Monday, November 24, 2008

Brother Parker

My Bible reading this morning was in 2 Corinthians 4:18 (For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal) and my mind went to the famous and very divisive "Transient and Permanent" sermon of Theodore Parker. Now I must admit a deep
ambivalence towards Brother Parker. On the one hand, his personal piety and deep and passionate commitment to abolition are much to be admired. On the other, his lack of temperance in advancing his theology wedded to a deep personal sensitivity to like criticism from others are less attractive. I also believe that Parker, even more than Emerson, contributed to the too early demise of Unitarian Christianity. Finally, three years or so ago, I read Parker's Works during a summer reading frenzy and my mental state has never been the same! A bit of Transient and Permanent:
"Real Christianity gives men new life. It is the growth and perfect action of the Holy Spirit God puts into the sons of men. It makes us outgrow any form, or any system of doctrines we have devised, and approach still closer to the truth. It would lead us to take what help we can find. It would make the Bible our servant, not our master. It would teach us to profit by the wisdom and piety of David and Solomon; but not to sin their sins, nor bow to their idols. It would make us revere the holy words spoken by "godly men of old," but revere still more the word of God spoken through Conscience, Reason, and Faith, as the holiest of all. It would not make Christ the despot of the soul, but the brother of all men. It would not tell us, that even he had exhausted the fullness of God, so that He could create none greater; for with Him "all things are possible," and neither Old Testament or New Testament ever hints that creation exhausts the creator. Still less would it tell us, the wisdom, the piety the love, the manly excellence of Jesus, was the result of miraculous agency alone, but, that it was won, like the excellence of humbler men, by faithful obedience to Him who gave his Son such ample heritage. It would point to him as our brother, who went before, like the good shepherd, to charm us with the music of his words, and with the beauty of his life to tempt us up the steeps of mortal toil, within the gate of Heaven. It would have us make the kingdom of God on earth, and enter more fittingly the kingdom on high. It would lead us to form Christ in the heart, on which Paul laid such stress, and work out our salvation by this. For it is not so much by the Christ who lived so blameless and beautiful eighteen centuries ago, that we are saved directly, but by the Christ we form in our hearts and live out in our daily life,that we save ourselves, God working with us, both to will and to do."
Parker's piety, more than his disdain, are much on display here and the Boston Unitarians who were often so vexed by Parker could easily embrace the vision of life that Parker here puts forward. Form Christ in our hearts and live it out in daily life. So may it be. Blessings


PeaceBang said...

What a great passage by Theodore Parker! I hope you'll say more about how he had a negative influence on Unitarian Christianity. Was it because he was such a total Lone Ranger, would you say, among other things? And can you say more about how reading his entire corpus messed with your mind!? ;-)

Also, can you add a space between your words and the long Parker passage, before and aft? I ask for selfish reasons: I'd love to lift this entry and post it on my own blog... con permiso, of course.

slt said...

I will say much more about Parker and Christianity, and my own response to reading (too much) Parker soon.
Concerning, the spaces...sometimes I type the spaces in but when the post publishes, they are not included. I tried to edit them in and it wont let me. Yet other times it does...unfortunatly I am fairly clueless about why that might be.
And finally, lift away! Thanks Peacebang

Tom (Mystics Meeting) said...

Thanks for putting me on to Parker- Ive been to both UU Churches in Lexington, but I gather he only grew up there, and didnt preach there? Ill look more into it - I find a spiritual kinship with Parker, from what Im hearing so far...

(us mystical heretic types tend to recognize each other from which ever tradition we spring :D)


btw, an easy way to add space to before and aft a passage is the simple inclusion of <br> at the beginning and ending of your post or passage, and then "line return" (enter) between the <br> and your text (be it first or last)

Im trying it here now in this comment- we should see four lines of space top and bottom of my post here (it works for me in previewing the post anyway)

slt said...

Hi Tom,
Many thanks for your comment and I am glad you found a kinship with Rev. Parker. He was born in Lexington and preached mainly in West Roxbury and then Boston. For more, see Dean Grodzins excellent book, American Heretic. Grodzins has also written a short biography of Parker for the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography which can be found at
Thanks also for the spacing tip-I will try it. Blessings