Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Actions and Intentions

When I was in the CoC, there was a big disconnect with reality regarding intentions, especially regarding how we can know whether they are good or bad. In fact, intentions weren't talked about a whole lot, it wasn't often acknowledged that there was a difference between a bad action and a bad intention. This disconnect with reality often caused us to judge intentions unfairly, assuming that a bad action automatically indicated a bad intention. The focus was always on the outside, and rarely on the inside.

An obvious example of this kind of thinking is apparent on a few recent threads on the Preacher's Files. Specifically in this thread about Mary, and this thread about priestly robes and garments.

In the first thread, when talking about prayers and the usual "vain repition" verse, it does not even occur to the participating CoC members to acknowledge the difference between repitition, and vain repitition. They assume that all repitition must necessarily be vain. Because of this, they automatically judge anyone who participates in any kind of repetitive prayer as praying in vain.

Another example in the same thread is the use of statues. Again, a statue may certainly be used in an idolatrous way, by bowing down to it, believing the statue itself is somehow a deity higher than God. This is what God condemns. But the fact that someone may have a statue in front of them while they pray does not necessarily mean that they are treating the statue itself as a deity, as an idol. Anyone who recognizes the intention as distinct from the action can see this easily. But if someone has been taught that the two are inextricably entertwined, it is much harder for them to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and assume good intentions. No matter how much I may personally try to convince them that I do not think the statue itself is higher than God, they will discount my words because they cannot separate an action from an intention.

In the second thread, there are several expressions of incredulity at the idea that a priest wearing robes could be for any other reason than to puff himself up, show that he is more holy, etc. Again, this shows a failure to separate actions from intentions. I wasn't even asking that they agree that robes are ok, only trying to explain how wearing robes doesn't necessarily mean someone is trying to draw attention to himself.

This unwillingness to separate actions from intentions is a dangerous thing, because it leads to the idea that we can always judge people's intentions strictly by their actions. This leads to the judgemental attitude that so many who leave the CoC have been hurt by. It also leads to a scary understanding of a God who does not distinguish between actions and intentions, so that people are left to fearfully hope they have not unintentionally sinned without realizing it. It also leads to the idea that as long as our actions are ok, as long as we are keeping up appearances, it must necessarily follow that our intentions, our heart, needs no work, which leads to more pride. It's a sad, downward spiral that many well-meaning CoC members don't even realize is happening. But I always hold out hope that they may come to see the difference between actions and intentions, and to see the importance of acknowledging that difference. This realization is what first led me to where I am today.


Cheryl said...

Re. repitition/vain repitition - one thing I thought of (have come to experience) is that a repetitive memorized prayer can be very useful when you neeeeeed to pray, but have no idea what to say/do. The spirit prays for us, yes (you know which verse I mean, hopefully), but the prayer that you repeat helps you stay in a prayerful state yourself - and can be very comforting. In other words, I don't think repetitive prayers are really done for God's benefit - he obviously heard us the first time - but rather, for our own benefit. VAIN repetition would nearly be the "Mom, I want a pony. Moooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmm, I wanna pony! Mommommomomomomom, I waaaaaaaaant a pooooooooooooooooony" type of thing (and heck, even that can actually be supported scripturally - the passage about the woman who would not stop bugging the judge?). I think the difference may be in whether or not the object of the prayer is in alignment with God's will. Praying repeatedly for that million dollar jackpot may not be wise (despite the fact that dang, would a million take care of some bills! Hee!).

Re. statues - If you're praying TO them, idolatry. If they're decorative/reminders of someone or something (stations of the cross, for instance), well, it can certainly LOOK like someone would be praying to the statue, but they aren't - any more than the preacher praying at the pulpit is praying TO the pulpit, or to the Bible in front of him, etc.

Re. robes - it's tradition. Yeah, bad word in CoC circles, I know, but we have our own form of it in the way many of the female members dress. Eeeeeeeeveryone used to wear robes. If someone walked around in the robes outside of services with the INTENT to draw attention, that's bad. But in a way, it can help the one wearing it to remember that they are always marked, and to watch every action, lest someone see them and judge the Church by their actions. The same charge could be made against any CoC member (in this case, female) who takes too much pride in showing her identity by flaunting her long hair and skirts. Pride in appearance is pride in appearance is pride in appearance, whether it's "I'm more holy" or "I'm richer" or "I'm more stylish". Outward dress does not the attitude dictate.

Unless one were to walk around with a flashing neon sign attached to their robes. ;)

Ma Beck said...

"When you pray, say "Our Father, who art in Heaven..."
Courtesy of Jesus.

Yes, I worship statues just like I worship my dead grandmother, whose photo is on my wall, and of whom I keep many reminders.

If wearing a cassock or vestments is prideful, what is wearing a 3-piece suit? An Armani dress? A wedding gown, for crying out loud.

Man. The arguments of the CoC (how ironic, the name) are weeeeak.
(Good post, by the way!)

Ma Beck said...

Oh, also, here's a fantastic article about prayer and repetition.

Tiber Jumper said...

it all comes down to the inability to understand the incarnational aspect of Christianity.
They are like the "Neanderthal Gnostics" Spirit Good, Flesh bad!
Once they are able to see God in the flesh and the things of material world, than it opens the door, but if it even looks Catholic from a distance, they reject without thinking any further. So sad they miss out on such grace

Stephanie said...

You've got it, Cheryl, since the CoC doesn't understand that there are different forms of prayer (especially meditative prayer) they simply denounce it as wrong and vain. I loved everything else you said too!

Ma beck, exactly!

TJ, yes, it all comes down to the fact that they completely miss the idea of incarnational Christianity. (Interestingly enough, unlike many protestants, they do believe baptism is regenerational, that it is necessary and actually does something...but that's where it stops with them!) It is certainly sad how they're missing out on all these wonderful things God gave us to use and grow in Him.

Sara said...

Amen Stephanie!

I am impressed by how gently and calmly you attempt to address the CoC misconceptions.

Stephanie said...

Aw, thanks Sara =)

Doug said...


Just as you said in your PM to me. We should not fear exactly how we worship (within reasonable limits....whatefer that means!) but realize that God accepts the intentions of our heart....hopefully good!