Before I sing this book’s praises, let me say that I’m a friend of the author. I don’t mention this as a matter of full disclosure, but out of pride and love; I can’t pretend otherwise. Even so, I’m sure that I have valid things to say about his fine new book.
The Rev. Dr. Farley Wheelwright is, by any measure, an amazing man. He has lived on this planet for nearly a century now, and he has spent much of his life passionately engaged in the burning causes of his age. In August 1963, he led two busloads of Unitarian Universalists to the Great March on Washington. During several summers in Selma, he was repeatedly jailed for his service to the voting rights movement. He fought for abortion rights in the days before Roe v. Wade. He was intensely active in the Vietnam antiwar movement. He was close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, King was assassinated only hours after putting the finishing touches on a sermon he meant to deliver for Farley’s ordination as minister of a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Cleveland.
At long last we have this slim but rich collection of twenty-one sermons that Farley delivered to UU congregations from 1988 until 2004. In a mere hundred sixty-nine pages, these sermons cover a dizzying range of topics, from the Resurrection of Jesus to the insidious links between war, trade, and religion. His tone throughout is wise, loving, highly opinionated, and more that a little bit combative. He pulls no punches. “I say to religious liberals, ‘Grow up,’” he tells one congregation. And from a pulpit in 1998 he says, “The advantage of retirement is that you may walk out on me, but you can’t take my pension with you!” As you read this book, you may find yourself arguing with him from time to time. But you’re likely to enjoy the argument and feel enriched for having grappled with a first-class mind.
I find Farley’s approach to theological issues especially refreshing. A professed atheist, he nevertheless promotes genuine religion and faith. I see this as a useful corrective to today’s New Atheists who erroneously (if understandably) reject religion and faith as built upon nothing but untenable creeds and dogmas.
Farley’s faith is not “in some extraterrestrial God who is going to pull our chestnuts out of the fire, but a faith, dimly though we may perceive it, that there is progress in human life … and we are part of it.” And his concept of religion goes straight to the word’s “root meaning in the Latin religare, to bind together.” He quotes William James: “Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life is in the last analysis the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.”
This, then, is a call to a faith that is rigorous, tough-minded, intellectually honest, compassionate, and socially progressive: “Our goal as religious men and women is to bind ourselves together in peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart and soul. Peace between individuals. Peace between parent and child, between boss and worker. Peace in the community and ultimately peace in the world.”
This book contains only twenty-one sermons out of the many hundreds that Farley delivered over the years. Might we look forward to more collections of his wisdom and insight? We can hope. And there is plenty of hope to be found on every page of Twice-Told Tales.