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Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents!”

Thus begins the arc of the psychological, spiritual, and romantic development of the four March sisters in the beloved 1868 novel Little Women. Louisa May Alcott was the daughter of New England transcendentalist philosophical leader and Unitarian minister Bronson Alcott. She grew up in a household rich in culture and visited often by the most free-thinking liberals of the day: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Louisa May Alcott became famous for her stories of home and youthful development that are still loved today: Little Women, Jo’s Boys, Little Men, Jack and Jill, An Old-Fashioned Girl, and Jack and Jill. Many movies have been made of her signature work, but few know that she also wrote under a pen name, A. M. Barnard, in order to help her family pay the bills. The stories were written for tabloids of the day, featuring blood-curdling plots and high romance.

Alcott served as a nurse in the American Civil War and spent her life as a contented single woman. An abolitionist and temperance worker, she worked tirelessly in feminist movements and women’s suffrage. She died of a stroke in in 1888.

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e. e. cummings

Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), the poet e. e. cummings, was an American poet distinguished by using the lower case in his poetry. Though Harvard born and bred, cummings was a lifelong rebel and Unitarian. He penned poetry that is abstract and evocative.  He was noted for unconventional punctuation, capitalisation, and grammatical syntax as part of his poetry style. The best way to know cummings is through his poetry such as the following entitled “in Just-“

in Just-

spring          when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it’s

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer

old balloonman whistles

far          and             wee

and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s

spring

and

         the

                  goat-footed

balloonMan          whistles

far

and

wee

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Herman Melville

Herman Melville (1-August-1819 – 28-September-1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet. Among his best-known works are Moby Dick (1851), Typee (1846), and Billy Budd, a posthumously published novella. 

Melville’s works were not celebrated in his lifetime and he earned little from his books and poems. Moby-Dick, which has been touted as the greatest American novel ever written, was particularly poorly received when first released and it didn’t gain real popularity until the 1920’s and became considered as one of the great American novels.

Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a prosperous merchant. However, his father died when Melville was 12; leaving the family in financial straits. As a result, Melville never completed his education but had a great love of books and taught himself through reading and experience.

Melville took to sea in 1839 as a common sailor on merchant ships and whalers – an experience he described as: my Yale college and my Harvard. After that, he worked as a writer, bank clerk, salesperson farmhand, and school teacher and eventually moved to New York to take a position as a customs inspector.

Moby Dick uses a great deal of Biblical symbolism, especially in the names and allegorical roles of characters, containing 250 biblical references. Some literary critics see religion in Moby Dick as a struggle between Melville’s personal adoption of Unitarianism and his mother’s Dutch Reformed Calvinism. Perhaps it also reflects his own personal life struggles including his business failures and the death of his children.

The contemporary public rejection of Moby Dick was largely due to the fact that the novel shows equal respect for a wide variety of religious traditions and, at the same time, not-so-gently mocks the foolishness of religious extremism. In Moby Dick tribal pagans and New England Christians seem pretty similar—and frequently the pagans seem more ethical than some of the Christians around them. In contrast to both this complexly egalitarian attitude toward religiosity and the heavy satire that accompanies some of the religious commentary.

Melville has been described as a tentatively optimistic skeptic. The Unitarian Church was, for Melville, a safe place for him to explore his questions about life and God. Melville said: We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.

Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891.

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Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve (25-September-1952 – 10-October-2004) was an American actor. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in music theory and English, and later attended the Juilliard School of Performing Arts. Reeve was a prolific theatre actor, performing in about 150 plays the Broadway plays, most notably in A Matter of Gravity (1976), along with Katharine Hepburn. However, Reeves was most famous for his films — especially his title role in Superman (1978) and its three sequels. Reeve also appeared in numerous television shows such as Smallville and Sesame Street. He married Dana Morosini in 1992 and they had one son, William, born in 1992. Reeve also had two children with Gae Exton: Matthew, born in 1979, and Alexandra, born in 1983.

In 1995, Reeve was in a horseback riding accident that injured his spinal cord and left him paralysed from the neck down. From that point on, Reeves became a noted disability activist and spokesperson.

In a 2002 interview with Charlie Rose, Reeve spoke about his childhood fear of church and its images of a violent god: It’s frightening to me, the organised religion…My father was not religious at all, so I really did not bother with questions of faith and spirituality.

During Reeve’s post-accident spiritual journey, he joined a Unitarian church. When asked about that in a Reader’s Digest interview, Reeve replied: It gives me a moral compass. I often refer to Abe Lincoln, who said, ‘When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion.’ I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don’t know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.

Reeve died at age 52 after an antibiotic for an infection sent him into cardiac arrest and a coma.

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New Church Web Site

Welcome to the new website of Cork Unitarian Church. This upgrade to the church’s online presence reflects a number of concerns. These include:

  • Our commitment to our on-line ministries, even as we return to in person activities as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted
  • Our need to have a concise and clear message about our church, its people, and what we stand for
  • Our need to address the fact that we have both local church members and church members who are remote
  • Recognition that in addition to our church members, we service a much larger community of diverse people whom we hold in fellowship

We hope you enjoy the new look. The site was designed and built by church members Neal Dunnigan and Virginia Giglio. Both of them have extensive previous corporate experience in web design and have won awards for design clarity and organisation of information.

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A Blended Community

As churches return to in person gatherings, there has been much debate over the past year about on-line worship. Some have suggested that it is not really church, taking the view that under the circumstances enforced by the pandemic it was merely something of a “ holding pattern”, like planes circling an airport waiting to land. While it is great to our church open, to see the masked faces, the smiles reflected in eyes, it is also a chance to reflect on what church means. During a recent sermon, I referred to our church as may be being “ church sans frontiers”, a church without borders. We are a new church, a blended community, all as one, be it in person or on-line, be you sitting in the building on a Sunday morning or watching from your kitchen, you are our community.

As you read this, it’s worth bearing in mind that you are reading this on your phone, tablet or laptop because of a Unitarian. The internet was created by Tim Berners- Lee, a Unitarian. That’s our spirit, it has always been and always will be. We engage with our world, we engage with the human condition, with our ever- expanding knowledge of both, we seek knowledge, not to own it or lock it away but because life isn’t static, it’s a journey, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes messy and complicated, often confusing and the great thing is nobody can truly say; “ yep, I’ve got this worked out”. The only truth is, we are all looking, all searching for something, all spinning around at astronomical speeds on a ball of rock in space, all here for a reason. Whether we realise it or not, we are all in this together!


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Churches Reopen

Churches in Ireland will reopen their doors for public worship from 10 May under the Government’s planned easing of Covid restrictions, which were announced on Thursday evening.

In his address to the nation, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the reopening of Irish society would see in-person church services recommence with a maximum of 50 people in attendance.

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Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (11-November-1922 – 11-April-2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, he published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works, with further collections being published after his death.

Vonnegut was an atheist, a humanist and a freethinker, serving as the honorary president of the American Humanist Association. He occasionally attended a Unitarian church, but with little consistency. In a speech to the Unitarian Universalist Association, he called himself a “Christ-loving atheist”. However, he was keen to stress that he was not a Christian. 

Vonnegut was an admirer of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, particularly the Beatitudes, and incorporated it into his own doctrines. He also referred to it in many of his works. In his 1991 book Fates Worse than Death, Vonnegut suggests that during the Reagan administration, “anything that sounded like the Sermon on the Mount was socialistic or communistic, and therefore anti-American”. In Palm Sunday, he wrote that “the Sermon on the Mount suggests a mercifulness that can never waver or fade.” However, Vonnegut had a deep dislike for certain aspects of Christianity, often reminding his readers of the bloody history of the Crusades and other religion-inspired violence. He despised the televangelists of the late 20th century, feeling that their thinking was narrow-minded.

Religion features frequently in Vonnegut’s work, both in his novels and elsewhere. Vonnegut’s works are filled with characters founding new faiths, and religion often serves as a major plot device, for example in Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle. In The Sirens of Titan, Rumfoord proclaims The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. Slaughterhouse-Five sees Billy Pilgrim, lacking religion himself, nevertheless become a chaplain’s assistant in the military and displaying a large crucifix on his bedroom wall.In Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut invented the religion of Bokononism. (source – Wikipedia)

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