Friday, July 30, 2010

is it me or my cello?...

Christopher Pearse Cranch was a Unitarian minister, musician, writer and painter.  He writes this upon first hearing the great German cellist Gustave Knoop in 1842...

"There is one instrument, which in the hands of the master whose performances upon it I have repeatedly listened to, has been like a new revelation in music to me. It is the violoncello. Did you ever hear it? But even if you have, and in the hands of the best amateur, you can have no idea, nor can I give you any, of its wonderful power when touched by Knoop, said to be the greatest artist on this instrument in Germany. If you would hear the very soul tell all its deepest, most inner feelings, if you would listen to language as from another world and from some matured spirit in a more exalted and perfect state than here below, go to hear Knoop. You will feel as if he were drawing out of you your very soul."

Knoop himself was, apparently, willing to do anything for his "art."  This from a History of the Cello...

"Meiningen possessed a very distinguished Violoncellist in Gustave Knoop, who was born at Gottingen in 1805, and was member of the Meiningen Court orchestra. He must have been, in regard to beauty of tone, a successful rival of Romberg. It is related of him that he only married in order to get into his possession a valuable Violoncello which belonged to his wife ; that soon after the wedding he set out on a journey with the instrument, and did not return home again."


Thursday, July 29, 2010

already yours...

In reply to what can only be called an unbridled fan letter from Chrisopher Pearse Cranch, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

"My dear sir, I recognize with joy your sympathy with me in the same tastes and thoughts, in the kind, though extravagant expression of your letter.  If my thoughts have interested you, it only shows how much they were already yours."


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

kept the waters pure around him...

After several days with Rufus Ellis, I started this morning "The Life and Letters of Christopher Pearse Cranch."  This is a description of his father, William Cranch (July 17, 1769 – September 1, 1855) a Mass. Unitarian, who was appointed by his uncle John Adams a Judge of the DC District Court, and later by Thomas Jefferson Chief of that court

"I don't believe he ever spent an idle hour in his life.  His life was uniform...His great idea was duty.  His recreations were music, chess, study, contemplation.  He prayed much when alone.  He repeated old poems to himself in his walks.  But for ten hours every day for sixty years he was in public and working for the public. He was working for the right, and antagonizing the wrong, and he kept the waters pure around him."

I like that...Blessings

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lutheran party crashing...

For the past week or so I have been in South Dakota with the children helping to celebrate my parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary.  We held an open house at the Lutheran Church where I spent my high school years.  A result of a merger by three small area churches, English was not introduced until 1917 (Norwegian being the language of the church until then.)  Other innovations did not work out so well.  This from "The Centennial Directory of the American Lutheran Church" (1982)...

"During the next fourteen years (following 1900) some progress was made.  The pastor purchased a red Buick which he used when weather permitted.  He was not always well versed in its operation, as on one occasion when attending Ladies' Aid we were startled as he stopped the car by running into the house."


Monday, July 26, 2010

only be still...

This from Rufus Ellis...

"If we will only be still, no matter what befalls us, He will speak or come in silence to our help, and fold us forever in His arms."


Saturday, July 24, 2010

a blessing is in it...

This from Rufus Ellis.  A message that I have come to believe deeply but remember sporadically...

"A Blessing is in it. "Isaiah

 "A BLESSING is in it," — covered up out of sight, to be waited for with patience, to be sought with diligence, missed by most persons, found by a few, strangely withheld sometimes, and ever brought to us in what looks like the very opposite. A blessing is in our life. You say, This is a duty, a very hard and a very solemn duty; yes, but " a blessing is in it." You say, This is a trial, a thorn in the flesh, a real grief, a life-long disappointment, no light and momentary affliction; yes, but "a blessing is in it." You tell me that man's life is weighted with cares and troubles, consumed with labors and watchings; yes, but " a blessing is in it." You say that the end hastens on, one end for all the living, one death which all must die; yes, but blessed are the dying, and blessed are the dead. When God commands, it is because He proposes to bless. When God afflicts, it is because He proposes to bless. With the righteousness of His kingdom peace and joy are ever bound up. We can hardly say that we know Him as we may and ought to know Him, or have got beyond the elements of religion, until with an increasing sense of obligation there comes an increase of the light of life, and with every fresh anxiety and sorrow a sweetness and gladness and repose of heart which had never been felt before. If we find and experience all that is hard to do and hard to bear, while no joy fills the soul and no brightness comes into the face, we miss what God provides; for true religion opens its most searching discourse with beatitudes, and teaches in the first sentence of its sternest catechism that man was created not only to obey God, but to enjoy Him forever."


Friday, July 23, 2010

we are not Puritan enough...

Despite yesterdays's questioning of his Christian status, Rufus Ellis was  a "conservative among the liberals."  This from an unpublished sermon...

"We are not Puritan enough. We excuse when we ought to reproach ourselves. Are we waiting for God to bring into judgment our compromises and conformities and insincerities, — waiting for the refiner's fire and for the fuller's soap, bowing the head like a bulrush, instead of breaking every yoke? — only sorry enough for our sins to confess, but not sorry enough to forsake them?"


Thursday, July 22, 2010

aint a Christian...

This story from the "Memoir of Rufus Ellis" during his time in Northhampton...

"There were those who lamented that so good a man as Mr. Ellis should be a Unitarian and outside the pale of salvation, for at that time the line was pretty sharply drawn between the Orthodox sheep and the Unitarian goats. Even the Orthodox children in the schools took their Unitarian mates to task for the heresies of their parents, and confidently asserted that there was no salvation for such as they.

Among those who came to think Mr. Ellis altogether too good to be a Unitarian was one of those strong-minded, energetic women once so well known in most New England households. She came to my mother as an occasional helper whenever there was an accumulation of sewing in the family, or in any crisis,— for having skill and ingenuity, she could turn her hand to anything. We all enjoyed her coming, for she had good sense and ready wit; could tell a story of the early days in Northampton, or discuss foreordination and the decrees in an interesting way, though her grammar was not that of the schools. She was a member of the church of Jonathan Edwards, a firm believer in all its doctrines, and seemed to think there could be no salvation for any outside that church...

She first saw Mr. Ellis " near to," as she expressed it, at our house, and she soon began to wonder that so good a man should be a Unitarian. " I declare," she exclaimed one day, " Mr. Ellis is the best man I ever saw. Such a pity he aint a Christian ! "


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

stirred, not shaken...

In 1852, the young minister, Rufus Ellis, was serving happily in Northhampton when he received a call from the First Church in Boston who was looking for a replacement for the retiring Nathanial Frothingham.  This was a daunting prospect as demonstrated by this description in "The Memoirs of Rufus Ellis"...

"The Rev. Dr. Frothingham had resigned the position which he had long held as its pastor, and was henceforward to occupy his pew as a worshipper. He was the most highly accomplished, cultivated, and scholarly among his contemporaries in the churches of Boston and the State. His peculiar gifts and qualities in the tone and spirit of his discourses would naturally draw and retain as his parishioners persons in sympathy with, and with warm appreciation of, himself. He was also known as the most conservative among his brethren. A single one of the many emphatic utterances made by him is enough to define his position towards the agitations and distractions of the time, — " My church and people prefer not to be shaken."


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

begin now...

Greetings from South Dakota.  My children and I arrived yesterday for a stay of nine days or so.  As always, it is a blessing to be home.  On the plane rides yesterday, I started reading the "Memoirs of Rufus Ellis" who has made several appearances in this space. The next few days will feature Rev. Ellis. Today, however, I post James Freeman Clarke's "Message of Faith Hope and Love" for July 20th.  As always, his mixture of practical common sense and true piety have deep appeal...

"LET us hold to all that we are able to see of spiritual realities, and so learn to believe and know more. If we cannot believe in the whole Bible, let us believe in a part of it. If we cannot believe in the miracles of Christ, let us believe in his goodness. If the sayings of Paul are dark, let us read the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Good Samaritan. If we cannot accept Christianity as a supernatural religion, let us hold fast to it as the best of all natural religions. If we cannot resist and conquer all the temptations that beset us, let us resist and deny all that we can. Begin now, begin to-day, with the determination to do all you can, to have all the faith and hope and love you can, and trust that your heavenly Father will give you help and power and strength to conquer at last all evil, and to gain all good. This is only common sense applied to religion. If I wish to climb Mount Shasta or the peak of Chimborazo, I do not satisfy myself by looking up, and saying, "What an inaccessible summit! " but I go up the mountain, step by step. So let us begin the long but grand ascent which leads to the love of God and love of man."

(photo:  Mt. Shasta)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I am here to serve you...

Samuel Longfellow gave the sermon I have been posting upon assuming his pastorate in Brooklyn, Oct. 30th 1863.  Here are his beautiful words of conclusion to "A Spiritual and Working Church."
"Remember, friends, and do not let me forget, that I am here to serve you. Do not fail to give me the opportunities. Let your urgency keep alive my faithfulness. If ever in hours of doubt and unbelief you have longed for a friend whose faith might strengthen yours; if ever, baffled and perplexed in the search of truth, you have longed for guidance; if, amid vague aspirations and hopes and desires after religious life and moral earnestness and true fidelity, you have yearned for a sympathy that might give definiteness and direction and vigor to your fleeting emotions and unfixed aims ; if amid moral weakness, indifference, or deadness, you have felt the need of one to arouse you with the clear word of duty; if, amid a life of frivolity and surface, you have felt a restless sense of dissatisfaction and longed to hear sincerer, deeper words, and reach down to realities ; if, enslaved by unworthy habit, you have needed a brotherly encouragement to nerve your weakened will to set itself free; if, in the darkness and loneliness of sorrow, you have needed one whose experience could comprehend yours, and assure you of the hidden light to be revealed in the cross, and lift your trembling, shattered heart to fix itself on God ; and if, in any of these needs and experiences of life, I can help you, believe that it will be my truest satisfaction, as it is my most earnest desire. I dare not promise that I can always meet these needs. I know how often I shall feel my own insufficiency. But I know that behind and above me is God, an infinite strength, light, love, peace; a guide and keeper, and defender and inspirer. To Him we will go together, and He will hear our prayers."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

to work with God...

Samuel Longfellow considered himself a "Theist" and as his career progressed, he used Christian "trappings" less and less (both in his Hymnbook editions, and as a minister.)  His passion for doing the work of God, however, never declined.  His "The Spiritual and Working Church" continued...

"To work with God, and for God, then, should be the great and consecrated aim of every church; to make its associative life contribute to the accomplishing somewhat of the divine purpose ; to lend its aid to redeeming the world from its sins, its wrongs, and its wretchedness ; to reforming the age and the community from its special evils, and unjust thoughts and institutions ; to advancing its spiritual elevation and moral purification. In short, every church should work for the coming of the kingdom of heaven, the reign of justice and unselfish love, of freedom and peace, and holiness and brotherhood.

Jesus organized no formal church. He was too earnestly intent upon quickening the dead souls around him into life, and awakening them to a vital consciousness of God, to have time or thought of outward forms and organizations. He trusted to the power of influence, and left his life in the world to take form in obedience to special needs. And it has done so. But these forms have been, and continually will be, broken up and reformed by the floods of the spirit; which continually, as in Jesus, sets men free from the bondage of the ritual and technical, into the liberty of the spiritual and universal religion.

We bear the name Christian, partly because we' are in the direct line of descent from those who first bore it; partly because it represents to us, in its connection with Jesus, that form of the religious idea and spirit which we feel to be the highest and,. truest. But we use it not as if it were the name of a sect, but as synonymous with religious, in the broadest sense of that word.

A Christian church is one which has received the idea and the spirit of Jesus, and which offers its glad consecration to fulfilling the work which was dear to his heart. And what was that idea? It was the Fatherhood of an encompassing and indwelling God ; the Sonship and Brotherhood of Man. And what was that spirit ? It was the spirit of consecrated service, which came " not to be ministered unto, but to minister," to "do the Father's work while it was day." And what was that work ? " He hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; to heal the broken-hearted ; to proclaim deliverance to the captive ; and recovery of sight to the blind ; to set at liberty them that are bruised."


Friday, July 16, 2010

the angels in heaven...

Samuel Longfellow continues on church...

"It seems to me that, whenever a new church is formed, the angels in heaven ought to sing again, Now shall there be peace on earth, and good-will among men. And God should say, Now is my kingdom nearer, and my will more truly to be done on earth. And Jesus should rejoice in spirit and cry, Behold, new laborers for the harvest; now shall men learn to love God with all their heart and strength, and their neighbor as themselves. And old prophets' hearts should be stirred anew, as they proclaim, Now shall men beat their swords into plowshares, and deal their bread to the hungry, and undo the heavy burdens, and give justice to the fatherless, and break every yoke.

It seems to me as if, whenever a new church is formed, earth's suffering, sinning, wronged, and perishing ones should lift their heads, and a new hope light up their eyes, as they cried, You will help us, you will save us ; in the name of the God you say is our Father, the Christ you say is our Redeemer. And all good men's hearts should be gladdened; and earth's tyrants and tempters, and plotters of wrong, and framers of unjust laws, should cower and tremble, as before a new moral force rising up to conquer them. Is it so ? I will not doubt that every church does something to this end. But the whole creation still groaneth in pain, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God."


Thursday, July 15, 2010

wonders of feeding and healing and restoration...

Religious, spiritual, and, today, working...the church according to Samuel Longfellow continued.

"Again, I wish to lay special stress upon the word work. Associated, I said, for a religious work. I doubt whether this be at all the prominent idea in our churches. Men join a religious society with the idea rather of receiving than doing. To secure some personal outward benefit from the connection, perhaps ; or to secure a personal enjoyment or good from the preaching; or to secure a personal salvation in the future ; or because they are taught to think it a duty, or the appointed proof of faith. And they pay their contribution or tax of money in return for the possession of their pew, or of their share of whatever benefits may accrue. But the desire to be of help to others, to join others in doing good, to make the association with them a means of enlarged action ; the willingness and sense of obligation to contribute themselves, their talents, energies, possessions, attainments, to the effective working power of the body, — how many are there who think of this ? And yet it seems to me that nothing short of this can make a real church. Only this can be such a " body " as Paul speaks of, — " fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working, after its measure, of every joint ;" only this can be a redeeming power in a community and the world. Nothing would be so sure to keep life in a church as its making itself a working church. Nothing would be so sure to keep it filled with the Spirit. Nothing would so bind its members together, nothing so surely tend to make them think alike, if that be desired, as uniting in common labors. It seems to me that a church has no right to be, unless it can thus make good its claim. The world has a right to put to it the question of the Jews: "What sign showest thou, that we may see and believe thee ; what dost thou work ?" It has a right to expect from it wonders of feeding and healing and restoration."


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

entirely theoretical relations...

In his later years, Samuel Longfellow served for a time at Germantown Penn. where he was much loved.  One parishioner, however, did feel that Rev. Longfellow, a lifelong bachelor, may have had some practical deficiencies in the area of love and marriage.  He wrote:

" He (Longfellow) had the deepest appreciation of home and home life ; and we all of us wished that his own experience might have included that love which alone gives ideal beauty and blessing to home life. In a letter to me he wrote the following childlike sentiment : ' I am glad you are so happy in your new life, and I see no reason why your happiness should not continue and increase. I remember once being told by a lady, whom I knew when a young boy, that love is often stronger after marriage than before.'

" This (the parishioner continued) gives a glimpse, I think, into his entirely theoretical relations to this subject."

(honey, if you are reading today, I think bachelor Sam was not wrong...)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

alien intellects...

In the first two parts of Samuel Longfellow's "A Spiritual and Working Church,"  he defines church and then talks of the importance of the "religious" aspect.  In this third installment, he emphasizes the "spiritual"...

"And again, I wish to emphasize the word spirit, as distinguished from doctrine and form. Some creed or system of opinions about religion is almost universally the centre around which our churches are gathered ; or else some rite. Now, I do not deny that similarity of opinion is a bond of union. We are drawn to those who think like ourselves. But it is not the strongest or deepest bond. It is easily overridden by spiritual sympathy, or annulled by the want of that. Neither do I mean to undervalue correct opinion as making clear the way to right feeling and right action, though quite a"s often right feeling and action will lead to correct opinion. Nor do I deny their value to religious rites. But a unity sought in uniformity of belief, or of ritual or organization, is but superficial. Nor can it be permanent unless it destroy freedom and growth, and with them life. We must look deeper for the bond of living and abiding unity. And we shall find it where it has always existed, amid the diversities of belief and organization, and under all their strifes, — in that unity of spirit which is alone the bond of an enduring peace. This unites, while creeds and forms sunder, and shut off as many as they shut in.

Alien intellects are brethren here, and walls vanish. Therefore I emphasize the word spirit."


Monday, July 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau...

"Nothing was ever so unfamiliar and startling to me as my own thoughts. " 



   Regular readers probably know that I am-what's the best way to put it-a little on the old fashioned side.  When given a choice between the old and the new, I will pick the old almost every time (the devil you know and all that.)  Last week, however, I took a leap into profoundly heretical ground.  I bought an e-reader (a Barnes and Noble "nook" to be specific.)  What could make me take such an unprecedented leap? I think it was a combination of declining book-shelf space, declining book budget, and the dramatically better reading screens of today's readers. 
   Since getting my nook, I have downloaded 150 or so books, almost all old Unitarian works, and have, so far spent 2 dollars (1 for a searchable King James Bible, and one for the three volume set of Mommson's History of Rome.)  All the rest are free from Google Books.  Now a word of warning-many of the scans are not great and most are not very searchable.  Occasionally I find pages missing and other frustrations. I wont pretend that it is better that having that old book in your hand-it's not and never will be (I did buy a plain ecclesiastical  black cover which helps a little.)  But if what you want is the ability to read an old Unitarian sermon at any time and any place (and who doesn't want that!) it is a pretty amazing thing...


Sunday, July 11, 2010

protest and complain...

By the time Samuel Longfellow finished at Harvard Divinity School he had already (with his dear friend, Samuel Johnson) published a Book of Hymns.  He was a transcendentalist and a part of the "radical" party.  While supplying pulpits in preparation for a settlement, however, he wrote this in a letter to Johnson, about "reform" sermons.  I found it interesting, especially in such a young man...

"I preached my old sermon of the reformer's aims. And now, Sam, farewell to reform sermons ! I am not yet calm, and high, and pure enough myself, I feel, for this. I can but protest and complain ; and this, I feel, is out of place in the church."


Saturday, July 10, 2010

living spirit...

This from a letter written by Samuel Longfellow in about 1840 after graduation from Harvard and before going to the Divinity School:

"I cannot help thinking that the great deficiency of Unitarian preachers, which even Unitarians are beginning to see and acknowledge, — their forgetting, apparently, that man has a ' living spirit' as well as a thinking mind...


Friday, July 9, 2010

conservative and radical...

Samuel Longfellow continues his sermon "A Spiritual and Working Church"

"...a church I define to be a society of men and women and children, associated by a religious spirit, and for a religious work.

I wish to lay stress upon this word religious.

A church must justify its existence by this, that it holds as its special thought — not its exclusive possession, but its special thought — the idea of God. This it is to apply over the whole domain of life. With this it is to meet all private needs and confront all public emergencies. By this it is to try all spirits, tempers, and aims ; by this to judge all customs, institutions, laws. This makes the church's position to be... one of high mediation, at once conservative and radical, because this idea of God is at once the most conservative and most radical of ideas. " Remaining in himself, He passes through all things, making them evermore new." His immutable Permanence is the ground of all our faith and all our prayers ; his regenerating Immanence, the inspiration of all our effort for the triumph of good over evil, the coming of Heaven among men. So the church is religious. Its work is to make vital the thought of the living and infinitely present God, in the life of its members and of society. " Exceeding broad " it is — this religion, this eternal life of souls bound to God in the sense of his intimate presence and the consciousness of sonship. It is a piety that includes morality and humanity, as man is included in God. No dreamy aurora of mystic reverie ; nor altar-fire of periodic ceremonial; nor rare lightning of retributive remorse, declaring and restoring a lost equilibrium ; nor hearth-flame of domestic affection, and serving domestic needs, —not these alone, but more : an all-encompassing and quickening sunlight, lighting every human work; an inner vital heat, moving every motion ; the circulating currents of the Divine Spirit. This life of God every church is to receive and manifest ; therefore I lay stress on the word religious."

(Photo is BU's Church taken by daughter Molly)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

keep on the sunny side...

I loved James Freeman Clarke's "Message" today (also posted at Wonderful Epoch.)  Back to Samuel Longfellow's view of church tomorrow...

"THERE is an organ of hope in the brain which perpetually looks forward. It is the instinct of the future. It teaches us that there is not less life for us after death, but more; not less of power, knowledge, love, work, beauty, joy, but more. This belief in the future life does not rest on knowledge or argument, but on the habit of looking forward in faith and trust. Some have more of it, some less. It may be strengthened by exercise. We may look at the dark side or the bright side of things, as we choose. We may look down or up, we may look at our sorrows and trials or at our joys. By looking at the dark side, we lose the power of seeing good. We see only what is selfish, cold, and hard in men, only what is dark and terrible in the universe. Seek, and you shall find. You have what you look after. As a man sows, so shall he reap. A man may think that he believes in a future life because of the arguments in its favor : he may think that he disbelieves it because he has been convinced by the arguments against it. No: he believes in it because he has established the habit of looking at the good side of things, because he has exercised and educated his organs of faith and hope. He disbelieves it because he has not exercised and educated them."

(painting:  "Sower With Setting Sun" by van Gogh)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

like the universal sky...

Summer seems a good time to refresh and renew one's view of what church is.  For many of us, we are such church lovers that we rarely pause to consider why.  Here is part one of Samuel Longfellow on:


The household of God ... an habitation of God, through the Spirit. — Ephesians ii. 19, 22.

The whole body, fitly joined together, according to the effectual working, in its measure, of every part. — Ephesians iv. 16.

"The original meaning of the word church is convocation or assembly. The very term implies some common idea or purpose. It represents something more than a mere aggregate of persons such as individual and separate errands may bring together at any hour in the crowded streets of a city. It implies, I say, a common, uniting thought or feeling or aim ; and if this be permanent, there results a common spirit and life which form an organic whole. We limit, however, the word church to that unity whose central idea is a religious one, — the idea of God. The Mohammedan church, the Parsee Church, the Buddhist Church, the Christian Church, are each that society whose common life is in those forms of the religious idea which each derives from him whom it regards as its founder, and whose thought and influence it perpetuates. Through and above all these churches exists that universal Church of the race — man in his religious relations — which is founded on the ground-idea of God that lies at the root of all the various conceptions of God ; whose common life is in that mysterious disposition, that irrepressible tendency toward the invisible and the infinite, that universal sentiment of dependence upon a superior Will, that consciousness of God, which make man to be, by force of his nature, in all place and time, a religious being. Overarching all, like the universal sky; encompassing and inspiring all, like the universal air ; vitalizing and informing all, like the universal electric force, this idea of God, this religious consciousness, unites earth's millions in the attitude of prayer. Whenever it becomes vital in any human soul, it invests a citizen of the spiritual world, it initiates a member of the heavenly society. Every heart-throb of aspiration and devout reverence, every struggle to surmount the limits of the actual and the material, every sacrifice and martyrdom for the eternal and invisible, for right, truth, and good, — these attest the common life, and are the sign of the spiritual brotherhood. The oldest books and the most foreign tongues record my personal experience of this hour, and my inmost emotion comes to me matched in traditions beyond the circle of books.

Modern philosophers have invented the term solidarity to express the idea of a common life of the human race, distinct from the life of its individuals. To this common life all individual lives are contributors. No life is isolated ; but each is influenced by, bound to, dependent on, each other. So the race grows as the individuals and generations pass away. So each age inherits the thought, attainment, culture of the previous one, and transmits its own to its successor. So the past survives in the present, and the present prepares and makes possible the more perfect future. So are all human souls and destinies bound into one.

The same idea in the religious sphere is expressed by the unity of the Church"


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

repulsive powers of selfishness...

This on family values from the "Collections' section of "The Christian Examiner and Theological Review" 1824. 

"Domestick Society"

' Domestick society is the seminary of social affections, the cradle of sensibility, where the first elements are acquired of that tenderness and humanity, which cement mankind together, and which, were they entirely extinguished, the whole fabrick of social institutions would be dissolved. Families are so many centres of attraction, which preserve mankind from being scattered and dissipated, by the repulsive powers of selfishness.'—Robert Hall.


Monday, July 5, 2010

a becoming creator...

This weekend was for me a true celebration of independence (and the deeper reality of unity found in true independence.)  My wonderful and tolerant family takes me to Concord each year on my birthday (July 3) and, as always, we visit Emerson's Study at the museum first.  This year that was followed by Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and Author's Ridge where we communed with the spirits of Ralph Waldo, Henry David, and Amos Bronson (and families.)  Then a picnic lunch at the Old North Bridge and finally a canoe trip on the Sudbury.
   This morning I re-read, for the first time in years, Emerson's "American Scholar."  As I have gotten older I have tended towards the later essays and reading "Scholar" was a shock to my system-which is, of course, the point.  An excerpt:

 "To the young mind, every thing is individual, stands by itself. By and by, it finds how to join two things, and see in them one nature; then three, then three thousand; and so, tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, it goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground, whereby contrary and remote things cohere, and flower out from one stem. It presently learns, that, since the dawn of history, there has been a constant accumulation and classifying of facts. But what is classification but the perceiving that these objects are not chaotic, and are not foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human mind? The astronomer discovers that geometry, a pure abstraction of the human mind, is the measure of planetary motion. The chemist finds proportions and intelligible method throughout matter; and science is nothing but the finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote parts. The ambitious soul sits down before each refractory fact; one after another, reduces all strange constitutions, all new powers, to their class and their law, and goes on for ever to animate the last fibre of organization, the outskirts of nature, by insight.

Thus to him, to this school-boy under the bending dome of day, is suggested, that he and it proceed from one root; one is leaf and one is flower; relation, sympathy, stirring in every vein. And what is that Root? Is not that the soul of his soul? -- A thought too bold, -- a dream too wild. Yet when this spiritual light shall have revealed the law of more earthly natures, -- when he has learned to worship the soul, and to see that the natural philosophy that now is, is only the first gropings of its gigantic hand, he shall look forward to an ever expanding knowledge as to a becoming creator."

(photo: at Emerson's grave)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

all its glory-Christian Patriotism concluded...

Happy Independence Day.  John Adams, a vital part of that independence, is remembered by Nathaniel Frothingham in this third and concluding part of the sermon, "Christian Patriotism" given on the occasion of the death of Adams.

"That metaphysical benevolence, which professes a general interest in God's creatures, and yet passes over the most natural objects of regard, and makes no account of the obvious relations of society, is either a dream, or a deception. There has never been so much heard of it as during the triumphs of a cold-hearted philosophy, and, in those wild times of political fanaticism, when the sweetest charities of life were trodden under foot.

We must advance from particulars to a great result. That which is the most perfect is the last to be produced. The good man must first win the qualities of a good son, a good friend, a good citizen, and these will lead him up to be worthy of that higher name. It is an inconceivable abuse of language to speak of the philanthropy of one, who is held by no moral ties to his brethren, and the community to which he belongs.

I have been led to speak on this topic by the death of an illustrious patriot, who joined to the noblest endowments of that character, the virtues that adorn common life. A champion of his country,  a student of religious truth and a devout friend of our religious institutions,— more than a patriarch to the tribes of our Israel,—we have " buried him with his fathers." It is little to say that his memory is fresh in all our minds to-day. The great nation is doing it honour, as fast as the tidings can be conveyed that he has ceased from among us. A long posterity will treasure it up, and call it blessed. Such a wide-spread sensation, as is now making its way from border to border of our continent, has seldom attended the death of a private individual, retired long from the cares of state and the busy parade of life, with no titles but his services, no opulence but his worth, no power but his fame, and no honours to crown his head but those which ninety useful years had scattered upon it. We have no occasion to say one to another, with David at the funeral of Abner,— " Know ye not that a prince and a great man has fallen in Israel ?" Every one acknowledges it.— Every one feels that he had the nobility of desert, and that he was great among the sons of men, alike by what he achieved at first, and by the signal blessings that followed him to the day of his death like a reward and a manifest testimony from heaven. He is gathered to his people,—one of the last of a noble band, among whom he was a leader. There is no one left, to whose exertions this land is so deeply indebted for its independence. We look round on its free institutions, its growing strength, its multiplied resources, its all but miraculous spread and prosperity, and his venerable name is associated with all its glory.

Happy man ! to have been permitted to take a chief part in events that will never be forgotten. Happy ! to have been spared so long beyond the natural term of human life, that he might see the consequences of what he had accomplished, and hear the gratitude of millions breathing through the shades of his retirement. Happy ! to have retained to the end the strong faculties of his mind, instead of exhibiting that most humiliating of spectacles, an imbecile and doting age settling down on a high spirit, as if in derision of a life of renown. Happy ! after the days of his political influence were long past, to look upon his own son at the head of the counsels of this mighty confederacy. Happy to his last breath ! to have given it up on the anniversary of his greatest work and triumph, the day of a whole nation's jubilee ;—to have given it up in such an hour, as if it had waited to be borne off on the acclamations of the people, and the festival fires of liberty.

His eulogy is in the hearts of his countrymen. I have no further tribute to pay to his memory, but that of silent admiration at his character, his actions, and his fortune."


Saturday, July 3, 2010

a moral obligation-Christian Patriotism cont...

It is Independence Day eve (and BU's birthday)...Nathaniel Frothingham's sermon on the occasion of the passing of John Adams, continued...

"But there is a species of patriotism,—the true, —which finds itself nourished by the instructions, protected by the beneficent genius of the faith we profess. That faith commands us to think and act for the general welfare ; to do good to all, but especially to those who are the nearest; to be interested in whatever concerns the improvement and happiness of man, but chiefly in the scenes that surround us, in the objects on which we can most readily act, in the persons with whom we stand anywise connected ; not to be disheartened at dangers, nor reluctant at sacrifices, nor slow in endeavours, but to fulfil all the duties of the social state with a zealous devotedness, and at whatever cost. Does it not thus lay the foundation principles of genuine patriotism ? It would have us susceptible, grateful, thoughtful of times past, venerating the memory of the worthy men who rendered services to the community in former generations, and alive to its best interests in the generations that are to come after. Are not these the very affections, that kindle and keep alive the love of one's country ? When it enjoins the duties of the citizen and encourages the worthiest sentiments of the man, does it not imply all that is needed to form the virtue of which I am speaking ? It does, or we are only disputing about a name. For what is it to be patriotic ? It is not to conceit that " we are the people," and there are none like us. It is not to give vent to a foolish exultation, as if no others have ever been so great, so enlightened, so free, so happy. It is not to be clamorous on political high days. It is not to canvass with swelling words for a vulgar popularity. It is not to abuse or despise the institutions of foreign countries, to cavil at their peculiarities, to turn over with satisfaction the darker leaves of their annals, and to eye their movements and manners with a jealous dislike. If it were this vapouring, turbulent propensity, nothing need be said to recommend it. Nothing could recommend it. It is as far below the standard of good morals and an intelligent mind, as it is of the Christian faith. We might leave the defence of it, with its practice, to the violent, the uninformed and the designing. But it is in truth an entirely different thing. It is a rational love of the land, in which God has marked out the lot of our habitation, in which we first saw the light, by whose usages we have been formed, at whose bosom we have been nourished,—where our kindred and friends dwell, and where are the low dwellings of our fathers ;—a rational love of this land, not a blind partiality, or a heated fancy, or a proud pretension. It is a principle of attachment to it as our own. It is the feeling of well-wishers towards it, and the resolve to do the little that we can for its service,—by obeying its laws, by aiding its good establishments, by seeking, in all the ways by which we can contribute to them, its advancement and peace. Country is a relation, in which the Almighty Providence places us ;—as truly so as family, occupation, friendship. Patriotism is faithfulness to that relation in heart and deed.— It can be no more than this. It can be no other than this. It is then a duty, as plain as the rest. It is not of a visionary character; it is not a mere political excellence, but a moral obligation, under which a man is laid by the necessity of circumstances and the spirit that is in him.

Shall we be told, then, that this sentiment is not akin to the precepts of Christianity ? We might answer that the charge lies only against its counterfeits and abuses. Or shall we be told that it tends to narrow the compass of human benevolence, to thwart the gloriously Christian project of universal philanthropy ? We might answer, that it will rather serve to promote that great design, for it will expand instead of checking all the kind affections. Those affections do, in the course of nature, spread from parts to the whole. It is through parts that they are exercised ; and their action must begin with what is palpable and near, and gradually reach out to what is abstract and distant.

" Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake,
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake ;
The centre moved, a circle strait succeeds,
Another still and still another spreads ;
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace,
His country next, and next all human race ;
Wide and more wide, the o'erflowings of the mind
Take every creature in, of every kind."


Friday, July 2, 2010

Christian Patriotism...

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson famously died on July 4th 1826, fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  This sermon was delivered in Boston on the death of Adams by Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham, the very model of  "Boston Unitarianism."  Excerpts over the next three days... 

"Christian Patriotism"


The old patriarch Jacob, who had spent many of the best days of his life in exile, and was now finishing the poor remnant of it in a foreign country, turned his last thoughts towards the place of his birth. Circumstances had long ago made him a pilgrim to other lands, and a stranger in his own. He was now dying, of extreme age in one of the pleasantest provinces of Egypt, but he was unwilling that his bones should rest in that distant spot. It might seem nothing to him whether the Nile or the Jordan was flowing before the eyes that would close in a few hours upon all earthly objects. Here he had every thing that could comfort his decline, and do honour to his grey hairs. Joseph, the royal favourite, was his son, and all his children were about him. But his heart went back to the past, to the scenes of his first love, to the home of a thousand* endearing recollections, to the north country of Judea. The text is a part of his dying injunction to those whom he left behind. "lam to be gathered unto my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah. There they buried Abraham, and Sarah his wife ; there they buried Isaac, and Rebecca his wife ; and there / buried Leah."

"Bury me with my fathers." The feeling that dictated these words enters largely into the sentiment which we call patriotism. That sentiment is mainly dependent on early remembrances and habits ; it dwells on the hallowed names and services of individuals ; it is drawn towards our fathers' deeds and sepulchres. Thus, the love of one's country has its foundation in some of the first principles of human nature. It is connected with many of the secret, but ineffaceable impressions of the human heart. The Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament abound with fine examples of its spirit ; and though they nowhere enjoin it, they yet contain frequent indirect testimonies in its praise. The old prophets were the patriots of their times. The great prophet himself declared that he was sent peculiarly to the house of Israel, and he wept when he thought of its coming desolation. The sacred songs of the Hebrews are eminently national. The fragments of their history offer us here and there the most beautiful expressions of attachment to the places in which they first drew their breath. Where, indeed, has there ever been a people of any cultivation, whose gifted men have not thrown out in eloquence and song those sentiments of this kind, which were felt and responded to by the humblest of their countrymen ? Where was ever a generous and susceptible mind, that did not number among its warmest affections a fondness for its native land, cherishing many tender and sacred associations with the thought of it, and interested personally in its well-being ?

There have been some, however, to deny that patriotism has any thing morally estimable in it. It ought not, they say, to be encouraged ; because it is a partial and narrow principle; because it counteracts that spirit of universal benevolence which we should endeavour to excite in men's hearts. It has even been mentioned among the high recommendations of the Christian religion, and as an evidence of its divine origin, that it neither inculcates nor countenances a fictitious virtue, which is said to come of pride, to engender rivalries and hate, and to disunite by one strong passion more the different tribes of the earth. But fortunately we have here but a description of false patriotism ; the lessons of our holy faith are most at variance with this, while they recognize and sanction that which is true.

It is one of the glories of the gospel, one of the signs of its divine character, the proofs of its divine source, that it does not favour, but plainly opposes that exclusive and party feeling, which passes so freely in the world under the name of love of country ...which makes men boastful, and keeps them prejudiced;—which spirits up unfriendly dispositions towards those who live under different institutions, or use a different speech ;— which perpetuates hostility between one people and another, and, because a mountain intervenes, or a river or a sea separates them, alienates them from good will and good offices. Christianity has come, not to loosen in any respect, but to strengthen in all, the bands of brotherly kindness, not to contract but to expand every generous sympathy of our nature. It does not present itself as the privilege of a nation or a class, but as the common friend of mankind. It does not found its promised happiness on social advantages or public prosperity, but on truth and holiness. It has in view no political reforms, but only those of personal character ; no civil establishments, but the universal kingdom of God. If this were not its temper and scope, it manifestly could not have come down from the Father of all. The legislator, the teacher, the reformer, the Saviour of a race, could have had little to do with geographical lines, and national distinctions. Though he devoted his whole ministry "to his own, who received him not," he yet lived and spoke for all. It was for him to dispense, with impartial hands, his light and his joy, the whole fulness of his blessings...(more tomorrow)


Thursday, July 1, 2010

gymnastic training...

This blog has before discussed a kind of physical asceticism lived by certain of the Boston Unitarians (Henry Ware Jr., William Ellery Channing etc...) much to the detriment of their own health.  I came across this mention in A.P. Preston's memoir of James Freeman Clarke.  The fascinating Charles Follen tried to do something about this tendency during his time at Harvard...

"Dr. Follen had then recently taken his place in the corps of teachers (when Clarke arrived in 1825), and had introduced the study of the German language and literature, which till his time had no place in the college curriculum. He had also made the first breaches in the barrier which had precluded the students from intimate relations with the Faculty. He had, moreover, introduced a system of gymnastic training, which was made availing by all who were not physically incapacitated for it, and to which not a few of the students—probably Clarke among the number — were largely indebted for lifelong power of labor and endurance."