Maurice Sendak, the late writer and illustrator of “Where the Wild Things Are,” often received mail from children who read his books. He attempted to personally thank each child by returning a quick note. Once a boy, named Jim, sent Sendak a card with a cute drawing of his own on it.
Sendak loved it and lingered over a response. Finally, he decided not to answer Jim with words alone, but also by drawing him a “Wild Thing” on a card. “Dear Jim, I loved your card,” he wrote, and signed, “Maurice.”
A few days later, Sendak got a response from Jim’s mother. She wrote, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” Sendak said, “That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
I take this as one of the finest examples of what genuine faith is. Yes, “faith comes by hearing the Word of God,” but that is only the beginning. Hearing is not enough. The words have to become a part of us, and be so integrated that it changes our actions. Simply, faith is not what one may say. It is what a person does.
The Apostle James, writing what would become the first stroke of Christian Scripture, said forthrightly, “Don’t just listen to God’s word. Do what it says. Unless faith produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” It is clear: Faith has credibility only so far as one’s good and whole actions.
We in the Protestant tradition are quite proud of our professed faith and commitment to words. “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it,” as the bumper sticker goes. But knowing and “believing” what has been “said” doesn’t mean much in and of itself, for one can’t crow about personal belief invoking the name of Jesus, without actually following the teachings of Jesus.
One can’t glorify greed, pronounce blessing on arrogance, turn away from injustice, be vengeful, hateful, and unmerciful, and expect to be taken seriously as a person with Jesus-shaped faith. One can’t be a sword-rattling war-monger, be easily angered and more easily offended, give free rein to every physical desire, and have “Christian” integrity.
Certainly, a Jesus-believer might shamelessly lie, cheat, cut corners, take advantage of others, and endlessly defend personal privilege, but a Jesus-doer cannot, for that one “must have the same attitude as Christ, who did not cling to his rights, but surrendered his privileges in humility.”
As said by Brennan Manning: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians; who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Thus, the only responsible reaction to hypocrisy is action, redeeming Jesus-like action that results from genuine faith getting down into our hearts and souls.