Even the greats get it wrong sometimes…

If anyone can deliver a line that’s direct and usually unavoidably true of society, it’s Ralph Waldo Emerson. Even though I generally loathe poetry, every teacher that made me analyze it and the teachers’ children because they probably came out of the womb quoting Walt Whitman, still I love a good Emerson verse. Give me a quote such as…

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

And I say Emerson just spoke to every rant I’ve ever spouted off about science nerds who use the word “irregardless,” pre-med students that can’t work a copy machine or math majors that can’t add without a calculator. People! Didn’t you graduate high school? How have you gotten through life?!


“The glory of friendship is not in the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is in the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.”

This one makes me tear up a little. Not really, but it does make me appreciate good friends and feel intense apathy for the bad ones.

But this one depresses me:

“In failing circumstances no one can be relied on to keep their integrity.”

I hope this isn’t true because I fail a lot. I usually fail at walking without tripping. I often fail at not running into door posts as I enter a room (If you know me well, you’re aware my elbows are my own worst enemies). I frequently fail to have the right answer for a friend so obviously hurting. And sometimes I fail to save an inner city child from his abusive parent. 

Have I lost my integrity in these moments? I don’t think so, but I did fail. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely failed before with little class, and for that I only have God’s grace. But plenty of Christians fail and keep their integrity and their faith: cancer patients remaining faithful to the end or single mothers struggling to raise children of faith.

It’s not about whether Christians sin, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It’s whether we admit this, it’s whether we keep our faith in spite of this, in the midst of struggle. If we don’t, Emerson’s right. Still worse, we’re doomed.



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