I’ll blame Putin

Horrible for Daisy the Dog! Some of her favorite sniffing places at the little, angular park in our neighborhood are trapped behind chain link fencing and barbed wire. The park has no formal name, but its impossible to not call it Schevchenko, for the large monument to Taras Shevchenko, “bard of Ukraine” in the middle of it. It has also been the site of rallies and demonstrations since the Russian-prompted annexations of Ukraine. Someone tucked a Ukrainian flag under Schevchenko’s right arm.

Not that you can get to the monument now. The fence went up yesterday, and when I walked Daisy last night, the plaza had been plowed up to the concrete slab.

Putin’s doing? More likely the National Park Service. Many of the plaza’s concrete tiles had come loose or eroded to reveal sharp reinforcing wire. The fountain hasn’t worked in our time in the neighborhood. Time for restoration. If Daisy can cope.

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Don’t fill the meetinghouse with domestic bric-a-brac

I got so many nice comments from my post about not holding worship in the round, that I thought I’d press my luck by talking about how we decorate our worship space.

A few months ago I attended a worship service — not in a Unitarian Universalist church, if it matters — where the candles and flowers and paraphernalia of worship was made up of flower delivery cast-off vases, a hodgepodge of tea lights plus tatty papers and other assorted junk.

This wasn’t a poor congregation. They have full time staff, an old but large and attractive building and a prominent place in the community. And I remember thinking in the moment that this worship service was dragged down by the ticky-tacky.

Not that the congregation needed elaborate or expensive ornaments. But it should be fitting. And in a large building, large equipment is necessary. If the vases are donated, let them be large ones and few. A little taper on a candlestick is far more attractive than a mass of matches, barbecue lighters, or messy little tea lights. The readings that service leaders bring should be put into attractive if inexpensive folders, and not be seen as floppy bits of printed paper.

Less is more. And cleanliness is next to godliness.

And while you’re at it, revisit this video — a few years old and taggeted to an Evangelical audience, but still apt — about how your church may be perceived.

Public-domain off-center cross

With due respect to the designer of the off-center cross here, this one — with thinner lines and a smaller cross; I made it about as high as the circle radius — looks more like the ones I’ve seen used by mid-century post-Christian Universalists. Its later, and I think unintentionally ironic, adoption by Christians notwithstanding.

For Universalist Christianity, I’d suggest an anchor or heralding angel as more appropriate, but that’s for later.

In the spirit of the original, I also dedicate these graphic files to the public domain.

The public domain declaration applies to the ready-to-use PNG and the better-for-making-derivative works SVG, downloadable below.

Off-center cross emblem


To the extent possible under law, Scott Wells has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to off-center-cross_thinner-10px_cross-radius_300px.png. This work is published from: United States.


To the extent possible under law, Scott Wells has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to off-center-cross_thinner-10px_cross-radius.svg. This work is published from: United States.

A visit — heck, let’s call it a pilgrimage — to Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Mt. Auburn Cemetery is well known as the nation’s first “garden cemetery” which, though now the norm, contrasted with the gloomy church yard or burial ground. But Mt. Auburn does it better than any I’ve seen and there lies the mortal remains of many a famous Universalist and Unitarian.

I joined dear friends, also Unitarian Universalist ministers, Hank Peirce and Adam Tierney-Eliot, there on March 17 to visit a just a couple of luminaries and brave the late-winter ice.

Hosea Ballou’s grave

Hosea Ballou's grave, side view

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Fanny Farmer is buried here with family.
John Murray’s grave, protected by ice.
Adam Tierney-Eliot (left) and Hank Peirce with token Unitarian, William Ellery Channing
Adam Tierney-Eliot (left) and Hank Peirce with token Unitarian, William Ellery Channing

What else here has a Creative Commons license?

So, again on Facebook, a discussion about Creative Commons licensing and the problem (both real and imagined) of using another person’s copyrighted work without permission. As I’ve written before, this unauthorized, unlicensed use has a special place in our history (The 1811 “pirate edition” of the Treatise on Atonement), and that our forebears made a similar, liberal license provision almost 80 years ago.

I’ve moved to licensing particular posts and resources to highlight that they are available under that license. Let’s be clear: a lack of a Creative Commons license doesn’t affect your fair use. (Indeed, my “flaming nectarine” is, I contend, fair use parody. I do have a plan when I write.) Or I could make a particular (just to you!) license for the work. Or I could take a request to license something.

But it does mean everything else isn’t objectively and permissively licensed. This is the kind of ambiguity kills innovation and the measure of use the creator often intends. But one licence doesn’t fit all situations.

One example. The CC-BY-ND-NC is the most restrictive “liberal” license; that is attribution, no derivitive works and no commercial use. It is, in essence, “pass around and post” permission. Not ideal, but the de facto standard for most preachers, with the understanding that a CC-BY-ND-NC sermon could be repreached as-is and without pay. (It’s the lack of attribution that I hear caeses grief.) But it couldn’t be translated, the preaching couldn’t be made into a recording or (to stretch the point) not be made into a screenplay under that license.

A make-it-your-own guide, say for an RE program or HR manual, is a derivative work, so the no-derivitives plank wouldn’t make sense. A non-commercial provision would make publishers shy away. And so forth.

It’s interesting. Reviewing by use statistics, the two posts that get regular, evergreen attention are for an image of a seven-pointed star to be use as a non-cross emblem for Christians, and a Sunday-only calendar for worship planning. (I’ll go back and add a public domain declaration, not available then.)

And, oh, I drew up a public-domain flaming chalice image for anyone to use a few years ago. High time to get those licenses set.

I also licensed my deck from my presentation at the UU Christian Fellowship Revival a couple of years ago.

But every once in a while, in UU circles, I run into an ad-hoc semi-permissive license. The intent is good, but confusing and ambiguous.

The rights around the new UUA logo is a case in point, and its ambiguity and tentativeness wouldn’t fill me with confidence if I was in a congregation and was about to commit to a design re-do. Can you remix the logo for congregational (not the UUA proper) use? Or the background wallpaper-like image? What about applying the color scheme or wordmark into an existing congregational design?

The advice — “Congregations are welcome to download and use the new symbol for their own outreach purposes” — doesn’t really help in these cases.

Accidental Google auto-complete liturgy

bitb_google-liturgy_1_20140211Google Poetics is a Tumblr that presents a series of auto-completed Google searches, and relishes the accidental poetry it creates. Sometimes in borders on the profound — the wisdom of the crowds manifest? — but often there’s a screwball punchline. I recommend it.

I thought I’d try it, using a couple a well-worn Unitarian Universalist liturgical phrasings; success!

We light it up
We light a thousand candles bright
We light the candles
We light em up

bitb_google-liturgy_2_20140211We light this candle
We light this candle in memory of
We light this chalice
We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism

What do you think? Have you tried a phrase?

Bookmark this resource for better print publications

A couple of years ago I ordered a book called Typography for Lawyers in order to improve the quality of office communications. And it really helped, until I misplaced it. (I’m sure I’ll find it which behind a bookcase one day.)


Today I saw this tweet which pointed me to Practical Typography, an abridged version of the book, now as an online publication. This is a wonderful development.

So now I would like you to do two things

  1. Read the section “Typography in ten minutes.”
  2. And give some money to the author. (He recommends $5–$10, so I’ll give $7.50.) It may be the best money you spend all day.

I’ll be referring to this book (and what I do with it) in coming weeks.

The lure of the bright lights…

So I was trolling for Universalism in digitized newspapers (as one does) and I found a short article from 1913, entitled with lurid lettering: Clergyman Turns Actor.

Frederick A. Wilmot, a Tufts grad and assisting (presumably licensed) minister at the Church of the Divine Paternity, New York (now called Fourth Universalist) gave notice and left to tread the boards.

“The humdrum of parish life bored me stiff.” That is the real why, the real wherefore of the transformation of Frederick A. Wilmot from parson to actor…”Why should I devote my life to becoming a fair preacher when all my inclinations point to my becoming a good actor?”

Little did he know then; the Broadway stage wasn’t his future. The Daughter of Heaven was his only credit and it closed after 98 poorly-reviewed performances.

But later that year, he was ordained and installed as the minister of the West (Third) Somerville (Mass.) Universalist Church serving until 1916, and later pastoring in New Bedford. Later references point to a Fitchburg, Mass. pastorate (until 1940), writing the religion beat in Providence, and active participation in Christian ecumenicism. Indeed, it looks like he had a successful ministry.

He died July 22, 1952 in Providence and is buried in the Locust Grove Cemetery there. Shall we visit his grave during General Assembly and give thanks for his ministry: the one that began with such doubt?

Good for him Google (or Facebook) didn’t exist then. And good for him the call reappeared.

Clergyman Turns Actor,” The San Francisco Call, April 13, 1913.

Reading list update, January 12

I’ve finished two more books — not on my list — since I last checked in. Relatively shorter and less difficult than what (I think) appeals to me, so I read them without discouragement!

  1. William L. Barclay. The Lord’s Supper. (2001, of 1965 ed.)
    Brief review of the history and meaning of the sacrament, useful (if gently dated) for ecumenically-minded mainline Protestant churches.
  2. Anya von Bremzen. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. (2013)
    Fascinating family memoir usung food to unpack 20th and 21st century Soviet and Russian history.