The longer I live, the harder it is not to unwittingly plagiarize. Well, okay. Not really plagiarize. But I sat here and thought and thought and researched and researched and asked my husband (a man trying to work at the moment), trying to figure out how to say "charity first" and "obedience always" - as an answer to sola fidelis, sola scriptura, sola gracia (faith alone, scripture alone, grace alone -- which is funny anyway, because how can it be three things, and each of them "alone"?), because I think that's a cockeyed way to look at the historic Christian faith, (getting the impression I'm spending too much time thinking lately? Look at the length of this sentence! Diagram it if you dare!)
and then ...
I realized where I'd heard it before. It's St. Augustine.
In necessariis unitas,
In dubiis libertas,
In omnibus autem caritas,
In essentials unity,
In doubtful things liberty,
In all things love.
Someone asked me the question last week -- what would I do at lunch with an old friend who didn't know I wasn't eating meat on Wednesdays? (It's Lent - traditional practice is that every Wednesday in Lent is a mini-Ash Wednesday.) My answer was that it's charity first. I'm not allowed to use my religion as an excuse to be rude. So I got to thinking about this shift in my head (and conversations!) over the last decade, and I realized that this is enormous.
We live in a land and an era where the slogan, placard, party, club, and group titles are terrifically important to us. (I think this might be because we're a mash of all kinds of heritages, and so we seek our "tribe.") We also revere The Sale. I feel good about my group if I can sell you on it. Talk you into joining me. (A whole nation of pyramid schemers - that's what it seems like sometimes.) If I can show you enough good reasons, you won't have any choice but to agree with me and join me.
The land of pyramid sales is not actually enough of the world to be functional, though. In the end, there are all kinds of people, and there's no amount of convincing demagogues who will ever be able to change that. The population of humans is, in the end, less of a herd animal than that. Tribe we need. Cult, not so much.
I've also learned that nobody - ever - not ever one time - was argued into faith. Faith isn't ever a matter of argument. It's a matter of choice and obedience and will - stuff much sturdier in the end than mere "reasons" or just being "right" about things. Humans can't live on reasons alone.
It's charity first. That's the rule in historic Christendom, errors to the contrary, both large and small, notwithstanding. Charity first. Take your limited understanding, feeble strength, and puny needs for validation off of it, and just be nice. That's really what it more often boils down to.
So I start to figure out how to say that in something more intriguing than English, and I hunt and hunt and bother my husband at work, and then I realize it. That's the voice of Augustine whispering in my ear - by way of a Sunday School teacher named Mrs. Needham.
She gave it to us as a class of seventeen year old girls.
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all thing, charity.
Influenced by the Greats - Saint Augustine and Mrs. Needham.