September 27, 2018
Last Saturday turned out to be one of “those days” when I had to relearn one of our culture’s truths: fairly or unfairly, my actions are judged not by their underlying intentions but by their outcome.
The day began way early in the morning, even for me, when I engineered my escape from the residence in order to attend the Diocesan mandated Safe Church Workshop. I had to sneak out of the house because any sound at the front door would send Abby into LOUD protective mode nonstop barking. (And if she actually saw me leave and not either say “goodbye” or (better yet) take her along, her barking could “awaken the dead”” as they say. So I did sneak out (more or less). And upon my return later in the day, I was inundated with stories of how she was “off” all day. She was upset because I had disappeared. Usually I feed her breakfast, so breakfast was “wrong” for her. She was anxious all day. And she actually scolded me (loudly) when I came back home later that afternoon. Trying to make for a peaceful morning for all in the house ended up starting WWIII.
I use our “rock star” border collie (according to one of you – not me) as an example to show that whatever my good intentions had been, actions are judged by their outcome, not by the preceding intent. Ours is a culture that prides people’s intentions. We didn’t think of ourselves as gossiping; we were only sharing news. Too many folks could care less what a person in power actually does: they are very often concerned with protecting a powerful because of the greater good that person can do now in spite of the bad they may have allegedly done in the past. We saw that played out in the 90’s and we’re seeing it again today – political parties reversing roles and truths. Or again, there is, sadly, an abundance of ecclesiastical literature that reveals how in parishes (of all shapes, sizes and Christian denominations) the rude, back biting, and at times even abusive behavior of a parishioner will be excused because they “have such a good heart” and “they mean well.” Bring up this behavior, and there is a movement to kill the messenger.
Good Intentions ARE important! But so are the actual ACTIONS we end up performing. It simply is not enough to “mean well.” We are called to “do well.”
In the past few weeks, the second (New Testament) reading at the liturgy has been taken from the Letter of James. James reminds us that even believing orhaving faith without the proper works that give flesh to that faith is useless. My first pastor (boss) once told his very young and inexperienced assistant priest: do not judge people by what they say or what they intend. Make any assessment by what they do!
I totally messed up with Abby. I offer my mistake to you so that you may avoid my misstep.