Who are we on the inside?

Published 12:08 pm Saturday, August 2, 2014

by Andrew Book

I expect that we have all heard it said at least once, usually when we have failed to be the person we wanted to be. The response goes something like this: “Don’t worry; it’s who you are on the inside that matters.” The saying is supposed to make us feel better about the way we just failed, but I’m not sure it always works.

The other perspective about our identity is one that Batman fans know well. Rachel Dawes (Bruce Wayne’s [aka Batman] childhood friend and longtime crush) expresses it well in the movie “Batman Begins” when she sees Bruce after he has been swimming in the hotel fountain with a couple of supermodels. Rachel says this: “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”

So, which is it?

Is it what we are underneath that matters? Or, is it what we do that defines us?

I have a confession to make: I am an aspiring environmentalist. I believe that the Bible teaches in the first few chapters of Genesis that God placed us on this earth to be stewards and caretakers of God’s creation. I am an Eagle Scout, a college biology and microbiology major, and a tree hugger (Literally! One of my favorite pictures of myself is a picture of me hugging one of the largest trees on earth in California’s Sequoia National Park).

I am an environmentalist on the inside. I think a lot about how great it would be to get away from using fossil fuels (as I drive wherever I need to go). I envision using less and less plastic (as I haul a trashcan load of shrink wrap and plastic packaging to the street), and aspire to use less energy to reduce my impact on the world (as I enter my comfortably air conditioned home filled with all the power-sucking appliances I have come to expect). In fact, the more I think about it, the less my goal of being an environmentalist has actually shaped my life. In fact, many days the biggest impact my environmentalist leanings has on my day is that I toss the empty milk jug into the recycling can instead of the trash can!

The thing is, when I am honest with myself, I realize that I am really more interested in my convenience and comfort and any of a number of priorities in my life than I am interested in how my 120 miles of driving today impacted the environment. I am not proud to say it, but it turns out that on the inside I am not really an environmentalist either. I like the idea in theory, but if it is going to inconvenience me or make me uncomfortable or challenge something else I value, my environmentalism tends to lose out.

I expect this dynamic is true for most of us. Those things that are truly important to us are the things we act out in our lives. The 120 miles of driving I just mentioned combined with most of the hours in this day (and even missing the deadline for this column!) were all tied to a true priority in my life: my children’s health. Their health is a priority and you can see that easily by how I spent my day today. The idea that there is something within us that is our “true selves” that is underneath the way we act turns out to be a bit of a fallacy. The things that truly matter to us are those things that we act on!

This reality is just as true in the life of faith as it is in the rest of life. The Biblical book of James says it well: “Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (from The Message paraphrase of James 2). Saying we are something “on the inside” if it doesn’t shape our lives is “outrageous nonsense,” and it is time that we recognized it. Who you are on the inside matters, but who you are on the inside is what has shaped the way you live!

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are focusing on the idea of finding balance in our priorities in life during August. We are worshipping with a weekly schedule as part of our bulletin to help us think about how we get who we are on the “outside” to line up with who we are on the “inside.” We would love to have you join us in worship if you are like the rest of us and struggle to get your priorities into your life.

Wherever you spend your Sunday, I hope you will take a hard look at the way you live your life this week and recognize that what is on the outside is rooted in who you are on the inside. It may be time for some changes!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or pastor@courtlandumcva.org.