To believe your own thought… that is genius.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

For Ralph Waldo Emerson, beauty, genius, and wisdom are your native state, held captive only by the ramparts of conventionality, insecurity and the insincerity that pour forth as you seek the favorable opinions of others at the expense of the true expression of your rightful self.

Like many great men before him, Emerson too earned a badge of condemnation and was called a “poisoner of young minds”. He was even banned from Harvard for 30 years following an address he gave to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School in 1838. But, Emerson exemplified the bravery of thought that he hoped you might find within yourself. His wisdom changed our world through men like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, both inspired partly by Emerson’s transcendentalism movement.

I find it best to take Emerson in doses. I have called this “Part 1” so that from time to time I might be able to add to this. In the excerpts below I’ve added italics to emphasize important points, the emphasis is not original to the writing.

Emerson’s “Introduction”:

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also…


little-miss-sunshineOn September 18th, 2006, my wife and I saw Little Miss Sunshine.  It really absorbed me.  I wrote my wife an email from work the next day once I’d had a good night to let my thoughts “percolate”, as you might say.  That email has since gotten forwarded around a bit.  I’ve been told by several people that they’d been inspired enough to save it.  That made me think, “Hey, easy blog post, I’ll just copy and paste that old email!”  It may seem odd or untimely to post a review of a 2 year old movie, but ultimately, it is not really about the movie anyway.  As you will see it is about us; about my life and your life.  It is about something that I believe that we all came here to experience as part of the full palate of life’s blessings.  And that is suffering, and our struggle to understand its meaning in our lives.  Well, the topic is close to my heart and I hope it touches you as well.  As Friedrich Nietzsche might say, this post is dedicated to “the few”…


Hey Sweetie,

I keep thinking about that movie last night.

I am curious about the writer or director of that movie.  I felt that he did a good job of splitting the various sides of ones personality into several pieces and then bringing those pieces to life in a compelling way through the characters of the movie.  We watch the drama of  “the innocent child”, the “depressed rebellious teen”, the rejected suicidal academician, the driven, success seeking “Winner”, the regretful old man who wishes he could do it all over again, and the woman who has to hold them all together as a family…  The characters are all so wildly different from each other, and yet I could identify with them all.  It is as if the writer took each stage of his own life and created a character to represent it.

I really think that the whole movie was intended as a Nietzsche-esque morality tale.  Of course, through Dwayne’s character  Nietzsche is mentioned and his book “Thus Spake Zarathustra” was displayed.  The “Moral of the story” given near the end of the movie is similar to one of Nietzsche’s teachings, which is “to embrace suffering“.  I believe it is Frank who argues that (more…)

Munch, Death in the SickroomReligious cancer sufferers are more likely to employ extreme measures to postpone an inevitable death than are the non-religious.  This is the finding of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month.  Journalistic reporting on this study has generally focused attention on the seemingly paradoxical finding that the most religious people appear to avoid “meeting their maker”.  So, is the finding contradictory to what one would expect from the faithful?  Let’s come back to that.

The study participants were all dying of cancer, which means they had the somewhat unique experience of knowing, at least roughly, when they would die.  That must be a psychologically stressful experience for many.  After all, death is a rather big transition (understatement).  For the devout, death is a precursor to judgment as well.  I doubt many talked much about that, but it must be on their minds.  The fact is, death is a bigger deal to the devout than to the atheist whose expecting little else than lysis of the cellular membranes followed by the spilling of intracellular contents once  their biologically sustaining functions have ceased, and then, nothing.

I relate to the devout, I was once a devout fundamentalist Christian.  My purpose in life was the avoidance of sin, the conversion of others and the constant study of scripture.  But I can also relate to the atheist because I was raised by my parents to be an atheist. I am at neither extreme now, but having spent much of my life at the extremes, I empathize with the experience of both groups and I did not find the researchers outcome to be surprising.

For an atheist, or at least for this atheist, the love of life was undermined by a deep sense of meaninglessness.   I think the full scope of this is hard for many to grasp.  The ultimate purposelessness of life and the universe is so weighty as to render all relative meaning and purpose as inconsequential.  As a result, depression becomes a natural outcome, and even seems quite rational to the atheist.  I was deeply depressed throughout my childhood. I have come to believe it was the black hole inside me, left by the absence of spirituality.  It is no wonder that the atheist does not pursue drastic end of life measures.

I converted to Christianity at 19 and the pendulum swung full arc.  Ultimately, despite my youth, I became an important leader in my church.  As such I taught bible studies and counseled other members on a weekly basis.  I came to the realization that many deeply devout practitioners had become that way, at least in part, due to an overwhelming fear of death; a fear which propelled their devotion.  Others among the most devoted were reacting to a deeply painful sense of guilt and worthlessness.  Such a negative self worth appears humble and  righteous when expressed religiously.  It is not paradoxical to imagine such people taking extraordinary measures to extend their final hours.  I left my church five years later and since that time I have never fit nicely into any religious description (you might say I am post-denominational).

Ultimately, as Shakespeare once mused, death is that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.  It’s presence in our minds, whether ominous or victorious, gives weight to our lives.  The finite length of a lifetime imparts an immeasurable, if earthly, value to our final moments; and perhaps an infinite value to our souls.