Free and Responsible

Priestly StatueRev. David writes,

It’s a basic principle: we are a people who believe in “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Our tradition explicitly names as a source “the guidance of reason and the results of science.”

Not “truthiness.” Not “post-truth.” The one statue in our building is Joseph Priestly, over the door, a Unitarian and a scientist, discoverer of Oxygen.

But just having the right analysis, the right understanding, won’t do anything. Don’t get me wrong, it feels *great* to know you’re right and the other person is wrong. It feels terrific to point at the tv and say “that guy is an idiot.” But self-satisfaction is a cheap substitute for action. This is a trap to keep you stuck in your head, and to keep the status quo in place

We should recognize this trap, because it is a very old one.

In a letter gathered in the New Testament, an early Christian who calls himself James writes to the scattered groups of Jesus followers:

“What good is it my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them: “go in peace. Keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

There’s 2000 years of theological arguments over just what that means. But I want to sidestep all that and suggest, very simply, that James is saying nothing that goes on inside your head matters unless it is connected to your hands.

James is saying: if you have the right beliefs, the right thinking, the right kind heart, but don’t *act* on them, what good is it?

Let me modernize it:

What good is it my brothers and sisters, if an unarmed Black man is killed by the police, and one of you says “Black Lives Matter,” — and yet you do not call your alderman, write your mayor, show up for community meetings, speak out to your ignorant relatives? So your best thinking, if not made real in the world, is dead.


What good is it my brothers and sisters, if our president bars the door to refugees, and one of you says “this country is built and rebuilt by refugees and immigrants” – and yet you do not protest, do not ask you employer to make a statement, do not call your governor to urge your state protest, do not support groups like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights? So your best thinking, if not made real in the world, is dead.

That’s a hard charge to lay on you.

It’s one I don’t live up to on a regular basis. It is one of the central tensions of our faith: that we hold to values we continually fall short of, but still are held by them, working for them, accountable to make them real.