Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Birthday John Wesley!

Today is the birthday of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church.  That word "Methodist" was used as an unflattering way of describing the religious study group of Wesley's college years:  they were methodical and rigorous in their Biblical study.

Wesley will probably never be made a saint, and thus we won't really celebrate his feast day--indeed, he'd probably resist the idea.  But I can't think of many other 18th century people who transformed the faith in the way that he did.

The Writer's Almanac entry for today notes that Wesley felt he wasn't reaching enough people from the pulpit--I suspect many of today's ministers and pastors can relate.  But he didn't sit around and mope and rail against declining enrollments.  No, he went out and saddled his horse and went to people where they lived.  Historians say that he traveled roughly 250,000 miles during his lifetime.  On a horse.

Yes, I'm feeling inadequate, all of a sudden.  What have I done to bring the Good News to my fellow citizens?  Nothing even close to what Wesley did.

He was also a social justice crusader, an ardent abolitionist.  He helped to lay the foundation for the movement that would change the world.

Yes, I know that in our current day we still have slavery.  Some historians would tell us that it's never been easier to own a slave than it is today, in fact.  But in our current world, in the industrialized part of it at least, we seem to have reached an understanding that slavery is morally wrong.  We're still arguing about the meaning of a living wage, but we don't keep people in bondage the way that 18th century people did.  You can argue that we keep people in a bondage of a different sort, but it's not the kind of brutal total bondage we would have found in the 18th and 19th centuries.  And for this change, I thank John Wesley (and other folks, like Harriet Beecher Stowe).

Much of Wesley's theology came back to the idea of love, the complete love that we strive to offer the world.  The Writer's Almanac site offers this jewel, with this introduction:  "Though there's no evidence that he actually wrote it himself, 'John Wesley's Rule' does a fair job of summing up his life:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can. "

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