I was in a meeting recently with other pastors, where we were to vote on issues related to ordination and other business regarding our Annual Conference. Our speaker for the day was a retired theologian, Marjorie Suchoki. Professor Suchoki reminded all of us what it means to be United Methodist, where our roots in Wesleyan theology lie, and how John Wesley can influence our thinking and action. All in all, it was a very thought-filled day, and it set me on the road to thinking about each of us, and how we live out our lives and witness.
What guiding principles and ethos affect and direct our thoughts, words and actions?
We live in a modern world with all sorts of things swirling around us. It can overwhelm and disorient us to the point where we aren’t sure which way to go. The culture is changing, what’s in and what’s out is ever evolving. What we know about the human condition is also ever increasing and broadening.
We have a lot which confronts us when it comes to making decisions about how we feel, think, speak and act. Every person has to have some guiding principles, some guiding ethos which directs them. We subconsciously tap into that ethos with every decision we make. Is that really true? Think about something as ordinary as driving down the street and a squirrel runs right in front of your car. Do you swerve or jam on the brakes to avoid hitting the little booger? If you do, why? If you don’t, why? Something inside you guides that action. For me, I do everything possible to avoid hitting the squirrel. Why? Because I believe and am guided by the ethos that all of life is sacred, its a gift, and it comes from God. If the unthinkable happens and I’m not able to avoid the squirrel, I get a very sick feeling inside. Why? My principle of life’s sacredness has been violated by my own actions. Believe it or not, the weight of such a tragedy weighs on me long after the incident.
Lots and lots of things impact how we make our decisions, but behind it all is a guiding premise from which our actions spring. The emotions of joy, anger, grief, sadness, love, all contribute to our decision-making, but undergirding them is the base of our guiding principles. I’m one of the worst offenders in allowing some emotion to override the ethos which informs and guides me. When that happens, I feel remorseful because I didn’t allow myself to step back from the situation and tap into that ethos to fully guide my speech, thought and action.
When we look at all the acrimony and divisiveness in our world today, we have to ask what is directing and guiding this? As a society, as a world, are we tapping into our own selfishness and greed, always wanting things to turn out our way? Always needing to win at all costs? Never being willing to look at issues and situations from other points of view? Never considering the cost to human dignity and worth, only looking from a self-centered view?
My belief is, much of what’s wrong in today’s world has so much to do with how we make our decisions. What do we base those decisions on? Again, is it based only on self-interest, greed, avarice?
There is another way. There is a way which can lead us to consider others, to give attention to those who are in need, to focus on the greater good. If at our core we believe love is a guiding principle, an ethos from which every thing we do, think, and say springs, the outcomes just might be different.
Professor Suchoki reminded me this week of a sermon John Wesley preached on the Catholic Spirit. Catholic is defined as a wide variety, all embracing. In speaking about a person who is guided by a broad and expansive love, Wesley says, “His heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with strong and cordial affection neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies. This is catholic or universal love. And he that has this is of a catholic spirit. For love alone gives the title to this character: catholic love is a catholic spirit.” That’s a guiding principle, an ethos upon which our lives and action can be informed. Will we always be able to let it inform our decisions? No, we are human after all. We will make mistakes and we will stumble along, but if we ingrain that ethos into who we are, we will come back to it time and again. It will serve to correct and guide us when we let it.
Much of what’s wrong today, I believe, can be attributed to our unwillingness to love more, and more widely. We will not always agree, we will argue and have disagreements over many things, but in the end, will we let love be our guide?
I’ll leave us with another quote from Wesley’s same sermon on Catholic Spirit, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” Let’s you and I be the change we want to see in the world. Let’s love with a catholic spirit, one that acts and believes from an ethos of love, just because we disagree on things we should not let this be our end. Let’s work to agree on loving with the heart of God. When we can do that, all other matters will pale in comparison, and the world will become more like what God intends for all of us.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,