Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wesley's General Rules: Rule #1 - Do No Harm

(Read Matthew 7:1-5 and Mark 12: 28-34)

For the next three Sundays, I thought we’d go back to the basics. A life pleasing and acceptable to God and a life where we feel inner peace and happiness is a life in which we love God, we love ourselves, and we love our neighbors. I like the way the Message translation of the Bible phrases Jesus’ Great Commandment. Jesus says, “That God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and prayer and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself…” (Mark 12: 32-33). This is the way to live!

In the mid-18th century, around 1750, John Wesley thought up some simple instructions to give the early Methodists so they would know how to fulfill Christ’s command to love. They were called the General Rules, and there were 3 of them: Do no harm. Do good. And attend upon the ordinances of God or as a recent commentary on the General Rules puts it, stay in love with God. (We will hear more on the last two rules in the upcoming weeks.) Today, we will seek to understand the first rule: Do no harm.

The recent commentary on Wesley’s General Rules is titled, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, and in it, Author Rueben Job writes this: “The rules are simple and they are easily understood,” but they have far reach. If everyone followed them the world would literally be a different and a new place, a more loving place. But just because the rules are simple and easy to understand does not make them easy to practice. (Job, Rueben. Three Simple Rules. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007. pg. 41).

Doing no harm seems like a pretty obvious way to live. We don’t go about intending to hurt or harm ourselves, others or the creation. We don’t hit the gas when we see a deer in the road. We don’t kick someone when they are down. We don’t pour salt in our own wounds (or do we?). But we need to go beyond the obvious as we seek to follow this first rule because it is in the subtleties, in our ignorance and unawareness when we really become offenders of this rule. To do no harm means that we must be sensitive, aware, knowledgeable and intentional in all that we say and do.

To begin, if we are to love others as much as we love ourselves, then we must begin by loving ourselves well first. Afterall, how can we give love to others that we do not give to ourselves? (Even when you try to love others but don’t love yourself, anything you say or do for those others is contaminated by that lack of love that you have for yourself. )

I’ve been reading this book called A Path With Heart. It says that in order to live with an open and loving heart, the first thing we must do is get in touch with our feelings, and honor those feelings by acknowledging them, feeling them instead of pushing them down, and passing no judgment on them. Like the General Rules, this is simple to hear and easy to understand, but much harder to live out.

Every moment, you are feeling something. Your feelings transpire into thoughts. And your thoughts transpire into actions. The root or cause of what we say and do, how we treat others, comes from how we feel. Thus, it’s important to know how we feel. To know what motivates us to do certain things.

Many of us were taught not to feel though or to deny our feelings. Hasn’t someone said to you, “Don’t get angry,” “Don’t cry”? Or when you were excited or achieved something great: “Calm down,” “Don’t be so smug.” And not only were many of us taught to ignore our feelings, we also pushed them down ourselves because we didn’t like the way they felt. It hurts when your parents yell at you as a kid. It hurts when your best friend tells you they don’t like you anymore. It hurts when you get fired from your job.

So, let’s take a moment, can you feel what you are feeling right now? Are you content to be here? Anxious to leave? Angry about something that happenend yesterday? Excited about something that will happen tomorrow?

The spiritual wisdom of the ages is that to know ourselves, to feel what is actually going on within us, requires presence. You must be here now. Within youself. And once you get a sense of what is going on, there’s no good or bad, right or wrong. There is no judgment. You just are. This just is. Feeling what we feel. Thinking what we think. It’s all ok. You might be hot. A baby might be crying. It’s all ok.

One of the ways to get to know yourself better is to name your experience. Name what is happening to you: Thinking. Feeling. Wanting something or someone. Not wanting something or someone. As your awareness increases, you can get more descriptive. Thinking what? Thinking about work. Feeling how? Feeling restless. Wanting what? Wanting a snickers bar. Not Wanting what? Not wanting to clean the house today.

The point:

As we come to know ourselves, and very importnaly, as we come to accept ourselves as who we are where we are, we move into a higher level of being. One that is sensitive, aware and knowlecable, at least of the self. This is the basic foundation for being able to stop harming ourselves. Simply, but profoundly, by being in touch with what we are experiencing, and not judging it, but simply feeling it, we are on the pathway to freedom and healing. In this way, we begin to stop harming ourselves, and become more able to stop harming others.

It is healing for you to stop condemning yourself, and that healing will help you to stop condemning others. As Matthew, chapter 7 says, “Notice the log in your own eye first.”
Once you have taken a look at yourself and halted your judgmental nature, then you naturally will begin to stop judging others. You will begin to feel the same compassion for them that you feel for yourself. The speck in your neighbor’s eye will cease to be something to condem them for. Instead, the speck will become an opportunity for you to love them with understanding and acceptance as Christ has loved you with understanding and acceptance.

Thomas a Kempis wrote, “We cannot trust ourselves too much, because we often lack grace and understanding. The light within us is small, and we soon let even this burn out for lack of care. Moreover, we often fail to notice how inwardly blind we are; for example, we frequently do wrong, and to make matters worse, we make excuses about it! Sometimes we are moved by passion [reckless emotion] and think it zeal [inspiration]. We condemn small things in others and pass over serious things in ourselves. We are quick enough to feel it when others hurt us—and we even harbor those feelings—but we do not notice how much we hurt others. A person who honestly examines his own behavior would never judge other people harshly” (Job. pg. 30).

I really was touched by the line, “We are quick enough to feel it when others hurt us, but we do not notice how much we hurt others.” That’s why its so important to be aware of what we are feeling, sensitive to what others are feeling, and knowledgeable as to what causes harm. When we know these things, then we can be intentional about doing no harm.

Drop a Pebble in the Water by James W. Foley

Drop a pebble in the water: just a splash, and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water: in a minute you forget,
But there's little waves a-flowing, and there's ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing to a great big wave have grown;
You've disturbed a mighty river just by dropping in a stone.

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on.
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading from the center as they go,
And there is no way to stop them, once you've started them to flow.

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute you forget;
But there's little waves a-flowing, and there's ripples circling yet,
And perhaps in some sad heart a mighty wave of tears you've stirred,
And disturbed a life was happy ere you dropped that unkind word.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: just a flash and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Bearing hope and joy and comfort on each splashing, dashing wave
Till you wouldn't believe the volume of the one kind word you gave.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: in a minute you forget;
But there's gladness still a-swelling, and there's joy acircling yet,
And you've rolled a wave of comfort whose sweet music can be heard
Over miles and miles of water just by dropping one kind word.

What we say and do matters. Even the little stuff. We all know from the 10 commandments that we should not kill, steal, lie, covet,. And following those commands are some of the ways to do no harm. But its our hearts, and knowing our hearts, and taking care of other people’s hearts that’s really going to take us to that next level where we do no harm and we don’t hurt each other anymore.

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