John Assheton and the Dawn of English Unitarianism

It appears the priest John Assheton was the first person tried in England for anti-trinitarianism on this day in 1548.From this distance it is hard to tell if he was a Socinian or an Arian. Probably his views conflated these perspectives, although he did seem to argue that Jesus was a human being and not some aspect of God. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer gave him the alternative of continuing to hold his view publicly and being burned at the stake or abjuring his heresy. The Reverend Assheton chose … [Read more...]


BOXING DAY a sermon byJames Ishmael Ford preached on26 December 1999 at the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Chandler, ArizonaToday I want to talk about the mystery that is service. I want to suggest it is a secret need of every human heart. We are called to serve and to be served. The wonder of that vast web of relationships within which we find ourselves tangled is a mystery of service and intimacy.When we serve one another we find the fulfillment of our humanity. When we understand the … [Read more...]

Happy Christmas

Youtube offers a number of versions of John Lennon's classic "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" including various covers. Some versions come with truly horrific visuals of contemporary and recent war and its victims - an irony worth recalling, and obviously part of the song's point. Personally, however, for the most part I prefer a somewhat more subtle touch.Most importantly, I find an invitation in the song that shouldn't be overwhelmed by the sad and obvious complexity of our human condition. At … [Read more...]

Shel Silverstein’s Snowball

'Snowball'I made myself a snowballAs perfect as could be.I thought I'd keep it as a petAnd let it sleep with me.I made it some pajamasAnd a pillow for its head.Then last night it ran away,But first it wet the bed.-- Shel Silverstein Somehow I find a touch of Zen in this... Thank you Panhala & Linda for pointing it out!Web archive of Panhala postings at To subscribe to … [Read more...]

Ruminations on Christmas

The Winter holy days are relentless in their march.Bodhi Day has come and gone.Hanukkah is over.The Solstice has turned.And now, for our Western culture the most common of the observances of that turning point and of human hope waits pregnant. Our First Unitarian Society in Newton will observe this evening with two services of lessons and carols. (And as PC as we and I normally are, tonight the words for the hymns come from a Methodist hymnal...)For reasons I can't completely say I found my mind … [Read more...]

Happy Birthday Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush was born on this day in 1745.No simple list can encompass this complex and significant figure in American history. A physician who combined a curiosity about the workings of the human mind that earned him the name "father of American psychiatry" with anachronistic views such as holding on to blood letting as much of medical science was moving away from it. He mixed creative with frankly bizarre treatments for illnesses mental and physical. His theories about race were particularly … [Read more...]

Dark Night of the Soul

I consider the Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross one of the classics of world spirituality. It is a map of the journey to true wisdom similar in style to the Sufi master Rumi and in content resonant with the Zen classic the Ten Oxherding Pictures. Or, so it seems to me.Here's the poem at the center of it all sung by Loreena McKennitt.Here's the complete text of the poem.Stanzas Of The Soul 1. One dark night,fired with love's urgent longings- ah, the sheer grace! - I went … [Read more...]

My new favorite murder mystery writer

Those who know me I do two things with books.The first thing, and perhaps sadly, is I mine 'em. That's one of the main things I do for a living, to a large degree. I take spiritual books and I dig through them looking for little bits of gold I can pull out, polish a bit, and put in my own writings, sermons, essays, books, whatever. The need is endless. Fortunately, so is the source. I'm like a perpetual graduate student always looking for the good pull quote.Then, there are the books I read. The … [Read more...]

Happy Yule

My goodness the season is upon us! Here we are with the Winter now officially come. The Buddhist celebration of the season Bodhi Day is well behind us, as is this year's Hanukkah. Now we're in the midst of neo-pagan observances, and soon it will be Christmas, which in large part is a continuation of those pagan celebrations.I love the synthesis of so many holy days into this holiday season, if more than a little chagrined at the commercialization of this time. (If you want to see a picture of … [Read more...]

Philip Gura’s American Transcendentalism

Philocrites has just provided a selection of links to reviews of Philip Gura's new book American Transcendentalism: A History. For the ease of both of my readers, here is what he had to say.The reviews of Philip Gura's American Transcendentalism: A History are starting to pile up. I've already called attention to the disappointing Boston Globe review and the much more engaged New York Sun review. Here are a few more: [Column], Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World 12.16.07: "An … [Read more...]