Practicing the Better: Introduction

Richard Rohr stopped me in my tracks with these words, “The best criticism of the bad is a practice of the better.” [1] 

From the moment I first read them nearly two years ago, they have attached themselves like velcro to my soul, and I have been moved many times to revisit Rohr’s words and consider what “practicing the better” might mean in a given situation.  I believe that a gentle abiding of a word, phrase, or idea is one way the Spirit says, “Pay attention to this.”. Rohr’s statement has been that for me.

And so…I have tried to be faithful to the calling to ponder these words as a rule of life, and particularly how they form behavior in specific ways.  To practice the better is to be the salt, light, and leaven Jesus told us to be.

This has always been at the heart of discipleship, but there have been times in history when the need for practicing the better was more crucial.  The need is greater when “empire” (Walter Brueggemann’s term) works contrary to virtue and deconstructs the moral and ethical foundations that create and preserve civilization…and make us human.

We are living in such a time–an egoic time, when egotism and ethnocentrism (incarnate in political and religious potentates) are eroding the base for godliness and the common good. Evil must be named, exposed, and resisted. I wrote about this in the archived series “The Prophetic Task.”

But it is not enough to call out empire; we must overcome evil with good.  We must live a positive, penetrating, and transforming ethic in both the society and the church.  The aim is not only identification, it is transformation.  Jesus taught us this in the metaphors of salt, light, and leaven.  They work with things as they are (meat, darkness, bread), but do not leave them as they are.

This is practicing the better, and it is what this series aims to describe and commend.  I hope you find it helpful in your own desire to practice the better and in your discernment of how to do so.

[1]  “The practice of the better” is Core Principle #3 for the various ministries of The Center for Action and Contemplation, which Richard Rohr oversees.  You can read more about it in his book, ‘The Eight Core Principles.’ 

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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