Practing the Better: Othering

The Covenant opens the way for us to practice the better by delivering us from bondage, the greatest imprisonment being our confinement to self-centeredness.  Whether expressed individually (egotism) or collectively (ethnocentrism), selfishness works against life as God intends it.

But when delivered from this false self, we can begin to live in the true self, characterized by a desire to be an agent in fostering the common good–what Walter Brueggemann calls “othering” and “neighborliness”–a way of life arising out of the Covenant in Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself,” and reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 22:39.  [1]  Paul expressed the same view using different words, “We don’t live for ourselves, and we don’t die for ourselves” (Romans 14:7).

Paul called this perspective “living for the Lord” (14:8), which means that the grace of God has reoriented us away from self-glorificatiin to God-glorification.  Like a trained archer, we aim our lives (the bow) and our many acts (the arrows) at a new target, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” [2].  But as Richard Rohr notes, to pray “thy kingdom come” means very little unless we pray, “my kingdom go.” [3]

The Covenant changes our understanding of the purpose of our life.  Freed from aiming at “grabbing the gusto” for ourselves, we are now looking to “live generously” for the sake of others.  Through the outpouring of God’s love into our hearts, we are willing and able to practice the better.

[1] This is so important that an extemded exploration of our deliverance from egotism/ethnocentrism would do us all good.  For starters, turn your attention to Merton’s ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’ and his book, ‘The New Man.’  Add Richard Rohr’s ‘Falling Upward’ and ‘Immortal Diamond.’ With this good foundation laid, turn to Brueggemann’s book. ‘Journey to the Common Good,’ which shows how a life delivered from selfishness engages in redemptive practices.

[2] In early Christianity, the image of archery was often used to describe the spiritual life.  John Cassian is known for his use of the metaphor in his book, ‘Conferences.’  He uses the image in Conference #1 and returns to it subsequently.

[3] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, 1/18/18.

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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