Friday, July 31, 2009

The blessed art of bearing one another's burdens...

Yesterday we heard William Phillips Tilden's rendering of Emerson's "sealed orders." Today his marching orders for anyone taking up the ministry...
from: "The Work of the Ministry" cont.

"We may think, therefore, of one as reading and accepting all the sealed orders of Mr. Emerson touching the relation of the individual soul with God, and yet finding other orders for the practical work of the ministry, such as these:—

" Remember that man is not an individual, but a member of a body."
" Thou shalt not live for self, not even for self-improvement, but for the welfare of thy fellows."
"Thou shalt not be satisfied with the vision of truth, but strive continually to work the truth thou seest into thine own and other lives."
"Thou shalt seek not only to announce truth boldly, but to make it a persuasive power for the higher life."
"Thou shalt deem no human being beneath thy notice."
" Thou shalt honor alike the rich and the poor, and permit no outward distinctions to influence thy regards."
"Thou shalt live in cordial sympathy with thy people, rejoicing in their joys and sorrowing in their sorrows."
" Thou shalt help them to see the deformity of sin and the beauty of holiness."
"Thou shalt win them to the love of Christian worship and Christian work."
" Thou shalt show them the meaning and use of a church of God, that they may feel their need of a church home as truly as of a family home."
"Thou shalt teach them the blessed art of bearing one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."

Something like this may you all find in your sealed orders, only more and better. You will find more and better if you keep mind and heart opened upward for the Divine Hand to write the orders of each new day."


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Christian Navigation...

I have been reading "The Transcendentalist", Emerson's "defence" of the young idealists that he was so responsible for, and it has made me cranky...I love Emerson but he often brings out the fogy in me and I despair over the practical effect of the philosophy on society and, most important for me, on the church. So over the next few days, I want to excerpt a lecture by one of my great heroes, William Phillips Tilden, given to budding churchmen, on another of my heroes, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I hope you find it as interesting as I do:

from, "The Work of the Ministry"


"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,— "Every human soul," says Dr. Holmes in his Life of Emerson, " leaves its port with sealed orders. These may be opened earlier or later on the voyage; but, until they are opened, no one can tell what is to be his course, or to what harbor he is bound."
We will let this serve as a text for our closing lecture. Some of you are getting ready to leave port, loosing your sails, and will soon weigh anchor and steer for the open sea. All of you are expecting to sail sooner or later. You are studying Christian navigation, learning the use of compass, chart, and nautical instruments, all looking to the voyage you are to take. What course you are to steer, when the time comes for leaving port, you know not. You have thought of many pleasant voyages you would like to make, over smooth seas to golden shores. Maybe you will. You cannot tell. Your orders are sealed, not to be opened till you are out of sight of land, and feel the ground swell of the deep sea beneath your keel.

There is something profoundly impressive in these " sealed orders." If only they were open, if you could know just what they were before leaving port, so that you could talk the matter over with old navigators, and learn about the reefs and shoals to be shunned, and the safe harbors one may make in a storm, it would save you from much anxiety. But your orders are sealed. Not till you are off sounding will you know them; and not till the end of the voyage will your friends or the world know just what they were. It is the finished voyage that reveals their character. That was what revealed to Dr. Holmes the sealed orders of Emerson. It was not till the end of the voyage they were fully known. Then all was clear...

Many persons might be selected from our best Christian workers whose sealed orders, judged by their ministerial fidelity, were just as high as Emerson's, and whose obedience to them was just as complete. Nay, many have found in their sealed orders things which Emerson did not find in his papers. His orders were grand and inspiring for the thinker, but not always so helpful for the worker. There are few men who quicken thought like Emerson; but his thought is not easily harnessed to practical work. He followed his own oft-quoted saying, and "hitched his wagon to a star." It was high riding, aerial and breezy, but not always convenient for agricultural purposes. It took too long to change the harness. It was not Mr. Emerson's peculiar views about church ordinances merely, that led him out of the Christian ministry. He was a devotee of individualism. He could hardly have been successful as the minister of a working church. He was not born for that. He had no appreciation of organized efforts. He did not believe in the Church. He thanked God that he never asked one to join it. To his peculiar nature there was a touch of bondage in it. He trusted to his wings rather than to his hands and feet. He had a skylark soul. He could soar and sing better than he could plough and plant. His "wagon" was for commerce with the skies, not for mundane uses. True, he returned to the Church in his old age, as the dove to the ark; but it was only to bring a leaf, showing that the floods of individualism had abated, and the dry land, waiting to be cultivated, had appeared. His sealed orders were of the highest kind for individual life and personal character; but they fail of meeting all the needs of a patient Christian worker for the kingdom of God, who sees the necessity of "working together" with his fellow-men in associated action for human uplifting."

More tomorrow and


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

true, honest and bold...

Charles Dickens, himself a Unitarian, was the rock star of his day and his tour of America in 1842 was an event. He would write of the experience:

"I can do nothing that I want to do, go nowhere where I want to go, and see nothing that I want to see. If I turn into the street, I am followed by a multitude."

Dickens wrote of his travels in his book "American Notes." This on his encounter with Transcendentalism:

"There has sprung up in Boston a set of philosophers known as the Transcendentalists. On inquiring what this appellation might be supposed to signify, I was given to understand that whatever was unintelligible would be certainly Transcendental. Not deriving much comfort from this elucidation, I pursued the inquiry still further, and found that the Transcendentalists are followers of my friend Mr. Carlyle, or, I should rather say, of a follower of his, Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson. This gentleman has written a volume of Essays, in which among much that be dreamy and fanciful (if he will pardon me for saying so), there is much more that is true and manly, honest and bold. Transcendentalism has its occasional vagaries (what school has not?) but it has good healthful qualities in spite of them; not least among the number a hearty disgust of Cant, and an aptitude to detect her in all the million varieties of her everlasting wardrobe. And, therefore, if I were a Bostonian, I think I would be a Transcendentalist."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Emerson famously said that "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." That is why reading him in hopes of finding a systematic "theology" will always be futile-it is a path not a destination. This today in "Nominalist and Realist"

"I am always insincere, as always knowing there are other moods."

And this in the notes (of the 12 volume Concord edition edited by Edward Emerson):

"This is a harsh statement of the looseness with which a growing man should hold his beliefs of the day. In this very connection an instance can be given o how bravely sincere Mr. Emerson was. While temporarily preaching in East Lexington, he introduced into his discourse leaves from a sermon written a few years before while he was a Boston minister. In delivering it, he suddenly stopped and quietly said to his hearers, "The sentence which I have just read I do not now believe," turned the page, and went on."


Monday, July 27, 2009

lifting our eyes

According to John Emery Abbot, the piety of Jesus (which we are to imitate) has so far consisted of a devotional state of mind, and an ascribing of all benefit to the Father. The third element is habitual gratitude.

"The Piety of Our Savior" continued:

"3. Again. We see the grateful piety of our Saviour expressed on particular occasions when his exertions to accomplish God's will were successful. When he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he lifted up his eyes in gratitude, " Father! I thank thee that thou hast heard me." When he had succeeded in inculcating the truths of his religion on the minds of the humble and sincere inquirers around him, he blessed God that though these things were hidden from the wise and learned, they had yet been revealed to babes.

There are continually occurring occasions in our own lives, in which it becomes us to imitate this part of our Saviour's conduct. When any signal opportunities of usefulness or of enjoyment have been given; when any unusual means of improvement have been bestowed; when any danger has been escaped, or any trouble has passed harmlessly by us; when any temptation has been resisted, or any service to God has been done, and conscience is speaking to us in accents of peace;—then let our hearts be touched, then let us remember from whom all good proceeds, and let us acknowledge our obligations with affectionate and joyful gratitude."


Friday, July 24, 2009

hearts penetrated and softened...

Dependence and gratitude are vital elements of piety and they are explored by John Emery Abbot in this continuation of his sermon:

"The Piety of Our Savior"

2. In the second place, the piety of our Saviour was manifested by his referring all his own powers and advantages to the Father, and considering all as derived from him.
He not only continually assures us that he "came not of himself," but that " the Father sent him;" thus attributing, with the Apostle, all the benefits which flowed from his coming into the world, to the mercy of God, who so loved the world that he gave his Son to save it...

He assumes nothing to himself. Every thing is referred to God as its Author. And his expressions of gratitude for all that he had given him, are continually implied or expressed.

The same feeling of dependence, the same grateful sense of God's goodness, ought we to exercise. All our blessings, like all his, flow from God. We are called indeed to a different service, and different powers are demanded for our work. But as God invested him with all the powers necessary for his undertaking, so he has given to us all the ability which we need to accomplish the work given us to do...

And ought not the capacities and powers which God has given us, though they be not miraculous, to be acknowledged with gratitude ? 'Though our condition be so unlike to his, though we see no visible interpositions of providence on our behalf, though we discern not angels ministering to us when deserted and in trouble, and see not the spirit of grace descending on us as it descended to rest on him; yet are we not entirely dependent on God's care? Is not his providence continually encompassing us, protecting us in danger, supplying our minutest wants, and surrounding us with numberless comforts ? Is not God's spirit granted, though it operates silent and unseen, to help our infirmities, to sustain our feeble and failing exertions, and to sanctify our souls, and prepare us for heaven ? Why then shall we not imitate the grateful piety of Jesus, and look up from amidst all the blessings and privileges he has conferred upon us, with hearts penetrated and softened with fervent thankfulness ?


Thursday, July 23, 2009

as if they are real...

Reading this morning Emerson's "Experience," an essay I disliked as a young man but now very much admire. Enjoyed this line today...

"Let us treat the men and women well; treat them as if they are real; perhaps they are."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

habitual attention to God's agency...

The rational, empirical, John Lockean element of Unitarianism has long been dominant in the view of those who think about such things. It was the kind of Unitarianism that Emerson famously called "corpse cold."

Often forgotten is the deep piety of many of the early American Unitarians (even many of the more "rationalistic" among them were noted for their piety.) Channing, of course, was the Father of the spiritualistic wing of the movement and Henry Ware Jr. was one of its guiding lights. I continue to explore this expression of Unitarianism with this from John Emery Abbot who explores the piety of Jesus in this sermon:

LUKE VI. 12.

The peculiar efficacy of teaching by example has always been felt and acknowledged. In order to having just notions of our duty, it is important, not only that principles be laid down for our direction, but that we be shewn how they are to be applied, and be enabled to trace their influence on the character and conduct of others. And when an example is presented in a light which interests, there will be awakened an involuntary feeling of emulation, a desire of resembling the character which we are taught to admire and love.

In this view, the life of our Saviour is a very important part of the moral system of the Gospel. He came to be the example as well as the teacher of men. In order to become so, it was necessary that he should be placed in situations like ours; that, bearing the infirmities of our nature, encompassed by our wants, and exposed to our temptations, he might mark out by his own conduct, the course in which we should walk through trial, and difficulty, and danger

This view of the character of our Saviour, as one of common life, as one which we may imitate and resemble, is peculiarly applicable to a disposition of which the text is a signal expression. I mean the Piety of our Saviour; and I hope, that by dwelling on a few of the modes in which his piety expressed itself, we may better know our own duties, and also attain some more distinct and interesting views of his character

1. The first thing to be noticed in respect to the piety of our Saviour, is the devotional frame of mind in which he seems habitually to have been. This devotional spirit, we see continually manifesting...There is almost no disposition which it is equally important to acquire as this spirit of devotion. It comprehends all other dispositions of piety. And our Saviour's habit of considering the objects around him, in their connexion with Him who created and governs all, is not only the natural expression of a devotional temper, but also the greatest means of acquiring and maintaining it. God is acting all around us, though veils of flesh conceal him from our sight.

The influence of this habitual attention to God's agency would be to produce a spirit of cheerful, affectionate devotion. Our ideas of the divine perfections would become continually more distinct, noble and elevated. His character would be continually presenting itself in a manner to interest the feelings. His constant presence would be more realized by our hearts, and our own intimate relation and dependence, with all the associated affections it awakens, would be more vividly and permanently felt. By encouraging, and, by deliberate effort, maintaining this habit, the thought of God would become the leading characteristic of our minds, and subordinate to itself all subjects of meaner interest. When silent and alone, our minds would involuntarily rise to Him; and his character, and agency, and relation to us, would become the natural objects of our meditations, when unoccupied by any immediate concerns. It was such a devotional spirit as this, which was the origin of all the expressions of piety in the life of our Saviour. And would we imitate that piety, we must acquire and maintain with much attention and care, that habitual frame of mind which was thus in him."


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

spermatic words...

In a later lecture on "Inspiration" Emerson lists sources of such, the ninth of which is "New Poetry; by which I mead chiefly, old poetry that is new to the reader...What is best in literature" he continues,"is the affirming, prophesying, spermatic words of men-making poets. Only that is poetry which cleanses and mans me."
Where to find this kind of poetry you ask? "You shall not read newspapers," answers Emerson, "nor politics, nor novels, nor Montaigne, nor the newest French book. You may read Plutarch, Plato, Plotinus, Hindoo mythology and ethics." He goes on to list several more sources of literary inspiration but I love his first thought-the three P's and Hindu scripture.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Margaret Fuller RIP

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Margaret Fuller in 1850 at the age of 40. She died in a shipwreck with her companion and her young son returning from her time in Italy during which she became involved in the Revolution. Emerson sent Thoreau to search for belongings but all was lost (including her history of the Revolution.) Fuller was a giant intellect and one of the most fascinating of the "transcendentalists."

I have mentioned before that I am on the committee that will celebrate her life and work at General Assembly next year. If you have any suggestions as to what would be truly helpful please let me know.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

this giddy and tempting world...

With this post, we bring Henry Ware Jr.'s classic of Unitarian piety to a close. I have posted excerpts of each chapter and section of "The Foramtion of the Christian Character" almost since the beginning of this blog. To read the entire series, click here.

"You perceive how urgent is the call for perpetual watchfulness and rigid self-discipline. It is not easy, with much intentional guard over yourself, to keep the spirit habitually right in this giddy and tempting world ; and it is equally difficult to maintain a perfect coincidence between the principle within and the deportment of daily life. Oftentimes, in the emergencies and hurry of business, pleasure, and society, where many things concur to drown the voice of the spirit within, we find the lower propensities of our nature gaining an ascendency, and the law in our members rising in rebellion against the law in our mind. ' The things that we would, we do not, and the things that we would not, those we do;' and sense and passion triumph for the moment over reason and faith. ' The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other.' And how shall we gain the victory in this perpetual contest ? ' Through our Lord Jesus Christ,' says the Apostle; and the means thereto are found in his injunction, ' Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.' Vigilance over every hour and in every engagement, carrying into them the shield of faith and the whole armor of God; and prayer, without ceasing, that your soul may be strong to wield them;—these will secure to you the victory. Sometimes you will find yourself in perplexities and straits, sometimes faltering and irresolute; but never forsaken or cast down, never exposed to temptation which you are unable to bear, or from which there is no way of escape. You may ' do all things through Christ who strengtheneth you."

I have thus spoken of that religious discipline of daily life, in which the Christian character is formed and tried. It will be sufficient to add, in conclusion, that your great concern must be with two things,—your principles and your habits.

First, you must constantly have an eye to your Principles. Take care that they be kept pure, and that you abide by them. They have been well compared to the compass of the ship, on which if the helmsman keeps a faithful eye, and resolutely steers by it in spite of the opposition of winds and wares, he will find the way to his port; but by heedless inattention to it, he is sure to go astray, and be blown whither he would not.

Secondly, have an eye to your Habits. Add to the authority of principle the vigor and steadfastness of confirmed habit, and your religious character become? almost impregnable to assault. It is in no danger of overthrow except from the most cunning assailants in a season of your most culpable negligence. What wisdom and kindness has the Creator displayed in our constitution, that we are able to rear around our virtue the strong bulwark of habit! It is a defence of the weakest spirit against the strongest trial...

...therefore, arrange every thing in your customary pursuits and indulgences to favor the grand end of your being ; so that every act of piety and faith shall be coincident with it; so that little or no effort shall be required to maintain the steady order of daily duty ; and, instead of an opposition, a struggle, a contest, whenever principle asserts its claims, you shall find the ready consent and hearty cooperation of all the habitual preferences, tastes, and occupations, of your life He in whom this is so, is the happy man. He is the consistent man. He is the man to be congratulated, to be admired, to be imitated. Universal harmony reigns within him; no oppositions, no jarring contentions, mar his peace. With him, the flesh and the spirit are no longer contrary the one to the other. His duty and his inclination are one. There is no dispute between what he ought to do, and what he wishes to. But, with one consenting voice, heart and life move on harmoniously, accustomed to and loving the same things. To him the yoke is indeed easy, and the burden light. To him heaven is already begun ; and when at last he shall be welcomed to the joy of his Lord, it will be to a joy which his regulated spirit has already tasted in the labors and pleasures of obedience below.


Friday, July 17, 2009

He sees what children dwell in love...

Today marks the birthday of Isaac Watts, the "Father of English Hymnody"and poet with decidedly Unitarian leanings. To mark the occasion (and because I have three children all on summer vacation) here is his:

"Against Quarreling and Fighting"

from Divine Songs for Children

LET dogs delight to bark and bite,
For God hath made them so;
Let bears and lions growl and fight,
For 'tis their nature too.
But, children, you should never let
Such angry passions rise;
Your little hands were never made
To tear each other's eyes.
Let love thro all your actions run,
And all your words be mild;
Live like the blessed Virgin's son,
That sweet and lovely child.
His soul was gentle as a lamb;
And as his stature grew,
He grew in favour both with man,
And God his father too.
Now, Lord of all, he reigns above,
And from his heav'nly throne
He sees what children dwell in love,
And marks them for his own.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

the living God...

Yesterday, James at Monkey Mind noted the anniversary of Emerson's Divinity School Address. The response to that address from the Unitarian "establishment" was, of course largely negative and ranged from Andrews Norton's angry "New School in Literature and Religion and "Latest Form of Infidelity" to Henry Ware Jr.'s heartfelt "Personality of the Deity." Emerson, of course, had succeeded Ware at Boston's Second Church. I print Ware's response today as between them, the two discourses illuminate the central differences in perspective between the "traditional Unitarians" and the arising Transcendentalists (and because it is a splendid statement of the views of the Boston Unitarians)...

"The Personality of the Deity"
Henry Ware, Jr.
“He is the living God and an everlasting King.”—Jeremiah 10:10

In treating the doctrine respecting God, the mind is deeply impressed with a sense of its importance in its bearing on human duty and happiness. It is the doctrine of a Creator, the Governor and Father of man. The discussion relates not merely to the laws of the universe and the principles by which its affairs are directed, but to the character and dispositions of the Being who presides over those laws and by whose will those affairs are determined. It teaches, not only that there is a wise and holy order to which it is for every man's interest to conform, but that that order is ordained and upheld by an active, overruling Intelligence, and that hence virtue is not merely conformity to a rule, but allegiance to a rightful Lawgiver, and happiness not the result merely of obedience to a command, but of affectionate subjection to a Parent.
The importance of this consideration to a true and happy virtue cannot be overestimated. The difference between conformity to a statute and obedience to a father is a difference not to be measured in words, but to be realized in the experience of the soul. It is slightly represented in the difference between the condition of a little child that lives in the presence of a judicious and devoted mother, an object of perpetual affection, and of another that is placed under the charge of a public institution, which knows nothing but a set of rules. Each is alike provided for and governed, but the one enjoys the satisfactions of a trusting and loving heart, while the other, deprived of the natural objects of affection, knows nothing but a life of order and restraint. Take away the Father of the universe, and, though every ordinance remain unchanged, mankind becomes but a company of children in an orphan asylum, clothed, fed, governed, but objects of pity rather than congratulation because deprived of those resting-places for the affections without which the soul is not happy.
Our representations of the being and perfections of God are therefore incomplete until we have taken into consideration the additional view now suggested. The idea of personality must be added to that of natural and moral perfection in order to the full definition of the Deity. Without this he is but a set of principles or a code of laws. Yet by some philosophers at various times it has been speculatively denied, and by too many in common life it is practically lost sight of. It may be well, then, in connection with our preceding discussion, to consider a little particularly the doctrine of the Divine Personality, to state what it is, to show the grounds on which it is established, and to survey the evils which must result from a denial of it.
I begin with stating what is meant by the Personality of the Deity.
A person is an intelligent, conscious agent—one who thinks, perceives, understands, wills, and acts. What we assert is that God is such. It is not implied that any distinct form or shape is necessary to personality. In the case of man, the bodily form is not the person. That form remains after death, but we no longer call it a person, because consciousness and the power of will and of action are gone. The personality resided in them. So also in the case of the Deity; consciousness, and the power of will and of action, constitute him a person. Shape, form, or place make no part of the idea.
The evidence of this fact is found in the works of design with which the universe is filled. They imply forethought, plan, wisdom, a designing mind—in other words, an Intelligent Being who devised and executed them. If we suppose that there is no conscious, intelligent person, we say that there is no plan, no purpose, no design; there is nothing but a set of abstract and unconscious principles. And, strange as it may seem to Christian ears, which have been accustomed to far other expressions of the Divinity, there have been those who maintain this idea, who hold that the principles which govern the universe constitute the Deity, that power, wisdom, veracity, justice, benevolence are God, that gravitation, light, electricity are God. Speculative men have been sometimes fond of this assertion, and in various forms have set up this opposition to the universal sentiment, sometimes with the design of removing the associations of reverence and worship, which make men religious, sometimes under the supposition that they thereby elevate the mind to a conception of the truth more worthy of its exalted subject. But it will be evident upon a little inquiry that, in either case, the speculation is inconsistent with just and wholesome doctrine.
1. For, in the first place, one of the most observable and least questionable principles, drawn from our observation of man and nature, is that the person, the conscious being, is the chief thing for the sake of which all else is, and subservient to which all principles operate. The person—the conscious, intelligent, active, enjoying, suffering being—is foremost in importance and honor; principles and laws operate for its support, guidance, and well-being, and therefore are secondary. Some of these principles and laws have their origin in the relations which exist amongst intelligent, moral agents; most of them come into action in consequence of the previous existence of those relations. If there were no such agents, there either would be no such principles, or they would have no operation. Thus, for example, veracity, justice, love are sentiments or obligations which spring up from the relations subsisting between different beings, and can exist only where there are persons. We may say, indeed, that they exist abstractly, in the nature of things, but if there be no beings to recognise them, no agents to conform to or violate them, they would be as if they were not. They are qualities of being, and like all qualities have no actual existence independent of the substances in which they inhere. They have relation to acts—voluntary acts of truth, justice, goodness—and acts belong to persons. If there existed no persons in the universe, but only things, there could be neither the act nor the sentiment of justice, goodness, truth; these are qualities of persons, not of things, of actions, not of substances. Suppose the Deity to exist alone in the universe which he has made. Then, from the conscious enjoyment of his own perfections and the exercise of his power in the physical creation, He must dwell in bliss; but, as he has no relations to other conscious existences, he cannot exercise justice, or truth, or love. They lie in the infinite bosom as if they were not; they have only a contingent existence. But the instant he should create various tribes, they spring into actual existence. They no longer may be; they are. They rise out of the new relations which are created, and are the expression of sentiments and duties which had not before been possible.
Or make another supposition. Upon the newly created earth one man is placed alone. He knows no other conscious existence but himself. What are truth, justice, charity, to him? They are nothing to him. He cannot have ideas of them. They are sentiments that belong to certain relations between beings, which relations he does not stand in, and knows nothing of. To him, therefore, they do not exist. Now send him companions, and the relations begin, which give those sentiments birth and make their expression possible. He is in society, and those principles, which make the strength and order of society, immediately come into action. The necessities of conscious being call them forth.
Thus what is chiefest in the universe is conscious, active mind; abstract principles are but the laws of its various relations.
This may be illustrated, if necessary, from the analogies of the physical universe. Which is chief, the law of gravitation, or the universe which it sustains? The one is but means; the other is end, and the end is always greater than the means. If you say, "No, gravitation is the superior, because it is the universal power of God," then I reply, "You thereby assent to the superiority of the person over the principle, for, as his power, it is his servant; he controls and directs it." But if you take the other ground, and speak of gravitation as a power independent of any being, then you cannot deny that it exists and is active for the sake of the systems and their inhabitants. Operating for their sake, it is their servant and inferior; without them it would be inert and non-existent. Thus the analogy of the physical universe corroborates the position. If there were no material masses, there could be no gravitation; if there were no persons, there could be no truth, or justice, or love.
There is another way of considering this point. What is it that in the whole history and progress of man has proved most interesting to man? What has been the favorite study, the chief subject of contemplation and care? Has it not been men, persons? Have not their character, fortunes, words, deeds, been the chief themes of thought, of conversation, of letters, of arts? Is it not the interest which the soul takes in persons that is the foundation of society, of its activity, its inventions, its advancement in civilization, its institutions, its laws? And what is the happiness of human life? —from the moment that the conscious infant opens its eyes to the mother's smile and comes to the perception of her care and love, through all the years of filial and fraternal satisfaction, the confidence of friendship, the delights of love, the endearments of home, and the honors and toils of manhood, until the death-bed of weary age is brightened by the kindness of faithful affection—what, through the whole, is the happiness of life, but this connection with kindred beings? Where has the heart rested through all, but on the bosom of those whose personal interests were one with its own? We cannot cast this slightest glance upon life without perceiving the place which belongs to personality, for, take it away, and the whole of that beautiful scene vanishes; sympathy, friendship, love, all social enjoyment, all social life, are annihilated.
Thus the doctrine which denies personality to God is in opposition to the general economy of nature, which, as we have seen, sets peculiar honor on persons. In all the other relations of its being, the soul is concerned with nothing so much. Why should it be less so in its highest relation?
2. It also, in the next place, amounts to a virtual denial of God. Indeed, this is the only sense in which it seems possible to make that denial. No one thinks of denying the existence of principles and laws. Gravitation, order, cause and effect, truth, benevolence—no one denies that these exist; and, if these constitute the Deity, he has not been, and cannot be, denied. The only denial possible is by this exclusion of a personal existence. There can be no atheism but this; and this is atheism. If the material universe rests on the laws of attraction, affinity, heat, motion, still all of them together are no Deity; if the moral universe is founded on the principles of righteousness, truth, love, neither are these the Deity. There must be some Being to put in action these principles, to exercise these attributes. To call the principles and the attributes God is to violate the established use of language and confound the common apprehensions of mankind. It is in vain to hope by so doing to escape the charge of atheism; there is no other atheism conceivable. There is a personal God, or there is none.
We reason in this case, as in that of a man. Man was made in the image of God. But when we have described so much power, wisdom, goodness, so much beauty, justice, truth, love, we have not described a man; the very essential element is wanting. Without adding personality, we may speak of these qualities forever, and they will not make a man. So, too, we may enlarge them infinitely, but unless we add personality, they will never make up the idea of God.
3. Further, to exclude personality from the idea of God is, in effect, to destroy the object of worship, and thus to annihilate that essential duty of religion. The sentiment of reverence may, undoubtedly, be felt for a principle, for a code of laws, for an institution of government. But worship, which is the expression of that sentiment, is applicable only to a conscious being, as all the language and customs of men signify. It is praise, thanks, honor, and petition, addressed to one who can hear and reply. If there be no such one—if the government of the world be at the disposal of unconscious power and self-executing law—then there can be no such thing as worship.
Let this be seriously considered. What a desolation is wrought in society and in the soul when the foundation of worship is thus taken away. It is the suppression of a chief instinct; it is the overthrow of a system which has always made an inseparable part of the social order, and in which human character and happiness are intimately concerned. The relation of man, in his weakness and wants, to a kindred spirit infinitely ready to aid him, of the insufficient child of earth to a watchful Father in heaven, is destroyed. There remains no mind higher than my own, which is knowing to my desires; there is no Parent above, to whom my affections can rise and find peace. I am left to myself, and to men as weak as myself. If, following the impulses of my heart and the example of good men, I call on One who cares for me and will bless—I am driven back, and my heart is chilled by the reply, "The power that is over all sustains and guides, but, having no personality, it cannot appreciate affection, nor give it back in return; be satisfied to reverence and submit." And so the filial spirit is mocked—as if the little child, with its full heart, longing for the embrace of its absent mother, should be told, "That mother is but an idea, not a person; you may think of her, but you can have no intercourse with her. Be satisfied with this." And this poor substitute for the dearest of the heart's inestimable privileges is what philosophy would impose on man in the place of a sympathizing Father!
We must not consent to the injustice which is thus done to the affections. What an instinct is in them, and how they yearn for something to love and trust, is taught us in all the religious history of the race. From this cause men so multiplied their divinities that, from amid that great diversity, every variety of human soul might find its want of sympathy supplied. Hence, too, in the Catholic church, the worship of the Virgin—because, in the love for that beautiful and spotless person, was found a gratification that the heart is always seeking. And yet, in the face of this great instinct of humanity, everywhere manifested, Philosophy steps forth and insists that the soul is to be satisfied with abstractions. As if human nature were anything without its affections! As if a man were a man without his heart! As if to deny and baffle them were not to pour bitterness into the very fountain of the soul's peace! And this is done whenever man is made to believe that the altar at which he kneels is consecrated to a set of principles, and not to a "Living God."
4. In the next place, this notion removes the sense of responsibility, and so puts in jeopardy the virtue of man, as we have just seen that it trifles with his happiness. The idea of responsibility implies someone to whom we are responsible, and who has a right to treat us according to our fidelity. We indeed sometimes use the word with a little different application: we say that a man is responsible to his country, to posterity, to the cause of truth, but this is plainly employing the word in a secondary sense; it is not the original, literal signification. We hear it said, also, that a man is responsible to his own conscience, and this is sometimes spoken of as the most solemn responsibility—in one point of view, justly, since it is responsibility to that person whose disapprobation is nearest to us, and whose awards are of the highest consequence to our peace. We are not, therefore, to speak lightly of the tribunal within the breast. But why is it terrible? Because it is thought to represent and foreshadow the decisions of the higher tribunal of God. Let a man believe that it is ultimate, and he can learn to brave it; and how many accordingly have hardened themselves against it, and persevered in sin, as if it were not! Or let him think that the retributions of guilt are simply the accomplishment of natural laws, which go on mechanically to execute themselves, unattended by any sentiment of approbation or disapprobation, and he can, without great difficulty, defy them. They do not address his moral sensibility. This is the case with the improvident, the miserly, the intemperate. They are perfectly aware that grievous ill consequences will pursue their folly, yet they are not restrained thereby. If they have a mind to risk them, whose concern is it? They will judge for themselves what makes their happiness. But, if they had been made sensible to the disapprobation of a Living Father, if they had realized that the sentence against their iniquities was to be executed by Him to whom they owe everything, then they would have paused in their bad career.
And this is agreeable to what takes place under our daily observation. What could not be effected by all the experience of evils following in the natural train of events has, in thousands of instances, been at once brought about by the powerful thought of the Divine Being, who observes and judges. Many a man, long familiar with crime, who had been only exasperated and hardened by the natural consequences which plagued him in his pursuit, has been touched, alarmed, subdued, converted, by coming to the knowledge of that Gracious Sovereign, who holds all destiny in his hands, and who sent his Son to bring his wayward children home. It is idle to talk to men in general of responsibility, without directing them to the Being to whom the account is to be rendered. It is the thought of the Living Lawgiver and Judge, which affects them—of one whose displeasure they can dread, whose good opinion they can value, whose favor they perceive to be life. And herein is perceived the wisdom of the gospel of Christ; herein is found its efficacy—that, casting aside all such abstractions, it appeals wholly to the relations of conscious beings, and subdues, and reforms, and blesses by drawing the human soul to the soul of its Saviour and its God.
5. If now we pass to the declarations of the divine word, we find that the doctrine we are opposing stands in direct contradiction to the whole language and teaching of the Old and the New Testaments. Those volumes speak of God, uniformly and distinctly, as possessed of personal attributes. They so describe his perfections and his government, they so recite his words and his acts, they so assign to him the relations and titles of the Creator, King, Lawgiver, Father—that no reader could so much as dream that his name is used simply to express the principles and laws of the universe. To fancy it is to make Scripture unintelligible, and set at naught its express authority. Until language changes its meaning, and all description is falsified, the doctrine of the Divine Impersonality is a direct contradiction of the doctrine of revelation.
6. Further still, it destroys the possibility of a revelation, in any intelligible sense of the word. A revelation is a message, or a direct communication, from the Infinite mind to the human mind. But in order to this, there is required a conscious and individual action on the part of the communicator; and this implies personality. So that this doctrine virtually accuses the Scriptures of imposture, since they purport to contain a revelation from God, which in the nature of things is impossible. Nay, let us see the worst of it—it accuses the apostles of Christ, and the blessed Saviour himself, of deliberate fraud and imposition, since they and he declared, with the most solemn asseverations, that he was directly sent by God, the Father of mankind, when, if there be no such Being, but only certain principles and laws, he could not have been sent by him. Their language in that case is altogether deceptive. It seems to mean one thing, when it really means something quite the reverse. When Jesus declares again and again that he came from the Father and speaks his word, he does not intend what the words assert, but only what is equally true, in a degree, of all men. He was merely giving utterance to thoughts poured into his mind by the everlasting stream which flows into all minds. There was nothing special in his case, excepting that, as he was purer and better than other men, his thoughts were higher and purer. They were from God in the same sense in which any man's thoughts are from God—Plato's, Mahomet's, Luther's; they have the same authority, that is, no authority beyond what lies in their own evident truth—the doctrine of Plato or Mahomet, of Luther or Confucius, is just as divine and just as authoritative, if it but recommend itself as strongly to my mind, and a holy thought of Fenelon or Swedenborg is as truly a divine revelation as the gospel of Christ. This is the result at which the doctrine arrives. It destroys the possibility of a revelation in any sense which makes it peculiar and valuable by making all truth a revelation, and all men revealers. It takes away all special divinity and authority from the Gospel, reduces it to a level with any other wisdom, and thus robs it of its power over the earth. Its pure and holy author becomes a pretender, for he professed to be sent from God and to bring his message; he worshipped him, and spoke of holding continual personal intercourse with him, and by such means he gained a hearing and an influence among men—gained them, however, only by deceiving the world, if there be, after all, no personal God.
By thus tracking this doctrine through its various bearings and observing its tendencies, we come to a clear discernment of its falseness and mischievousness. We see that it opposes what is taught in nature by all the marks of design which cover the works of creation—it sets aside the fundamental fact that conscious, intelligent being, in its various relations, is the chief interest of the universe, for the sake of which everything else is—it is a virtual denial of God, and a consequent overthrow of worship and devotion—it injures happiness by taking from the affections their highest object, and virtue by enfeebling the sense of responsibility—it contradicts the express lessons of the Bible, excludes the possibility of a revelation in any proper sense of the word, and denies to the Gospel its right to authority and power.
Of course, it will not happen that all these disastrous consequences will follow from this doctrine in the case of every individual who may receive it. To the pure all things are pure; and some men will dwell forever in the midst of abstraction and falsehood without being injuriously affected. Express infidelity is not vice, and may exist together with great integrity and purity of life. Atheism is not immorality, and may consist with an unblemished character. But, however it may be with individuals living in the midst of a believing and worshipping community, it is not to be doubted that a community unbelieving and godless would rush to evil unmitigated and hopeless. A philosopher here and there, by his science and skill, might perhaps live without the sun, but strike it out from the path of all men, and despair and death ensue.
On this subject, then, we are first to look for the truth, and then at the consequences of denying it. And those consequences, we are to remember, may flow as certainly from a practical disregard of it, as from a speculative rejection. It is possible by the mouth to profess God, and in works to deny him. The number of those who can be misled by the ingenuity of an imaginative mind is comparatively small, but the world is crowded with those who become aliens from God through the hardening influences of a worldly career, while they fancy themselves to know and acknowledge him as he is. On this account, the views of the present discourse ask the serious regard of all men. For who can doubt that, among the causes which produce in society so much moral and religious deadness, this is one—that men satisfy themselves with referring to the laws and principles of nature, and stop short of that Being in whom they reside? How much is this a habit amongst us! We talk of the "laws of our being," and of living by them, and of the consequences of violating them, as we should talk of a machine or of fate. We thus throw out of view the agency and love of the Living God, whose children we are, and claim relationship to inanimate abstractions. According to the common phrase, we stop at second causes. And in so doing, we not only wrong the truth, which is thus denied, but defraud ourselves of that exercise and enjoyment of the thinking, affectionate spirit, in which our highest action and bliss are to be found. This ought not so to be. And, until men come more to realize the presence and the authority of the Living Father, who governs them new, and who will judge them in the end, it is vain to hope for any wider prevalence of elevated piety or of happy devotion to duty."


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

all your deportment...

"Let your light so shine before men,"said Jesus to his disciples, "that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Henry Ware Jr. takes that injunction seriously in this installment of his "Formation of the Christian Character"...

"The influence of the principle which rules within, should thus be seen in all your deportment and intercourse, on every occasion and in every relation. Your outward life should be but the manifestation and expression of the temper which prevails within, the acting-out of the sentiments which abide there; so that all who see you may understand, without your saying it in words, how supreme with you is the authority of conscience, how reverent your attachment to truth, how sacred your adherence to duty; how full of good-will to men, and how devoutly submissive to God, the habitual tenor of your mind. Your spontaneous, unconstrained action, flowing without effort from your feelings, amid the events of every day, should be the unavoidable expression of a spirit imbued with high and heavenward desires; so that, as in the case of the Apostles, those who saw them ' took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus,' it may in like manner be obvious that you have learned of that holy Teacher. And this may be without any obtrusive display on your part, without asking for observation, without either saying or hinting, ' Come, see my zeal for the Lord." The reign of a good principle in the soul carries its own evidence in the life, just as that of a good government is visible on the face of society. A man of a disinterested and pious mind bears the signature of it in his whole deportment. His Lord's mark is on his forehead. We may say of his inward principle, which an Apostle has called ' Christ formed within us,' as was said of Christ himself during his beneficent ministry ;—It ' cannot be hid.' There is an atmosphere of excellence about such a man, which gives savor of his goodness to all who approach, and through which the internal light of his soul beams out upon all observers."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thor the Northman...

This in honor of Henry David Thoreau's birthday yesterday. It was written by his friend and fellow Concordian transcendentalist, A. Bronson Alcott and was included in his later book "Concord Days"


My friend and neighbor united these qualities of sylvan and human in a more remarkable manner than any whom it has been my happiness to know. Lover of the wild, he lived a borderer on the confines of civilization, jealous of the least encroachment upon his possessions.

" Society were all but rude In his umbrageous solitude."

I had never thought of knowing a man so thoroughly of the country, and so purely a son of nature. I think he had the profoundest passion for it of any one of his time ; and had the human sentiment been as tender and pervading, would have given us pastorals of which Virgil and Theocritus might have envied him the authorship had they chanced to be his contemporaries. As it was, he came nearer the antique spirit than any of our native poets, and touched the fields and groves and streams of his native town with a classic interest that shall not fade. Some of his verses are suffused with an elegiac tenderness, as if the woods and brooks bewailed the absence of their Lycidas, and murmured their griefs meanwhile to one another, — responsive like idyls. Living in close companionship with nature, his muse breathed the spirit and voice of poetry. For when the heart is once divorced from the senses and all sympathy with common things, then poetry has fled and the love that sings.

The most welcome of companions was this plain countryman. One seldom meets with thoughts like his, coming so scented of mountain and field breezes and rippling springs, so like a luxuriant clod from under forest leaves, moist and mossy with earth-spirits. His presence was tonic, like ice-water in dog-days to the parched citizen pent in chambers and under brazen ceilings. Welcome as the gurgle of brooks and dipping of pitchers, — then drink and be cool! He seemed one with things, of nature's essence and core, knit of strong timbers, — like a wood and its inhabitants. There was in him sod and shade, wilds and waters manifold, — the mould and mist of earth and sky Self-poised and sagacious as any denizen of the elements, he had the key to every animal's brain, every plant; and were an Indian to flower forth and reveal the scents hidden in his cranium, it would hot be more surprising than the speech of our Sylvanus. He belonged to the Homeric age, — was older than pastures and gardens, as if he were of the race of heroes and one with the elements. He of all men seemed to be the native New-Englander, as much so as the oak, the granite ledge ; our best sample of an indigenous American, untouched by the old country, unless he came down rather from Thor, the Northman, whose name he bore."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Birthday HDT

Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau.

Friday, July 10, 2009

the happiness of an ever enlarging hope...

Why do I "prize our system?" Yesterday we were introduced to Unitarian Piety by WEC. After giving nine reasons why Unitarianism is "most favorable to Piety" he concludes and summarizes with these words:

"Am I now asked, why we prize our system, and why we build churches for its inculcation ? If I maybe allowed to express myself in the name of conscientious Unitarians, who apply their doctrine to their own hearts and lives, I would reply thus: We prize and would spread our views, because we believe that they reveal God to us in greater glory, and bring us nearer to him, than any other. We are conscious of a deep want, which the creation cannot supply, — the want of a perfect Being, on whom the strength of our love may be centred, and of an Almighty Father, in whom our weaknesses, imperfections, and sorrows may find resource; and such a Being and Father Unitarian Christianity sets before us. For this we prize it above all price. We can part with every other good. We can endure the darkening of life's fairest prospects. But this bright, consoling doctrine of one God, even the Father, is dearer than life, and we cannot let it go. Through this faith, every thing grows brighter to our view. Born of such a Parent, we esteem our existence an inestimable gift. We meet everywhere our Father, and his presence is as a sun shining on our path. We see him in his works, and hear his praise rising from every spot which we tread. We feel him near in our solitudes, and sometimes enjoy communion with him more tender than human friendship. We see him in our duties, and perform them more gladly, because they are the best tribute we can offer our Heavenly Benefactor. Even the consciousness of sin, mournful as it is, does not subvert , our peace ; for, in the mercy of God, as made manifest in Jesus Christ, we see an inexhaustible fountain of strength, purity. and pardon, for all who, in filial reliance, seek these heavenly gifts. Through this faith, we are conscious of a new benevolence springing up to our fellow-creatures, purer and more enlarged than natural affection. Towards all mankind we see a rich and free love flowing from the common Parent, and, touched by this love, we are the friends of all. We compassionate the most guilty, and would win them back to God. Through this faith, we receive the happiness of an ever-enlarging hope. There is no good too vast for us to anticipate for the universe or for ourselves,- from such a Father as we believe in. We hope from him, what we deem his greatest gift, even the gift of his own Spirit, and the happiness of advancing for ever in truth and virtue, in power and love, in union of mind with the Father and the Son."


Thursday, July 9, 2009

rich relatives...

This from the Emerson and Thoreau scholar (and Unitarian) David Robinson (in 1989):

"Like a pauper who searches for the next meal, never knowing of the relatives whose will would make him rich, American Unitarians lament their vague religious identity, standing upon the richest theological legacy of any American denomination. Possessed of a deep and sustaining history of spiritual achievement and philosophical speculation, religious liberals have been, ironically, dispossessed of that heritage."


(note: This quote was taken from a sermon by Jane Rosecrans found on the Web of American Transcendentalism-as was the picture)

inward, living, practical religion...

Preached at the Dedication of the Second Congregational Unitarian Church, New York, in 1826, the following sermon is William Ellery Channing's effort to explain, in the face of its often virulent detractors, how Unitarianism is conducive to a life of deep piety. Some excerpts from the introduction (to be continued...)


'And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, 0 Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment.'—Mark xii. 29, 30.

Unitarianism has been made a term of so much reproach, and has been uttered in so many tones of alarm, horror, indignation, and scorn, that to many it gives only a vague impression of something monstrous, impious, unutterably perilous. To such I would say, that this doctrine, which is considered by some as the last and most perfect invention of Satan, the consummation of his blasphemies, the most cunning weapon ever forged in the fires of hell, amounts to this,—That there is one God, even the Father; and that Jesus Christ is not this One God, but his son and messenger, who derived all his powers and glories from the Universal Parent, and who came into the world not to claim supreme homage for himself, but to carry up the soul to his Father as the Only Divine Person, the Only Ultimate Object of religious worship. To us, this doctrine seems not to have sprung from hell, but to have descended from the throne of God, and to invite and attract us thither...

We regard Unitarianism as peculiarly the friend of inward, living, practical religion. For this we value it—for this we would spread it; and we desire none to embrace it but such as shall seek and derive from it this celestial influence...

I shall have contributed no weak argument in support of the truth of our views; for the chief purpose of Christianity undoubtedly is to promote piety, to bring us to God, to fill our souls with that Great Being, to make us alive to Him ; and a religious system can carry no more authentic mark of a divine original, than its obvious, direct, and peculiar adaptation to quicken and raise the mind to its Creator. In speaking thus of Unitarian Christianity as promoting piety, I ought to observe that I use this word in its proper and highest sense. I mean not everything which bears the name of piety, for under this title superstition, fanaticism, and formality are walking abroad and claiming respect. I mean not an anxious frame of mind, not abject and slavish fear, not a dread of hell, not a repetition of forms, not church-going, not loud profession, not severe censure of others' irreligion; but filial love and reverence towards God, habitual gratitude, cheerful trust, ready obedience, and, though last, not least, an imitation of the ever-active and unbounded benevolence of the Creator."


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

thin gruel...

Yesterday, Peacebang posted a massive and passionate missive to Unitarian Universalists. The post (and the responders to it) make several points, many of which come down to the fact that institutional UUism can be pretty "thin gruel" to use an old term. A mile wide and an inch deep. Among the many points that PB makes are the importance of the local congregation and the need for depth in the worship experience. I couldn't agree more.

For me, it comes down to our need (both as individuals and as a denomination) for a little more Piety. Piety, that love of God or if you prefer, the Universal, the Higher Power-in short whatever we find greater than ourselves...) is often thought of in conjunction with self flagellating ascetics of one stripe or another. It need not be so.

Reading Peacebang yesterday, I was reminded of Henry Adams' take on the Unitarian establishment in the Boston of his day. "Nothing," he wrote in his 'Education', "quieted doubt so completely as the mental calm of the Unitarian clergy. In uniform excellence of life and character, moral and intellectual, the score of Unitarian clergymen about Boston, who controlled society and Harvard College, were never excelled. They proclaimed as their merit that they insisted on no doctrine, but taught, or tried to teach, the means of leading a virtuous, useful, unselfish life, which they held to be sufficient for salvation. For them, difficulties might be ignored; doubts were waste of thought; nothing exacted solution. Boston had solved the universe; or had offered and realized the best solution yet tried. The problem was worked out."

Of course there is some justice in this rather backhanded compliment, but what he does not report is the element of piety so important to the understanding of the Boston Unitarians. I have long wanted to write about Unitarian piety-its practical, quiet, yet deep reverence. Maybe someday...for now, I plan a series of posts on Unitarian Piety from Channing to Parker (Parker wrote much about piety and it is fascinating work)


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

each day the crowner...

Emerson's dominant belief was in the moral sentiment. In all the focus on "Self-reliance" the reality that the self to be relied on was the self that lived in concert with the universal is often lost. It does not descend to us, we rise to it. It is the work of life and crowns the days...This from "Perpetual Forces":

"See how rich life is ; rich in private talents, each of which charms us in turn and seems the best. If we hear music we give up all to that ; if we fall in with a cricket-club and see the game masterly played, the best player is the first of men ; if we go to the regatta, we forget the bowler for the stroke oar ; and when the soldier comes home from the fight, he fills all eyes. But the soldier has the same admiration of the great parliamentary debater. And poetry and literature are disdainful of all these claims beside their own. Like the boy who thought in turn each one of the four seasons the best, and each of the three hundred and sixty-five days in the year the crowner. The sensibility is all...

By this wondrous susceptibility to all the impressions of Nature the man finds himself the receptacle of celestial thoughts, of happy relations to all men. The imagination enriches him, as if there were no other ; the memory opens all her cabinets and archives ; Science her length and breadth ; Poetry her splendor and joy and the august circles of eternal law. These are means and stairs for new ascensions of the mind. But they are nowise impoverished for any other mind, not tarnished, not breathed upon ; for the mighty Intellect did not stoop to him and become property, but he rose to it and followed its circuits. " It is ours while we use it, it is not ours when we do not use it.

And so, one step higher, when he comes into the realm of sentiment and will. He sees the grandeur of justice, the victory of love, the eternity that belongs to all moral nature. He does not then invent his sentiment or his act, but obeys a pre-existing right which he sees. We arrive at virtue by taking its direction instead of imposing ours..."


Monday, July 6, 2009

cheerful, innocent, blameless words...

Well the weekend is over and its time for a dose of Wareian self-discipline! Henry Ware Jr. exhorts us today to guard our tongues in this continuation of his "Formation of the Christian Character"

"The next exercise of self-discipline will be in Conversation. Conversation, while it is a chief source of improvement and pleasure, is also a scene of peculiar trial, and the occasion of much sin. One might suppose that few persons ever dream that they are accountable for what passes in conversation, although there is no point of ordinary life which Jesus and the Apostles have more frequently and sternly put under the control of religious principle. Their language is strikingly urgent on this head ; and yet, so little scrupulousness is there among men, even religious men, that it would seem as if they felt ashamed to be careful in their talk. A thoroughly well-governed speech is so rare, that we still say, in the words of James, ' If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.

Do not allow yourself to be off your guard in this respect. Make it a part of your business, by a cautious prudence, to have your speech consistent with the rest of your character. Do not flatter yourself that your thoughts are under due control, your desires properly regulated, or your dispositions subject as they should be to Christian principle, if your intercourse with others consists mainly of frivolous gossip, impertinent anecdotes, speculations on the character and affairs of your neighbors, the repetition of former conversations, or a discussion of the current petty scandal of society ; much less, if you allow yourself in careless exaggeration on all these points, and that grievous inattention to exact truth which is apt to attend the statements of those whose conversation is made up of these materials...

' A word spoken in season, how good it is!' Why should you not do all in your power to elevate the tone of conversation, and render the intercourse of man with man more rational and profitable ? Let your example of cheerful, innocent, blameless words, in which neither folly nor austerity shall find place, exhibit the uprightness and purity of a mind controlled by habitual principle, and be a recommendation of the religion you profess..."


Sunday, July 5, 2009

know enough to be free...

I hope everyone had a wonderful Independence Day. I am writing after a night in the tent back-yard camping with my children-the bones are getting old!

Many thanks to Peacebang for recent nice words and to Kari, Sian and Emma for their input on the use of this blog-your comments are much appreciated!

Every July 3rd, my family takes me to Concord, MA for my birthday. It is Mecca for me and this year our trip included a short canoe trip on the Sudbury River. The sun was out for the first time in days and it was truly beautiful.

Some words this morning from eminent Concordian Ralph Waldo Emerson taken from a lesser known essay, "Perpetual Forces." They strike me as appropriate this day after our national birthday...

"All our political disasters grow as logically out of our attempts in the past to do without justice, as the sinking of some part of your house comes of defect in the foundation. One thing is plain ; a certain personal virtue is essential to freedom ; and it begins to be doubtful whether our corruption in this country has not gone a little over the mark of safety, so that when canvassed we shall be found to be made up of a majority of reckless self-seekers. The divine knowledge has ebbed out of us and we do not know enough to be free."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Neighborhood of the soul...

In a discussion of the virtues, Plotinus speaks of our irrational parts being influenced by the higher impulses from the soul. "The soul" he writes, "will be pure in all these ways and will want to make the irrational part, too, pure, so that this part may not be disturbed; or, if its is, not very much; its shocks will only be slight ones, easily allayed by the neighbourhood of the soul; just as a man living next door to a sage would profit by the sage's neighbourhood, either by becoming like him or by regarding him with such respect as not to dare to do anything of which the good man would not approve..."

But, he continues later, a higher form of virtue is possible...likeness not to men, but to the gods. "For instance," he says, "he (the virtuous person) will not make self control consist in that former observance of measure and limit, but will altogether separate himself, as far from possible, from his lower nature...Likeness to good men is the likeness of two pictures of the same subject to each other; but likeness to the gods is likeness to the model, a being of a different kind to ourselves." Emerson exhorts, "be not virtuous but virtue." I do not dwell on the latter plain but hope and strive to be a good neighbor.

My "neighbourhood of the soul" tends to be focused on a group of Unitarians living around Boston in the 19th century (and it's usually a beautiful day in the neighbourhood) Where is yours? Blessings

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

all Unitarians Hindus...

This from Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus: An Alternative History" in which she reviews attempts to define Hinduism...

"In what seems to me to be something like desperation, a number of people have defined Hinduism as the religion of people who cannot or will not define their religion. This view was only somewhat sharpened by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (president of India from 1962 to 1967), who defined Hinduism as the belief "that truth was many-sided and different views contained different aspects of truth which no one could fully express," which would, I think, make all Unitarians Hindus..."