Short answer: “Jesus is Lord”
A bit longer answer: I’m pretty much in agreement with the Apostle’s Creed.
If you want to know how all this works out in practice, here’s a summary of “my guiding principles for life”, which I originally posted on Facebook as a response to a pastoral challenge.
1. Be kind.
There’s a Facebook meme usually attributed to the Dalai Lama which says “the first rule of life is to be kind. The second one is to be kind. And the third one is to be kind” and another one attributed to various sources which says “it is better to be kind than to be right, but if you are kind you will always be right” There’s lots of similar thought to be found in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, the Koran, and various other religious and secular philosophical traditions. I could quote some more of them for you, but you can probably Google as well as me.
2. Be a voice for the voiceless.
I’ve always been a fan of the underdog rather than the winning team (perhaps with the exception of Alabama football, but in my mind I can even make an argument about that). Perhaps it was because growing up I was a social underdog myself, but I’m also strongly influenced by what I read in the Bible. Whether you read the words of Moses, the prophets, or Jesus, there’s an awful lot in there about standing up for the poor, the alien, the widows and orphans….in general, those who have little voice or power in society. Sometimes this principle gets me into trouble, but I believe in it strongly enough that I strive to follow it anyway.
3. Listen. As an introvert, I have an advantage with this one because it comes more naturally to me than to some of my more extroverted friends. You learn a lot when you listen, and it also can keep you out of trouble. As both Steven Covey and St. Francis observed, understanding both precedes and is more important than being understood. The first step in dialogue is to listen.(I forgot where that one came from but I like it.)
4. I’m pro-life.
No, not in the “every sperm is sacred” sense that is usually associated with the term. I’m “for life”, meaning I affirm, respect, and value life, including human, animal, and plant life.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and it was very good.”
“900 years of time and space and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important”.
Most of my stances on social and political issues flow from this principle, It’s why I support universal education and healthcare (including contraception), and programs aimed at reducing hunger and homelessness. It’s why I believe in humane treatment of animals, including the ones used for food. It’s why I believe in equal rights and treatment for people of all ethnic origins, religions, sexual orientations, and whatever other separating labels you care to pin on them. It’s why I am for stewardship of the environment, immigration and prison reform, and a host of other things that I see as affirming, respecting, and valuing life in all its diversity.
5. “It’s not about you”.
To be honest, this is one I strive to remember, yet with which I often struggle.
Corollary #1: To have friends, be a friend. This is probably the simplest part of this principle, and the first one I learned. When I wa younger, I struggled with feelings of being different, exacerbated by social anxiety. I learned that focusing on the needs and feelings of others instead of my own had amazing results in terms of making friends.
Corollary #2: Don’t take things personally. What people say about or to you is more about them than about you. This is one that my mind knows is true, but with which my heart has difficulty.
Corollary #3 The prayer of St. Francis. That pretty much says it all for me.
6. It’s not a contradiction; it’s a paradox.
Or…there are always at least two sides to every story.
Or….it’s not either/or; it’s both/and.
The older I get, the more I understand that very little is black and white, or even many shades of gray. There are so many colors in a rainbow….and beyond that, things on the electromagnetic spectrum we can’t see with our eyes.
7. Milk all the cows you can, but churn your own butter.
This one came from one of my favorite seminary professors, and I think it applies not only to Scriptural interpretation, but to lots of other things in life. Before deciding what I think about something, I like to gather as much information as I can from multiple sources and viewpoints.
I remember going to a Bible study on Revelation at the BSU when I was a senior at UAlabama. I found it fascinating because it presented different ways of interpreting Revelation, most of which were new to me. A long time friend who accompanied me to the study told me he would never go back again, and for the same reason I found the study so interesting…it presented multiple points of view.
There are some people who insist butter must be made from only one kind of cow; otherwise it is somehow impure or contaminated. I’m not one of them.
8. IDIC. “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”.
This one’s from Star Trek, and in that imaginary universe is “the basis for Vulcan philosophy. The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity, and the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.”
I like that. Our differences aren’t meant to be quashed or feared, but celebrated…although I admit I have a bit of trouble with the Ferengi and the Klingons among my acquaintainces.
9. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. I don’t enjoy arguments and will generally try to avoid conflict when possible. In general, I’d rather put out a fire than fan the flames, and I’d rather look for common ground with someone than focus on differences. However, I don’t like bullies, and I’m not afraid to stand up for myself, those I love, or those who can’t stand up for themselves. When #9 conflicts with #2 on this list, I’m in trouble with myself.
10. “Honesty is the best policy” almost all the time. I’d have no problem lying to Nazis if I were hiding Jews in my attic, but I can’t think of many other cases where it is either morally justifiable or smart not to tell the truth. It’s easier to be truthful because you don’t have to remember exactly how you worded a particular prevarication, and to whom. Plus, I don’t think I’d be very good at it. That said, as Yoda told Luke, I think everyone sees truth from their own particular point of view so I don’t try to “catch people in their lies” very often. I’d rather try to understand their point of view first.