Practicing the Better: Our Marching Orders

​It would be beneficial to continue to describe the practice of the better from the close of the New Testament until now.  Known and unknown women and men have practiced the better in every generation. We can learn much from them.

But we will soon enter into Advent, and I want to end this series before the new Christian year begins. We need to bring into the present everything we have seen, and accept our marching orders to be instruments of God’s peace.  Dr. Walter Brueggemann offers us concrete ways for doing this in a book he co-authored with his son, ‘Rebuilding the Foundations.’  [1] We will use their counsel to see how we can practice the better today.

In their book, the make use of Jonathan Haidt’s six moral foundations, each of which (for this series) provides insight for practicing the better. The Brueggemanns see them as particularly helpful in offering ways and means for repairing “the torn fabric of American society” values commensurate with biblical principles. [2]. I can only mention them briefly in the hope that you will explore them further.

The first foundation for practicing the better is caring.  It counteracts selfishness and the many ways that egotism and ethnocentrism do harm to others.  It is what world religions mean when they speak of compassion.  Practicing the better means cultivating our disposition to be nurturing. Caring in the words of Jesus is to be a good shepherd.

The second foundation is fairness.  It counteracts cheating.  Fairness is not equality; it is more radical than that.  It is what religion calls justice, which is providing people what they need to thrive.  This means that the poor are given more than the rich. The weak are empowered more than the strong.  Fairness in the words of Jesus is “caring for the least of these.”

We will look at the other four foundations next week.

[1] Walter and John Brueggemann, ‘Rebuilding the Foundations’ (Westminster John Knox, 2017), loc 97.

[2] Jonathan Haidt, ‘The Righteous Mind’ (Pantheon Books, 2012), chapter 7.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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