Ralph Waldo Emerson’s UU Inspiration

I know two influential ADHD Unitarian Universalist ministers. One wears his ADHD on his sleeve. The other has other things to worry about.

Here is the quote that convinced me that Unitarianism is an interesting thing. This contribution from Emerson led to his expulsion as a UU minister. Ironic that this is my welcoming to the UU fold because I was to be exiled for ideological reasons. I find this contribution to be why maybe many Protestant ministers today personalize their sermons.

Whenever the pulpit is usurped by a formalist, then is the worshipper defrauded and disconsolate. We shrink as soon as the prayers begin, which do not uplift, but smite and offend us. We are fain to wrap our cloaks about us, and secure, as best we can, a solitude that hears not. I once heard a preacher who sorely tempted me to say, I would go to church no more. Men go, thought I, where they are wont to go, else had no soul entered the temple in the afternoon. A snow storm was falling around us. The snow storm was real; the preacher merely spectral; and the eye felt the sad contrast in looking at him, and then out of the window behind him, into the beautiful meteor of the snow. He had lived in vain. He had no one word intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or in love, had been commended, or cheated, or chagrined. If he had ever lived and acted, we were none the wiser for it. The capital secret of his profession, namely, to convert life into truth, he had not learned. Not one fact in all his experience, had he yet imported into his doctrine. This man had ploughed, and planted, and talked, and bought, and sold; he had read books; he had eaten and drunken; his head aches; his heart throbs; he smiles and suffers; yet was there not a surmise, a hint, in all the discourse, that he had ever lived at all. Not a line did he draw out of real history. The true preacher can be known by this, that he deals out to the people his life,–life passed through the fire of thought. But of the bad preacher, it could not be told from his sermon, what age of the world he fell in; whether he had a father or a child; whether he was a freeholder or a pauper; whether he was a citizen or a countryman; or any other fact of his biography. It seemed strange that the people should come to church. It seemed as if their houses were very unentertaining, that they should prefer this thoughtless clamor. It shows that there is a commanding attraction in the moral sentiment, that can lend a faint tint of light to dulness and ignorance, coming in its name and place. The good hearer is sure he has been touched sometimes; is sure there is somewhat to be reached, and some word that can reach it. When he listens to these vain words, he comforts himself by their relation to his remembrance of better hours, and so they clatter and echo unchallenged.


Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essays and Addresses
Divinity School Address  
Delivered before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, Sunday Evening, July 15, 1838

http://transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu/authors/emerson/essays/dsa.html

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  1. I recently spoke with a UU Minister, Chris, who says he enjoys Emerson’s positive writings (what are they called?) more than his negative writings (critiques I guess). Maybe this quote in the Divinity School Address because I was more sensitive to criticism rather than praise.

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