This talk was given as a segment of HUU’s Jan. 26, 2014 Sunday service about teachers. It followed reflections by educators David Lane on his work with JMU student teachers, and Mary Hahn on her years teaching in Rockingham County schools.
I’m not a teacher. I have huge admiration for teachers, including my husband Robin, my son Eddie, and, as an education reporter, all those I met who keep helping young people learn while weathering SOL’s and all trends thrust upon them. I discovered long ago I couldn’t be them. Remember a ‘’60s game called “If you were a book, who would you be written by?” When I was starting my work life, my answer might have been William Golding, whose characters in his bestseller reminded me of some students I got as a substitute teacher. (That was Lord of the Flies. I hope that, no thanks to me, those kids’ lives have turned out well.)
Golding had been a writer-in-residence at then-Hollins College – one among scores of famous writers, including Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, brought to that campus by Louis Rubin – subject of my tribute, who died this fall, three days short of 90. As a publisher; author of more than 50 books; and mentor to countless writers, Louis is credited with making Southern literature a respected scholarly field. Last year, the visiting author for what has become Hollins’s Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Writer-in-Residence Program was Natasha Trethewey, national poet laureate.
So it seems amazing Louis corresponded with me for more than 40 years!
He talked to our classes about great works having universal application, with the intriguing example of the Japanese devouring translations of William Faulkner. I think that’s where I first consciously learned to appreciate how stories can go deeper than the limits of literal experience, into what Faulkner called “the human heart in conflict with itself.”
When Louis explained Huckleberry Finn’s “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” moment, I learned how a great story challenges without preaching. When Huck refuses to betray his friend Jim, a runaway slave, he chooses between the “morality” he’s been taught and his own conflicting, decent instincts.
A classmate, then, who did become a college teacher recalls when her first class with Louis, teaching Proust, felt like expecting to be seated at a banquet but instead being ushered into the kitchen to see the food being cooked. His approach inspired her work.
At our “girls’ school”/later to be “women’s university,” Louis encouraged us to have it all – careers, families, everything. Follow our talents, hopes and dreams to the limit! Nothing new now (and some may call it too much work), but then, worlds were opening.
Creative writing seminar met Wednesday evenings in Louis’s basement. Third house on the right on Faculty Row. (If American literary sites received blue plaques, like in the U.K., the basement entrance to that otherwise nondescript mid-century rancher would deserve one at least as much as the ancient, picturesque cottage-like schoolhouse so-marked in Salisbury where Golding taught, perhaps to early prototypes of Ralph, Jack and Piggy.) Those of us who read and discussed our work in the Rubin basement ranged from faculty and graduate students, down to sophomores. The ranks included Annie Dillard, Lee Smith and Henry Taylor.
The year my class graduated, 1967, Louis moved on to UNC-Chapel Hill. He remained incredibly generous with the time he gave ex-students. His comments on our work could be tough but could be lavish in praise.
His son Robert hiked the Appalachian Trail (as did my son Eddie). After I’d told Louis about reading Robert’s book on that hike, Louis answered, “He’s a much better writer than I am.” This winter Robert said Louis had valued his work “much higher than it probably deserved, but I imagine that’s true of most of us. He was a generous soul.”
For Louis’s memorial, recalling his and his wife Eva’s Unitarian wedding (a match that would last more than 60 years), his brother said the couple rolled their eyes when the minister recited “the night has a thousand eyes.” (I Googled the phrase and found there have been at least three different songs with that title. I wonder if the one quoted was an 1895 poem; might it have appeared in an early UU hymnal?)
Before academia, Louis’s career was journalism. He wrote a memoir about that, optimistically titled An Honorable Estate. He was city editor in Staunton, and worked for the AP with our friend Jim Geary. In 1956, after graduate study at Johns Hopkins, he became associate editor at the Richmond News-Leader. Years later when I asked Louis about his career there, at a time when I’d become uncomfortable with the biases of those I worked under, he told me about waking up and growing disgusted with the Richmond paper’s crusade against school integration. He moved to Hollins soon after that. He said his reasons for the move were complicated. Of course, journalism’s loss was Hollins’ gain.
He liked to repeat a quote by H.L. Mencken, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
Louis was pragmatic. He honored his Jewish heritage, but didn’t do mysticism or theology. Yet in his final illness, we heard he told a visitor (when he was quite alert), “I’ll see you again. There are other worlds, you know.” He’s buried in a family plot at Temple Beth Elohim, in Charleston, S.C., where he grew up.
Some obituaries called Louis “curmudgeonly.” He had that side, especially while going deaf – but it doesn’t capture him. Just before the long strange trip that would land me in Harrisonburg, while driving my old heap on a job search, I blew off a forecast of heavy snow. In March? No way. So I blundered head-on into The Blizzard of March ’93. Spun 360 on the interstate. No fun, but it made a good story later. Here’s Louis’s response to my report, from a letter I’ve saved these 20 years: “As for your escapades on icy roads, you’re fortunate to have emerged so harmlessly. Next time you had better listen to the weather bureau; they called that storm, and predicted how bad it was likely to be, several days ahead. These days they are quite accurate. What I do every November is have a set of steel-studded snowtires put on my car’s drive wheels. They can handle ice… The only cost is having them put on and taken off. Moreover, they have the fortunate effect of keeping the ice and snow away from these parts; it hasn’t iced up or snowed in three years.” In the same letter, he gave me a job-search tip that I wonder now why I didn’t follow.
Sometimes I think calling a memorial a “Celebration of Life” is euphemistic, but Louis’s “wake” two weeks ago at Hollins felt like a true celebration. I wish he could have heard what we all said, and even what I’m telling you now – and no doubt, made corrections.
By Noel Levan
November 17, 2013.
Many years ago I wrote with some regularity, in journals, poetically, and with a questioning that I now sometimes miss.
I wrote, “Standing upon the threshold of knowing, the cosmos, has no floor.” I thought at that time that I had a glimmer of understanding regarding how the world worked and what part I played in ‘the grand scheme of things’. I thought too that fathoming the cosmos was very like standing upon a threshold to a room that had no floor. That I could imagine myself knowing even an infinitesimal portion of all there may be to fathom about ‘life, the universe and everything’ was to me, laughable. And I did laugh. I do laugh, often, deeply and with
Continue reading Thoughts on keeping one’s balance in a cosmos with no floor.
by Rev. Emma Chattin
Lighting the Chalice
The candle wick and the flame stand apart, each one from the other.
And yet together, they become something more,
burning together without burning up,
a thing of lasting illumination, and a cradle of warmth in the chalice.
May we, like the wick and flame, learn to unite our differences
into something much more than we could ever be apart.
First Reading Genesis 11: 1-9
Throughout the earth, people spoke the same language and used the same words. Now, as they moved eastward, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They all said to one another, ‘Let us make bricks, and bake them in the fire.’ They used bricks as building stones, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top can reach to heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, to keep us from being scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ YHWH came down to see the city and the tower these mortals had built. ‘They are a single people with a single language,’ YHWH said. ’And this is but the beginning of their undertakings! Now there will be nothing too hard for them to do. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so that they can no longer understand one another.’ So YHWH scattered them over the face of the earth, and they had to stop building the city. It was named Babel, because YHWH confused the language of all the earth. It was from there that YHWH scattered them over the whole earth.
~from Robert Lawrence Smith in A Quaker Book of Wisdom:
Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service, and Common Sense
Nonviolence has always been the most paradoxical, counterintuitive, and optimistic of Quaker ideals. Ever since Cain settled his conflict with Abel through premeditated murder, violence and the lust for dominance and revenge have been viewed as inevitable aspects of human relations. The ancient Greeks saw war as a natural state of affairs: “All things come into being and pass through strife,” Heraclitus wrote. And throughout time, nations, tribes, and individuals have readily turned to weaponry to exert control or settle differences- while their poets and balladeers celebrated war heroes and the glory of battle.
In the seventeenth century, the first generation of Quakers suffered the consequences of their pacifism when hundreds were routinely jailed for refusing to serve in the king’s militia. In the Revolutionary War, most Quakers refused to bear arms, but an estimated 500 were “read out” of their Meetings for joining up with the colonial forces. Abraham Lincoln, at the height of the Civil War, wrote to a prominent Friend, Eliza Gurney, “Your people, the Friends, have had, and are having a very great trial. On principal and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn, and some have chosen the other.”
Continue reading US and Them
HUUYA is now HUUYAH – Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalist Young at Heart. We are open to all who are young at heart and want to spend time getting to know others still finding and discovering different aspects of our lives. Our next meeting will be November 10, 2013 right after the service. We will be hiking (if weather permits) or spend time playing some games or watching a movie, all while getting to know one another. If possible, please bring food to share with the group while we spend time building our HUUYAH community!
For more information, contact Melissa Bowers.
by Elizabeth Ihle
October 27, 2013
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, scene 7, 1599
Continue reading For All the Saints…
September 1, 2013
by J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.
1. For most people, Labor Day has become an end of summer holiday for having a barbecue and shopping (now rivaling Black Friday), or even a day for changing clothing rules, such as the end of wearing white during the summer (particularly womens’ shoes). Its origins and purpose are mostly forgotten or only vaguely thought of. We shall consider the question of the meaning of Labor Day and UU views of it from a historical perspective.
2. The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom this past week should remind us of the link between labor concerns and broader civil rights concerns. The director of the March was A. Philip Randolph, who was also the founder and longtime president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the mostly African-American group who worked the Pullman sleeping cars. In 1941 he threatened such a march, which led FDR to end racial discrimination in hiring in federal jobs. Randolph had been an active supporter of the US Socialist Party and also close the Progressive movement from the 1920s on.
3. Labor Day was first celebrated in Toronto, ON, Canada, the only other nation besides the US that has a celebratory holiday on the first Monday of September honoring workers and the labor movement in 1872, with “labour festivals” celebrated annually after that. The first Labor Day in the US was celebrated in New York on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York, organized by the Central Labor Union, a part of the Knights of Labor, in support of the 8-hour working day, which would become the central demand of a rising international labor movement. It was marked by a parade, speeches, along with music and eating. In 1884 the date was shifted to the first Monday of September, and Labor Day parades have been held on that date in New York ever since, with the practice rapidly spreading to other cities in the US. Ministers and priests were also encouraged to preach about the labor movement on the day before Labor Day, “Labor Sunday,” which is today, and I am following in this tradition.
Continue reading A Unitarian Universalist Perspective on Labor Day
August 25, 2013,
by Gabriela Luschei
This is the poem that Tom Endress read during the service Gabriela offered at HUU.
The Cool Web, by Robert Graves
Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.
But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose’s cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.
There’s a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.
But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children’s day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.
August 11, 2013
by Tom Endress
The reading this morning is from the book of Jeremiah in the Bible. Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet” of the Old Testament. Travel back over 2,600 years with me to listen to a prophet much despised in his time, although now he is held by many as the second greatest prophet in the Old Testament. He prophesized accurately the downfall of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jews by Babylonia. The reading is from the King James Version, chapter 13 of Jeremiah, verses 1 through 10.
Jeremiah is speaking:
13 Thus saith the Lord unto me, Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water.
2 So I got a girdle according to the word of the Lord, and put it on my loins.
3 And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying,
4 Take the girdle that thou hast got, which is upon thy loins, and arise, go to Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole of the rock.
5 So I went, and hid it by Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me.
6 And it came to pass after many days, that the Lord said unto me, Arise, go to Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there.
7 Then I went to Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it: and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing.
8 Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
9 Thus saith the Lord, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem.
10 This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing.
Continue reading Connecting the pencil dots in our lives
C. David Pruett
Department of Mathematics & Statistics
James Madison University
Presented at Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists
June 23, 2013
The Catholic theologian Thomas Berry–who preferred to be called an eco-theologian, or better yet a geologian—observed, “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are between stories.”
I think what Father Thomas meant was that the scientific discoveries over the past five centuries since Copernicus have eroded our ancient myths of meaning without providing us with palatable alternatives. This has forced what Ilya Prigogine, Nobel laureate in chemistry, has deemed a “tragic choice” between “an alienating science” and “an unscientific philosophy.” And in that either/or choice can be found the seeds of much human dysfunction.
Recognizing how crucial a viable story is if the people are to thrive, or at least survive, Berry dedicated his life to understanding and articulating the “new story,” a cosmic creation myth that weaves together modern scientific insights and ancient wisdom, with fidelity to both. He joined with cosmologist Brian Swimme to write The Universe Story in 1992. Reason and Wonder is my attempt to tell essentially the same story in a different voice.
One of the first to begin weaving the new story was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Berry, who died in 2009, was widely recognized as Teilhard’s heir apparent. This highly educated audience is well aware of the scientific cornerstones of the new story: the theory of evolution and Big Bang cosmology. However, there is an aspect of the new story that is only beginning to emerge. I believe that the second quotation from Teilhard read earlier sheds light on one of the great mysteries of the universe. Laying open that mystery is the subject of today’s talk, which I title “On Evolution, Entropy, and Love: Three Facets of the Cosmos.”
Continue reading On Evolution, Entropy, and Love: Three Facets of the Cosmic Story
from Richard Carl Wolf
June 16, 2013
Many years before I actually left the Catholic Church, I gradually left the belief in God as a “Trinity of Persons”. Thanks to the native elders who adopted me and the scholars of phenomenology who taught me, I moved around ideas of God as exclusively a “someone”; a someone who required or even appreciated anything like a worship of “Him.”
Yet I still wonder how to translate Trinitarian God paradigms into my post-Christian, quasi-atheistic theology. While naming persons of God just doesn’t work for me anymore — too much like making God in human image – I still want to be able to enter into an attitude of prayer (a raising of the mind and heart) with the Catholic priest who comes to visit my husband, with school officials who begin meetings with Christian prayer language, and when twelve step meetings close with the Lord’s Prayer.
So while I’m hearing the words of the “Sign of the Cross,” or listening to people address a “Heavenly Father”, or pray “in Jesus’ name” – my mind translates the “persons” of God into qualities that a “mystery” of God might hold. I’ve turned “three Persons in one God” around to a contemplation – a consideration of the worth – of three God’s in one person – and that one person being me, you, and each “one” who moves around here.
For me Father God, the creator, is the simple and apparent fact of being – I am – and apparently you are, too. The second Person, the Son, the redeeming One, is potential, the power to keep on becoming. And the third Person, always the least like a person of all, is the fact of our breathing – our capacity to move on to something more – personal and communal actualization.
If I do something like “worship,” it’s when I recollect at least these three aspects of life’s Great Mystery. My Holy Trinity is fact of being, potential in being, and actualization of being, together with you and all my relations.
Here’s a humanist, or maybe a UU, sign of the cross: Mind knows the worth of being; Heart holds the worth of potential; arms make goodness real, performing worthy deeds.