Archive for Saturday, May 8, 2010

Faith Forum: Do actions speak louder than words in a religious context?

May 8, 2010


Judy Roitman, guiding teacher, Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:

In Buddhism there are various levels of precepts. Of the first 10 precepts, four are about speech. Within the precepts ceremony, we additionally repent the grave offenses of vain speech, abusive speech, hypocritical speech. In the Al Chet, the Jewish group confessional repeated many times on Yom Kippur, about 30 percent of the sins confessed are about speech. Words are actions, with consequences potentially as grave as murder.

Everything we do is action, even things we think of as non-action, things like sleeping, watching TV, lying on a beach. And all of our actions speak loudly. We like to pretend we’re this kind of person or that kind of person, that we can put on a front and get away with it, but each moment of our lives our actions proclaim who we really are. Other people might or might not notice. That’s not the point. Each moment of your life reveals who you are. You can’t help it. That’s just how it is.

Right now the media is filled with stories of predator priests, whose homilies engender trust, and whose molestations betray that trust. So it’s only fair to end with Mother Theresa. She had a mystical vision of union with Christ when she was young, but the vision faded, and for the rest of her life she was assailed by doubts of her own worthiness. The remarkable thing is that this didn’t stop her. The sick were still sick, and they still needed her. She felt that she had lost God’s grace, but she wasn’t doing this work to impress God or anyone else. She did it because it needed to be done. Her work spoke so loudly because speaking loudly wasn’t what it was about.

—Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at

The Rev. Jill Jarvis, minister, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road:

Religion functions as a powerful force in the world in two ways. It can serve as a counter to the life-negating aspects of the common culture, lifting up a vision of a better world, reminding us that we too often act in ways that harm one another. Religion can keep us grounded in a sense of spirituality that gives meaning to our lives, leads us toward wholeness and inspires compassion towards others as well as ourselves.

But religion can, and too often does, function as a support for — rather than a critic of — the powerful status quo. Religious leaders can ground their calls for intolerance, violence, greed and tribalism, in religious doctrine. We humans are then able to self-righteously feel “religious,” even as we brutalize each other and our planet while doing great harm to our own souls.

When the focus of religion is a creed, a set of beliefs about ultimate truth or cosmology based on others’ revelation, it serves to divide people rather than bring them together (the root word of “religion” means “to bind back together.”) If the primary or even sole purpose of religion is to prepare for another world (a world that no human can be certain exists), then the pleasures and struggles of this lifetime are lived only in that context.

Of this, we can be certain: We humans are all in this together. We share a common source and a common destiny. If religion is truly to bind us back together, it must call us to an ethic of solidarity with each other and the rest of nature. Whatever our words or our beliefs, if they cause us to act toward ourselves and each other with a consciousness of solidarity, they are indeed religious. When our words serve only to divide us (saved/unsaved; believers/nonbelievers; us/them), they distort the meaning and purpose of religion.

— Send e-mail to Jill Jarvis at


equalaccessprivacy 8 years ago

You have to walk your talk;actions and words must be in harmony. Spirituality, when it involves doing our best to treat others like children of God, ultimately exists in the eye of beholder. Both actions and words can cause misunderstanding and are equally subject to misinterpretation and misrepresentation.

Ego has no place in any religious context: we cannot be sanctimonious and pretend to serve God and our fellows when we are actually just preening and flattering our own do-gooder self-images. Too much "service" to God and our fellows occurs in this context--scripting other people to play secondary roles in our own personal, self-aggrandizing drama:" I'm here to help others; what the others are here for I don't know"-- a paradox famous to social- worker types .

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."

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