A Lesson from a Transcendentalist

Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leader of the Transcendentalist movement, which is, in my view, the birthplace of Western modern day pluralistic environmentalism. Essentially, a transcendentalist believes in the divine, and that the divine can be experienced intuitively simply because the divine is in everything (pantheism of sorts). As well, Emerson was a Unitarian. His father was a minister in the Unitarian church, along with many of our country’s early leaders, like John Quincy Adams. This religion has pluralism (many ways to God) and pantheism (that God is in everything) at its core. There is a radical tolerance of all beliefs, leaving with it a denial of the supremacy of Christ and exclusivity of the gospel. It’s not a Christian religion. There is no gospel and barely a god (essentially self).

So, I had to give a preface to how I could learn something from a guy like this. Well, there’s a single quote by Emerson that has stuck in my head for years… “We are always getting ready to live, but never living.”

This can be helpful or harmful. If you take it the way Emerson meant it, then there’s no preparation for the after-life because God condemns no man. We can live however we want, because there is no real consequence for our actions. There’s a licentiousness in his poetry that (something like Shakespeare) gets ignored because of the beauty of the verse.

There is a helpful way to take a quote like this, however. Ecclesiastes-like response is appropriate. Some would say, “Eat, drink, for tomorrow we die,” while others would simply say “Carpe Diem” (seize the day) for the glory of God alone. With me, certainly functioning from the latter, my challenge is being so fixated on things that will help me in life and ministry instead of emphasizing actually living life and doing ministry (computers, iPhones, Bible software, books, etc). Too often we find ourselves busy in preparation (in the name of ministry) and quite slack in performance. I’m certainly not espousing laziness. Preparation is not bad. However, preparation is only as good as the performance it leads to.

Here’s where it gets practical. Some of you, like me, love books, theology, and gadgets. All of these are riddled with the “getting ready” aspect of life. We allow Steve Jobs or Amazon to convince us we need an item to help us perform better, but often what it leads to is an unhealthy pursuit of preparation masking itself as performance. Look, it’s no secret that I’m theologically reformed… and technologically absorbed. I probably need an intervention of some type (for the latter, leave the first one alone). I’m grateful that one does inform the other. However, my hope is for ACTUAL godliness, not a virtual kind. My hope is to see lives transformed, not read incessantly about how to transform lives.

As I’ve contemplated how the iPad is going to meet a critical ministry need for me (you know, the kind of “need” I didn’t know I had until I was introduced to the iPad), I just keep reflecting on the fact that all I really need is the Bible, a pen, and a journal. Now, I have to say that articulating this is NOT (I don’t think) my way of purging my lust for more technology so that I can buy the iPad with a clearer conscience. I will very well wind up with one to see what it’s like (I ain’t scared of eBay if I don’t use something). But at this point in my life, perhaps more than ever, I want to simply be fruitful and effective (2 Peter 1 kind of stuff). I don’t want to spend my time always getting ready to be productive (needing just one more gadget to make that happen). Rather, I want to BE productive for the Kingdom of God.

So, I don’t know how this hits you. Maybe this is one of those posts that only hits 10% of the reading audience. My suspicion, however, is that all of us have this tendency to constantly look for a “better way” before we actually move. Paul says it like this, “15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained,” Phil.3:15-16.

Holding true does not mean file it, or pack it away. In fact, the “think this way” part of the statement refers to vv.12-14, “12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

So, let’s press on, taking what we know and faithfully practicing it. While we run and pursue, let’s read and learn, even prepare. But let’s not spend all of our energies in preparation as if believing we can achieve a level of preparedness that will make pursuing God just that much easier. Look, you who know me realize that I’m a huge believer in education, study, solitude, even writing. However, and maybe this is preaching to the choir, we must discipline ourselves FOR godliness, and practice what we know.

Embrace your love for technology, but keep a leash on it so that you are living out your faith. Grab a book and read, and read a bunch, but keep praying (as you read) for the lost needing Christ and the believer needing to be built up. Be LIVING not just always getting ready to live.

That said, I’ve sought council about the iPad and this is what I found: Habakkuk 2:2

“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.”

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