Or so the saying goes. I used to hear this phrase from my mother all the time, and while I agree with it to a certain extent, we have to remember that words matter too, and when we fail to look for the unspoken message found in the space between words and actions, then we run the risk of missing something potentially important. Unfortunately, the message that exists between word and action is tricky, complicated, and even for the person acting/speaking, often difficult to discern.
You're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about (it's okay if you are — you aren't alone as I'm letting this be more of a stream-of-consciousness post as it stands). As someone who does his best to be intentional with his words, I've often struggled to maintain a connection of integrity between my words and my actions or behaviors. I say one thing and do another. Or as the infamous Paul might put it, I do what I don't want to do and don't do what I want to do. There's a misfire between my words and my actions, between actions and desires.
Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny. — Ghandi
I spent this weekend at my fifth Gay Christian Network conference, which happened to be here in Chicago. I was able to catch up with old friends, make new ones, listen to touching stories, share sacred meals, and worship with some pretty fantastic, like-minded people. However, I also dealt with some depressive symptoms and coming to the realization that there are parts of my life I feel a strong need to change, or at least sit down and understand more holistically. Finally, in this morning's keynote session from the organization's executive director Justin Lee, I was brought face to face with a pericope that left me with some hard questions to ask of myself and how I live:
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us (I John 3:18-24 NRSV)
Not in word or speech, but in truth and action... if our hearts do not condemn us... by this we know that He abides in us...
I won't go into my own personal convictions here (at least not until my next therapy session), but I will say this: it's easy to say that I love my neighbor, my enemy, or anyone in my life I might consider "other," but actually making that love manifest is beyond difficult. I can't keep simply talking about emptiness and selflessness and justice unless the way I live my life starts showing signs of these things. Quite frankly, from my own glance in the proverbial mirror, I have a ways to go.
Thankfully, there's this little thing called grace (okay, so it's not little, but still...) Another speaker from this weekend, Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans, presented her keynote on the notion of grace. Put simply, grace is God's love making up for our shortcomings. It's God filling in the gaps, covering up the cracks, and most importantly, breaking down the walls. Grace isn't about the in-crowd vs. the outsiders. Grace offers an equal playing field and serves as a reminder of God's love for all. As Rachel said, "What makes the Gospel offensive isn't who it keeps out but who it lets in." The Good News isn't just inclusive — it's expansive, making room for all kinds of people, including the ones that we might not want to include.
So what about you? What part of you speaks louder: your words, or your life? If it's your words, what do they have to say? If it's your life, your actions, what is it that feeds you and nourishes you? Just as only I can address these questions for myself, only you can know where you stand right now. But can you imagine where actions and words, where truth and speech, are the same volume, the same message, the same song? Imagine that for a minute...
Right?!?! Yeah, I thought so too...