Saturday, September 19, 2009

Detroit, Reinhold Niebuhr & The Serenity Prayer

I. "The Serenity Prayer" was popularized by Reinhold Niebuhr after his 1915-1928 stint in Detroit. There are many versions, but here's a common one:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

II. Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a thoughtful man whose views changed somewhat over time, in part because of his experiences in Detroit and also because of the world wars, the Great Depression and the Vietnam War.

III. Niebuhr's Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (1929/1930) covers his Detroit years in the form of a journal. Here's a brief but typically wise entry from 1927:

What we know as truth is determined by peculiar and individual perspectives. Pressures of environment, influences of heredity, and excellencies and deficiencies of teachers help to determine our life philosophies. We ought therefore to hold them with decent humility and a measure of scepticism. But if we permit ourselves to be tempted into a complete subjectivism and skepticism by these facts, we put an end to all philosophy and ultimately to civilization itself. For civilization depends upon the vigorous pursuit of the highest values by people who are intelligent enough to know that their values are qualified by their interests and corrupted by their prejudices.

IV. Know thyself, and choose your battles carefully, but by all means, do battle when necessary.

Today's Rune: Initiation. From 1915 to 1928, Niebuhr served as pastor at the Bethel Evangelical Church, now Mayflower Missionary Baptist Church, at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, west of the Motown Museum (2270 West Grand Boulevard).


Charles Gramlich said...

Now there's definitely someone with some sense.

nunya said...

Have you read other Niebuhr works? Do you have a favorite if you have?

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks for the comments!

Nunta, the two I can reference are: The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses & The Irony of American History. Will follow up with two more posts on Niebuhr, and the Obama connection, soon.

Erik Donald France said...

p.s. i.e. Nunya. Damn the typos, full speed ahead . . .

nunya said...

lol, thanks! (I have tpyo problems too, lol

JR's Thumbprints said...

I love this advice: Know thyself, and choose your battles carefully, but by all means, do battle when necessary.

I've been practicing my selective battles at work for well over a dozen years.

jodi said...

Good gravy, Erik. Judging by that one paragraph, Girlfriend would rather stick a hot poker in her eyeballs that read that. Pretty heavy stuff--even if it's true!! HELP!!

Erik Donald France said...

And another thanks for the newer comments. Jim (and Walking Man), damn the torps! Jodi, you crack me up. And -- got me to post on something else first before the next Niebuhr bit ;->

Reality check!

t said...

gotta read more about Niebuhr.
I've always liked The Serenity Prayer.

Anonymous said...

Hello, just so you know, you've got the addresses for the Mayflower Missionary Baptist Church and the Motown Museum reversed. The Church is 2270 on West Grand Boulevard. I visited it recently and it is still in fairly good shape. The only person I talked to there (a member of the congregation) did not know it had been Niebuhr's church at one time. The edifice was built during Niebuhr's tenure as pastor.