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The Rev. Carl Scovel, minister emeritus of King’s Chapel in Boston, and recipient of the UUA’s highest honor, the Distinquished Service Award, gave an amazing speech delivered before the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 23, 1994. This is known as the Berry Street Lecture of 1994.

I knew Carl back in the mid-1950′s when we both attended the Gannet Club, a club for singles, at the Arlington Street Church in Boston. He was a serious young man, very knowledgeable and headed for the ministry even then. He had grown up in China as his parents were missionaries there. I remember once riding in a car with him and another bright young intellectual by the name of Karl Nelson (not sure of that first name), going to some club function. They were discussing 19th century religious people, and referred to someone as “the last of the Transcendentalists”. I was very impressed with their knowledge, and that expression stuck in my craw. I wonder whatever happened to that Nelson fellow.

Here is a inspiring excerpt from Carl’s lecture:

We also know that spirituality is not simply the product of fear, frustration, or bad digestion. We know that our yearning for meaning and fulfillment is given in our very being. So! Follow that yearning, need, reaching to its source, to our creation, to our createdness and surmise with me, if you will, that this yearning, this reaching, this need, is no accident, no psychic atavism, but a reflection of that reality from which we come.

The Great Surmise says simply this: At the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, to which we shall at last return. And this is the supreme reality of our lives.

This goodness is ultimate—not fate nor freedom, not mystery, energy, order nor finitude, but this good intent in creation is our source, our center, and our destiny. And with everything else we know in life, the strategies and schedules, the technology and tasks, with all we must know of freedom, fate and finitude, of energy and order and mystery, we must know this, first of all, the love from which we were born, which bears us now, and which will receive us at the end. Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness, to know it without reserve or hesitation. “Too much of a good thing,” said Mae West, “is wonderful.” Sound doctrine.

Do you see how the Great Surmise stands all our logic and morality on its ear? Neither duty nor suffering nor progress nor conflict—not even survival—is the aim of life, but joy. Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy.

I would like to thank the Rev. Richard Beal for providing this excerpt and telling us about Carl Scovel’s Berry Street lecture.

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Hey, we had a pretty nice “vesper service” Sunday eve over at the West Paris UU church. The topic was FEAR. Sounds good, huh? BOO! But I like the opening and closing statements. The rest was good too. Here’s the opener:

There is a love that restores the soul,
a love that makes all things new,
a love that will not ever let us go.
May we trust in that love.
May we rest and be held by that love.
Even when we cannot believe it exists,
love is all around us, among us, inside us.
May love speak through our lips,
Hear through our ears
now and always.

Here’s the closer:

Safety is not the most important value.
Let us encourage one another
to live our lives with passion and risk,
to find something important to serve.
Caring makes us vulnerable;
still, let us go toward life
as if our fears had taken a deep breath and
calmed down.
Let us go toward life.

There were 13 of us there including Richard Beal, our minister. A couple of new people, the Dewings seemed pretty interesting. Turns out Mr. Dewing attends Shaker services down in Shaker Village, Maine, and his wife gives guided tours there. Doug Leathem was depressed because his dog died. (I won’t sing, “When the dog died, we had hot dogs.” and didn’t sing it then.)

About 30 slips of paper were passed out from a basket passed around. These were all various quotes having to do with fear and how to handle it. Then we gave our reactions in a kind of Quaker meeting style. This was very interesting. (The Shaker got to act like a Quaker.) Then we had a period of silence. Then we had another song to sing before the closing words. A pretty good evening.

Next week the topic’s gonna be Generosity. It’s over at the Norway UU church and starts at 6:30pm Sunday eve. Come on down!

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More Fun in Church

Fun in church again today. Richard (our minister) created a “Lighter and Brighter” service dedicated to easing any growing winter blahs. This worked! My blahs were definitely eased and it appeared to me from my vantage point in the choir that the blahs of the rest of the congregation were eased as well. In fact Kathy happily lit a candle for the big fat robin she had seen yesterday, and Heather lit one for the amazing shooting star she saw last night on driving home from performing at the White Mountain Hotel. Were these premonitions of the paradigm shift we experienced in church today? Ha Ha Who knows? Speaking of paradigm shifts, Richard arrived in a light tan suit with a yellow tie and proceeded to give us opening words in jumpy jazz rhythm.

He invited Mary Hargreaves, better known as Mary Ukelady, to help us sing away the winter blues, and she was terrific as usual. She and Heather did a great duet together, and also Heather, our choir director, did her amazingly awesome new song, Make It Mine, that she did at the Open Mic on Friday. The choir put on a show of its own with an exciting do-do-wah song which Heather had picked out for it. We had the congregation jumping, yes, almost literally.

Speaking of the Open Mic on Friday, that was terrific too. There may have been upwards of 60 people squeezed into the concert hall in the church basement. Heather, leader of the Open Mic, had to cut the number of songs per performer back to two from three in order to fit everyone in. The choir did “One More Circle” by Peter Mayer, arr. Jim Scott, and I think we really bashed it. Yippeeee!

So what do all these fun and games have to do with bettering the state of the world and the people suffering in it? Are people suffering? Absolutely! But the purpose of our celebration today was to celebrate life, the world, and our amazingly good fortune to be alive in it, to be thankful, ever so thankful that we live, have life and love for this brief time on earth. And every person’s death diminishes us.

How about I close with John Donne’s famous poem?

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Many years ago at the Arlington Street Church in Boston we did a Vaughn Williams musical arrangement of this poem. Wish I still had it.

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Hey, we had a good day in church today. I always get turned on there. It starts slow. Very few people. You wonder if anyone will show up. We had a full complement of people for the choir. Four women in the front row. Three men and one woman in the back row. This let us do a four part round. It was a little shaky but we got silent clapping from Becky. For introit we did a Jubilate Deo. Great fun to hit that. I enjoyed singing it.

Mind you this is a UU church with Universalist leaning. We’ve added about six or seven people this year. I think there were close to forty people in attendance today, counting the choir. We’re all very informal. Lots of candles lit. I lit one for son Christopher, saying today would have been his 52nd birthday.

There’s a lot more I could say. I could get into the personalities. People are all friendly and enjoy one another during coffee hour, before church, and even during. There were about ten people at the social concerns meeting during coffee hour. I didn’t attend — being treasurer is enough — and chatted with various people.

I’ve decided to learn “One More Circle” by Peter Mayer, arr. Jim Scott, for the Open Mic this Friday. It’ll be the seventh anniversary. Heather started it the end of January 2002. See an earlier post on the fourth anniversary for background. It’s amazing how time flies.

OK, that’s it for now. Over and out.

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