Friday, January 27, 2012

We United Methodists can add John Wesley and his "three simple rules" as summarized by Bishop Rueben Job: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God [Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, Cokesbury,, (800) 672-1789].

If leadership is about guiding and inspiring, about performance and productivity, if leaders provide methods to realize vision, here is Father John putting the "method" in being United Methodist.

"Do no harm" creates a safe environment for discovery and disagreement, creativity and conflict. Disarming harm establishes the climate for positive change, guarding against actions, even silence, that might injure another. This is spiritual leadership at its core: intentionally healing instead of hurting, wholeness instead of division, harmonizing with the ways of Jesus instead of the ways of the world.

"Do good." United Methodists are good-deed-doers. Yet Wesley, like Jesus, was interested in more than good scouts. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, Jesus said. "Do good" says Wesley, "to all" whether they are like us or who we like.

This is bold, counter-cultural living, where desire for mercy, justice, care for the earth, the blind seeing and the oppressed freed become as passionate as desire for self-fulfillment. We are way beyond doing good to feel good.

"Staying in love with God" paraphrases Wesley's direction for "attending upon all the ordinances of God" (The Book of Discipline 2008, Para. 103). These practices nurture a lively relationship with God: worship, the Lord's Supper, prayer, searching the scriptures, fasting and holy conferencing. They are finding time to talk and listen to God, build trust, experience togetherness, be vulnerable and respectful.

In the musical "Fiddler on the Roof," Tevye asks his wife, Golde, "Do you love me?" "Do I what?" she replies. "Do you love me," Tevye persists. "For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned the house, given you children, milked the cow. Why all this talk about love?" At the end they agree they love each other, saying, "Even so, after 25 years it's nice to know."

John Wesley knew about "staying in love with God," reminding today's United Methodists, "it's nice to know" people are loved by God and love God back.

Wesley and other early Methodists were sometimes overzealous with method and discipline, but their zeal came from knowing what it had been like to have a loveless relationship with God. They wanted to experience more.

In Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher's Episcopal Address to General Conference 2008, she reminded the 224-year-old church: "Do good. Do no harm. Stay in love with God." This is how United Methodists lead, she said. Following the rules sets the church on high ground, creates healthy boundaries and empowers United Methodists to show the world Jesus' way.

Sometimes the best way forward is remembering from where we come.

--The Rev. Alfred Day, member, General Commission on Archives and History;
pastor, Historic St. George's United Methodist Church, Philadelphia.

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