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Emerson’s Self-Reliance and Coffee

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Socrates said “Know thyself,” and after reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Self-Reliance, we could paraphrase Emerson’s main point as “Trust thyself.”

What if we trusted ourselves- our inner most thoughts, our actions, our perceptions, our wills? What if we were to strive for a more meaningful independent life and not settle for the sullen mediocrity encouraged by society’s institutions? Self-Reliance was first published in 1841, but Emerson’s words still ring with an awakening truth 177 years later. In this post, I hope to bring across some of the key points Emerson made which spoke to me personally.

Emerson states that we should look more to our thoughts and not be so dependent on the words of the past:

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”1

This work we must do ourselves:

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that lot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”2

We must believe in ourselves:

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.”3

Emerson warns us that society will push back against those who seek to go their own way:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.”4

Emerson states that we must shun conformity in order to find our truth:

“Self-reliance is its [conformity’s] aversion. It [conformity] loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind.”5

As we venture out on this new self-reliant life, people will question us, and may even misunderstand our intentions. Emerson states that if we are misunderstood, then we are in good company:

“Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”6

Emerson makes many more wonderful points, but for the sake of time and space, I would encourage you to seek them out on your own. The last points I will make concerning Self-Reliance is that I find some of Emerson’s points parallel that of the Stoic philosphers, especially when he discusses the spark of divinity each of us possess, the importance of living in the present moment, and that our happiness is solely up to us, principles I have learned and have tried to implement along the recentstops of my life’s journey. God bless.

1Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Introduction and notes by Peter Norberg. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. 2004: 113-114.

2Ibid, 114.

3Ibid, 114.

4Ibid, 116.

5Ibid, 116, brackets mine.

6 Ibid, 120.

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Leaning In

quote-chalk-think-words.jpgWhen I first became a Christian, one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding ; In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV). However, as I have aged and faced various trials, I find that the road is still crooked in places, along with being bumpy, forked, and hilly. Man’s religion has taught us not to question anything concerning God, His wisdom, or His Word “You’re overthinking it,” religion says.

Why such opposition to thinking on our own? We seek God individually, yet we try to find a community of other like-minded individuals to try and make sense of it all. One of the dangers of this “groupthink” is that logic, reason, and common sense can be shunned in favor of a misplaced faith or even superstition. If you were taking a trip and you knew the path was wrong or knew you were lost, wouldn’t you stop and try to figure out a new route? Recalculating the journey would not only be for our safety, but our sanity as well. During my life I have found myself at both of these extremes- the “faith-minded,” and the “logical seeker.”

I’ll admit in the last four to five years I have drifted in my faith, going from one church to another, to no church affiliation, seeking answers in familiar places, only to be left with even more bewildered thoughts. I have been a Christian since my early twenties (as of now, I’m in my forties), I have a seminary degree, and have done missions work. I say that not to boast, I just want to give you perspective on my struggle with faith. I believe part of my struggle was not doing my due diligence of what was taught. “The Bible says it and that settles it,” would be a typical retort when faced with opposition either from my mind or someone else.

How many of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves have struggled in faith? How many of us have come down from the Sunday morning emotional high only to be slapped in the face with the Monday morning reality? Why are we so scared to seek our own wisdom? Do we fear that we will be ostracized from our comfortable group? Are we scared of the accusation of “not having enough faith?” How many of us have sat by being passively-minded waiting for the miraculous to happen and watched things get worse? I’m not saying that miracles don’t happen, but we shouldn’t always expect the supernatural, sometimes we need access the resources and means at our disposal.

I’ll admit there is still at lot I don’t understand, even as I put more weight on my critical thinking and learning. For instance, as Christians we seek to “be in God’s will,” or speak of “God’s plan,” yet we seldom have a clear understanding of these terms. How can God straighten out a crooked road if we don’t know which road to take? If feels an awful lot like guess work. In these situations, I can relate to the quote from the baseball player Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I know the theological arguments and cliches for this next point, but why does God’s plan and will involve so much suffering, even for those who can’t defend themselves? Babies born addicted to drugs, born with birth defects, children who battle cancer, face poverty, children are verbally, physically, and sexually abused by parents and others, face starvation, and other horrendous struggles, which turns them into broken adults.  It breaks my heart to see such things and at the same time hear that “God has a great plan for your life.” I’ve reached a point where it is difficult to reconcile such things.

Please keep in mind that I am not attacking God, the church, or anyone else, I just have a lot of questions on my mind that need definitive answers in this life and not the next one.

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My Vessel, My Life

By Michael W. Raley

I lie adrift in the Ocean of Perpetual Darkness.

Overcast clouds cover the moon.

The North Star has long since burned out.

This compass no longer gives me direction.

The waves bounce me back and forth,

As I try to hold it all down.

All I see is water,

No rescue ships,

No land,

No horizon.

This cannot and will not be my life’s voyage!

I then decide to stage a mutiny

Against the oppression, the passivity, and circumstance.

I am now the Captain.

This is my vessel,

This is my life.

I will set the course.

I will follow my map.

Load the cannons

Because I’m bringing the fight!

Live for the Present, not the End

I used to be fascinated by the end of the world, the apocalypse, the end of days, whatever name you want to call it. I’ve poured over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 (which is also found in Luke 21 and Mark 13); the Book of Revelation, and scoured the prophets as well. I read the first twelve books of the left behind series, anticipated the four blood moons of 2014-2015, sneered at the date setting, and I was an avid watcher of end times teachers. For good measure, I tried to see how current events such as 9/11, the War on Terror, the rise of ISIS and certain world leaders fit into the prophetic timeline.

What I’ve learned: waiting for the end only hampers living in the present. As a Christian I know Jesus and other New Testament writers told us to watch for the signs, but I believe we should be more diligent in teaching and showing God’s grace to the world around us. Don’t let this present moment pass you by as you wait for a heaven that’s a lifetime away.

Apocalyptic teaching, of course is not unique to Christianity, as many religions, cults, sects, and cultures modern and ancient have anticipated some cosmic cataclysm to generate rebirth or to rewrite the wrongs and social ills of their respective societies. In an age of scientific understanding we know that eclipses, meteors, planetary alignments, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on are all naturally occurring phenomena. In the past ages that had little or no scientific understanding, such events were attributed to the judgment of God or the gods upon society. Since many of our religions are based on these ancient texts and modes of thinking, we as a society still have these thoughts in a technologically advanced Twenty-First Century.

I believe we must take a more reasoned and logical approach in understanding the world around us. I’m not putting down anyone’s beliefs or discounting any sacred teaching, I’m just advocating that while we are “waiting for the end,” we make our current world the best it can be. A prime example is that we cannot trash our planet in the hopes of living on Mars or Jupiter, as those ideas may remain the dreams of science fiction.

As a church, we cannot find ourselves again on the wrong side of history when it comes to such things as civil rights, taking care of the less fortunate, the environment, and being the light of the world as Jesus said we should be. We have real issues that we must address. I have said in many blog posts before, I have no particular political affiliation-I’m not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or anything like that. However, within the last forty years or so, many American Evangelical Christians have aligned themselves with political parties  who are against many of Jesus’ teachings- taking care of the sick, giving to the poor, elevating the status of women, recognizing those who have a different perceived social status, and just simply showing compassion to your fellow man, woman, and child. Many oppose how their tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to social programs such as welfare, Obamacare, and other programs, yet fail to realize that the government has simply stepped in to fill the leadership void because a large majority of the church has been waiting for the imminent end of the world.

Let’s put aside the religious and political hostility and examine what is in our own hearts, casting the judgment on ourselves and not on our neighbors. To paraphrase Jesus, we have to stop picking the sawdust out of everyone’s eyes while we walk around with a two-by-four stuck  in our eyes. Let us love those who are different than us and step outside of our comfort zone. Two thousand years or more have passed since the end time discourses. I know the counter arguments about how the world had to catch up to God’s vision or  God’s measurement of time is different than ours, but we can find reason to rejoice in the present. We still have time to show love to our neighbors and try to have a little heaven on earth.

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You’re a Work in Progress

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Did you know China’s Great Wall was built over a period of 200 years? The Second Jewish Temple was built over a period of forty-six years. Michelangelo spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

I’m not merely spouting off trivia, but I am showing that great work takes time. From conception to completion, ideas can take months, years, decades, or even centuries to come to fruition. Think of the time authors, composers, and artist spent drawing, writing and revising before they completed their most famous works. I’m sure these famous men and women spent many dejected days and nights frustrated with the creative process or perhaps the sting of rejection dealt them a blow to the heart. Yet, these men and women persisted until they broke through their walls.

I believe each and every person has value and the potential to be a work of art. You are an individual masterpiece. All of us are in the process- we are works in progress. Achievement takes time. Life is a series of lessons which are built on top of each other, the vast majority of which are learned outside the halls of academia.

We should live our lives in a constant state of refinement, always trying to improve ourselves. You may have not hit the goal to be a millionaire at twenty-five, but keep working. We must keep challenging ourselves, because complacency is always a temptation. We should work to live now and not look forward for some government mandated retirement age because we will miss out on a lot.

As we realize that our lives are works in progress, we will learn that there are no shortcuts, magic prayers, or “get rich quick schemes.”  The ground is full of worms for the birds, but the birds must stop flying or get out of the nest to get them. We must continue to do the work, seek out wisdom, and strive to be better today than we were yesterday. Be patient with yourself because you are in a construction zone.

A Vessel Refined

By Michael W Raley

Hard times, whether in the future or past,

Help shape the mold from which we are cast.

Will we become a vessel refined

Or be relegated to the scrap pile of time?

The hard times teach us what we don’t know

And show us how we are to grow

Into the person we can and should be,

Thus, helping to forge our destiny.

Just as gold goes through the fire,

So will we, as we learn to quell our bad habits and desires.

When our time in the fire is done,

We shall be as sharpened iron on display for everyone.

What are You going to do about it?

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I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry- at myself, the condition of the world, unanswered prayers, disappointment, poor stress management, and seemingly hopeless situations. Anger is also a by-product and symptom of such things as depression, grief, illness, trauma, and the everyday frustrations of being an adult.

Anger is viewed as a destructive force which will eat away at us and rob us of any joy, as these quotes testifty:

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”-Buddha.

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“When anger arises, think of the consequences.” -Confucius.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” -Mark Twain.

When our anger becomes apparent to those around us, the question becomes Why are you so angry?

Sometimes we’ll spout off some surface answer, such as:

“I hate my job.”

“My boss is a jerk.”

“My kids won’t act right.”

“Politician X or party Y are ruining this country.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay these bills.”

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

However, what if in our attempt to figure out the cause of our anger, we are asking the wrong question? What if instead of asking, “Why am I angry?” we should ask ourselves, “You’re angry, now, what are you going to do about it?

***Disclaimer- this question does not imply that you bring harm to yourself or someone else. If that’s the conclusion you come to, then please seek qualified professional help.***

If we can ask ourselves about what we are going to do about the situation, we can reason through the situation. This reasoning can take time, as it depends on how much work someone is willing to go through to resolve the issue.

After asking yourself what are you going to do, ask yourself this question:

Is any part of this situation in my control? If yes, then implent change. If not, then realize the only things you can control are your responses, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions.

Let’s use the example of the fact you dislike your job and your boss. How can we better handle the situation better and  not be so angry?

-We could be thankful to have a job because some people don’t have jobs.

-We can be emphathetic to our boss because maybe he or she is under a lot of stress.

-If the situation becomes unbearable, we can speak to our boss about the issue. If talking doesn’t resolve it, then we can go to a higher corporate authority.

-We can ask our boss or coworkers if they need help with anything to ease their stress.

-We go to work and focus on our job and not worry about the stress around us.

-We can always search for another job or try to transfer to a different department.

-We could pursue a more fulfilling career.

-We could be in a state of prayerfulness or mindfulness concerning our attitude and responses.

This is just one simplified example, but I believe that any stressful situation is not worth our peace of mind and we must step back to get back on track. If you want to pursue a lifestyle change, then you must put in the time to change. Seek wisdom and find the inspiration within yourself. God bless.

A Place at the Table

By Michael W. Raley

If we are to live in a new Age of Enlightenment,

We must not look to dividing religions or morally insolvent governments.

Each and every woman, child, and man

Must do the work with their own hands.

Each of us must realize that we are free

To choose how to live and what we shall be.

The hurts of the past we cannot change,

Yet we allow them to eat away at us like a mange.

As long as we have today, it is not too late

To turn away from this deep-seated, barbaric, and tribal hate,

Which has hindered and encapsulated our kindred spirits,

For the time has come to do away with it.

We must hold ourselves to the highest accountability,

Question the institutional authority and use our own rationality.

Do not be afraid to question long held beliefs,

Because learning a new truth can bring you joy, peace, and relief.

Do away with the prejudices and the fables

Because everyone deserves a seat at the table.

The Bible and Slavery

“Only the educated are free.”- Epictetus

I am currently reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of three autobiographies concerning the former American slave, who escaped to freedom and became an outspoken abolitionist concerning the anti-slavery movement leading up to the American Civil War.

Douglass in heart-wrenching detail describes not only his treatment as a slave, but the horrendous treatment of African-American slaves at the hands of the white, Southern slave owners. How one human being could treat another human in such a vile and despicable manner is beyond me. Moreover, what has drawn my attention was Douglass’ comments concerning how the so-called “Christian” slave owners were much harsher in their treatment of their slaves, using their so-called righteousness as a cloak for maliciousness.

Maybe it’s me getting older or the fact I am taking a more reasoned approach to my beliefs, but I find the hypocrisy of religion to be appalling. Just as these slaveowners used The Bible to justifying owing and degrading another person, this same book has been used to persecute religious minorities, oppress women, and is the basis for the right-wing church to justify their collective homophobia. My politics take no title such as Republican, Democrat, Fundamentalist, Socialist, or anything of the sort. It is difficult for me to write this post, as I know how some will perceive it, but I cannot control your opinions or perceptions. I am not out to “convert” anyone or change your mind, I am simply putting forth what The Bible says concerning slavery. For the sake of space and time, I will list ahandful of scrptures and cite other verses concerning this subject.

The Bible states the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and they cried out to God to deliver them. God sent Moses and the rest, as they say, is history. With all of the harsh treatment the Israelites received at the hands of the Egyptians, one would think they would not want to treat their fellow man as such. However, God, in the Law lays out the treatment of slaves, both Hebrew and Gentile.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Exodus 21:2-11, NIV). Exodus also gives guidelines concerning the beating of slaves: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21, NIV).

*See also: Exodus 21:26-27, Exodus 21:31-32, Exodus 23:12, Leviticus 19:20-22, Leviticus 25:44-46, Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

At this point, one may argue, “Well, that’s the Old Testament.”

It is an interesting fact to note that no New Testament writer, the Apostles, or even the Lord Jesus himself never in any way condemn the practice of slavery. Slaves are commanded to obey their masters as they would obey Christ:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9, NIV).

*See also: Colossians 3:22, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18-19.

At this point there would be some doing what Iwould call “apologetic mental gymnastics” and down play the use of the terms slave and master and apply these Scriptures to the modern day employer/employee relationship, which is not analagous to one human owning another human. Elsewhere in the New Testament, slavery is spoken of in the metaphorical sense in that we are slaves to sin, from which Christ set us free.

The purpose of this post is not to rekindle hard feelings from events that happened centuries ago. Rather, I want to examine what I call “biblical difficulties” and how a non-Christian would respond to the Bible. The Bible’s support of slavery is one of the largest and most justified criticisms of Scripture. More importantly, I want to take deeper look at the book that so many people, including myself, hold dear and find out if it is truly relevant for our day and age. Why didn’t God or Jesus just come out and ban slavery? Why didn’t the early church fathers abolish it? Why did some American churches allow for such atrocities committed against our fellow people? I believe the soul searching question we must answer is “If your faith is not helping you become a better person to all, is it a faith worth having?” If your faith spews hatred and disrespect, should you go along with it? Can you continue to justify belief in any holy book that justifies discrimination or hatred against anyone?