Church at Gloucester“by Childe Hassam (1918) and now in the public domain. The church is, of course, the Universalist church — the first in the Americas.  John Murray was its pastor; Judith Murray, a founder, was an author and leading figure in Gloucester.

Thinking about church style

This is a first thought, because it will make my next blog post — about communion ware — make more sense.

When we think about what it means to be “churchy” we’re often — but not exclusively — talking about tastes and norms set by “the Ecclesiologists,” meaning that medieval-focused, Romantic movement that overwhelmed the Church of England in the nineteenth century. For them, there was one correct style appropriate for Christian churches — in a word, Gothic — whether that meant fully expressed in stonework, or vernacularized into the carpenter style. Think of pointed stained-glass windows. Why did this style cross the Atlantic and denominational lines? The prevailing taste, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and the perhaps nothing so pedestrian as who the church architects and suppiers were. (This isn’t an original thought, and I’ve seen it in a few places, most recently in chapter two, “Capital Ideas: Building American Churches, 1750-1860.” of James Hudnut-Beumler’s In the Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar.)

There are noteworthy examples of Gothic Unitarian and Universalist church buildings, but so as not to lose the point: the creation of a common vocabularly of taste that’s hard to buck, save with variations, like the engrossed domestic style the Universalists seemed to favor, or the (later favored) colonial revival the Unitarians of Boston imposed on the Western churches who wanted financial support. And the less said about the post-war community centers hiding in their own private parksor forests — the  newer UU norm — the better.

This clip, from a 1922 issue of the Universalist Leader, shows that advertizers thought we might buy stained glass.
This clip, from a 1922 issue of the Universalist Leader, shows that advertizers thought we might buy stained glass.

Of course, those days may be declining: not a particular style or fashion, but the ability of churches to chose the shape of their buildings at all. I can all to easily imagine borrowed, rented or shared spaces being a part of the survival strategies of Unitarian Universalist (and other) churches in the all-too-soon future. Consider how many newer congregations meet in office parks or retail space.

Is short, design will have to be expressed in ways other than the building, and without the influence of an eccumenical community of tastemakers. It will be interesting what we come up with, and if we appeal to older and more humble models.

Embedding an Archive.org book

I got an aside from a Well-Respected Minister who liked “that little book video insert piece” in my last blog post. It’s the BookReader of Internet Archive, the source of the book.

I think it’s the best desktop or laptop interface for reading books, and since the Internet Archives has a large number of public-domain Universalist and other works, I will sometimes read books this way, even if I have the actual book. But you can’t just drop other books into it.

Now, here’s how to share the books they do have on your site. First, of course you find one, like this 2003 Massachusetts Conference of the UCC directory.

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When you click on the page, not only does it become larger, but you get added controls. I’ve pointed out the “share” link, which looks a bit like a sideways V. Click that.

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Now you have links for sharing and embedding. The fault imbed is one page at a time, and the first page. I usually want it to look like a book open to the title page, so I select that, as in this example.

Selection_138

Now you might say, surely that directory isn’t it the public domain? True. Some libraries and collections have contributed their own works with permission. And many of them are religious. (And Boston-based for that matter.)

Wouldn’t it be helpful and useful if the Unitarian Universalist Association could host its old Commission on Appraisal reports, Board minutes, classic guides, and pre-consolidation AUA and UCA directories the same way. Our twentieth-century history is hard to access first hand, unless you’re old enough or well-connected enough — or close enough to Boston — to get paper copies of what you want.

How could we make that happen?

Palm crosses: the result

Home and work life will be busy this week, so the blogging will be necessarily light. I hope y’all had a stirring Palm Sunday, and great prayers for Holy Week.

Here are the palm crosses I made yesterday afternoon from the palms I got at church. Typical 30-32 inch strips, once trimmed of the very thin top pieces, made crosses about 4 inches tall. The one on the left came from thinner and — by the time I got to it — dryer material, so it split lengthwise while folding.

2015-03-29 16.30.16

How to make a palm cross

I watched a bunch of palm cross how-to videos, so you don’t have to.

My bias is to make a palm cross out of a single strip, and to have both arms, the head and of the foot of the cross folded back into the central knot. I think they look better, because they’re less flimsy and more evenly shaped crosses.

This video not only show this, but also how to strip and trim the palm.