Orphan works and Unitarian Universalism

Orphan works — works like books, music and film that are under copyright but for which no copyright holder can be found — live in a legal limbo, leaving them unused. A lost opportunity. Because older works have entered the public domain, they can be shared and adapted without permission, but for most works published after 1923 are under copyright. I’m thinking of the best general biography of George deBenneville and a number of anti-consolidation Universalist works in this camp.

A distinct, but real, problem is the republication of works with known publishers that have little or no commercial value. There’s no reason to bring them back to circulation for sale, and there’s no money to subsidize their publication for free.

So many Unitarian and Universalist documents from 1923 to the present are left in limbo, and largely unavailable. The ministers’ manual companion to the 1937 Hymns of the Spirit, official American Unitarian Association and Universalist Church of America reports, Laile Bartlett’s history of the Fellowship Movement Bright Galaxy (the Church of the Larger Fellowship has republished a piece here) and Robert Cummins’s Parish Practice in Universalist Churches are items I’d love to own — even as a PDF — but have a hard time even finding. It shouldn’t be so hard to have living-memory resources.

So I propose the following

  • support of orphan work legislation reform, like that proposed by Public Knowledge. (Disclosure: I know many Public Knowledge staff members; my employer and they are in the same office building.)
  • yet further: the humble and non-commercial publication of potentially copyrighted material where the copyright owner cannot be found or identified. I did as much with a slim volume of Esperanto hymns. (If a copyright owner comes forward, I’ll remove it.)
  • petitioning the Unitarian Universalist Association, Beacon Press and other copyright owners to make available PDF copies of important, currently unavailable works. I don’t even necessarily want a liberal license, which would allow for other to redistribute the work. Simple availability is the goal. (Of course, a license like one of these would be even better.)
  • But failing that, it would be helpful for those that have these scarce resources to identify and circulate them.

Bleg: old Universalist rules of fellowship

For the uninitiated, a bleg is a blog beg. And so I’m begging.

I’m on the look out for Universalist church rules of fellowship and other organic governing documents, roughly for the period from 1910 to 1959. Documents from the immediate post-WWII era are especially desirable. Hard as the devil — so to speak — to find.

An earlier version of the kind of thing I mean can be seen here.


How to make a radical Christian

A fair point, with the fearmongering about radical Muslims in full tilt.

You could start by reading Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You. (text, Project Gutenberg) It stands in a thread of radical Christian discipleship that reaches before Tolstoy to Universalist minister Adin Ballou — a point of pride — and afterwards to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who each made non-violent resistance a household word. (Well, a household compound word.)

And it takes some cool, deliberate, principled and sacrificial action when you think of what went on in Congress today. Millions of American Muslims are pilloried for actions of a tiny handful. Such grim attention —  a cultivated double-standard — persons of other faiths don’t have to suffer.

Pilloried by Representative Peter King, a man who has defended terrorist organizations when it suited him. For shame.

Good Muslim friends: others can see through this cruel folly.

Fresh crop of universalists?

There’s some buzz, buzz, buzz because evangelical darling Rob Bell may (or may not) be a universalist.

That tickles me, not because “our” number might be increased by one, but because this kind of proclamation is so common in Universalist history and was vital in its self-defense. (Style point: I use universalist to describe the theology and Universalist to denote the denominational affiliation or customs.)

“We” were happy when Partialists — a particular and sectarian term coined by, and used exclusively by, Universalists; it means “everyone else” — gave up their ways, even if they didn’t formally affiliate with us. Do you note a hint of scepticism, even sarcasm?

It’s because if the anti-Universalists have any case it is that universalism is something of a gateway doctrine to more eccentric and esoteric modes of belief. Think about Universalist minister Abner Kneeland‘s early and celebrated exit to blasphemy (and Iowa.) Or William Vidler’s early slide to Unitarianism. Or the fact that many well-established New England Swedenborgians came out of Universalist churches.  Or the fascination of Universalists with Spiritualism. (I wonder if Unitarianism cultivated the same trajectories, conditioning the pair to identify with one another?) And latter-day universalists will sometimes compromise and land in the more palatable (but morally horrifying) halfway-house of annihilationism. Others will make their faith into a fan dance and never quite answer “do you so believe?”

So, in short, I’ll believe in a celebrity conversion if it sticks. Call me in five years.

Most constant Universalists — speaking historically — are largely unknown, but it’s easy to read between the lines of the newspapers and reports imagine them as institutionalists: the hymn-writers and committee-members, many of whom only have a living legacy in the mind of God. Those who threw themselves into world-changing work, and those who adopted a lower-case-c catholic approach to their faith. The hope that by re-grounding Christianity on a historic, reasonable and well-balanced footing many of the old conflicts and errors that Christians made might be overcome. And above all, that God was better, more just and more loving that what we imagine ourselves to be. It was lived, at its best, as a cultivation of Christian character in communities — not always particular congregations — and in solidarity: a challenge to the Unitarian cultivation of Self.

But it was not a successful campaign in the larger sense, or it would be more a part of our denominational consciousness today, and this is why Unitarian Universalism seems more like a busy airport with many airlines offering endless arrivals and departures and no comfortable place to rest. Again, this is not new.

At least one Universalist — Orestes Brownson, a writer who, if he lived today, would almost certainly be a professional blogger — was drawn to something more capital-C Catholic . . .  and crossed to Rome.

Of course, today’s celebrity universalists have no need to cross to anywhere. Like Judith Sargent and her ministering second husband John Murray, this new generation is more likely to be independent of denominational connections. This weighs on me, because — perversely — there is really no more liberty or support to be a Universalist Christian in the UUA than there is to be a universalist Christian in other denominations. And if it takes a fight of self-assertion, what does one win if successful? Where will Bell — or Carlton Pearson or Jim Mulholland — be because of their stands.

Constant, catholic Universalists lost the larger fight, but oh! to know the inner lives, the congregations and the families so many must have built. That’s worth something, and sometimes small successes need celebration. I have to tell myself that as I ponder this new church start. Ask me if I feel the same five years hence.

E-books, say, for Christmas

I asked in March, but I’ll ask again, seeing as some good (and bad) girls and boys will be getting electronics in a December holiday —  like tomorrow’s Zamenhofa Tago — and the market has changed somewhat.

Who uses a book reader? Who hopes to get or buy a book reader? Who uses a computer or phone like a book reader?

I’m gauging if I should start producing ebooks from Universalist and Unitarian files I have.

Universalist alt-history

If this lighthouse had existed in 1770, warning the Hand in Hand, it might not have run aground, depositing John Murray in New Jersey to meet Thomas Potter. And the rest, as they say, would have not been history

Of course, there would have probably been Universalists anyway, though they might have been more of a back-country affair, more identified with the Connecticut and Savannah river valleys than Boston or Philadelphia. Ot perhaps a breed of low church Episcopalian. Or yhey might have been more like Baptists in polity and theology. But since God has seen fit to keep the Universalists going this long, I’m sure there would have been some other miracle and some other apostle.

Inside Universalist Meeting House

Well, I missed All Saints Day and now it’s All Souls Day. Remember the unity of the human race in prayer. Nothing profound to say about it now — time is short — but I wanted to share a few photos from the Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown, which I visited last week.

It’s one of the most conspicuous buildings in town, so there’s not the “what’s that” factor you get everywhere else. I could fall in love with P-town.

Let me also comment the Universalist Meeting House leadership and staff for keeping it open for tourists. I just walked in, and there were signs directing me. Had I been carrying some cash, I could have also bought the self-guided tour booklet.
Interior, Universalist Meeting House, Provincetown

Ceiling, Universalist Meeting House, Provincetown

Surely the trompe l’oeil paintings of the meetinghouse interior are its biggest general selling point, but I was taken by the tablet beside the meetinghouse interior door.

Tablet, Universalist Meeting House, Provincetown

The first part reads:

For Sylvia and Elizabth Freeman
who Found in the tide off Long Point
a Book
The Life of John Murray Father of Universalism
So Began this Parish 1829

This bit of unlikely, providential evangelism has happened before, if memory serves. In the Philippines, and also in South Carolina, for one of the Newberry churches, but perhaps not the extant Clayton Memorial Church. It’s one of the reasons I started developing websites as far back as 1995: with the hope that someone would run across Universalism this way.

Recollecting Marmaduke Gardner, 1812-1879

I do like church news, even if it dates to 1872. This post started as a one-note joke about a minister in a town with a funny name, but uncovered a Universalist pioneer in Texas. According to the University of Texas archives abstract (see below), he “he moved to Texas in 1854 and subsequently organized the first Universalist Society in Texas at Smith Springs, now Lawhon Springs.” (Lawhon Springs is extinct, save a cemetery; perhaps the one below.)

The following comes from the Board of Trustees report of the Universalist General Convention. The General Convention had the power to extend fellowship to ministers and churches in places not covered by a state convention, thus,

Under the powers conferred by Article III, Sec. 6 of the Constitution, your Board has granted a letter of Fellowship to the Rev. Maramduke Gardner, of Sand-Fly, Bastrop Co., Texas.

Some notes. Bastrop County is immediately to the southwest of Lee County. The UGC had just been reorganized with new powers, so it seems more like the “rehabilitation” of an experienced, senior minister with no other fellowship, pending research to the contrary. He came from South Carolina, making me wonder if he’s a descendant of the German Brethren-Universalists whose descendants survive in Universalist churches in Newberry, S.C.; Canon, Georgia and elsewhere.

His obituary, from the papers of the 1880 Universalist Register, speak of servant whose labors were little known among the bulk of the Universalist ministerial college

Rev. Marmaduke Gardner was born in 1812, in South Carolina, and died in McDade, Texas, May 4, 1879, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. He spent the earlier part of his life in his native State, though he lived for some years in Mississippi previous to his removal to Texas, which occurred more than twenty-five years ago. Ho began to preach May 12, 1848, was ordained Sept. 2,1849, and received the fellowship of the General Convention Jan. 10, 1872. He was pastor of the Universalist Church in Williamson Co., Texas, twenty-five years, where his memory will long be fragrant in the hearts of those who best knew him. He travelled very extensively in Texas, and did a great amount of missionary work, and was a very faithful and useful minister, highly esteemed in the community where he lived for his integrity and sincere Christian spirit. His faith in the full grace of God sustained him in life, and was more fully manifested as the shadows of the tomb gathered around him, and he died peacefully and happily. Mr. Gardner was twice married — first March 12, 1833, to Miss Rhoda Ussery, by whom he had nineteen children. She died in 1878, and he was married a few weeks before his death, to Mrs. Jones, of McDade, Texas.

And an interesting polity note. Gardner and his church locally ordained another minister, J. C. Lawhon, who then — about 18 months after Gardner’s death — ordained a third minister, J. S. Dunbar. The Universalist General Convention recognized these ordinations, given that “ordination in the regular form was at that time impractical” and admitted them into direct fellowship.

His and family papers at the University of Texas

Family cemetery, in Lee County, where he and family members are buried

"The Everlasting Gospel" to download

As I promised, today I’m pleased to release a PDF (and the source XeTeX file) for Seigvolck’s The Everlasting Gospel. It looks pretty good if I do say so, and it makes a thrilling — and occasionally bizarre — read.

I’ll gladly take “bug reports” — it would help if they were keyed to line numbers in the XeTeX file — plus I’ll make improvements from time to time, including a notice that it’s in the public domain. Enjoy.

PDF version (311 kb)

(Xe)TeX version (239 kb)  (About XeTex)

"Everlasting Gospel" in PDF, October 2

Well, I figured the best way to carefully read Siegvolck’s The Everlasting Gospel is to clean up a scan for re-publication. (It’s worked before.) And the best way to get to out is to promise a PDF (and text file of the LaTeX markup) to my readers.

So, on October 2, I will publish both. I will not promise they will be beautiful. That’s for a later iteration. Both will, however, be in the public domain.