“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thermostats vs. Thermometers

In the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, July 24, 2011, Cornell West said,  "Be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it."

(image credit.)
That idea lodged in my brain: be a thermostat, not a thermometer. 

Another way to say this might be, "Awaken! Listen to that still small voice from within (or without). Listen to the cries of longing and suffering around (and within you), and discover where your great gladness meets the world's great need, and then act and move in the world in a new way."

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

Maybe Buddha was a "thermostat." Or Jesus. Or Ghandi. Or Susan B. Anthony. Or your mother, minister, or mentor. Someone you respected, listened to, even followed; someone who shaped their environment in positive, life affirming ways, and articulated a dream of how things could be. They weren't perfect, but you knew where they stood and they stood on the side of love.

Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

Seems to me that "thermostats" are grounded in some sort of practice or spiritual discipline; they have a vision of the beloved community, a sense of the common good, a thirst for justice, and they truly love their neighbors as themselves. Thermostats can cut through the noise of the culture, the nonsense that passes as truth, and point toward something bigger, a deeper reality. 

We live in a thermometer culture (i.e., What's trending/trendy right now? What ways are the opinion winds blowing? How much of our lives are echo chambered off from the rest of reality?) We live in a thermometer culture which is why faith communities matter. Faith communities are one of the places where, through worship and small group participation, through serving, learning, justice making, giving, receiving, and growing, we might come to see ourselves as thermostats - instruments - called to help shape a new narrative/a new reality of inclusion, hospitality, love, and interdependence.  

(Photo credit)
Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.      


Unitarian Universalist lady said...

What an interesting way to put an issue I struggle with. Have I ever been a thermostat? I believe I was one when I was a co-founder of a UU church in Wisconsin. Now I am just a thermometer trying to figure out how to be a thermostat again.

TheOtherJN said...

Hahaha this is a neat and strangely effective metaphor. Another neat philosophical saying.