A Matter of Means and Ends

Where Do You Think You Are Going? 

Our destination was the  Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass. The question was how to get there.

My eyes were focused on the Google Map on my iPhone. Lisa was driving, having spent the summer in the Berkshires for many years. My wife Marsha  (a.k.a. Martha, but that’s another story) had the tourist map in her hands. I kept saying we’d never get there if we kept going the way we were. My wife kept insisting that it was straight ahead.

As is usually the case, she was correct. But I wasn’t a total doofus. Google had picked up an address for the Village in Lanesboro (we still don’t know what that was about) which was in exactly the opposite direction. We would have gotten somewhere, but it wouldn’t have been the place we wanted to be!

A Matter of Means and Ends

The point is that it’s not enough to simply know your destination. How you get there really matters. It’s what Martin Luther King, Jr., was talking about when he said:

“Ends are not cut off from means, because the means represents the ideal in the making…ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.”   (“A Testament of Hope,” p. 255)

The end toward which the Shakers were going was a marvelous vision of peace, harmony and total equality between men and women. Unfortunately, the means they chose to reach that goal included celibacy, which turned out to be neither an effective means of evangelism or longevity. The last Hancock Shaker moved out in the ‘60’s and died not long after. The means they chose undermined the end they sought.

Confusing means and ends can often have tragic consequences.

  • The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report was released this week. It confirmed what we already knew, namely, that the Bush/Cheney administration did, in fact, approve the use of torture under the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation.” They believed that the end or goal of national security justified using any means to accomplish it.
  • Acknowledging the complexity of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, it appears that both sides have one thing in common. They both believe that the end they seek justifies any means to accomplish it, even if, given the imbalance of power, it means the destruction of homes, schools, mosques and hospitals in Gaza and the death of over 1,500 (at latest count) Palestinians.

It’s important to know where you are going, but how you choose to get there makes a difference. That principle is just as true in our spiritual growth.

Going On To Perfection

For followers of Christ in the Methodist tradition, the end toward which we are moving is what Wesley called “Christian perfection.” It’s a life in which, by the grace of God, we become people who really love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and love others the way we have been loved by God.  There was nothing new about that goal.  What made the early Methodist unique was the methodical way in which they practiced the essential disciplines that make that life possible.

The means toward that end are the time-tested spiritual disciplines which we described in “A Disciple’s Path.”  The response to that resource has been beyond all of our expectations.  It’s already been used in over 4,000 congregations.  As a result,  we’re headed toward a February publication of “A Disciple’s Heart” which focuses on Wesley’s idea of Christian perfection. If that’s the destination, I need to get back to work on the means by which we get there!

Grace and peace



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1 thought on “A Matter of Means and Ends

  1. Carleen and I visited Hancock Shaker Village in the summer of 2007. Beautiful
    area in the Berkshires. Thank you for your wisdom on the “means and the end.”
    Shalom, Clyde Boyer

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