Practice what you preach

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I sometimes ponder why I place such value on action and deeds and how we live our lives as opposed to words, belief and feelings. It’s an odd position for an ordained minister to take. The Bible is conflicted on this topic. In the Bible is the apparent contradiction between Paul and James. In Romans, 5:1-2, Paul writes, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God." James seems to say just the opposite, "You see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone… So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

To me there is no contradiction. Faith is the result of an understanding about what God is about in our world, a narrative if you will. That is why story-telling and theology are linked so strongly for many of us. To understand the deeper purposes of God one must go to the stories of Creation, to the story of Moses and the emancipation of the Israelites, to the story of the Incarnation, to the story of the crucifixion and resurrection, to the story of the households of faith. Each of these stories reveals something very basic about the identity and purpose of God. I have faith in that God because I can connect this source of the Divine to my worldly life, to the lives of my sisters and brothers in this life, in the past, present and future.

But to know this God, my God, is to act in accordance with God’s vision and purpose. How can it be otherwise? Thus if our theology is right, our actions will be right. Of course one can do right actions for bad purposes (to be accepted, to gain favour, for reasons of reciprocity), this happens all the time. And there can be people who seemingly believe in all the right things but offer no action (it’s all about me). But life has a way of revealing these contradictions, to ourselves and to those around us. If we are attentive to these truth-tellers we can move in a more holistic direction. A person who is wise and centred will live within the covenant grounded in narrative-theology and express that faith with actions that make a holy difference.

In my youth, in my finding of faith and in my ordained ministry the greatest barrier to persons embracing or being open to a life of Christian faith is this disconnect between what we profess to believe and how we live. Call it hypocrisy or moral indifference or what I prefer to name it “it’s all about me” the result is the same, seekers look at the church and ask, “is that what it’s really all about?” I concur. Thus in my walk with God and the Spirit I have attempted to be “real” about the challenges, the complexities (no easy answers), what I learn from others (it is important to listen to people who believe differently than me), and to demonstrate whenever possible how my faith becomes an active agent in my life.

Of course I have blind spots. I lack patience with people who focus exclusively on themselves to the detriment of others, I have no little patience for drama I avoid it so much I sometimes miss important opportunities for growth and ministry (though in my defense there are a lot of people who seem to love these opportunities) and I tend to look for engagement where I can make an impact in a relatively immediate way. All of these shortcomings are part and parcel of a human character not filled with much patience. Yet the irony, and this contradiction is one I ponder some, is that I can give so much time to people the rest of society largely ignores. The hours and days, weeks and years of relationship I offer to people whom our world shuns is nothing to be sneezed at. That does not seem like the character of an impatient man! But in groups and communities my patience is noticeably shorter.

Most of all I tire and lament the type of Christianity that is long on sentimentality, soothing words of comfort, and excess amounts of advice based exclusively on personal experience, in a word, “piety”. Pious Christians, more than another other type of believer, rub me the wrong way. Throughout history we can all witnessed the need for engagement only to see our sisters and brothers in faith content to fall back on their personal world, personal relationships and personal piety. My desire is to model a different way. And in these cynical times as regard to church this effort is not without its virtue.