Monday, August 31, 2009

transcendental submission...

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the apostle of "Self-reliance" summed up his thought this way in a letter to Thomas Carlyle..."My whole philosophy-and it is very real-teaches acquiescence and optimism."


Sunday, August 30, 2009

the supreme gift...

My devotional reading this morning included 1 Timothy 4-"Train yourself in godliness, for while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way. While I would love to take this as divine sanction to not go to the gym today, I don't suppose I can get away with that...
William Ellery Channing's "Likeness to God" gives a passionate explanation of godliness.

Ephesians v. i: "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children."

"The text calls us to follow or imitate God, to seek accordance with or likeness to him ; and to do this not fearfully and faintly, but with the spirit and hope of beloved children. The doctrine which I propose to illustrate is derived immediately from these words, and is incorporated with the whole New Testament. I affirm, and would maintain, that true religion consists in proposing, as our great end, a growing likeness to the Supreme Being. Its noblest influence consists in making us more and more partakers of the Divinity. For this it is to be preached. Religious instruction should aim chiefly to turn men's aspirations and efforts to that perfection of the soul which constitutes it a bright image of God. Such is the topic now to be discussed ; and I implore Him whose glory I seek to aid me m unfolding and enforcing it with simplicity and clearness, with a calm and pure zeal and with unfeigned charity.

I begin with observing, what all indeed will understand, that the likeness to God, of which I propose to speak, belongs to man's higher or spiritual nature. It has its foundation in the original and essential capacities of the mind. In proportion as these are unfolded by right and vigorous exertion, it is extended and brightened. In proportion as these lie dormant, it is obscured. In proportion as they are perverted and overpowered by the appetites and passions, it is blotted out. In truth, moral evil, if unresisted and habitual, may so blight and lay waste these capacities, that the image of God in man may seem to be wholly destroyed.

The importance of this assimilation to our Creator is a topic which needs no labored discussion. All men, of whatever name, or sect, or opinion, will meet me on this ground. All, I presume, will allow that no good in the compass of the universe, or within the gift of omnipotence, can be compared to a resemblance of God, or to a participation of his attributes. I fear no contradiction here. Likeness to God is the supreme gift. He can communicate nothing so precious, glorious, blessed as himself. To hold intellectual and moral affinity with the Supreme Being, to partake his spirit, to be his children by derivations of kindred excellence, to bear a growing conformity to the perfection which we adore,—this is a felicity which obscures and annihilates all other good."


Saturday, August 29, 2009

the exaggeration produced by strong feelings...

In preparing for another year of Bible Study at our church, I have had to return to a more systematic and broad reading (after months of devotional reading) so have gone to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer's Daily lectionary. It is always interesting to jump into the books of the Bible in midstream and though I have read it for years and largely know the context for what I read, the carnage and the passions can still be a little off-putting (though the BCP seeks to moderate that response by bracketing the most egregious examples.)

This from the dean of the Boston Unitarian Bible Scholars and teachers, the "the Unitarian Pope" Andrews Norton on Orthodox vs. Liberal Biblical interpretation...

"Those are to be considered as liberal Christians, who believe that Christianity, in respect to its main design, is a revelation from God; a revelation of religious truths beyond all comparison more important and interesting, than what unenlightened reason can with any approach to certainty discover ; a revelation of the being and moral government of God, of the immortality of man, of the purpose of the present life, of the character here to be formed, and of our condition in a future state as depending on our present conduct. There are many, indeed, to be considered as liberal Christians, who, believing that Christianity is in its main design a revelation, do yet believe that there are other important purposes of this dispensation. The orthodox, on the contrary, do not consider Christianity in respect to its principal purpose as a revelation of any kind, but as a scheme by which mankind, created with natures so corrupt as never to perform the will of God, and therefore justly exposed to his wrath and the severest punishments, and utterly impotent to do any thing to deliver themselves from this condition, are now, through the sufferings and death of Christ, put into such a state, that the mercy of God is offered to all and extended to some individuals. They believe that these views of human nature and of Christianity were taught by Christ and his Apostles together with other doctrines, some of them mysterious and incomprehensible, which are not to be examined by the principles of natural reason, but in the reception of which our reason is to humble itself before our faith; and they for the most part consider the reception of these doctrines as essential,—as being the only foundation of the Christian character. The modes of interpretation which these two classes of Christians apply to the Scriptures likewise form characteristic differences. The orthodox, believing the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles to have been composed under God's immediate and miraculous superintendence, for the immediate purpose of being used and easily understood by all Christians in all countries and in all ages, of course apply to writings of so peculiar a character a mode of interpretation very different from what is applied to any other. They believe that no allowance is to be made for the inadvertence of the writer, and none for the exaggeration produced by strong feelings. They pay but little attention to that use of language, common in all human compositions, according to which the insulated meaning of words is not to be considered, and their true meaning is that which is defined by their connection, by some other known circumstance, or by the reason of the thing. They do not expect to find the meaning much disguised by peculiarities of expression characteristic of the writer, or of the age or country to which he belonged; they pay but little regard to the circumstances in which he wrote, or to those of the persons whom he addressed; and they are not ready to believe that writings, expressly intended for the general use of all Christians, should be much occupied by controversies which prevailed only in the first ages of the Church. Liberal Christians, on the contrary, believe that attention should be paid to all these particulars; and, while they regard the Christian Scriptures as the writings of men instructed by Christ himself, or by immediate revelation, in the nature and design of Christianity, they yet consider that the same modes of criticism and explanation are to be applied to these Scriptures as to all other ancient writings."


Friday, August 28, 2009

our dim sight...

I have written before of the importance of submission or, as Rev. Abbott puts it in our sermon extract today, Resignation. To a degree, I think it the central point of contention in many of the struggles that Unitarian Universalists have with each other(I think esp. of the recent controversy over Peacebang's Covenant post.) For Abbott, a basis for submission is our limited and fragmented knowledge-hard for us to admit but, of course, radically true...


"The character of Jesus was not stained when he wept over the tomb of him whom he loved; and like him, we may pray that, if it be possible, the cup of suffering may pass from us, if we can add like him, " Not my will but thine be done." This is the temper which Christianity enjoins, and which in affliction we ought to maintain: neither to despise the chastening of the Lord, nor to faint in despair under his rebuke ;—but to look up to God, though it may be with a broken heart, yet with feelings of devout submission, and humble confidence and hope...

In connexion with the goodness of God, consider our own ignorance, and it will further teach you the reasonableness of resignation. God's providence is too vast, his designs too complicated and extensive, for our minds to embrace them. Even the whole of this world exhibits but the beginnings of the stupendous scheme of his government. And how little of its designs and operations, even in this world, can we comprehend ! We can discern only single, separate steps in the mighty march of his providence, and can hardly trace even the immediate ends which any particular dispensation is designed to promote...Ought we not then to trust, that where our dim sight cannot reach, yet there also, mercy dwells; and that his hand, though to us it be wrapt in clouds, and inscrutable in its appointments, is yet guiding the course of events with equally wise and compassionate goodness ?"


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward Kennedy RIP

I think that few public servants have tried so hard for so long to become a good man as Ted Kennedy. RIP and Blessings

the real alchemy...

One more (for now) from James Freeman Clarke.



THE purpose for which we exist is to turn time into life. A regular allowance of time is given to men — the same ration, every day, of twenty-four hours to each of us ; then we are to see what we can make of it. How much can we get of real life out of each day, so that when the day is gone it will leave us so much more alive than we were before. Some men continue to increase in the amount they have of mental, moral, spiritual life and energy, as long as they remain here. While the body is growing old, mind and heart are growing young ; while the outward man perishes, the inward man is being renewed day by day.

This is the real alchemy, the true, philosopher's stone which can turn baser metals into gold. Time has no value in itself ; it is a base metal ; its only value is in our ability to transmute it into something valuable. Time cannot be kept; it slips through our fingers forever ; but while it is passing through them we may be able to change it into something which will last always, that is, immortal or undying life — or what the Scriptures call eternal life. For immortal life, eternal life, simply means that kind of life which does not decay and change; not future existence, but present fullness of being... Our business is to change the bodily existence, measured by time, into spiritual existence, belonging to eternity.

How, then, is this to be done ?...What we need in order to turn time into life is to have faith in the value of things; to believe that there are strange and marvellous mysteries all around us, waiting to be known ; that our life is surrounded by wonder and awe, -ready to be revealed ; that man is capable of immense progress, and has in him depths below depths of capacity ; that God is in the world, and that he is and must be good ; that evil is transient, good permanent; that, notwithstanding all the wickedness around us, there is more good than evil in human nature ; that the good in man is permanent, the evil transient; that it is God's will to save the world from its sin and woe, and that it will be saved. With this sort of faith, all things, all persons become interesting; we love our work, and pursue it with ardor. Life then seems hopeful, and we have not time enough to do all we wish, to see all we wish, to learn all we wish. This it is to do all things to the glory of God..."


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


"What can we excell in, if not in holiness?" Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, August 24, 2009

consider the lilies...

Part three of James Freeman Clarke's sermon on "The Two Handles" (see the last two posts) and a discussion of one the the most beautiful and difficult teachings in scripture...

"We are troubled, some of us, every day, by the question, " Shall I do this, or not ? Shall I do this thing, or another ? " You will commonly find that each of these questions has two handles—the handle of duty, and that of pleasure ; the handle of right, and that of expediency ; the handle of gratification, and that of usefulness to others; the handle of custom, and that of personal conviction. All depends on this — on which handle do we take hold. It seems wise and safe and prudent to do as others do; to consult the probabilities of success or failure ; to do what all men will approve ; to do what we shall enjoy doing ourselves. But no one can tell, but he who tries it, what a contentment there is when we simply decide to do what is right, whether others will hear, or whether they will forbear ; what a satisfaction comes to those who go the way where their own soul calls them, though they go wholly alone ; what peace there is in the heart when we have once made up our minds to listen to the small and still voice of God speaking to the conscience ; what ample compensation there is when we take life by this handle — compensation in a certain solid assurance of rocky foundations beneath our feet...

Every to-morrow has two handles as we go to meet it — the handle of anxiety, and that of trust. Pagan and Christian wisdom agree in teaching us that we ought not to be anxious. "As to what the morrow may bring, do not trouble yourself," says Horace. " Let the morrow take thought for the things of itself," says Jesus. And yet we allow our days to be spent in anxious thoughts, our hearts to be corroded with care, all the joys of life turned to gloom, all its sunshine shaded by this anxiety. How shall we live? How shall we provide for our children ? How shall we meet our engagements ? And then, to these anxieties, we add others about our soul; and the Church teaches us to be anxious about the other world, in addition to our anxieties about this. And so black Care rides behind the horseman, and modern civilization seems darkened more than ever before by these gloomy shadows thrown up from below the horizon by the clouds which hang above the setting or rising sun.

But "consider the lilies, how they grow;" "consider the birds, how they build their nests; "...How little we really need of all these supposed necessities of civilization ! You go from homes full of various comfort and ornament, and spend a month in the Adirondack woods, sleeping on a bed of spruce boughs, eating trout from the lake and mush from the pan, and you say, " This is true life; I never knew what it was to live before." Now you are taking life by the right handle, cutting down your necessaries to the lowest mark, and then having the luxuries of sky and lake, forest and waterfall, peaceful days, and sweet sleep in the open air ; yet you come home and forget all this experience, and calmly resume the whole burden of anxiety, and become the slaves of routine, of housekeeping, of living in a certain style in which other people live ; and the Sermon on the Mount goes for nothing.

Consider the lilies, how they grow !"


Saturday, August 22, 2009

confident of good...

The theology of James Freeman Clarke could arguably be summed up in the phrase, "confident of good." It is his context and starting point. This from his sermon, "The Two Handles" continued:

Christianity may be taken hold of by the handle of Love, or by that of Fear. The Church has too often taken hold of it by the handle of Fear, making God an arbitrary King and Christ a Judge, instead of showing us God as a Father and Christ as a Friend. In the funereal papyri of Egypt there are pictures illustrating the judgment of each soul before Osiris. There is a pair of scales — in the one are put the good deeds of the man, in the other his evil deeds, and his fate depends on which scale is the heaviest. In like manner hell and heaven are presented by many Christian teachers as the only alternatives hereafter. But the probability is that there, as here, we may often be in heaven and in hell, too ; or pass from hell to heaven as we choose the good and reject the evil. There, as here, we may be working our way up with occasional or frequent relapses. Christians backslide here, — why not there ? Who has told us, with authority, that the Eternal World may not have its varieties and alternations, its progress and its arrested progress, no less than this ? This is probable ; but what is certain is that Christianity was taught by Jesus and his apostles as good news ; that it was a gospel of hope, not of fear ; that its primary announcement was not " Hell is at hand," but " The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand ; " that Jesus came not as the Judge of sinners, but as their Friend ; that he did not favor the self-satisfied Pharisee, but the penitent Publican ; that the word which fell most easily from his lips was " Thy sins are forgiven thee ; go, and sin no more." What is certain is, that the essential power of the gospel is in revealing a Father loving all his children, letting His sun shine on the evil and the good, and sending rain on the just and the unjust; revealing a Father who provides for all his children, forgetting and neglecting none. It reveals a Father accepting our love for each other as identical with love for himself, and charity as one form of piety...

These, then, are the two handles always presented to us, and every day, if we listen, we shall hear God say to us, " Choose to-day which to take ! " We can take hold, in everything which befalls us, of the handle of doubt, of anxiety, of fault-finding, of fear; of pleasure, custom, expediency, personal gratification and self-seeking; or we can take hold of the handle of trust, of hope, of candid liberal judgment, of duty, of personal conviction, of right, of generous, self-forgetting good-will. Our days will be sweet or bitter, events will seem gloomy or bright, the world a good world, or a bad world, according as we take everything by one handle or the other. The art of life consists in taking each event which befalls us with a contented mind, confident of good. This makes us grow younger as we grow older, for youth and joy come from the soul to the body more than from the body to the soul. With this method and art and temper of life, we are well known even if unknown ; we live, though we may be dying; we rejoice always, though in the midst of sorrows, and possess all things, though destitute of everything.


Friday, August 21, 2009

the 2 handles...

My theme for this year's Religious Education Program is "the 2 handles." Taken from the words of the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, "The 2 handles" has long been a favorite "proverb" of mine. A few years ago, I was pleased to find that James Freeman Clarke had preached a sermon on the proverb. It demonstrates all the virtues that have made JFC one of my true heroes and its vision of what it means to live a religious life is one that I hope we can get across in our Religious Education program this year. Some excerpts (to be continued for the next two or three days...)


EPICTETUS, the wise slave, who was in Greece what Dr. Franklin was in America, and whose proverbs have the same touch of common sense in them as have the Proverbs of Solomon, gives us in one place a parable of " The Two Handles." " Everything," says he, " has two handles. By the one it can be easily carried ; by the other not at all. Thus, if your brother has injured you, do not take hold of this event on the side of the injury, for that handle will not support it" (it is, as we say, intolerable), " but take hold of it by the other handle, and say, ' Well, he is my brother, after all, we were brought up together in the same house.' "

Precisely the same idea is expressed, and the same illustration used by Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the elder son returned from the field, and saw the rejoicing over his unworthy brother's return, he took hold of the fact by the handle of his brother's bad conduct and his own good conduct. " I have always done right, and he has behaved shamefully. You never gave me a kid, and you have killed the calf for him." But notice how the father presents to him the other handle : " This, thy brother, was dead, and is alive again. All I have is yours ; you and I are doing this together for him." Observe the value of that little pronoun " we." He does not say, " It was meet that I should do it," but " It was meet that we should make merry and be glad," thus assuming that the brother and father were both united in this generous reception of the penitent.

Almost everything has a pleasant and an unpleasant handle; there is something agreeable and something disagreeable in all that we see and meet and have to do with. Some take such things by the pleasant and agreeable handle, and others take them by the opposite one...

Why does genius glorify and transfigure all that it touches ? Because genius takes all facts, all events, by the right handle...In truth, to genius no fact is insignificant. Genius, like piety, calls nothing common or unclean...

I have, in my life, heard many young people complain bitterly of their circumstances, so unfavorable to the development of their character, so unsuitable to their tastes and capacities. They should take these things by another handle... Faithfulness in any place and work which God has given us, where God has placed us, wins at last the crown of rejoicing. Take hold of it by that handle. It is my work ; I am here to do it. I am a sentinel at this post, and the safety of the whole army may depend on my loyalty and truth. No one lives to himself and no man dies to himself. Every one can learn and impart some random truths from the commonest things around him, if he has a quiet eye in which to harvest them. Geese may save the capital by opportune cries — which is a comfort to geese everywhere. We are members, all of us, of a great body ; and God himself watches us, day by day, to see whether we are faithful to our task."


Thursday, August 20, 2009

habitual dispositions of piety...

Much Sunday School preparation work needs to be done today (along with a Sunday Service and Sermon...) This from John Emery Abbott on:


Those who have grown up to characters of exemplary virtue and piety, are almost always able to trace the improvement to those impressions of religious truth which were given them in childhood. Many have felt their distinct and increasing influence in every successive period of life. In others, the religious impulse which was then given, seemed feeble ; amidst the gaiety of youth, it seemed perhaps buried and almost extinguished; but even then it was continually exerting a secret influence in restraining them from vice, in giving force to the power of conscience, in preserving their moral taste pure, and in prompting good wishes and endeavors. It prepared and disposed them to be benefited in after life by the instructions of Providence, the teachings of the pulpit, the exhortations of pious writers, and the silent persuasion of religious example. It rendered the mind susceptible of more powerful religious impressions, and the feelings more easy to be excited and formed to habitual dispositions of piety. If you desire, then, that the mature life of your children should be hallowed with piety, teach them now the fear and the love of God. And if the effect of your instructions be not immediately seen, still they are not given in vain. The good seed will swell and germinate in secret, the dews of Heaven will silently water it, it will gradually gather strength, and rear its form above the earth, and cheer you with its fragrance and beauty, and bear its fruit to the glory of God."

Many thanks to those who commented yesterday and to all...Blessings

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

our lamps will grow dim...

For the past four or five years, our church has carried on a bi-weekly Bible Study, usually centered around a particular book or group of books (letters of Paul.) This year, I am organizing our study by theme and, in a shameless bid for increased participation, am starting with SIN.
The "pious' John Emery Abbott speaks of two kinds of sin in this excerpt:


Besides the dangers which arise from without, there are dangers from within. Of these, I can mention but two. The first is, that there is a tendency within us to negligence and sloth. In the concerns of religion, we are continually urged to procrastinate our duties; to seek excuses for consulting our ease ; to rest contented with idle wishes; to compromise for our neglect, by forming fruitless resolutions; or to find in those external observances which cost us little, a substitute for the earnest piety and practical godliness, which demand constant vigilance and persevering labor. Most of what we term sins of infirmity, are indeed sins of carelessness, and arise, not from the weakness of nature, but from neglect of attention, of watchfulness, or of proper exertion. The christian character is one of progress,—of improvement. Its qualities are not like human knowledge, which, when once acquired, will, with very little effort, remain with us. We cannot for a time neglect the cultivation of our hearts, or the regulation of our lives, and return after long neglect and find them as they once were. We must watch over them, and spend our exertions upon them, with unwearied patience and persevering resolution, or we rapidly shall sink from the height we have gained. While we slumber, our lamps will grow dim. Whenever we consult our ease, whenever the vigor of our exertions is weakened, the religious character will decay. We may perceive, indeed, no sudden change, no alarming deficiency; but our progress will be like the decline of the day ; the light of life will gradually withdraw itself,—the shades of night will silently deepen over us, and melt imperceptibly into each other, till nothing at last remain, but coldness, darkness, and gloom.
The other danger is, that which arises from some peculiar evil propensity. No one, who reflects on his own character, can avoid being conscious, that there is a sin which most easily besets him, which, in spite of all his exertions, is continually rising up to trouble him. We are in peculiar danger from this source, not only because it is so deeply seated, because it operates so secretly and powerfully, and because it is so difficult to conquer; but also because, in the very point at which we are most weak and assailable, our conscience and moral judgments are most apt to be blinded. Where our peculiar sin is concerned, we are apt to interpret the requirements of the gospel in a lax and indulgent manner; to imagine that while in other points we strive to be faithful, our neglect in this single case, is pardonable. But, in truth, this propensity, whatever it be, is our peculiar trial; it is the very case in which our vigilance and exertion are most important, and by which the sincerity of our christian character is principally to be tested. We ought, then, to strive with the greatest earnestness to conquer the sin which thus besets us; to avoid, with peculiar care, whatever may tend to inflame and strengthen it; and to exercise a resolute self-denial as to many indulgences, which those around us, who have not the same disposition, may partake without danger."


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the temerate zone...

The rancorous debate over health care reform and the sad fact that the election of Barak Obama has sent many to the extremes of their various parties and factions has me thinking of a group of politicians often sneeringly called "trimmers." They were politicians and statesmen who jumped from party to party or faction to faction sometimes for personal gain, but often out of higher motives.
I am, right now, reading Macaulay's "History of England" and came ac cross this more admiring description of one of the boldest trimmers, Halifax ((11 November 1633 - 5 April 1695)

"He was the chief of those politicians whom the two great parties contemptuously called Trimmers. Instead of quarrelling with this nickname, he assumed it as a title of honour, and vindicated, with great vivacity, the dignity of the appellation. Every thing good, he said, trims between extremes. The temperate zone trims between the climate in which men are roasted and the climate in which they are frozen. The English Church trims between the Anabaptist madness and the Papist lethargy. The English constitution trims between Turkish despotism and Polish anarchy. Virtue is nothing but a just temper between propensities any one of which, if indulged to excess, becomes vice. Nay, the perfection of the Supreme Being himself consists in the exact equilibrium of attributes, none of which could preponderate without disturbing the whole moral and physical order of the world. Thus Halifax was a Trimmer on principle. He was also a Trimmer by the constitution both of his head and of his heart. His understanding was keen, sceptical, inexhaustibly fertile in distinctions and objections; his taste refined; his sense of the ludicrous exquisite; his temper placid and forgiving, but fastidious, and by no means prone either to malevolence or to enthusiastic admiration. Such a man could not long be constant to any band of political allies. He must not, however, be confounded with the vulgar crowd of renegades. For though, like them, he passed from side to side, his transition was always in the direction opposite to theirs. He had nothing in common with those who fly from extreme to extreme, and who regard the party which they have deserted with an animosity far exceeding that of consistent enemies. His place was between the hostile divisions of the community, and he never wandered far beyond the frontier of either. The party to which he at any moment belonged was the party which, at that moment, he liked least, because it was the party of which at that moment he had the nearest view. He was therefore always severe upon his violent associates, and was always in friendly relations with his moderate opponents. Every faction in the day of its insolent and vindictive triumph incurred his censure; and every faction, when vanquished and persecuted, found in him a protector. "

Monday, August 17, 2009

Happy Birthday Sir Walter Scott

Saturday, August the 15th, marked the birthday of Sir Walter Scott. A favorite of the Boston Unitarians and a favorite of this Boston Unitarian, Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

put to the stretch...

James Walker was born on this day in 1794 (find a biography here.) Rev. Walker has often appeared in these pages and today I excerpt his sermon "Difficulty, Struggle, Progress" found in the collection, "Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Harvard College"

Men would be less likely to complain of life as it is, if they knew, or would consider, what are its great objects...

To guard against this error, we must consider well two important distinctions, which, in the eagerness and distractions of human pursuits, are very apt to be overlooked or neglected. In the first place, though we very properly labor and strive for this object and that, the great end of life does not consist in our obtaining these particular objects, but in the self-improvement realized in the process of obtaining them, or of making the attempt. And, secondly, while happiness is one legitimate object of our existence, progress is another: so that the great end of our being is not answered in our becoming happy as we are; our very capacities of happiness must be enlarged and elevated; and in this way we are to be fitted for a higher life...

Who has yet to learn that education, properly so called, does not consist in putting things into the mind, but, as the name implies, in bringing things out, — in the development of the power and habit of self-activity, self-reliance, and self-government; and to effect this object, the faculties on which these traits of character depend must be stimulated, exercised, and put to the stretch. In this case, though all the information should be lost, the discipline will remain.

Thus it appears that the very difficulties of life, of which we are so apt to complain, are converted into the means of that discipline, that self-culture and self-improvement, which is the great end of life. The particular and immediate objects of our pursuit, which are so apt to engross our attention, such as knowledge and wealth, pleasure and fame, are not ends, but means,—means to the attainment of the one great end of Out being, the development of the latent energies of the soul; and this end they are adapted to promote just in proportion to the difficulty of compassing them ; that is to say, just in proportion to the mental activity they call forth...

Difficulty, struggle, progress, — this, I repeat it, is the law. By this we conquer; by this it is that the spirit gradually obtains ascend ency over the flesh; by this it is that the creatures of earth and dust gradually begin a heaven for themselves here ; by this it is that the slaves of ignorance and fear and sin throw off the spirit of bondage, and aspire to be children of God; " and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him that we may be glorified together."


Saturday, August 15, 2009

a drop in that stream...

In this, our final excerpt from William Phillips Tilden's first lecture to seminary students, his great modesty and passionate love for God and for church work shines through.

"What richer privilege could be given by a loving Father to his waiting children than the privilege of working with such redeeming agencies for the uplifting of the world ? As individuals, we may do little. But to be only a drop in that stream of moral and spiritual power by which the great wheel of redeeming agencies is turned is enough to awaken unfeigned gratitude to God. For, though that drop be lost to human sight soon as its force is spent, though it be dashed off in spray and absorbed by the sun, it has aided in the noblest work God ever gives to man or angel.
I congratulate you, students of theology and religion, on the choice you have made of your life-work. I have tried to tell you my conviction that there is none nobler on earth, none more richly rewarding, none whose compensations are so sure and satisfying. I can truly say, as an old man, with only ordinary success in the ministry,—perhaps not that, judged by the common measure of success,— that, could I live my life over again, and have the free choice of my life-work, it would unhesitatingly be the ministry. It would be the Christian ministry. It would be the Liberal Christian ministry...Keep the nature of that work fresh before you; and, if in any hour clouds should gather and unforeseen difficulties make you despondent, look up, and, remembering with what a glorious band of ministering spirits on the earth and in the heavens you are working, sing with them: —

" I live to hold communion
With all that is divine ;
To feel there is a union
Between God's will and mine,
For the cause that lacks assistance,
For the wrong that needs resistance,
For the future in the distance,
For whate'er is good and true,
For all human hearts that bind me,
For the task by God assigned me,
And the good that I can do ;
To labor for that season
By gifted minds foretold,
When men shall live by reason,
And not alone for gold,—
When, man to man united
And every wrong thing righted,
The whole world shall be lighted
As Eden was of old."


Friday, August 14, 2009

the more excellent way...

One of William Phillip Tilden's greatest virtues was his true ecumenical spirit. He, himself, had found much of value (including an abiding sense of the Holy Spirit) at a relatives Baptist Church in his youth. His "head and heart were united" listening to the preaching of Caleb Stetson and he became a staunch Unitarian with transcendentalist leanings. In his person, therefore, was united Evangelicalism, Unitarianism, and Transcendentalism all in the service of God and humanity.

"And here we see our true relation to all other churches. In all practical work, it is a relation, not of antagonism, but of cooperation. Some of their doctrines we cannot accept, because we believe them untrue; but under this difference of opinion, perfectly sincere on both sides, there is an essential agreement as to the aim and end of all religion. There is a real unity of spirit and purpose as to all the moral and philanthropic movements for the suppression of vice and the promotion of virtue. We may say of them, as they frequently do of us, that "one is often better than his theology...

But you say, perhaps, They will not acknowledge us as coworkers, because we lisp in pronouncing the creed. Alas! it is true in spots, large spots, too; but this we should regard as a divine call to show the more excellent way by acknowledging them as fellow-workers for God and man just in proportion as their labors tend to moral and spiritual elevation.
But not only all the best and noblest powers of earth are with us, but the Power that moves these powers. Above all, these ministering spirits here on the material plane are all holy agencies in the invisible world, with the risen Jesus still about his Father's business, and God himself filling and inspiring all."


Thursday, August 13, 2009

want and woe...

Unitarians are (and long have been) accused of being overly intellectual, rational, NPR poster children. And while this is partly true (and not in itself a bad thing-I am prepared to out myself this morning as a lover of NPR) it is hardly the basis of our church life. William Phillips Tilden reminds budding church workers of the true foundation of the work:

"This work not only enlarges the mind, but especially the heart. It is a constant appeal to our sympathies. It keeps us from growing cold, fastidious, selfish. It enlarges our hearts for the cordial acceptance of that universal brotherhood which lies at the base of the religion Jesus taught and lived. Who, if he could, would dwarf his own nature by coming in contact with only one phase of human life, its happy, joyous, well- to-do experiences, knowing nothing of its heavy strains, its severe temptations, its sorrows and sins ? The real divineness of our calling is seen in this : that, while it brings us into communion with the very highest thoughts and noblest fellowships, it consecrates all knowledge and all gifts to the humblest ministries to want and woe.

Here we join hands with all the workers for humanity the world over,— all that ever increasing company under whatever name, Social Science, Ethical Culture, Moral Reform, Christian Socialism,— all who are ministering to the poor and needy, all everywhere, of every name or shade of faith, or of no name, but who without avowed faith save in doing good to the world while in it,— all these the liberal minister will draw into the circle of his thought, his study, his fellowship, knowing that from all something may be learned for the enlargement of his conception of a true Christian ministry, and of the variety of methods that may be adopted for the building up of the kingdom of God.

It is not necessary to agree with any one in his beliefs or methods, in order to learn from him. If he be conscientiously devoted to doing good in his own way, we shall be wise to come close to him, that we may catch the fervor of his zeal, and feel that we have a common end in view."


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the privilege of such a fellowship...

William Phillips Tilden never lost sight of the tremendous privilege it is to do church work. His love for and joy in the work is deeply inspiring. This from his first lecture to Meadville students continued:

"Let us think a moment of the atmosphere of thought in which a Christian minister must live if he would work successfully in his high calling. It must be the clearest, the purest, the very best. Nothing is too .good to be wrought into his thought. History, poetry, literature of the best quality, are an essential part of his mental and moral outfit. This brings him into contact with the noblest minds.

Of course, as a Christian minister, he must first of all form a spiritual acquaintance with the thought, life, spirit, of Jesus, not merely with his recorded words, which may not always do justice to that wonderful soul,— for none but a soul well up on the mount of vision could record what was spoken there,— but a spiritual acquaintance with his spirit, with the aim of his life, with his relation to God and man, with the real object of his mission, with his sense of God, not only above and around, but within him, of his divine sonship, as both type and assurance of the divine sonship of humanity. We need this interior vision of his interior being, of that which made him the beloved son of God he was, so as to feel the touch of his spirit, and understand something, at least, of what the love of God and man was to him. It is this companionship with the spirit of Jesus that is essential to the accomplishment of his work. One must feel his own sonship before he can help others to feel it. He must ascend the mount if he would lead others up. The true minister is not a guide- post with finger-point, or a blazed path telling where others have passed. He must himself pass up, axe in hand, marking the way with his own sturdy strokes. His own feet must tread every step of the way, so- that he can say not "Go!" but "Come!" as the brave general leads his soldiers to victory. To this end, he needs that fellowship of spirit with Jesus which will keep his soul alive with a sense of God with him, and the real greatness of his work.

And this fellowship with the noblest will lead to fellowship with all noble souls,—all true sons of God, all working for the uplifting of man. A ministry that should limit itself to the teachings of Jesus would hardly be Christian. It would lack the real Christ spirit of universality. To know Christ is to know all Christ-like souls. To follow Jesus is to follow his spirit, not necessarily his methods or his precise words, but his spirit. It is to recognize all men as children of God, and to open mind and heart, as he did, to all the fresh communications of divine love, through nature, through human experience, and the still, small voice. This brings one into fellowship with all the true workers for man. What a glorious company we thus gather round us! Do we fully appreciate the privilege of such a fellowship,— the privilege of pursuing our life-work in such companionship ?"


Friday, August 7, 2009

the whole conception of salvation...

The description of this blog, "A truer and nobler life" comes from the "conversion" of William Phillips Tilden as a young man. He remained true to this vision of what it means to live a religious life for the duration. This from his first lecture to Meadville students continued...

"The need of keeping a true idea of our work before us, whether as students or as workers in the broad field of the world, is plain. We need it as a perpetual incentive to fidelity... we all need to keep the real work of the ministry before us, to stimulate courage and give us an assurance that in a work like ours there is not only no such word as fail, but no such thing as failure, save in our own fidelity to conscience and God. For though one's idea of means and methods may radically change, though his theology, even, may be turned upside down and inside out, so long as he holds on to God and the human soul, so long as he knows without a peradventure that he is God's child, and that every other human being is God's child, too, so long as he sees and feels that selfishness and sin enslave, and truth and love liberate, so long as he feels sure that the Christ spirit of self-sacrificing love for the world's uplifting is really divine, and that all who will may share it,— so long the work of the Christian ministry will have a charm for him that no difficulty or discouragement can break.

In general terms, I suppose, we may say that the grand aim and end of the Christian ministry is to lift mankind to a higher plane of thought and life. The old idea of saving souls from the wrath of God and future burnings by a scheme of salvation which makes it possible for God to forgive and man to accept forgiveness has not only passed out of liberal theology, but is fast passing out of all religious thinking ; and the idea of salvation as the deliverance of human souls from whatever enslaves and debases, and lifting them into harmony with the divine will, is taking its place. This radically changes the whole conception of salvation. It no longer means deliverance from future peril merely, but from present evil, wrong, and sin. It still means restoration for the fallen. It still means forgiveness to the penitent. It still means new births to higher planes of thought and life. But all this is supernatural, only as life itself is supernatural. It is not in conflict, but in harmony, with human nature, which was plainly constructed on this plan of rising out of lower into higher forms of life.

Now, is there any higher work to which a human being can give himself than to a ministry whose sole aim and end is the elevation, the improvement, the perfection of the race to which he belongs ?"


Thursday, August 6, 2009

mummy wrappings

This from William Phillips Tiden's first lecture to Meadville students:

"Tis true that every now and then we are told that the ministry has lost its power, that Christianity itself is outgrown and must give place to something higher. This is no new cry. Some of us heard it a half-century ago, and learned to respect it as coming from honest minds. The cry has done good in helping us to discriminate between the letter and the spirit. That what passes for Christianity is very defective, very far from the simple teaching of Jesus, that many of its beliefs are unbelievable, an offence to reason, a libel on God and man, and a gross perversion of pure and undented religion, is only too painfully apparent. But these beliefs are only the mummy wrappings in which devout but mistaken worshippers have tried to embalm the body of Christianity, not perceiving that her soul is ever making new bodies for herself to meet the new exigencies of redeeming love. It is this soul that lives on from age to age, in the face of all the confident assertions that it is dead or dying. Beliefs change, but the spirit lives,— lives to clear its throat, and speak in truer and sweeter tones of God, man, and religion.

It is to study this spirit of Christianity you are here. You will not, therefore, be greatly alarmed by such as tell you that you have enlisted in a lost cause, that you have joined the corps of a forlorn hope. The cause of religion, pure and undefiled, never can be a lost cause while God lives and man is his child. And that can never be a forlorn hope which works for the uplifting of humanity in the spirit of him who shows us how "one with God is always a majority."
There are always bright tokens of encouragement in our sky, if we have only an eye to see them; and it does seem to me that as a Church we were never in a more hopeful and inspiring condition than now. But of this I shall speak more fully in my next lecture.

On this, my first meeting with you, we cannot do better perhaps than to think together of the high and sacred work of the Christian ministry. It is an old theme, of course, as the everlasting gospel is old; but if, like that, it were not always new, you would not be here to fit yourselves for it. That it has already won your hearts, and waked in you a desire to give your lives to it, shows that you have already given it your serious thought. But it is a work that grows as we ponder it. Its real glory and blessedness do not appear at first. It rises as we rise to the contemplation of it from the watch-towers of Christian thought, where alone we can see it as it is in the real glory of its aim and end."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

wise counsels...

William Phillips Tilden did not have theological school training and, in later life, when he was asked to deliver a series of lectures to the students at Meadville Theological School he was honored. They were well received and he repeated them three years later. It is these lectures that make up his "The Work of the Ministry." Today I include thanks and a request for publication from his original listeners-the students, and his response largely because I really like that kind of thing...

"Resolved, That we, the students of Meadville Theological School, tender our thanks to the Rev. Mr. Tilden, of Milton, Mass., for his instructive course of lectures upon the ministerial offices, so beautiful in their spirit and so valuable in material.
"Resolved, That we feel that the course of lectures just closed, to which we have listened with so much pleasure and profit, would be still more valuable to us if we possessed them in a form more enduring and complete than that contained in the insufficient mental record and the incomplete note-book. We therefore take this opportunity to express the hope — if we may do so without trespass upon plans otherwise determined upon — that the Rev. Mr. Tilden may find it convenient to put in the enduring form of print these wise counsels to his younger brethren, these words so full of the spirit of manly Christianity, and which surely have proceeded from the experiences of a long and useful life, devoted to disinterested and noble service of the Christian ideals. For many years to come, before we ourselves possess the experience of long Christian service, we are sure that these true words of our venerable adviser will do much to guide us safely upon our way."

and WPT's reply:

"IN complying with the foregoing request, I yield the distrust of age to the sanguine judgment of youth, and dedicate these familiar lectures to the students of the Meadville Theological School, past, present, and future, and to all earnest students of " the faith that makes faithful."

W. P. T.


BU in SD

The children and I are visiting my parents, brothers and sister, and many other relatives this week in South Dakota. It is wonderful to be "home" in our small town. Three years ago my children all learned to ride bicycles during our annual visit and the freedom to ride around these quiet streets is a great joy for them (as is seeing all their cousins who invade my parents home every year when we-who live the farthest away-visit.)
I am, as I suppose is natural when visiting the hometown, feeling a need to get back to the basic, essential things and so will, over the next few days, blog some excerpts from lectures by William Phillips Tilden on "The Preparation for the Ministry."
These lectures, given to students at Meadville Theological School in 1889, show Tilden's great love and enthusiasm for Christian service and church work. I hope all find them useful and inspiring.
(The photo shows the Lutheran church that I was a part of through my high-school years)