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Finding commitment, not just intention, in faith

By Walt Shelton
Special to the American-Statesman
Walt Shelton is a part-time professor at Baylor Law School and an environmental attorney in Austin.

Hope is a beautiful thing. Yet, what is “hope” in relation to an aspiration, vocation or dream way-of-life?

From a faith or meaningful quality of life perspective, what does it mean to hope for a life filled with loving, caring and compassionate behavior? Is it a possibility, something that might happen depending on circumstances, or more certain?

In her powerful and inspiringly raw memoir, "Bravey" (The Dial Press 2021), former Olympian, world class athlete, filmmaker and actress Alexi Pappas asks an important question: “Why not believe in potential?”

She asks this in her chapter titled “Love” in relation to dreams and goals in life. Our truly authentic objectives require “intention” and are “forever work[s] in progress," she writes. Pappas counsels wisely that “fear of failure is the surest way to fail…[because] you become fueled by desperation rather than passion.”

In the final chapter of her book titled “For Those who Dream,” Pappas makes an important distinction between commitment and interest: “Chasing a dream means giving a hundred percent of what you have every day.” That is true commitment, not mere interest, which can evaporate when the path toward a goal becomes challenging.

This wise framework fits so well for how we live daily. For me as a Christian, it relates to the priority of following the teachings and model of Jesus. Practically, that means consistently living a life of compassion, inclusivity, love, care, and the pursuit of justice for the poor and others who are oppressed or disadvantaged. Whether one is a Christian, a devotee of another faith tradition or simply a person highly motivated to live a life that leaves a positive footprint, consistently living these qualities is a “dream” and high calling.

We might all hope that we can consistently live in such a manner, but it does not just happen. We must make it happen, regardless of the difficulties, temporary setbacks and failures we experience along the way. It is a matter of our choice and intention, and beyond and above that, our hard work and all-out effort.

Distinguishing interest from absolute commitment is so important. The two are related and essentially sequential. Interest is a predecessor to commitment and potentially can give birth to it, but that is up to each person.

A faith perspective example is the difference between a creedal affirmation or confession of faith and actively practicing by living one’s faith. For a Christian, this would be the initial or periodic expression of belief or affirmation regarding Jesus as one’s Lord (intention) versus progressively engaging in a lifetime of hard work endeavoring to walk the difficult and narrow path of following Jesus as a disciple (commitment).

A more particular example from day-to-day living involves the pursuit of justice and equal treatment for all, especially those who are disadvantaged or subject to oppression in any way. Seeking justice is at the core of Jesus’ example and teachings related to loving others, as well as a priority of other legitimate faith traditions and generally seeking to be a good person. In our culture, where prejudice and other manifestations of injustice currently run rampant, we need more champions actively committed to justice.

Let’s suppose that a person is with friends within a particular group where someone outside the group is present. This person might look, talk or act differently from the others present. Someone in the group makes an inappropriate remark or tells an insensitive joke related to the difference. Another in the group feels a twinge of discomfort but stops short of reacting because no one was physically hurt or even pushed around.

Later, however, one-on-one with the victim of insensitivity, this person expresses deep regret, sincere disagreement with what happened, and apologizes to the target hurt by the remark. Such response shows a level of caring and good intention, but failure to speak up and denounce the derogatory treatment on the spot exemplifies a lack of commitment.

Can you imagine the transformation in our fractured and factious country if we had mandatory apolitical justice commitment vaccination shots with no one demanding the “freedom” to stay bigoted?

Things don’t work that way, even with the best of intentions. Instead, living the high road ethically and morally, including seeking justice, takes commitment to strenuous daily effort and serious re-commitment when we fall short.

Walt Shelton is an author, speaker, long-time professor at Baylor Law School, and environmental attorney in Austin. He leads discussion groups in association with The Church at Highland Park and wrote the book "The Daily Practice of Life: Practical Reflections Toward Meaningful Living (CrossLink Publishing 2020). waltshelton.com