quotes: a tamed cynic

“… [this] book … was prompted by the experiences of a young minister serving his first … [church] in the growing city of Detroit. … Ministry is in no easy position; for it is committed to the espousal of ideals which are in direct conflict with the dominant interests and prejudices of contemporary civilization. … Inevitably a compromise must be made, or is made, between the rigor of the ideal and the necessities of the day. … [often the challenge is to minister with] honest but short-sighted men [who seek] to preserve the excellencies of another day long after they have ceased to have relevancy for the problems of our own day. … It is dangerous to entertain great moral ideals without attempting to realize them in life, it is even more perilous to proclaim them in abstract terms without bringing them into juxtaposition with the specific social and moral issues of the day. … a minister is bound to be a statesman as much as a prophet, dealing with situations as well as principles. In specific situations, actions must be judged not only in terms of absolute standards but in consideration of available resources in the lives of those whom the minister leads. … I make no apology for being critical of what I love. No one wants a love which is based upon illusions …” [pp.7,12,13,15,17]

“How in the world can you reconcile the inevitability of Sunday and its tasks with the moods and caprices of the soul? The prophet only speaks when he is inspired. The parish preacher must speak whether he is inspired or not.” [p.23]

“I may find something worth saying in time and escape the fate of being a mere talker. At any rate, I swear I will never aspire to be a preacher of pretty sermons. I’ll keep them rough just to escape the temptation of degenerating into an elocutionist.” [p.27]

“As a preacher you must conserve other interests besides truth. It is your business to deal circumspectly with the whole religious inheritance lest the virtues which are involved in the older traditions perish through your iconoclasm. That is a formidable task and a harassing one; for one can never be quite sure where pedagogical caution ends and dishonesty begins.” [p.29]

“I am really beginning to like the ministry. … it gives you a splendid opportunity to have all kinds of contacts with people in relationships in which they are at their best. You do get tired of human pettiness at times. But there is nevertheless something quite glorious about folks. That is particularly true when you find them bearing sorrow with real patience.” [pp.45-46]

“… the real work of a minister is not easily gauged … Even those who value the real work of the ministry sometimes express their appreciation in rather superficial phrases. I remember when dear old ____ celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary the good toastmaster pathetically described his pastor’s successful ministry by explaining that under his leadership the congregation had ‘doubled its membership … built a parsonage, decorated the church and wiped out its debt.’ Not a word about the words of comfort the good pastor had spoken or the inspiration he had given to thirsting souls. Perhaps it is foolish to be too sensitive about these inevitable secularizations of religious values. Let us be thankful that there is no quarterly meeting in our denomination and no need of giving a district superintendent a bunch of statistics to prove that our ministry is successful.” [p.53]

“It is no easy task to build up the faith of one generation and not destroy the supports of the religion of the other. [p.54]

“I am going to try to be a disciple of Christ, rather than a mere Christian, in all human relations and experiment with the potency of trust and love much more than I have in the past. … the real clue to the tameness of a preacher is the difficulty one finds in telling unpleasant truths to people whom one has learned to love. To speak the truth in love is a difficult, and sometimes an almost impossible achievement. … It is certainly difficult to be human and honest at the same time.” [pp.69,74]

“What we accomplish in the way of church unity ought to be accepted with humility and not hailed with pride. We are not creating. We are merely catching up with creation.” [p.90]

“I wonder if the strong sense of frustration which comes over me so frequently on Sunday evening and to which many other parsons have confessed, is merely due to physical lassitude or whether it arises from the fact that every preacher is trying to do a bigger thing than he is equal to – and fails. I have an uneasy feeling that it may be native honesty of the soul asserting itself. [p.108]

“… it is difficult to escape bitterness when you have the eyes to see and the heart to feel what others are to blind and too callous to notice. … Cynics sometimes insinuate that you can love people only if you don’t know them too well … I have not found it so. I save myself from cynicism by knowing individual, and knowing them intimately. … On the whole, people do not achieve great moral heights out of a sense of duty. You may be able to compel them to maintain certain minimum standards by stressing duty, but the highest moral and spiritual achievements depend not upon a push but upon a pull. People must be charmed into righteousness. The language of aspiration rather than that of criticism and command is the proper pulpit language. [p.109,113,115]

“We love God by loving the best we know.” [p.141]

“… if we explore the full meaning of a gospel of love, its principles will be found to run counter to cherished prejudices. … if a gospel is preached without opposition it is simply not the gospel which resulted in the cross. It is not, in sort, the gospel of love.” [p.165]

“I wonder if anyone who needs a snappy song service can really appreciate the meaning of the cross.” [p.199]

“It is almost impossible to be sane and Christian at the same time, and on the whole I have been more sane than Christian. [p.222]

Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic by Reinhold Neibuhr (Living Age Books, 1957, reprint of 1929 edition).


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