Tag Archives: James 2

A Spiritual Lesson from Acting 101

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
James 2:18 (NRSV)

I’ve always believed that acting is the creation of an authentically believable character from the inside out. It is not just the manipulation of body and voice but the understanding of internal need, intention, motivation and thought which then translates into words, movement, and action.

My theatre professor in college taught us that one of the most important tools for the actor is observation. Watch people. We were sent to the local mall to watch people. Really watch them. It’s the Sherlock method of beginning to understanding character. What do you deduce from what you can readily observe in people? What can you tell about that couples’ relationship by the way they walk four feet apart? What does it say about them as a couple when she’s carrying on a conversation but her eyes are always looking over his shoulder at the people walking by? What is that teenager trying to say when he walks with that pronounced strut? Look at that old man, shoulders hunched over as if he’s protecting his soul, shuffling slowly with his eyes glued to the floor as though he’s afraid to look anyone in the eye. What in life led him to walk like that?

James’ discussion of faith and works in today’s chapter has created firestorms of controversy among theologians throughout the centuries. Some have even suggested pitching James’ letter from the canon of scripture altogether. Paul teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it’s not of works. But James writes in today’s chapter that faith without works is worthless faith. So, which is it?

I’ve never been that stressed out about seeming contradiction. Following Jesus is a journey fraught with paradoxes. You have to die to live. You must lose in order to gain. You must give away to acquire. Faith and works is just another spiritual paradox in God’s economy. Theatre learned long ago the spiritual principle required for holding the tension. It’s called “Yes, and.” Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, and yes, faith without works is worthless faith.

James was simply tapping in to Acting 101 class. Watch yourself. Really watch yourself. I should observe myself as others do. What do my words say about me? What can someone deduce from the way I treat my employees, my family, or as James suggests, the poor and needy? My inner spiritual realities are evidenced in my outside behaviors. If I really believe what I say I believe, the internal faith will continually work itself out in my words, actions, and relationships.

This morning I am feeling convicted. The process of honest self observation is never comfortable. Though I’m quite sure I have blind spots, I know most of my major shortcomings acutely. A self-inventory leads me to uncomfortable conclusions. And, I think that’s also ultimately James’ point. Discomfort prompts change, which creates movement, which propels me further in the journey towards Life. Comfort prompts apathy, which creates stagnation, which eventually becomes death.

Faith or works?

Yes.

Chapter-a-Day James 2

Chocolate chip muffins baking in an oven
Image via Wikipedia

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. James 2:10 (NLT)

Years ago when my girls were young, I woke one morning and decided to make some muffins for their breakfast. I pulled down the box of muffin mix and dutifully mixed up the ingredients. By the time the girls were up and ready for breakfast I was pulling the delicious looking chocolate chip muffins from the oven. They took one bite of the warm breakfast treats…and looked like they were going to wretch. Curling up their noses and making faces of disgust, they both reached for their juice as if it was the anti-dote to saving them from an infusion of arsenic.

In the ensuing investigation, I discovered that I had mistaken the container of sea salt on the counter for granular sugar. Sure enough, the muffins tasted like a mouthful of dried sea water.

I followed the entire recipe to the letter. I made a mistake with one small ingredient. That one small mistake, however, tainted the entire batch of muffins. So it is with what God’s Message refers to as sin, and the point from today’s chapter. We can live morally perfect lives in every regard, but if we mess up once it’s like substituting sea salt for sugar in your chocolate chip muffins. One mistake taints the whole person and once you’ve baked the sea salt into the muffins, there’s no way to make them sweet again. There’s no going back. Sprinkling a little sugar on top cannot make the putrid muffin palatable.