Not long ago, I examined the relationship between actions and resulting attitudes. Today I'd like to look at the reverse- how thoughts and words can affect our actions and character.
You may or may not have heard by now about Michael Richard's (Kramer on Seinfeld) recent racist remarks during his standup comedy act. This morning I watched his apology (oddly bypassing the traditional Oprah confessional for Letterman) in which he said the racial epitets came from deep within himself and came bursting out when constant hecklers enraged him.
Later today I came across the following quote in an inflight magazine while en route to see my family for American Thanksgiving (sidebar: I personally feel that the Canadian practice of lumping Halloween and Thanksgiving into one month not only robs both holidays but also pushes the Christmas season to a premature beginning).
"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Choose your words, for they become actions.
Understand your actions, for they become habits.
Study your habits, for they will become your character.
Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny (source)."
This quote calls to mind a similar one from Jesus- Matthew 5:27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'[a] 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." His point here is that intent is what's most crucial. (more examples) We somewhat adhere to this idea. An example would be when the punishment for an accident (manslaughter) is less than premeditated killing (murder in the first degree).
So after adding all these elements up, I have to wonder, "Are we bad people with good habits or good people with bad habits?" (to paraphrase a great Shel Silverstein poem).
I would say that I have subscribed to the latter school of thought. This positive and sunny philosophy was shared by Anne Frank, who said "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."
However what I'm realizing now is that this thinking isn't in keeping with Biblical teachings. (Romans 3:22b-23)There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So although we're all equally bad, at least we are all equal. That's good, right? Yeah not so much. How often have we taken comfort in knowing that we aren't as screwed up or dysfunctional as our neighbour or some celebrity in the news (Michael Richards for example)? Seems kind of hypocritical now though, doesn't it?
Furthermore, how often have we Christians spouted the cliched axim to "love the sinner but hate the sin?" The author of Gay Theology Without Apology states that this mindset "avoids the real sin of preventing people to become fully human." Humans are imperfect. Perhaps instead of spending energy condemning the mistakes of others, we should take others "as is" like objects in a second-hand store. In the motto of a dear friend,"Don't hate, celebrate!"
At the end of the day, we are left grappling with the mind-boggling concept that, although we are all bastards, God loves us anyway (to paraphrase a line from What's So Amazing About Grace?). This is called grace- undeserved love, freely given to all. It completely goes against our human conditioned responses. And it's this very mystery of faith that's our hardest daily challenge. Don't worry if you sometimes fail, disappointing others, yourself or God. In the words of Ani DiFranco: "and i've got no illusions about you,and guess what?I never did. And when I said, When I said I'll take it, I meant, 'as is.'"