Keeping Score

Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence

David A. Mix Barrington

4 August 2019

These are the readings for the summer service that I led on 4 August 2019.

The first reading is from UU historian Alfred Cole -- his paraphrase of the message of pioneering Universalist minister John Murray, who lived from 1741 to 1815:

The Time-Spirit said to John Murray, “Go out into the highways and by-ways of America, your new country. . . . You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them, not hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The second reading is the lyrics of a song by Arjuna Greist, a friend of this Society who lives in Greenfield. A video of her singing the song, with the lyrics, can be found here.

"Freddy" is the late Fred Phelps, a minister and lawyer who became infamous for leading protests at the funerals of gay people.

Freddy opened his eyes, and looked all around
   it seemed like the stars were coming down
He called out for Jesus, but he could not make a sound
A chorus sang out as he started to rise
Welcome to heaven, we're so glad you're here
   we've been waiting to see you for so many years
We offer forgiveness for all that you've done and said
   do not try to speak, but open your heart and listen, instead

And then she appeared in a heavenly glow
   she soothed him and said, you're scared, I know
it has always been fear that made you cause so much pain,
but now that you're hear, you can be happy again

'cause now you're in heaven
   the reason's quite clear
all our lives we stood for love and freedom 
   and that's what we stand for here

We're the children who were thrown out for being gay
we're the ones who were silenced for what we had to say
But now we can forgive you, 'cause it's our heaven too.

Freddy started to weep, she held him as he cried
   he found he could only ask her, Why?
If I were you, having lived what I put you through,
I would have damned me to hell for a million years.

She said, Then you should be thankful heaven's not run by you...
But by witches, and feminists, and queers!

And now you're in heaven...

The third reading is from Cold Comfort Farm, a deeply weird novel written by Stella Gibbons in 1932. It concerns Flora Poste, a sophisticated young London woman who is suddenly orphaned and goes to live with her eccentric rural relatives, the Starkadder family. One of the most eccentric is her older cousin Amos, a minister in a religious sect called the Quivering Brethren. The quote begins with Flora describing the service:

After the hymn, which was sung sitting down, everybody crossed their legs and arranged themselves more comfortably, while Amos rose from his seat with terrifying deliberation, mounted the little platform, and sat down.

For some three minutes he slowly surveyed the Brethren, his face wearing an expression of the most profound loathing and contempt, mingled with a divine sorry and pity. He did it quite well. Flora had never seen anything to touch it except the face of Sir Henry Wood when pausing to contemplate some late-comers into the stalls at the Queen’s Hall just as his baton was raised to conduct the first bar of the “Eroica”. Her heart warmed to Amos. The man was an artist.

At last he spoke. His voice jarred the silence like a broken bell.

“Ye miserable, crawling worms, are ye here again, then? Have ye come like Nimshi son of Rehoboam, secretly out of your doomed houses to hear what’s comin’ to ye? Have ye come, old and young, sick and well, matrons and virgins (if there is any virgins among ye, which is not likely, the world bein’ in the wicked state it is), old men and young lads, to hear me tellin’ of the great crimson lickin’ flames of hell fire?”

A loud and effective pause, and a further imitation of Sir Henry. The only sound (and it, with the accompanying smell, was quite enough) was the snickering hissing of the gas flares which lit the hall and cast sharp shadows from their noses across the faces of the Brethren.

“Ay, ye’ve come.” He laughed shortly and contemptuously. “Dozens of ye. Hundreds of ye. Like rats to a granary. Like field-mice when there’s harvest-home. And what good will it do ye?”

Second pause, and more Sir Henry stuff.

“Nowt. Not the flicker of a whisper of a bit o’ good.”

He paused and drew a long breath, then suddenly he leaped from his seat and thundered at the top of his voice:

“Ye’re all damned!”

An expression of lively interest and satisfaction passed over the faces of the Brethren, and there was a general rearranging of arms and legs as though they wanted to sit as comfortably as possible while listening to the bad news.

“Damned”, he repeated, his voice sinking to a thrilling and effective whisper. “Oh, do you ever stop to think what that word means when ye use it every day, so lightly, o’ your wicked lives? No. Ye doan’t. Ye never stop to think what anything means, do ye? Well, I’ll tell ye. It means endless horrifyin’ torment, with your poor sinful bodies stretched out on hot grid-irons in the nethermost fiery pit of hell, and demons mockin’ ye while they waves cooling jellies in front of ye, and binds ye down tighter on your dreadful bed. Ay, an’ the air will be full of the stench of burnt flesh and the screams of your nearest and dearest…”

He took a gulp of water, which Flora thought he more than deserved. She was beginning to feel that she could do with a glass of water herself.

Amos’ voice now took on a deceptively mild and conversational note. His protruding eyes ranged slowly over his audience.

“Ye know, doan’t ye, what it feels like when ye burn your hand in takin’ a cake out of the oven or wi’ a match when ye’re lightin’ one of they godless cigarettes? Ay. It stings with a fearful pain, doan’t it?And ye run away to clap a bit o’ butter on it to take the pain away. Ah, but” (an impressive pause) “there’ll be no butter in hell! Yer whoal body will be burnin’ and stingin’ with that unbearable pain, and yer blackened tongues will be stickin’ out of your mouth, and yer cracked lips will try to scream out for a drop of water, but no sound woan’t come because yer is drier nor the sandy desert and yer eyes will be beatin’ like great hot red balls against yer shrivelled eye-lids…”

It was at this point that Flora quietly rose and with an apology to the woman sitting next to her, passed rapidly across the narrow aisle to the door. She opened it, and went out.

Last modified 5 August 2019