Nalini Joseph: Essential things on path to greatness
By Nalini Joseph
“In essential things there must be unity, in matters of opinion there may be diversity, but in all things there must be charity.” St. Augustine (354 A.D. – 430 A.D.)
It’s a great statement made by a great thinker and theologian.
In our country, we celebrate diversity. As Americans, we pride ourselves in being diverse in our gifts and talents, in our ability to think, innovate and create differently. We sympathize and listen to those who have philosophical, religious and political positions that are different from our own. My relatives who live in India think it’s quite funny that in America we say that we “agree to disagree.”
Although it is difficult to accomplish, St. Augustine’s command that “in all things there must be charity”, we as Americans typically recognize the need and importance of ongoing charity. We are generous givers — giving more in donations and foreign aid than any other country on the planet. Democrat, Republican or independent, we strongly believe in giving to our communities through volunteer service and for our poor and disenfranchised. We support local, state and federal social programs, even though we may have different ideas about how to accomplish this support.
The problem with St. Augustine’s statement is that we, as Americans, differ on what “essential things” are. As a country, we are polarized in what we deem essential and core to our well-being. We live in a time when some believe that a woman’s right to choose is essential. Those on the other side believe that it is essential to preserve life within the womb.
In the (worldwide) United Methodist Church, the issue of homosexuality in the leadership of the church has been of great controversy over the last few years. It is essential for many members who belong to United Methodist Church to preserve the teachings and mores of the denomination and scripture as they read it. For many other members, it is essential that the church evolve and embrace all who are called to leadership within church. Scripture is interpreted differently and core belief systems are challenged, leading to a breakdown in unity within the church. There are countless other examples that come to mind, highlighting our differences in what we consider to be “essential” to our productivity as members of our families, community and the workforce.
How then do we inch closer to our goal of creating unity in our communities and in our country?
James Madison in Federalist No. 10 writes of his deep concern about factions in an infant America. He theorized that, in order to reduce the ill effects of factions, the country had to create a larger republic and centralize the seat of power. Alexander Hamilton, (his good friend who later turned into his bitter enemy) theorized that a perpetual debt and a national bank would solve this problem. America was bankrupt at that time, which naturally created factions and differences in power and wealth. As it turned out, both approaches were correct; however, these two great men did not converge in their opinions and the country was split into two major political parties.
Two hundred and fifty years later, we are splitting apart at the seams yet again. In recent times, catastrophic events have brought our country together. Sept. 11 happened in 2001, and we unified as a country. What is it going to take for us to come together again — 20 years later? Why hasn’t the global pandemic of 2020 unified us as a country?
As my son and I study the spirits of Yahweh (God) this season, we are spending time this week on the spirit of the fear of the Lord. I am reminded that there is a greater power in this universe. Fear of the Lord keeps my ego in check: there are consequences for all my actions and inactions. This spirit keeps me humble and focused on all that is truly essential.
This Advent season, examine what is essential to your soul and well-being. What personal ideologies can you put on the shelf for the time being so that you can share the peace of Christ with your neighbor? What is hindering us as families, churches and communities from truly being one in Christ?
Joseph is a resident of Salisbury. She is the proud mother of 10-year honor-roll student, Rohan Joseph, who serves his community as president of COVID Busters. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.