Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Interdependent Web of All Famous UUs

In which Famous UUs Matt Groening and Keith Olbermann scratch each other's back:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

March on Down the Field

Tune in at noon (Channel 56 in the Boston media market) today, when the historic antagonists in the oldest Congregational theological rivalry reconvene for their annual figurative hashing out of differences, otherwise knows as the “Oldest College Football Rivalry,” or more simply, “The Game”. This year, the fey Romantics of Cambridge hit the road to test their mettle against the iron Calvinists of New Haven in the Yale Bowl.

It promises to be a tough contest. Both teams have exceptionally strong defensive squads, and for the first season since the 29-29 tie of 1968 (when Yale was captained by Brian Dowling, the real-life “B.D.” of later Doonesbury fame), both are undefeated in Ivy League play. The winner today will become the sole Ivy League champion (in many years the title is shared).

Despite the teams’ seeming equality, predestinarians and other advocates of the theology of visible sainthood will note that Yale is undefeated in all games this season, while Harvard has fallen to Holy Cross and Lehigh outside the League.

[Update 3:24 PM: Predestination is overrated. But you knew that already.]

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Armistice/Remembrance/Veterans' Day

Strange Meeting
Wilfred Owen (1918)

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, -
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
'Strange friend,' I said, 'here is no cause to mourn.'
'None,' said that other, 'save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now...'

God's Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1918)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent.

Too late.

The profligate, senseless waste and carnage of the First World War had put the lie to the unreserved faith in human nature that was known as “Liberal Religion”. Just as the aftermath of World War I birthed the political tensions that would define the rest of the twentieth century and still burden us today – communism, fascism, democracy, the failure of each to live up to its own ideals, and the instability of the regimes and national borders carved out of the old Ottoman Empire – so also did it birth a spiritual challenge that Liberal Religion has not yet adequately answered: facing the reality and tenacity of the problem of human evil, which is present not only "out there" in some demonized adversary, but more importantly "in here" within each of ourselves.

Woodrow Wilson, a liberal Presbyterian and strong advocate of what we UUs have called "the inherent worth and dignity of every person", tried and failed to “make the world safe for democracy,” and to establish a League of Nations in which the political forces that historically had led to war could be resolved instead by reasoned deliberation. Instead, even with the fatal foolishness of national jealousies freshly obvious to all Europe, the terms of peace that were forced upon Germany were so punitive that they almost inevitably gave rise to a Hitler. Yet Neville Chamberlain, a Unitarian and arguably the last great national leader that Liberal Religion ever raised up, is known now to posterity as the great weakling of the century, the trusting fool who appeased Hitler, precisely because of his naive optimism that his own revulsion to war would be shared by his national and political rivals.

We whose spiritual ancestors scoffed at Calvinism must grant the prophet of Geneva at least this much: there is something enduring and rotten at the center of the human soul that can never be completely expunged. And yet, unlike Calvinists, and in spite of the weighty contrary evidence of the twentieth century, we liberal religionists of today still behold and affirm, if not the certainty of the eventual perfection of human nature, then at least that there also exists in the human soul an essential goodness, abiding together with essential human depravity and carrying the potential in every heart and every age to outshine it.

We refuse to abandon our very ancient faith that, over the long sweep of time, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it. We do, nevertheless, tend to lose sight of the fact that in the present moment what is required to lift darkness is the right quality of light, rightly focused. Evil has power, and – as Chamberlain discovered, to his rue – good will does not necessarily prevail over evil merely because it is good. Our challenge in our time is to find a way not only to acknowledge the presence of corruption in the human spirit, but also to make persuasive again the case that the nobility also present in the human spirit is stronger, and must win.

[Erratum 11/13/07: It appears that my source giving the date of the Hopkins poem as 1918 was incorrect. Another source indicates that Hopkins died in 1889.]