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Thoreau on News, Spiritual Life

Last week I read “Life Without Principle” by Henry David Thoreau on the YouTube channel. It’s a fairly short essay (text here) and, from what I could tell, gives a good overview of his outlook on the world if you haven’t read Walden in entirety yet (*cough* guilty).

He has a lot of good thoughts and hot takes, but the main idea that’s lingered with me is the need to keep your inner self as pure as possible from news and other negativity. He’s not saying to go live under a rock—or is he? 😆 —but rather emphasizing how useless it can be to obsess over current events. He even extends this warning to personal correspondence!

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.

I can’t imagine what he would say about the “poor fellow” addicted to social media…

Thoreau goes on to speak of preserving “the mind’s chastity” as an antidote to “intellectual and moral suicide.” Similar to Sherlock Holmes’s cautions about filling your brain-attic with junk (although of a different context), Thoreau warns against filling your head with sordid contemplations, even if they are of the real world.

This is similar to what James writes in the first chapter of his letter:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
(James 1:27, emphasis added)

I have been feeling pretty convicted about this already, and reading Thoreau’s essay amplified the message. I want to make some positive changes in my life towards this end, but I am not sure what form they will take yet.

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Thou Shalt Not Kill: Sachiko by Shūsaku Endō

I think Sachiko (1982, transl. 2020) has been my first 5-star novel of the year. In some ways, it doesn’t “deserve” it. Clocking in at 464 pages, it’s long and meandering, more “tell” than “show,” without the brilliant brevity of The Sea and Poison or the pithy structure of Silence. But just like those two novels, Sachiko will inspire and haunt me forever. The subject matter is, in my reading experience, completely unique, and the characters are heartfelt. The plot led me on a wave of emotions, with an ending that utterly astounded me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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The Trial of Jesus – Reflections on the Four Gospels

Today is Good Friday, when Christians remember the betrayal, trial, and unjust execution of Christ. I reread the accounts of the trial this morning and wanted to share some details I had not remembered or perhaps even noticed before.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story—the events begin in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Jerusalem. Jesus knows His death is imminent. He prays for strength in the Garden, while His disciples fall asleep. That same night, His absent disciple Judas reappears with a group of armed men and turns Him over to them. Jesus is led away to be tried before the religious elite, Herod the Jewish tetrarch, and finally Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea. The religious leaders want His blood but they have no legal authority to execute someone, so they bring Jesus to the Romans with false accusations, shifting the focus of their accusations from blasphemy, which is irrelevant to the Romans, to political rebellion. After many misgivings, Pilate eventually bends to the will of the mob and agrees to crucify Jesus—death by slow torture and humiliation by public nakedness. Infamously, Pilate ends the trial by washing his hands, in a symbol to claim his own innocence.

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When Principles Aren’t Enough – Christianity in View of Osamu Dazai’s The Setting Sun

So… this is part-book review, part-religious monologue—thinking out loud, really. It’s just a personal reflection. It could come across preachy or possibly offensive, neither of which is my intention. Please feel free to skip if this isn’t your cup of tea. ❤

I appreciate you all, so much.


You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
—Matthew 5:43-45

As I write this, it’s 12:40 AM, Saturday morning, and we in the U.S. still do not know the outcome of the election.

We do know that our country is split down the middle. Actually, fractured would be a better description. There are some, on all sides, who are terrified about the future and for their own safety. This is just the tip of an iceberg that has been growing for a very long time. In some ways, it has little to do with presidents, and much to do with people.

With that weight on my heart, I’ve been meditating on the above verse. By meditating… I mean the phrase “love your enemies” came into my head a few weeks ago, as spoken on the Jesus movie by actor Brian Deacon. (The way he said it with a confident conviction is something that stuck with me since childhood.) Later on, I saw the phrase on a church billboard as I was driving one day. Then a friend quoted it to me, unprompted and out of the blue. It won’t stop following me around…

So, what does this all have to do with a somewhat obscure 1947 Japanese novel? For a Christian, and to my surprise, literally everything.

The great struggle I have with the verse is, of course, actually living by it. The characters in Osamu Dazai’s The Setting Sun grapple with similar conflicts, or rather, with living by principles in general. They come to rather different conclusions.

In the last analysis my death is a natural one—man cannot live exclusively for principles.

The Setting Sun, ch. 7

Victims. Victims of a transitional period of morality. That is what we both certainly are.

The Setting Sun, ch. 8

The overarching theme of the book is this: when life circumstances become terrible, destruction—of traditions, others, or one’s self—is a natural reaction. When things get bad enough, when simply living day-to-day is a struggle, leading a good and noble life is not only difficult—it’s unreasonable. Pursuing a hedonistic life, putting one’s self first when it comes down to the wire, may be the only way for us to survive.

Does this sound familiar?

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Man’s Search for Meaning, Revisited

First reading: May 2014 review

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is part memoir, part manifesto tackling the existential question of human life and why it matters. The message resonates with Frankl’s Yes to Life, but this longer work expands on his points with heartrending examples from his experiences in concentration camps. Though the main focus is valuing one’s own life, the book also challenges us to value other people’s lives, including those of our enemies.

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