Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Where Love and Reason Dwell

Last Sunday it was my privilege to attend the 167th annual Homecoming at the First Universalist Church of Camp Hill, Alabama.  The Alabama Historical Association recently recognized the church building, constructed in 1907, as a historical site. Universalists were among the founders of the farming community of Camp Hill in the 1830s. Although I grew up in Dadeville,  just seven miles up the road from Camp Hill and passed by the Universalist Church on occasion, I had no idea of its rich heritage and influence.
When I was growing up, sometimes the Universalist Church was spoken of in hushed tones, “they don’t believe in Hell” was about all my Baptist and Methodist friends seemed to know about the Universalists. In fact, the Universalist Church was established early in this country's history by people who valued a message of the love of God and a respect for human reason rather than the notion of a life dominated by fear of a wrathful God who condemns people to eternal torment.

A Message of Hope

The Rev. Joan Armstrong Davis, a former minister of the Camp Hill Church, was on hand to deliver the sermon for the historic homecoming event. In her sermon, she presented a brief history of Universalism in America. She told of how a Congregationalist minister, Rev. Charles Chauncy, was not comfortable with the hell-fire and damnation message of George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards in the religious movement that became known as the Great Awakening during the American colonial period. Chauncy came to adopt a doctrine of universal salvation when he questioned the Calvinist doctrine that God predestined some people to eternal punishment in hell. John Murray was another who questioned the Calvinism of the evangelists of the Great Awakening. Murray is considered by most to be the father of Universalism in America. He was an evangelist of hope who participated in the first Universalist Convention and became pastor of the Universalist Society in Boston. It is said of him that he set out to “give them not hell, but hope and courage.” Rev. Armstrong Davis affirmed that human goodness and hope are central to the Universalist message.

The Winchester Profession of 1803 became a central tenet for the Universalist Church, proclaiming that love is the nature of God “who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.” [Historical side note: There was another movement afoot in the 19th century known as Unitarianism which, like the Universalists, arose out of the Congregationalist Churches in New England.  Rational thinking and belief in the humanity of Jesus were hallmarks of the Unitarian Churches.  The Universalist Church merged  with the American Unitarian Association in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.]

As she closed her message, Rev. Armstrong Davis observed that all around us citizens today are pessimistic like never before.  She spoke of how the Unitarian Universalists have been small but influential and that today as in the early days of Universalism, they can be a positive beacon to “give them not hell, but hope.”  Who could deny that what we need today is a promise of love and hope rather than fear and condemnation? A true basis for hope can indeed be an antidote for a pessimistic age.

A Fellowship of Love

The church members seemed delighted to have almost sixty people in attendance, about three times the normal Sunday attendance (they meet once a month on the fourth Sunday of the month). After the service, all were invited to an abundant fellowship meal downstairs. It was a magnificent meal of all kinds of home cooked delights. There was home baked bread, casseroles, soups and stews, stuffed peppers and a variety of vegetable dishes along with baked ham and fried chicken. Further down the table was an equally delightful array of desserts: hummingbird cake, german chocolate cake, apple pie, fudge brownies and all manner of cheesecakes and custards. The after-church crowd shared food, fellowship and conversation in a delightful celebration of history, friendship, and family.    

A History of Faith and Good Works

Looking at the historic church in Camp Hill, one has no doubt that its builders saw that it was important to create something of beauty, of substance, and of lasting value. The craftsmanship that went into the woodwork, windows and the brick structure of the building reveals an attitude of careful symmetry and quality. The philosophy espoused by the congregation is likewise one of careful symmetry and quality in that that the traits of love, justice, liberty, and reason should be evident in equal measure.

It takes faith to have a liberal worldview these days. Sometimes when I see what people are doing to one another and I observe politics run amok, I can see how John Calvin might have arrived at his doctrine of total depravity. It is easy to forget that humankind also has an incredible capacity for good. The Universalist Church of the small town of Camp Hill has long been a testament to the ability of people to reach for a higher good.  Camp Hill resident and columnist for The Dadeville Record, Dean Bonner related some of the history of the church and the community in his October 17 article, “Camp Hill Universalist Church recognized on state historic registry.”  Church members from the beginning of its history were involved in town industry as well as in building schools and promoting education in the community. One of the most notable examples is The Rev. Dr. Lyman Ward, a Universalist minister who established a school for underprivileged rural youth, the Southern Industrial Institute (later named Lyman Ward Military Academy).  Ward modeled his school after Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and in fact became friends with and received assistance from Booker T. Washington.

In terms of an optimistic vision for society, in addition to the Winchester Profession, the Unitarian Universalist Association has adopted Seven Principles which are promoted by each congregation:
  •  The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Go Now in Peace

The Universalist Church arose when people dared to believe that God is truly a God of love. People for some reason have tended to get excommunicated by the establishment for such ideas, but how liberating it can be if we can learn to live in response to love, rather than in fear of punishment. The Unitarian/Universalists have also championed reason in the quest for truth. If you are looking for a hopeful community that stands for love, justice, liberty and reason then you may want to consider the Unitarian/Universalists. If you are in the vicinity of Camp Hill in Tallapoosa County, definitely consider paying a visit to the First Universalist Church.  It is a place where love and reason dwell.

                                                                                                                                      ~ Charles Kinnaird


Photos taken by Charles Kinnaird

In second from the top is a view of the pulpit Bible which was recently restored by Auburn University.
The last photo is the new historic marker which reads:

"The First Universalist Church of Camp Hill was the largest Universalist Church in the southeastern United States in the first half of the 20th century. With its roots in the European Enlightenment, Universalism was transplanted to the American colonies by religious sojourners and was flourishing in this country by the time of the Revolutionary War. A Christian denomination, the defining tenet of Universalism was 'universal' salvation, the belief that a gentle God would not condemn any soul to a literal hell. The Universalist Church of America merged with the American Unitarian Association in 1961, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association."
On the reverse side: "The First Universalist Church of Camp Hill was established in 1846 as Liberty Universalist Church. The name was changed in 1909. The original meeting place was a brush arbor on the present site of Mt Lovely Baptist Church. A simple cabin soon replaced the arbor and served until 1884 when a larger wood-framed church was built on this site. Membership burgeoned, and the striking brick sanctuary was completed in 1907. Designed by Daniel A. Helmich, a Birmingham architect, the church was built with local labor using mostly indigenous materials."


Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Music: Smile

The music for the song, “Smile” was written by Charles Spencer Chaplin, who is more often remembered for his silent movies. When I worked at St. Andrew’s Foundation, I had two pictures hanging in my office.  On one wall was St. Francis of Assisi, on the other wall was Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin was a creative genius. He also had his share of personal struggles and controversies. 

Chaplin wrote the musical score originally for the movie Modern Times. Geoffrey Parsons and John Turner later wrote the lyrics for "Smile" to go with the music. The words seem to exemplify the life that Chalpin lived. In the movie, Chaplin, starring Robert Downey, Jr., there us a scene in which Charlie Chaplin goes back to England to visit his mother who has been committed to a mental institution. The musical score for the line, "Smile though your heart is breaking..." is playing in the background of that scene. 

Charlie Chaplin had a gift for holding sorrow and delight in one single image. Maybe that is why “The Tramp” has become such an enduring American icon.

Many have recorded the song, but Nat King Cole was the first. Here is Cole's song along with images of Charlie Chaplin.

(Words by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons
music by Charlie Chaplin)

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Mountain Mist

  The mist rises up
       from the quiet mountainside;
       nature's breath of hope.

                                 ~ CK


Photo: Autumn fog rising in the Great Smokey Mountains
Nation Park Service photo from

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Delighted to Be Here

The sun, street light and Parallax
Have you ever found yourself very glad to be exactly where you are? One night I was overcome by that sensation in the midst of household chores and wrote a poem to celebrate the magic and delight of existence.

Street Light for the Moon

It was almost midnight
When I took the garbage out to the curb.
Pivoting under the soft white illumination
Of the corner street light
My eye caught the flutter
Of a magnificent moth.
With noiseless ease of flight
She hovered about the lush blossoms of four-o'clocks,
Gathering what sweetness she could
Here and there among the flowers.

As I stepped closer
To observe the sight,
The street light became
The magical light of the moon
And the moth was a fairy
Of busy and delicate purpose
Seemingly unaware of my presence.

Looking up at the front porch
I saw myself standing on the steps.
In an instant
I was snapped back to myself,
And from the vantage point of the front steps
The moon shifted back to street light.
The fairy faded to the natural beauty
Of the moth.

Looking beyond myself
I saw street light
Garbage pail
And moth,
But looking within
I held the memory
Of flowers opening to the moonlight
Welcoming the fairy's touch.

                                             ~ CK

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Music: Downtown

Here's a fun remake of the 1964 hit, "Downtown." It's done by The Saw Doctors, and they brought in Petula Clark who recorded the original version.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Haiku: By the Waters

          With the setting sun, 
              light goes down on the water. 
              Cattails gladly rest.

                                         ~ CK


Photo of sunset 
Credit: Scott Wright of Scott Wright Photography

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Natural Inspiration


Last month, my friend David Brazzeal posted an examination of inspiration we find in nature on his Pray Like a Gourmet blog site. He then asked the question:
Have you ever had a spiritual experience in nature? Has nature caused that elusive moment of transcendence? Has some element in nature played a role in or inspired your praying? Has the Creator communicated to you through his creation? 
He then invited his readers to share their own moments of finding inspiration in nature. I recommend David’s blog for anyone interested in authentic spirituality in a non-traditional setting.  This was my response in David’s blog site:

Actually, I think most of my spiritual experiences happen in nature. A walk in the woods never fails to elicit that sensation of a calm and loving presence. I’ve had more dramatic experiences hiking a mountain ridge in the foothills of Appalachia, or walking along the rocky coast of the Pacific Northwest.

One of the most memorable events occurred on I-20 in west Texas. It was about ten o’clock at night and I was on my way to California to start grad school. That particular day, I had wanted to get in as much travel time as possible. Driving through west Texas that night I encountered a heavy fog. There was practically no traffic on that stretch of road, and I kept making my way through the fog. Suddenly, I was completely out of the patch of fog, and everything was crystal clear. There were no visible city lights, no lights along the highway, just the bright, brilliant stars in the sky.  Moreover, I was not accustomed to such flat terrain. I could literally see from one horizon to the other with no hills or trees to block the view. It was as though I were inside a huge dome of stars, almost as if I had been elevated into the realms of space itself. There was still no other traffic on the road. I had to pull over to see more of this. I got out of the car, looked all around, then did a crazy little dance for joy. Even though I am describing that night, there are actually no words to adequately tell of the experience.

*    *    *
I think that most people find inspiration in nature. During this autumn season, perhaps we should all take some time to slow down and recall again the inspiration we have known in the outdoor spaces. Spend some time this week getting reacquainted with nature if you have been too busy with the cares of work and duty.


Photo: A view along Shades Creek near Flora Johnston Park, Birmingham, Alabama
Credit: Charles Kinnaird 


Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Music: Sleepwalk (Chet Atkins & Leo Kottke)

Two legendary guitarists, Leo Kottke and the late Chet Atkins on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Haiku: When Crows Come Calling

The crows came calling;
     gathering in the oak tree,
     teaching their children.

                               ~ CK


Picture: "Decree at Sunset"
Print by Angie Rea

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

For Those Who Travel this Life in the Company of Animals

 2000? - Oct. 4, 2013

Last week we had to say good-bye to Daisy as we made that last trip to the veterinarian. Daisy found us and adopted us a little over 12 years ago, so she must have been 13 or 14 years old. Her most notable trait was that she thought every person she met was the greatest thing in the world, and she was exuberant in declaring that belief.

Her veterinarian was Dr. William Weber at Eastwood Animal Clinic. He was steadfast in his care for Daisy while she lived, and continued in his care at the end of her life. Before I left his office, he gave me a card. "Don't read this now, wait a couple of hours," he said, "but this is the best thing I've ever read about what we experience with our pets."

When I read the card, I agreed that it was the best thing I had ever read. The quote is by Suzanne Clothier from her book, Bones would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs:

"There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals. It is a cycle unlike any other.
To those who have never lived through its turnings and walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible.
Only we know how small a price we pay for what we receive; our grief, no matter how powerful it may be, is an insufficient measure of the joy we have been given." 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Music: Lay Down Your Weary Tune

Bob Dylan Meets Thomas Aquinas (and The Byrds were the first to sing about it!)

Bob Dylan wrote "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" in 1963 and recorded it for his album The Times They Are a-Changin' but decided not to include it. Thus, The Byrds were the first to release a recording of the song which appeared on their second album, Turn! Turn! Turn! When Dylan heard The Byrds' cover of his song, he told Roger McGuinn, "Up until I heard this I thought you were just another imitator...but this has got real feeling to it." (1)

The words from the chorus, Lay down the song you strum / And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings / No voice can hope to hum, reminds me of St. Thomas Aquinas, who’s Summa Theologica was his attempt to put in writing all that could be said about theology. He continued to write prolifically, then toward the end of his life he had a mystical experience.  “I can write no more,” he told his secretary, “for all that I have written seems like straw in comparison to what I have seen.” (2) Aquinas had experienced that which no pen could dare write, and "no voice can hope to hum."

Lay Down Your Weary Tune
By Bob Dylan

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself ’neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

Struck by the sounds before the sun
I knew the night had gone
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself ’neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

The ocean wild like an organ played
The seaweed’s wove its strands
The crashin’ waves like cymbals clashed
Against the rocks and sands

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself ’neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws
The cryin’ rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself ’neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

The last of leaves fell from the trees
And clung to a new love’s breast
The branches bare like a banjo played
To the winds that listened best

I gazed down in the river’s mirror
And watched its winding strum
The water smooth ran like a hymn
And like a harp did hum

Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself ’neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum

Copyright © 1964, 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1993 by Special Rider Music


1.  See Wikipedia article, Lay Down Your Weary Tune
2. See Christian History Institute article, "I Can Write No More"


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Golden Time

    A fleeting moment
         is spent declaring to all
         that life is golden.

                             ~ CK

Photos: Autumn Foliage
Credit: Charles Kinnaird

Friday, October 4, 2013

In Praise of Francis

On this day, the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, I offer the first poem I wrote about Francis. I was a Baptist seminarian at the time. In the years since this poem was written, I did make it to Assisi and eventually made the trek all the way from Baptist to Catholic with those first steps being inspired, no doubt, by the friar who as a young man declared that Pietro Bernadone was no longer his father and walked away from a wealthy merchant's life to a life of celebrating the divine in all of nature. By embracing a life of poverty, he "considered the ravens and the lilies" placing his trust in a higher source and richer treasure.

In Praise of Francis

You are a magnificent image of what it means
          to follow Christ, taking him at his word.
You exemplified Bonhoeffer's thesis
          centuries before Germany produced her first theologian.
You recognized the vanity of materialism
          at the very outset of the advent of the merchant class.

More than anyone else in Western civilization,
You saw yourself as a part of God's great creation
(And thus you respected creation more
    than the typical Westerner).

Your devotion to God was supreme
           and sincere.
Your love extended to all
           and was felt by all.
You were the first modern poet,
          a lover of humanity,
          an early peace advocate,
          a voice in support the poor and oppressed,
          the first true Christian in the Western world.

Your life captured the hearts of many,
And it has captured mine.
When I go to Italy,
          I shall surely visit Assisi,
For you almost make me believe
In patron saints.

4/81                                             CK


Photo: a scene from the Zeffirelli film, Brother Sun Sister Moon
For a review of the film, check out Soul Food Movies


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where Do You Come From?

Going home 
by Tom Roberts
Last week I saw an interesting post by Chrystal at "Life After Church." She was taking part in a syncblog with She Loves Magazine in which participants followed a template to write out a poem about their personal heritage. I thought it looked like a good exercise in personal reflection. Looking closely at the site, it seemed to be a project for women so I did not try to link up with the project. I did decide to download the template, however, and by filling in the blanks (then adding a little bit) I came up with a snapshot of things I remember from a formative period in my childhood. I chose to look at a window of time when I was about six years old. If I had done this on another day, or picked a different time in my life,  it would have come out differently, but this was a helpful reminiscence.

I recommend the activity for anyone. Taking a look at where you came from and examining the influential forces in your life - good or bad - can be informative, liberating, and empowering. Besides all of that, it is always good for us to remember where we came from.  If any of you want to try this yourself, you can download the template here.

This Is Where I'm From
By Charles Kinnaird

I am from an old wrought iron floor lamp that I used to stand on
       and pretend I was a koala bear sitting in a eucalyptus tree;
From white bread and peanut butter.
I am from the little light green asbestos-siding house on top of the hill just up the road        
       from the fish pond where train comes through.

I am from the grassy field and woodland stream,
And the water oak whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.
I’m from church every Sunday and hand cranked ice cream in the summer. 
From picking wild plums that grow along dirt roads
And harvesting vegetables from the family garden plot.

I’m from the small town Baptist preacher and the high school English teacher,
From Sunday afternoon naps and sitting around the kitchen table,
And from trips to the library.

I’m from “haste makes waste” and “keep your elbows off the table”
And “Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain” that we sang in Sunday school.
I’m from hanging stockings on Christmas Eve. 
I'm from birthday parties and Easter egg hunts.

I’m from the foothills of Alabama just below Appalachia
And Scots-Irish immigrants of years past whose descendants
                taught school
                   canned tomatoes
                      did the early shift down at the saw mill
                         stocked shelves over at the general store
                            and worked for Western Union.
I’m from cotton mill country and field peas with corn bread.

I’m from seeing ducks on the pond
And sparrows in the garage.
From watching over the dog when he was sick,
And the cat when she got hurt.

From seeing pets die
No matter how hard we tried.
I'm from living with loss 
Then finding that space to love pets again.

From the Depression-era mechanic who answered a higher call
       and went off to college,
       not knowing if he would be able to afford the next year’s tuition
       – but by George, he did it!
From the elephant bell in the corner of the room that was a wedding gift
And the old wicker-backed wooden rocker where the grandma I never knew
Combed out her hair in the evening
So they say.

I am from a long line of folks who knew how to keep a good name.
Some were tough as nails
Some were quiet, some were ornery
Some a bit odd
But they were all good folks
So they say.


Picture: Going Home oil on wood panel
             painting by Tom Roberts, 1889
             Public Domain
             Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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