Meet Me in the Land of Hope and Dreams

by Rev. Tony Lorenzen

Sunday, September 16, 2007

 

 

              Adin Ballou was born a Baptist in 1803.  He was already a minister in 1822 when his mother-in-law gave him a book by a man named Elhanan Winchester.[1]  First published in 1788, the title of the book was The Universal Restoration, Exhibited in Four Dialogues between a Minister and His Friend. The book became popularly known by the name Dialogues on the Universal Restoration.  This famous volume introduced Adin Ballou and many others to these theological ideas grouped under the label Universalism:

-          The idea of restoration or people being reconciled with God after death is just plain more reasonable than eternal damnation and being more reasonable, GodÕs forgiveness is also more likely to move people genuine repentance.

-          Winchester argues that mortal creatures limited by our finite nature are not capable of doing anything actually deserving of eternal or infinite punishment.

-          In any case, threats of eternal damnation donÕt seem to work as people continue to commit sins of various types any way, some minor and some severe.

-          The idea of Hell doesnÕt make sense; it isnÕt reasonable (and remember Winchester is writing during a time in history called the age of reason) for a God of love to create creatures such as humans, only later to forever banish them to hell.[2]

 

              Elhanan Winchester saw Heaven as a land of hope and dreams where everyone was a welcome, even grievous sinner.  This is the Universalism he preached -That the God of Christianity truly was a God of redeeming love, not a God who was waiting to getcha and send you to a place of eternal torture for the punishment of your sins.

              These ideas resonated with Adin BallouÕs heart and spirit and he converted to Universalism.  He was disinherited by his father and excommunicated by his Christian Connextion Church.

              Ballou then met his second cousin Hosea Ballou 2nd and Hosea Ballou, two leading Universalist ministers.  About this time the Restorationist controversy was brewing.  Adin took the Restorationist position that there had to be a time of punishment in the after life, just not eternal punishment, before all were restored and made right with God.  In this he disagreed with the Hosea BallouÕs.  Adin Ballou started a new denomination, The Massachusetts Association of Universal Restorationists.   Adin Ballou was always reforming, always changing. If a religion wasnÕt welcoming – and welcoming his ideas, he moved on to the next group.  By the time he founded the MAUR Adin Ballou was an activist on behalf of temperance and an abolitionist.  He was also a pacifist; practicing the ways of peace and non-violence in a manner he called Christian Non-resistance.   Eventually, being a Restorationist wasnÕt enough.  Along with a group of other men and women Adin Ballou decided to drop out of American Society to as great a degree as was possible. Ballou and his fellow Christian socialists called themselves Practical Christians and they believed that the American government, like all governments maintained order by force and threat of force and refused to have anything to do with it:

"We cannot employ carnal weapons nor any physical violence whatsoever, not even for the preservation of our lives. We cannot render evil for evil . . . nor do otherwise than 'love our enemies.Ķ[3]

 

 

              Adin Ballou and his followers set up a community of Practical Christians called the Hopedale Community in 1841.  They drew up a code of conduct based on their interpretation of the Gospels called the Standard of Practical Christianity.  They were neither the first nor the last group of Christians to set up a separatist society.  They werenÕt the most successful, nor were they greatest of failures.  They didnÕt fail too miserably, youÕve heard of them, IÕve just told you about them.  They werenÕt as successful as say the Shakers or the Amish.  The did last longer than many other groups and certainly longer than many Unitarian and Universalist associated groups that sprung up in the mid-19th century, for example the Fruitlands community of Transcendentalists with Bronson Alcott at Harvard, MA.   When their Practical Christian community eventually disbanded in 1856, Adin Ballou became the preacher in the local Universalist congregation in Hopedale.  Hopedale remained a town.  Adin Ballou lived there until the end of his days in 1890.

              He had a dream and a vision. He called others to him where the dream intersected with reality. Ultimately, his dream died, the constant brushing up against the real world was too much for it and it eroded from the contact.  It was, after all, a Utopia that Adin Ballou wanted to create and the word utopia in Greek means Ōnowhere.Ķ  The perfect community doesnÕt really exist.  All of our communities are imperfect.  But we do make our imperfect communities better by daring to dream and follow our visions for a better tomorrow.  Without Elhanan Winchester the Universalist movement would have been poorer, it may not have spawned Adin Ballou or Hosea Ballou and we may not be here today, Unitarian Universalists in Billerica.

              Union organizer and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez speaks to us in the first reading this morning, telling us that, ŌTo make a great dream come true, the first requirement is great capacity to dream; the second is persistence.Ķ  Chavez had both the capacity to dream and the persistence required to make his dream a reality.  He turned migrant Chicano peasant immigrant field workers into one of the most powerful and organized labor unions in the country, battling racial, economic and social injustices along the way.    His birthday is a holiday, like Martin Luther King Day, in eight states (AZ, CA, CO, MI, NM, TX, UT, WI).[4]  Chavez called many people to meet him in the land of hope and dreams.  The hope of better wages, the dream of better working conditions, the vision of a country less shackled to the attitudes of racism faced the migrant farm workers of the Southwest and others who didnÕt look and speak white.  There was a train bound for glory going to this place of hopes and dreams and Chavez was getting people on board.

              Adin Ballou had the capacity to dream and the persistence to make the dream a reality, if only for a time. He gathered people around him preaching Universal salvation and GodÕs love and literally tried to make a land of hope and dreams where people walked the walk and didnÕt just talk the talk of GodÕs love and peace and justice. 

              The people who first came to Billerica, gathered this church and called Rev. Samuel Whiting, our first minister had dreams and they had to be persistent. Had they not been, we would not be here.  They, like all the early puritan settlers of Massachusetts saw this land as a land of hope and dreams.  Like Woody Guthrie, they saw themselves bound for glory, hopeful of a new life in a new place.

              ThereÕs a line from Bruce Barton about courage, dreaming, and risk I picked up from college professor and however out of context it might be, as it stands, this statement gets right to it:

ŌNothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe something inside them was superior to circumstances.Ķ

              From the scale of the very small that you never hear about, such as the child in the school yard who helps her friend stand up to bully even though she is shaking in her own shoes to Cesar Chavez and Adin Ballou and the puritan founders of First Parish Church in Billerica to even more amazing folk like Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, I believe BartonÕs quote holds true.  Nothing splendid or grand or special or courageous or wonderful in the human condition is ever achieved except by people who have the gall to believe that something, and often something indefinable, inside them can overcome whatever their situation is.  

              I want to ask you this morning to meet me in the land of hope and dreams. I have hopes and dreams for First Parish Church.  The most striking aspect of the Land of Hopes and Dreams is that members and friends of First Parish Church are free to hope and dream; are encouraged to hope and dream to share their hopes and dreams (and even their anxieties about hopes and dreams) with each other and with the minister.   Here are some of my hopes and dreams (and no, you didnÕt hear them all last week). First Parish Church is full on Sunday Mornings because of an increase in new membership.  In the Land of Hopes and Dreams First Parish Church actively welcomes our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Neighbors and is known in the community as a safe place.  First Parish Church grows into itÕs identity as a generous community and tithes or gives away a percentage of the offering on a regular basis to reputable charities, both local and not so local, where our money can truly help people in need.  First Parish Church is known throughout Billerica for its mission to serve others, especially those in need and those who are victims of oppression, violence, and injustice in our community and around the world.

              Getting to the Land of Hopes and Dreams is not easy, but the train is bound for glory.  Anyone or any group who does achieve something splendid doesnÕt achieve their goal without hard work, sacrifice, and encountering some bumps along the way.  Cesar Chavez encountered racism and hatred during his union battles, not mention violent threats to his own safety.  Adin Ballou was disowned by father for his religious conversion.  Our puritan ancestors here at First Parish Church left behind hearth and home in England and many then left behind homes once again further east in Massachusetts to come out here to the Shawsheen wilderness.

              And dreamers themselves are not perfect, both Chavez and Ballou have been accused by critics of needing to be in control and liking power.  Our puritan forbearers here in Billerica, as elsewhere in Massachusetts, basically ignored the fact that this land had original inhabitants, and Barton was an advertising mogul, and as U.S. Congressman, an isolationist who opposed FDR and the New Deal at every turn.

              No oneÕs perfect however, thatÕs the point, and it shouldnÕt stop us from dreaming and working to reach our dreams. Earlier we sang Woody GuthrieÕs song Bound for Glory, but we only sang one verse, the verse that says ŌThis train donÕt carry nothing but the righteous and holy.Ķ  The rest of the song goes on to talk about who else the train does not carry:

 

 

 

No gamblers, no thieves, no big shot ramblers

 No smokers, two bit liars, no small time jokers,

No con men, no wheeler-dealers, no here and gone men

 No rustlers, Side street walkers, no two-bit hustlers. 

 

              ItÕs hard to discern if the song is playing it straight up and these folk in the list of neÕer do wells really arenÕt welcome or if itÕs all tongue in cheek since Woody did ride the rails during the Depression and his boxcars were indeed full of such folk.

              Fascinated with WoodyÕs life story and music, as were many guitar players and singers of his generation, Bruce Springsteen ended up writing response or companion song to WoodyÕs Bound for Glory called Meet Me in the Land of Hopes and Dreams.

             

 

 

              Get your ticket and your suitcase, it begins,

              ThunderÕs rollinÕ down that track

              We donÕt know where we going now

              But we know we wonÕt be back

              If youÕre weary, lay your head upon my chest

              WeÕll take what we can carry

              And weÕll leave the rest

 

              Once you allow yourself to dream you canÕt go back. Once you buy into the risk of a new tomorrow, a different, hopefully better future, going back is for people with less intestinal fortitude.  The second verse continues:

I will provide for you

And I'll stand by your side

You'll need a good companion for

This part of the ride

Leave behind your sorrows

Let this day be the last

Tomorrow there'll be sunshine

And all this darkness past

Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams

Meet me in the Land of Hope and Dreams.

 

 

 

 

              You canÕt reach the Land of Hope and Dreams alone. Cesar Chavez is a man, one worker; The United Farm Workers was a powerful labor force.  Adin Ballou was one Christian idealist preacher, but the Hopedale Community was an example to us that people can live in peace and war is not the answer.   Who makes up the community in the Land of Hope and Dreams? Everyday folks.  You and me.  Nobody special, but thatÕs what makes us and the Land of Hope and Dreams so beautiful –weÕre all welcome.  Notice whoÕs welcome on this train:

              I need your help.  You say: ŌTHIS TRAIN.

Carries saints and sinners (This train)

Carries losers and winners  (This Train)

Carries whores and gamblers (This Train)

Carries lost souls (This Train)

Dreams will not be thwarted (This Train)

Faith will be rewarded (This Train)

Carries broken-hearted (This Train)

Thieves and sweet souls departed (This Train)

Carries fools and kings (This Train)

All aboard (This Train)

Dreams will not be thwarted (This Train)

Faith will be rewarded (This Train)

Hear the steel wheels singin' (This Train)

Bells of freedom ringin'

 

              First Parish Church is going to the Land of Hopes and Dreams. WeÕre going to build a strong, vibrant, welcoming, active congregation.  People get ready, thereÕs a train a-coming. ItÕs bound for glory. All aboard!



[1] Info on the life of Adin Ballou from http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/adinballou.html

[2] Winchester, Elhanan 1788 Dialogues on Universal Restoration and http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/elhananwinchester.html

[3] Ballou, et al. Standard of Practical Christianity, 1839

[4] http://www.chavezfoundation.org/cesarchavez-day.html