Eliza R. Snow and the Gospel of Work

Eliza R. Snow reveals much about herself when she describes her early search for religion:

[W]hen I asked, like one of old, “What must I do to be saved?” and was told that I must have a change of heart, and, to obtain it, I must feel myself to be the worst of sinners, and acknowledge the justice of God in consigning me to everlasting torment, the common-sense with which God had endowed me, revolted, for I knew I had lived a virtuous and conscientious life, and no consideration could extort from me a confession so absurd. [1]

By claiming freedom from hell on the basis of her own merit, Snow transgressed against a standard trope of Christian autobiography dating back to Augustine’s Confessions and evidenced in the title of John Bunyan’s 17th-century classic Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners: instead of a life radically transformed by God from the grossest depravity to a state of grace, she understood her life as basically good and freely oriented toward God. From the perspective of Augustinian or Calvinist orthodoxy (not necessarily shared, to be sure, by other participants in the Second Great Awakening), Snow’s position might appear in the suspect guise of works-righteousness. Rather than claim to merit heaven by her works, I believe that she worked diligently to show her love for God. This energetic life of serving God by serving other people is why we honor her today, on the anniversary of  her death.

[Read more…]

Songs I Wish Were in the Hymn Book

Growing up I always thought the image on the hymn book was Angkor Wat.

On my mission, in one city my companion and I had to walk 45 mins to get to our area to teach.  We were newly together and frankly, she was driving me nuts.  She insisted on singing hymns the entire time we walked through the banana fields and winding rural paths. Relentlessly.  Finally, I couldn’t take it any more, so I started belting out Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”  She recoiled as if I had just taken a big swig of Vodka, wiped my mouth, and then offered it to her.  But then, she accepted the proffered folk song olive branch and started to sing it with me.  She shrugged and said she guessed it was not inappropriate even if it wasn’t a hymn. [Read more…]

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