Category Archives: Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) / Student Religious Liberals (SRL)

a fleeting glimpse of Abraham Maslow

 

 

I had a cup of coffee with Student Religious Liberals (SRL), an organization I belonged to briefly in the mid-1960’s while attending Brandeis University.

“Cup of coffee” is baseball lingo for a short time spent by a minor league player at the major league level.

I joined SRL, the organization for Unitarian youth of college age, in the mid-1960‘s after “graduating” from Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), an autonomous, youth run organization in which I was very involved in in my high school years.

During orientation at Brandeis, I met Randy Becker, a fellow student, who went on to become a Unitarian minister and a professor at several theological schools.

Randy encouraged me to attend an SRL meeting one Sunday evening on the Brandeis campus.

I would say that there were between five and ten people at the meeting, which lasted an hour or two. After a while, someone entered the room unobtrusively and took a seat near the back of the room: an adult with a quiet demeanor and kindly face. He sat there in a scrunched position for the rest of the meeting but did not speak.

Someone finally realized that it was Abraham Maslow. As the meeting was ending, she said, “Professor Maslow, we are indeed honored by your presence. Thank you for attending. Would you like to say anything?”

“No,” he answered, “I was happy to be able to attend. It was very interesting. Thank you for having me.” His manner was totally unpretentious and self-effacing.

 
— Roger W. Smith

     February 2017

 

 

Addendum: Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), one of the founders of humanistic psychology, founded the psychology department at Brandeis University and taught there during the 1950’s and 60’s.

 

 

 

 

Abraham Maslow in Office at Brooklyn College

Abraham Maslow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a message to an old friend

 

Ella Lou Rutledge was a friend of mine from high school days. We were both very active in Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) and belonged to the Norfolk Suffolk Federation of LRY in Massachusetts.

Ella and I attended the same college, as is noted below.

 

— Roger W. Smith

      August 2016

 

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from: Roger Smith

to: Ella Rutledge

January 25, 2016

 

Ella,

I recall you enrolling as well as me for a freshman humanizes course at Brandeis on Greek poetry, Humanities 5. We both ended up in Humanities 6, Literature of the Bible.

I recall that you were there when we showed up at the door of the building for Humanities 5 and found out that the class had been canceled.

I learned a whole lot from the Literature of the Bible course. It was an easy A. Genesis; Ecclesiastes; Job; Amos, Hosea, and other prophetic books; and so on.

I definitely was in that class! They used to call me (behind my back) “the goy.”

Have you seen that Norfolk-Suffolk Federation newsletters which I posted on my blog at?

https://rogersgleanings.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/norfolk-suffolk-federation-newsletters-liberal-religious-youth-lry-1962-1964/

There are eleven newsletters from the years 1962 through 1964, totaling around 45 to 50 pages. Some issues are missing. You were editor for almost all of them.

[Rev.] John Coffee saved them.

Also, Phil Pierce also sent me a copy of the tribute to John Coffee at John’s memorial service. I posted it at:

https://rogersgleanings.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/remembering-rev-john-m-coffee-jr/

And, Phil also sent me a copy of four page letter about Midwinter Conference from John Coffee to me in 1964. It is posted at:

https://rogersgleanings.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/rev-john-coffee-letter-to-roger-w-smith/

Some people I remember well who are mentioned in the fed newsletters are you (of course), George Kaldro, Phil Pierce, Dick Ryan, Steve Cooper, Cappy Pinderhughes, John Coffee, Melissa McQuillan, Dave Klotzle, Paul Klotzle, Bob Day, Dick Barnaby, Richard Derby, Chuck Forrester (President of continental LRY), Peter Baldwin (advisor from the UUA), Bruce Elwell, Rev. Jack Hammon, Russ Weisman, Eileen Day, Charlie McGlynn, Kathy Phair, Larry Jaffa, Gordon Hall, Larkie Colebrooke, Leon Hopper (executive director of LRY prior to Peter Baldwin), Bill Moors, Dick Hood, Cal Mosher, John Ertha, my brother Pete Smith, Rev. Kenneth Patton, and Chris Adler.

There were some other names which, when I saw them, reminded me of people I knew but had forgotten about: Martha Chickering, Herb Weeks, Chandler Newton, Rick Corley, Jane Urich, Lorna Laughland, Rev. Carl Scovel, Wally Fletcher, and Jean Nichols.

The May 1963 fed newsletter had a story based on a supposed popularity poll. The headline read, “ROGER SMITH VOTED MOST IMMORAL BOY IN FED!” John Coffee cooked this up and took great delight in his joke. The joke was that I was regarded as such a straight arrow. See:

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/03/19/roger-smith-voted-most-immoral-boy/

The November 1963 fed newsletter contained a review of a made up book, Pest Control in the Pripit Marshes, signed “J.C.” I was at John [Coffee’s] apartment with other LRY’ers who were visiting when he wrote this piece. Maybe you remember this.

In another issue, there is a plug for the book Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman. I actually got to meet Goodman a few years later in New York when I was hired to house sit in his apartment for a few days and walk his dogs while he was traveling. I was performing alternative service as a CO then.

 

 

Ellie Lou Rutledge

Ellie Lou Rutledge

 

 

Roger, 'mug shot,' Brandeis University, fall 1964.jpg

 

Roger W. Smith, “‘dirty’ books”

 

There was a cheap mass market paperback book on the living room bookshelf in our house in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1950’s – I would guess it was my mother’s because she was the parent with literary tastes: a collection of short stories by Erskine Caldwell, a Southern writer who wrote about plain, simple people. He had a very simple, down to earth style.

I read one of the stories, “A Swell Looking Girl,” when I was a preadolescent. It astounded me because of its frank content, telling an unvarnished story that – while the language was not crude – seemed to have shocking implications. I did not, however, view it as a bad piece of fiction. Even at that age, I had fairly good taste.

“A Swell Looking Girl” is a very simple story about a young man in some town or other in the South who has just gotten married. He is very proud of his young bride and wants to show her off to his male neighbors. So he has her come out on the porch and then (eventually) lifts up her dress. She is nude underneath and completely exposed. The men all say “that sure is some swell looking girl” and gradually leave. That’s the whole story.

The story seemed remarkable to me at that age because of the thought of complete female nudity. It was kind of understated the way it was written, but very daring.

Another book on my parents’ bookshelf which I became aware of at a later age was James Joyce’s Ulysses. I was intrigued by it without reading it (which would have been quite difficult for me then; it still is now). I asked my mother and father about it once at the dinner table. I doubt they had read much of it, but they did explain to me the use by Joyce of stream of consciousness. This intrigued and interested me very much.

Later, when I was in high school, my church youth group, Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), had a midwinter conference at Proctor Academy in Andover, New Hampshire in which one of the workshops, which I attended, was on sexuality. In the flyer for the conference, in the place where there would be a description of the workshop, instead of a description of the workshop per se, it simply quoted the famous concluding words of Ulysses:

… I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

This caused quite a stir. Some adults were alarmed. They already thought that these LRY conferences, with adolescents staying together away from home at a conference site with little or no supervision, were a de facto invitation to licentiousness.

My reaction to the Ulysses quote in the flyer was that this was powerful writing of a high order. It did not arouse prurient feelings in me.

Another erotic book that I became slightly acquainted with at around the same time (actually a bit later) was Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I knew of the book but hadn’t read it until my senior year in high school. That year I attended an LRY conference in some town in Massachusetts and was staying over the weekend in someone’s house. There was a paperback of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in my room and, during downtime on a Sunday morning, I read some of it.

I grew to like and admire D. H. Lawrence; yet, I like several of his other novels (particularly The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers) a lot more than Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Nevertheless, when I first read it (parts of it, the “good parts”), I was favorably impressed. It was my first exposure to Lawrence. And, the sexual language and sexual descriptions were new to me. It gave me a desire for sex and got me thinking about it in more explicit terms. Yet, I knew it was not just a “dirty” book.

In my late high school years, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn in a recently published Grove Press paperback with a bright red cover, which I found in my father’s bedroom — the obscenity ban had just been lifted by the courts. I had never heard of Miller.

At first, I noticed the sexy parts – there were lots of them. The “good parts” were explicit, more so than other naughty books that I had hitherto peeked at. Besides being erotic, they were well written, amusing, and fun.

Soon — very quickly — I got caught up in the whole book and in Miller’s narrative style and I was no longer interested in the sexy parts alone. And, I found that I enjoyed the sex scenes not only for their explicit erotic content, but also for the humor and the good, zesty writing.

Tropic of Capricorn is one of my favorite books and I think it deserves the status of an American literary classic.

While in college, I also read Miller’s Sexus and Plexus and, later, books such as Quiet Days in Clichy and The World of Sex. I enjoyed them all and came to have admiration for Miller as a writer.

My father’s book collection included Memoirs of Hecate County, a novel by the famous literary critic Edmund Wilson. The book was banned in the US until 1959. I read one graphic sex scene in my father’s copy. I didn’t like it. It was too clinical, like an automaton detached from the protagonist’s persona is engaging in sexual intercourse. I find aspects of Wilson’s personality unappealing and don’t particularly care for his writing.

Peyton Place (1956) was a book that was around in those days. It was a phenomenal best seller and was published in a paperback with a black cover that seemed to promise, here is a BAD book. We didn’t have a copy in our house, but a lot of people did. There were a few naughty scenes, but I am sure the book would seem tame now.

The Carpetbaggers (1961) was a bestseller by Harold Robbins. We didn’t have a copy at home, but several kids I knew in high school called my attention to it. I think that it was one particular scene that caused most of the excitement. A girl is at the top of the stairs in a house, naked; she spills orange soda on herself and carries on in a provocative fashion. It was titillating for an adolescent, but I had no interest in reading the book.

Harold Robbins was a trashy writer who sold out. But, in my adult years, I did read an early novel of his, A Stone for Danny Fisher (1952), written when he still had some integrity as a striving writer. I was able to purchase a rare copy. Surprisingly, it was a pretty good book, a piece of realism about a young Jewish man who struggles to make his way during the Depression.

Another book that I discovered on what used to be the erotic books table in bookstores in the sixties – when I was in my young twenties — was My Life and Loves by Frank Harris. He was a successful editor in New York who had countless sexual conquests. Recently, I saw a handsome paperback reissue of the book on one of the bargain tables at the Strand Bookstore in New York and examined the book again. The book is a frank autobiography that was privately published by the author during the 1920’s and was published thereafter by the Obelisk Press in Paris (Henry Miller’s first publisher) in 1931. It is incredibly explicit and details one sexual encounter after another, with Harris portrayed as being remarkably potent and the women portrayed as ravenous for sex.

I can’t quite account for the fact that I found it, as I did at the later date, to be boring and tedious. After a few pages, you feel compelled to put it down. It’s like the case with pornography. The detail quickly becomes repetitive and mind-numbing.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is another book I should mention, although no one nowadays would categorize it as a “dirty” book. When I was in high school in the early 1960’s, however, things were different.

Nineteen Eighty-Four can hold its own not just as a polemic, so to speak, but also as a literary work. It took me several readings to appreciate this. After several readings, I grew to appreciate what I consider to be the brilliant satire more fully. I think that 1984 bears comparison to an even greater work, Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Both works are brilliant pieces of satire.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is not pornographic. But, there are a couple of sex scenes involving the protagonist, Winston Smith, and Julia, “the girl from the fiction department.” The scene (and the line) that I remember best from reading the novel as an adolescent – it seemed to be what all my fellow teenagers noticed — was the scene when they first make love and Winston “felt at the zipper of her overalls.”

Because the book contained two sex scenes, it was banned in our high school (Canton High School in Canton, Massachusetts). I did read it, however, as part of Dr. Erwin Gaines’s reading group. Dr. Gaines was a high ranking librarian in Boston who had instituted an extra-curricular reading group for high school students. We would meet at his home every two weeks or so during the school year to discuss books; it was very enjoyable and stimulating. I am glad that I got to read Nineteen Eighty-Four then and didn’t have to wait until later.

 

— Roger W. Smith

      July 2016

 

 

Ruth Wahtera

 

 

The following are comments of mine upon learning of the death of my longtime friend Ruth Wahtera, a native of Peabody, Massachusetts, who passed away on March 20, 2016:

In my opinion, Ruth was a very strong woman. Ahead of her time that way, but she didn’t seem to think about it. She had a quiet self-confidence, but was not overbearing. She just always seemed to be fully in command of her faculties, never lost her perspective and insight, had a great sense of humor and could get to get to the bottom of things before you yourself could.

She did not take herself too seriously, yet at the same time she approached everything she did with great dedication and seriousness. She was very competent, inspired respect, yet at the same time she was approachable and friendly. She was easy to talk with, and you would always get an intelligent response. She was very mature for her age.

She was one year younger and behind me in school, but so smart, capable, mature, and level headed that I looked up to her.

We were fortunate to have been able to have resumed contact in recent years.

I first met Ruth, who was from Peabody, Massachusetts, in 1962 at a Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) conference on Star Island in the early 1960’s.

Ruth succeeded me as Chairman of the New England Regional Committee (NERC) of LRY during the 1964-65 academic year.

During the following year, she was President of Continental LRY.

 

– Roger W. Smith

     April 2016

 

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Note:

A memorial service for Ruth Wahtera was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord, New Hampshire on April 23, 2016.

Posted below is a downloadable booklet from the service.

 

‘A Celebration of Life,’ Ruth Wahtera

 

“Roger Smith Voted Most Immoral Boy”

 

I was an active member in the early 1960’s of Liberal Religious Youth (LRY). During the 1963-1964 academic year, I was the Chairman of the New England Regional Committee (NERC).

Prior to that, I was the representative to NERC of the Norfolk-Suffolk Federation.

The May 1963 Norfolk-Suffolk Federation newsletter had a story based on a supposed popularity poll. The headline read, “ROGER SMITH VOTED MOST IMMORAL BOY IN FED!”

The joke was that I was regarded as such a straight arrow.

The spoof article showed that in the “poll,” I was — besides being voted “most immoral” — also voted “most intelligent,” “most rule-conscious,” “most conservative,” and “most likely to succeed.”

Rev. John Coffee, our advisor, minister of the Unitarian Church in Roxbury, cooked this up and took great delight in his joke.

Rev. Coffee told me years later that several adults were alarmed by this headline and wanted to know just who this “immoral boy” was and just what was going on.

Rev. Coffee passed away in 2014.

 

 

Philip J. Pierce, tribute to Rev. John M. Coffee, Jr.

 

Delivered at memorial service for Rev. Coffee at the First Church, Unitarian Universalist, Boston, MA on June 18, 2012

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Philip J. Pierce, tribute to Rev. John Coffee