Have you ever waxed so eloquently on something, and while standing amazed at your passionate overflow, you're arrested by the question “who just said that?” It's a pretty common thing as many of us often speak passionately about a cause, an ideal or injustice only to discover that while we spoke well of it, in our lives, we don’t live it very well! The old adage "talk is cheap" often seems to be true. In fact, many of us have grown weary of the verbosity of the politicians and marketers - long on promises short on follow through.
I see this often in the church (Nah - not another knock against church). We have such great and wonderful ideals but often the follow-through can be so hard! When we talk about love, mercy and justice as such high ideals, and yet we seem to fall so short at times - we can find ourselves feeling like hypocrites. Guilty? Well, you are not alone! Many of us could lament with a first century Apostle when he wrote “Why is it I do the things I don’t want to do and don’t do the kinds of things I wish I did!” Henri Nouwen spoke to this when he wrote:
“We who offer spiritual leadership often find ourselves not living what we are preaching or teaching. It’s not easy to avoid hypocrisy completely because we find ourselves saying things larger than ourselves. I often call people to a life I am not fully able to live myself … I am learning that the best cure for hypocrisy is community. Hypocrisy is not so much the result of not living what I preach but much more of not confessing my inability to fully live up to my own words.”
I think there is a lot of health in Nouwen's statement. If nothing else, it should posture us in humility as we fumble to live out our values - sometimes doing better than others - the key being, however - that we actually try to live out our values - to live what we say we believe; or are we just acting out what we truly believe?
John Locke, a philosopher one said, “I have always thought the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.” I think he was accurate because good or bad - we live how we think! There is a great deal of freedom in this reality because it relieves us of the burden of having to pretend and hide behind a false piety and accept that though we wish we could live to a higher ideal - the truth is - we don’t - all the time. This gives us permission to step out none the less, to be deliberate in making incremental steps to bring the gulf separating what we say and what we do a little closer together.
The net result will be a more concrete demonstration of the ideals we hold as they take on life in our actions and leave the safe, though pious but irrelevant whiteboard of abstraction. If we say we value community, we begin the process of learning to live the value of community - even when it is difficult. If we value honesty and integrity - we are so even when it is unpopular and will personally cost us something. If we believe third world debt, the AIDS crisis, cancer, etc. are important causes, we learn to actively support them in concrete ways.
Thoughts can be powerful! They can light the world on fire (good or bad). Life-giving thoughts, beautiful thoughts can transform settings and situations only when they manifest beautiful, lovely actions.
Five B’s for Turning thoughts into Action
1. Be Generous. Things that matter will often cost us something - usually some comfort, some control and some time. If the value is worth holding, it is worth your generosity!
2. Be Courageous. Your ideas will be politely dismissed until your action begins to affect the situation. People with the most to lose can say and do some pretty nasty things. Values and ideas worth having are worth confronting bullies and standing for what you believe to be true and just! Be of good courage.
3. Be the Change. Gandhi said we need to become the change we want to see. This is easier said than done for often the greatest opposition to our ideas and values is us. Our egos, our selfishness.
4. Be Gentle with yourself. Understand any change is a process. If and when you make a mistake, get back up and start walking. The race isn’t lost when we fall down; it is lost when we fail to get back up! Progress is often several falls in the right direction!
5. Be Self Aware. To thine own self be true! Healthy self-awareness that is rooted in a healthy relationship with God is a safe place where we can be honest with ourselves. Where we can confront our fears, our rationalizing and the lies we sometimes tell ourselves. Far from a condemning voice, this is often the place of healthy authentic freedom.