Monday, June 8, 2009

JQA - Procrastination

One of the things I’ve learned about John Quincy Adams in my recent reading is that, through most of his adult life, he had a strong interest in religion. He rose early and read several chapters of the Bible during his pre-breakfast regimen of long walks, long swims, and the reading of the classics.

Adams read voraciously. Along with the classics, history and the Bible, he enjoyed reading sermons and theology. He was also a church-goer. During his years as secretary of state and president, he attended three services of worship on Sundays: morning, afternoon and evening--Unitarian, Episcopal and Presbyterian. And these were not our modern, hour-long services.

Then Adams went home and critiqued the sermons in his journal. Once a professor of oratory at Harvard as well as a theology buff, his standards were not always met. Paul C. Nagel, his biographer, remarks that “the homiletical powers of Washington’s clergy were not of the highest order.” Hard to imagine in this day of prestigious capital-city pulpits, but Washington was then a mud-street village. (At least they had clergy. They had no dentist.)

By most norms, Adams displayed unusual religious commitment, yet not until 1826 did he make his own confession of faith. At the age of 59 he united with the Quincy church, where his forebears had worshiped for almost 200 years. He acknowledged he was about 30 years late.

That’s what I call unholy procrastination.

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