Sunday, 12 July 2009

What would he do?

I admire and salute the teaching of Wayne Dyer. Namaste, Wayne Dyer.

Here are two things he said that I love:

"Attachment to being right creates suffering. When you have a choice to be right, or to be kind, choose kind and watch your suffering disappear."


"The measure of your life will not be in what you accumulate, but in what you give away."

I think that we could do without a lot of books and courses and sermons and discipleship programmes and commentaries and study guides if we had just those two pieces of advice and lived by them.

Another phrase that has come back to mind, as I've recently been thinking over decisions I have to make, I came across when I was sixteen, and I read a book by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps. Apparently it was written in 1896. I don't think I realised it was that old when I read it - it seemed to be up to date enough to make sense to me.

As I generally do, I've forgotten just about everything that Charles Sheldon said in his book; but I think he would be pleased that over the last thirty-five years (in the course of which I have excelled myself in forgetting almost everything everybody tried to teach me from the subjunctive to the reason for thinking about the square on the hypotenuse to Sine, Cosine and Tangent, which may have been the names of the three witches in Macbeth, or a further set of names for Ananias, Azarias and Misael - or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as their jazz names ran) I have remembered - are you still with me? - the central point his book was trying to make.

Which is that when we have a decision to make, we should ask ourselves the question "What would Jesus do?"

It's a question I come back to. During those thirty-five years, I've heard it maligned and belittled on occasion. Sophisticated churchmen have explained as to a little child that it's an irrelevant question because Things Are Different Nowadays (Jesus would never have understood) and because in any case (trump card - lean forward, permit a little triumph to enter the voice): 'You are not Jesus!!!'

Seems reasonable.

But I know that 'What would Jesus do?' is a good question, and this is how I know.

From time to time I get in trouble with People In Authority. I don't know why, but as a rule with a few encouraging exceptions they don't like me. And one time when I was a minister I was in trouble with a representative of church authority. I hadn't done anything wrong, but he wasn't pleased with me or with the way I was going about things. And in the privacy and security of his office he let me know that I was using the church for my own purposes, twisting the truth, leaking confidential information, deceiving the church, and a number of equally reprehensible things that in fact I had not done, though what I had done had put him in a bit of a spot for sure (told the truth and kept on telling it).

It was a difficult and exhausting interview, and things were not going well. I was getting tired and worn down by all these accusations, and I was groping around inside my soul for something I could put my hand on that would steady me. And what came to my hand was that question I'd read when I was sixteen. So I explained to this important Man of God that years ago when I was a teenager someone had taught me when in doubt to ask the question 'What would Jesus do?'; and that when I applied it to my current situation I knew for certain that Jesus would not have spoken to me in the way this important churchman had been speaking to me - and that was how I knew it couldn't be right for him to follow this line of approach. And I said it simply. I wasn't rude.

He went ballistic - how dare I say such things to him and he was going to throw me out, terminate the conversation forthwith und so weite: and that's how I stumbled upon the understanding that this is a real question that cuts to the heart of things. "What would Jesus do?" is a question that peels back the layers and reveals the wisdom that lies underneath all the posturing and manoeuvering that belong to the power and greed fixations of the Kingdom of Mammon that has so many people unwittingly tight in its thrall.

An odd thing, that I would not necessarily have expected, is that when with an honest and humble heart I ask myself the question "What would Jesus do?" I find no difficulty in identifying the answer. Sometimes it's hard to ask the question, and there are many people who have an interest in making a person feel foolish and childish and uninformed for asking it. But it's a question that with surprising rapidity propels me up the ladders, and has a way of saving me from the poison of some of the snakes.

I asked it today as I sat quietly thinking in Fiona's little room in the tribe house. And as usual, the answer came hot on the heels of the question, and now I know what to do.

"Attachment to being right creates suffering. When you have a choice to be right, or to be kind, choose kind and watch your suffering disappear."

"The measure of your life will not be in what you accumulate, but in what you give away."

"What would Jesus do?"

Three thoughts I recommend.


Ganeida said...

Yes! I am so pleased to have found your blog. These are important questions for dealing with people from the smallest child to the VIP.

Buzzfloyd said...

I agree with these things, and I wonder what it is you were applying them to today.

I think that, sometimes, the question of right and nice can be a little muddied. For example, in the situation you talked about with the important churchman, it might have seemed that in saying the truth and not what he wanted you to say that you were clinging to rightness over kindness to him. But it was, perhaps, for the sake of other people in your care, kinder to speak the truth. And, although it may have caused him considerable discomfort and made him behave in an outrageous way, maybe it was kinder to him too? Tough love, so to speak.

So I think it is not always clear what we mean by the terms 'kind' and 'right'. I do think it's more important, if a child presents you with their poem, to read that and respond to it, rather than point out the spelling mistakes - but the situation isn't always as easy to navigate. That's where the WWJD question comes in.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for giving time to this 'fashionable' phrase... What would Jesus do? I have found that quite hard to answer in the past (moments that seem particular to my role as a wife and a mother) but I am re-inspired today, to pursue that poignant question once more.

PS Glad that Ganeida (above) has found you. She is my new-found Homeschooling Quaker Friend!!!

Ember said...


Thanks for your thoughts, ladies!

I like your Ganeida's Knots blog very much.

Hi, PollenH :0)

Buzz, I agree, those are the kind of dilemmas that need negotiating.

With the kind versus right issue - I like Maria Montessori's approach to children's offerings such as the example of a poem you suggest. She believed in unconditional love rather than conditional praise. So if a child brought a poem to show, she might respond to the ideas therein (eg 'Ah I see you've chosen to make this poem rhyme/not rhyme' or 'Oh, was it our walk through the wood that inspired you to write about leaves falling?') without assessing it or making a value judgement on it. She would neither praise nor criticise, but show interest and appreciation. She didn't 'grade' it. Godly Play incorporated this free-from-assessment approach to its art response. That's one good way of meeting the right versus kind dilemma - if you are actually required to critique the poem for grammar etc, of course the thing is to offer critique kindly and constructively. Note, Dyer is talking about avoiding *attachment* to being right - having the grace to let something go for the sake of allowing others to save face, or be gentle with their vulnerability maybe.

In the case of my Important Churchman, the choice to be kind rather than right was something about pushing as far as was necessary to achieve what I needed to do, without gloating when he was shown to be in the wrong or responding defensively to his aggression.

Sorry to be so long-winded!

Ganeida said...

Do you know Charlotte Mason's work as an educator at all? Similar ideas. VERY respectful of the child.

I'm glad you enjoy my blog & am happy you visited. I always enjoy visitors. ☺

Our sense of humour is a little bizarre & not everyone *gets* us so we are always overjoyed when people do!

SimplyTim said...

Hi Ember, and thanks for this post.

I remember several years ago my wife and I visiting an old friend who had moved to Vermont. She had stopped doing pediatric work and started doing public health nursing.

I asked her what some of her cases were like, and she told us about a very difficult situation with a poverty stricken woman and her several children. As she was telling the story, it seemed to me that the more services that they offered and perhaps, threw at her, the less effective everyone felt.

None of it helped. I shifted the conversation in a direction which I thought had a possibility of opening up something helpful. I asked: I wonder what Mother Theresa would do if she met this woman / family?

The silence was deafening.