Rev. Lora Brandis
Rev. Lora will be out of the office July 15-19 for the Coming of Age trip to Boston. After that she will take two weeks of vacation and two weeks of study leave. If there is an emergency, please call the office phone and leave a voicemail at her extension #106.
On Sunday July 15th, I will join Director of Lifespan Religious Education Lauren Daniell, chaperones Eric Freeman, Sandy Morris, and Doc Simmons, and 15 of our Coming of Age youth on the Boston Heritage Trip. I have been to Boston before, but not to accompany Unitarian Universalist youth immersing in our history. I am excited to re-live the stories of our faith alongside teens discovering how they can connect to those stories.
The theology-nerd in me is excited to arrive in Boston on July 15th because it is the 180th anniversary of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” delivered to the senior class at Harvard. It might be hard to understand how one speech can have such a profound effect on so many people, especially when it was initially delivered to so few. In our world, a world where speeches are overshared on Facebook, facts are perverted to support certain agendas, and the bible is used to defend oppression, it might be difficult to understand how one speech could stir up so much controversy in a time before tweeting and “fake news.”
Emerson’s address was given, by invitation, on July 15th to a tiny class of six seniors and their families, friends, and teachers. In it, he attacked the fledgling denomination and its preachers as “corpse-cold” (Unitarianism had only been established thirteen years prior). He also pointed out the two great errors of historical Christianity: 1. The misunderstanding and mythologizing of Jesus and 2. The idolization of the bible, which assumes there are no new truths to be revealed.
For Emerson, Jesus demonstrated that there is a divine spark in all of us. God’s incarnation in Jesus was more fully realized than most of us, but Jesus was not God. The “Divinity School Address” was published and reached an audience beyond the small group gathered on July 15, 1838. Emerson was attacked by the establishment and was not invited back to speak at Harvard for another thirty years.
Emerson provoked his generation to have their own experiences of the transcendent rather than rely on someone else’s interpretation. He defined the poet-prophet as an individual who creates the future with words, opening each generation up to a new interpretation of reality. We are all poet-prophets who have inherited a faith that was shaped by Emerson. It is up to us to create a faith that relies on direct experience rather than on lifeless interpretations of the past.
The story of the “Divinity School Address” is not just a musty-old story from 180 years ago. It is the story of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist in all times. We question, we doubt, and we provoke the prevailing interpretation of reality. It is not a comfortable story, but it is ours.