Saturday, April 17, 2010


I have spent more than a year studying the writings and the life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (since the end of December 2008). I have read a a lot his work and I have read a lot of biographical information on him.

I read that a lot scholars don't think his work was "systematic". I believe that his work was very systematic. I think he was one of the first systems thinkers. I believe he was an early person successful in looking at the whole systems and the interconnectedness of things.

A lot of people think that Thoreau eclipsed Emerson both in writing ability and in fame. While I view Thoreau as a brilliant writer, I view Emerson as being equally as brilliant.

I think Thoreau is for the young and idealistic, and Emerson, while still very idealistic is for the mature, and for those who've been through a bit of life.

I told a friend awhile back that I'd like to be able to write like Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said "who wouldn't".

But, I don't think he got my meaning. I'm not talking about writing as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson - I just don't think anyone could write that well again. I certainly don't believe that in five life times my writing could ever be that good.

I'm talking about writing LIKE him.

Writing about what is important. How to best live a good life. Writing about how all of us are interconnected. The search for God. That kind of thing.

Not so much about specific events (like health care reform, or the wars, etc), but about life.

When you read Emerson's writing, he doesn't usually talk about specific events. Certainly there were some big events in his life, most notably the Civil War and Slavery, and a whole lot of personal tragedy.

Emerson writes not specifically about events a lot of the time - you know the events are happening in the background because you know the history.

The events certainly must be on his mind, and they certainly must be influencing him.

There are always going to be events. One hundred years from now, the events that we have fretted over, and spent so much time thinking about and arguing about (sometimes with a vehemence that borders on hatred) are going to be something for the history books, and something for the people who come after us to study.

The people then will have all new issues.

But, the big questions will always be there no matter the events. In fact, sometimes I think believing in the importance of the events keep us from asking the bigger, important questions. We focus on the events, and think the events to be the important things, and not the questions.

We forget to keep asking the questions. What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Am I doing the right things? How can I be happy? Is being happy the most important thing, or is it living a good life? What does living a "good life" mean?

All of these and more.

A lot of the time over the past year, I feel like being able to dip into Emerson kept me sane and grounded.

It certainly was better for my psyche than anything Fox News, MSNBC or anyone else had to say.

I'll close with one of my favorite Emerson quotes, from his brilliant essay Self-Reliance:

"These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence."

Emerson goes on to say:

"But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Church

I write this on Easter Sunday, 2010.

I have been thinking about my stormy relation to the Roman Catholic church, which I joined in 2003 for quite some time.

As a lifelong Protestant (Lutheran) prior to my joining the church, I have struggled with the hierarchical nature of the church almost since day one. I don't know that I'll ever resolve that struggle from an emotional or an intellectual level.

I cannot defend what happened now, nor can I defend what happened shortly before I joined in 2003 (the sexual abuse scandals that rocked the Archdiocese of Boston). I cannot try to defend the Vatican or Pope Benedict XVI or any Bishop involved. In my opinion, they show themselves sometimes to be so far out of touch with what the average Catholic is thinking, and the teachings of Christ, I just cannot believe it.

All I can do on this Easter Sunday is to continue to do what the Apostle Paul instructed me to do in Philippians 2:12-13: "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure"

What drew me to the church was not the Vatican, or the Pope, or the Magesterium, or the hierarchy, or anything like that.

What drew me to the church were prophetic, hard working men and women. Some of them known, some of them not well known. Some of them Saints, and some of them on their way to being saints. Some of them, not ever destined to be saints - at least within the formal canonization process of the church.

People like Saint Francis of Assisi. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Saint Maximilian Kolbe of Auschwitz. Franz Jaggerstatter of Austria. Thomas Merton. The Patron Saint of my Parish, Saint Therese of Lisieux. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And so many more, including good people I've met in my faith journey.

I could post the reasons why I was attracted to these people's lives and actions, and how that related to my finding a home in the church. But each person has to find these people for themselves.

The people mentioned above, and the work they did through the ages was important. Their examples helped me to enhance my faith, and gave me good examples of how to live out my faith. But, they didn't do it for themselves. They did it for what the church is really about. The central figure of church history. Jesus Christ.

He is the true focus of my faith. I hereby reaffirm that on Easter Day 2010.

Last night I went to the Easter Vigil at my parish. The Easter Vigil is traditionally the Mass where those who have been preparing to enter the church are brought into the church. Last night we had one person come into the church. He was baptized last night, confirmed, and had his first communion.

As I looked around at the people, people who I know, people who I worship with each week, each of us watching a person come into the church, I realized that THIS was what it was about.

Each of us living our faith in a community of faith. Struggling to deal with the sin and ugliness of the world, and sometimes the sin and ugliness of those who are entrusted to be our leaders and teachers in the faith. Being perplexed about it, being angry about it, and sometimes being incredibly sad about it. But also dealing with beauty, and the greatness of the faith.

It is a gift in having those rare moments like last night, where you get a sense of what it is all about.

I realize that my words here are grossly inadequate to explain it all, so I'll close with a great quote from Dorothy Day:

"We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community."