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Today* is a momentous anniversary: 200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice. As my friend Deb cleverly remarked, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that some literature is timeless.”

Until a few years ago, I had only read Pride and Prejudice and Emma, so I recently read all the rest of Austen, with that mix of pleasure and dread that one gets from reading a wonderful writer who produced tragically few books.

Pride and Prejudice is packed with passages that strike one as extremely quotable as one is reading, but aren’t really, because the context is essential. This is hilarious, but only if you know the characters (Jane and Elizabeth):

“Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”

“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

Yeah. If you’re shocked by the venality, it’s time you read the book. But here’s a quote that will do even if you’ve never read it:

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

I would have loved to know Jane Austen, but I would have hated to get on the wrong side of her.

*Yesterday! Darn! I would’ve mentioned it in the Sunday service!

In preparation for our class on theological unity within Unitarian Universalism scheduled for January 31 at UUCPA, Dan Harper and I are blogging about the topic online. With this post, I am less responding to Dan’s post than tossing my own thoughts into the mix, so I’ll use a new post instead of the comments.

The second question we posed to ourselves is “Do we need more theological unity in Unitarian Universalism?” and to that my answer is “No, we need less.”

What I mean by that is that our fear of diversity and difference among us keeps us from talking about our theology/ies.* And that dialogue is something we need more of. In fact, when I am afraid that Unitarian Universalism is withering and dying, it’s the lack of this dialogue that I suspect is the cause.

People sometimes address our decline in numbers with a call for increased theological unity, asserting that if we are to attract people, we need to know what we all believe and declare it. They usually seem to mean that everyone should rally behind their particular theology. While I agree that what we have to offer sometimes feels weak and half-hearted, what gives us such a tentative air isn’t the lack of a simple, unified statement. It is that we are dancing around the topic instead of digging in. We don’t have to agree about what we believe, but we do have to talk about it. And as long as we are afraid of disagreement, we won’t open our mouths.

Here I am getting into very personal territory. When I think about my own preaching and how it has changed–in my view, improved–over the past few years, I know that the weakness at the core was my fear of voicing my own theology. Too often, I was hedging. And hedging attracts no one. When I speak from my own theological center, not trying to speak for every UU but just for myself, I contribute to the conversation. The conversation, to me, is where we come alive.

By the way, our first question to ourselves was “Is theological unity necessary?” That word, “necessary,” always suggests another question, “necessary for what?” What is our purpose? When we know that, we may know the answer to whether we need unity. I have a lot of different ways of stating our purpose: “To transform ourselves, each other, and the world”; the benediction we say at the end of each service; the vision I once set out here. None of them, in my opinion, requires that we have a unified theology.

*”Unitarian Universalist Theologies” was the name of the core liberal theology course I took in seminary, taught at Andover-Newton Theological School by then-doctoral-student Paul Rasor. His book Faith Without Certainty would probably be very interesting to anyone who wanted to explore these questions beyond next week.

Cross-posted here at UUCPA’s blog. (I have turned off comments on this Sermons in Stones entry so that the conversation will take place there.)

I have so many Sunday afternoon responsibilities that I can’t join the Immigration as a Moral Issue class our Adult Religious Education program is offering starting this Sunday (it’s led by a newly-forming Task Force on Immigration). But I really want to learn more about the subject, so I’m going to read along and, I hope, chat with others who aren’t in the class, or for that matter who are, at the UUCPA blog. Just the first week’s readings were a wake-up. First entry here.

I was so happy to get back to the figure drawing studio yesterday after the month’s break. I was prepared to be stiff, but actually right from the warmup gestures I could tell I was having a good day. I resolved to keep that fast, loose approach going in the longer poses. It worked pretty well for the seven-minutes:

01 07 2013 a 7min detail

01 07 2013 b 7min detail

In fact, the third 7-minute pose yielded my favorite drawing of the morning:

01 07 2013 c 7min

The light on the torso is what I loved most, and what came through. It was less successful on her right arm.

The poses got longer and if I was done and in danger of overworking something, or just dissatisfied, midway through, I flipped over the page and started a second one. So these two five-minute bits emerged from a 10- and 20-minute pose:

01 07 2013 h 5min detail

01 07 2013 f 5min detail

The vast expanses of back and belly, with their subtle shadings, are often beyond me. I put in too many marks or make them too dark, or else I back off entirely and the whole thing ends up flat. Yesterday I was able to evoke something of those slight changes in tone, like in the back on the first drawing, the belly in the second, and the arm here:

01 07 2013 d 10min

Three slightly longer poses. I was done with this next one after 15 minutes. I got the proportions wrong and made her too stocky–she’s actually very slim–but I wasn’t going to erase and fix it (almost impossible to do much of that on newsprint anyway). I was trying to keep my hand moving and focus on the light. Wherever I can see that light in the drawings, it makes me ecstatic. I never could understand the Impressionist obsession with evoking light, but I get it now. Though frankly, the Dutch masters’ success in this area left nothing to improve on, in my opinion.

01 07 2013 g 15min

In this next one the light ended up a little lurid. Not sure why. But it’s a sign of my erring on the side of boldness and high contrast, and that’s good.

01 07 2013 i 20min

01 07 2013 j 20min

The wrinkles on the bottom of a foot are a puzzle to me. Maybe the next few times the pose makes them visible, I should focus entirely on them and see if I can figure it out. Other than that and whatever happened with the calf, and once again making her torso look wider than it is, I like this last one pretty well. The light works in several places.

One of the persistently weird things about working in Silicon Valley is that I am constantly passing billboards for items that I not only don’t use (nothing new about that), but I don’t even know what they are. Just not a clue. I don’t think I’m expected to. There are enough people going up and down Route 101 who are versed in the inner workings of computers that the advertisers aren’t even trying to talk to mere end users like me.

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