From the get go, we’ve built Christ’s Pieces around a conviction: Christian practices matter.
As we’ve explored in Open Book, working through James Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, it’s not enough to be informed and have all your beliefs in order. Plenty of people believe right in the cognitive sense, but their lives are functionally unredeemed. Instead, we need to train, to discipline, to form our bodies. Only then will we be transformed. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 3 about “putting off” the old and “putting on” the resurrected life may come to mind.
What, then, are Christian practices?
Toying with dozens of definitions, here’s how we’ve characterised it for Christ’s Pieces.
Christian practices are
… rich and repetitive actions we do,
over time and often together,
which engage our senses and imagination,
reminding us of God’s presence
and aiming us at His Kingdom
Thus far we’ve experimented with scented oil, signing the cross to symbolise Christ’s full ownership of our lives. And, last week, we cut out hessian squares, representing the rough garb of St. Francis who traded down to find transformation. My hessian square sits in my wallet, on top of my visa card. Each time I open my wallet to spend, it reminds me to pray. “God, this money is yours. Help me live simply. What would you have me leverage this money for?” (Thus far it’s saved me a tidy sum, going for the standard latte over the coffee drinking bowl with scones on the side!)
But, let’s be honest. Practices are somewhat passé today. They’re inconvenient. They threaten my autonomy, training me by submitting to some higher rhythm. (Put your hand up if you put something aside this lent?) For Protestants, they raise flags of legalism, works righteousness, and that kind of hocus pocus reliance on ritual that went out with the Reformation.
At root, though, I suspect our reluctance to experiment with practices boils down to a chronological snobbery. They seem so old fashioned. Haven’t we moved past the dark ages of disciplining desire? Why not just be “free” and follow my feelings? Why constrain my worship to particular ways of being?
With all of this in mind, I was interested to see Q Ideas post this week’s conversation.
(Q Ideas is an American outfit of evangelicals, led by Gabe Lyons–author of both “UnChristian” and “The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World”. But, before you dismiss it, they’re asking the right questions, and are explicitly oriented to engaging culture rather than fleeing or taking it over for Christ. Their driving desire is to work from today’s most pressing questions to find common ground and ideas that truly serve the common good. So, perhaps worth a look.)
Here’s their conversation starter for Easter 2015:
Rather than steal their thunder, it may suffice to note that at each turn, they’re convinced that practices like gratitude, simplicity, Sabbath and rest, even solitude, silence and stillness, are *crucial* in a crazy world like ours. We have all the freedoms in the world, and yet we lack the forms which channel our energy toward liberation and wholeness.
We’re like modern artists more concerned with expressing ourselves than patiently sitting at the feet of a master and learning the artist’s way, imitating one brush stroke after another. Lacking any “rules” or bounds within which to paint a kingdom vision, we splash our immature selves onto the canvas, calling it “witness” and yet confusing an onlooking world.
Could it be that we need:
Less information, more transformation?
Less me, more we?
Less independence, more interdependence.?
And, perhaps, in our low commitment, novelty-addicted and somewhat narcissistic culture, we need
less flexibility, more love.
Perhaps practices are not so passé after all?
What “rituals” and “liturgies” do you lean on in your everyday? How do these bodily practices form habits that aim your heart toward God’s Kingdom?
Post away! I’m keen to hear about your experiments, so we might truly be a community of practice.