Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Way of Being in the World

I’ve been thinking about how we live our Christian lives, and wondering what has been most helpful to me, this past year, in shaping a praxis that accurately reflects the good news of Christ.

First stop is a definition of “praxis.” There are spiritual disciplines, there are “things we should do.” But praxis is a word that has surfaced in Christian community lately that for me seems to go a bit deeper. In the world of education, praxis means “applying what you’ve learned,” or “putting theory into practice.”

In the world of faith, it’s been interpreted as “reflective active,” “living what you believe,” a combination of thought and action lived in community with others who share the same understanding and vision. N. T. Wright describes it as “a way of being in the world." The term praxis carries the idea of conversation lived out consistently with others, a shared understanding of God and active faith that informs the way we worship, work, and care for one another.

From what I can see, Christian praxis can only happen in conversation with others. So one question I’ve been asking of friends and family, in hopes of spurring conversation, is this: what book have you read recently that has most impacted the way you live your Christian life?

The question grew out of my own awareness that much of what I read rarely finds its way into practical application. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline impacted me strongly, and continues to shape the way I walk out my faith, but I first read that thirty years ago. What has impacted me in the decades since?

Another book that came to mind was Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. That prompted discussion of finances, budget, and visions for the future at a time when we and our friends were just starting careers, beginning families, thinking through what would matter for the years ahead.  Sider’s vision and practical application have had a lingering influence on our giving, tithing, planning, and financial values, but again, my husband Whitney and I read that about the same time we read Celebration of Discipline - in our very early twenties.

Two recent books that came to mind for me were worlds apart, yet helpful in praxis in ways that many books I read are not:

The Better World Shopping Guide, by Ellis Jones. Thoughtful friends gave me this as a gift. I received it as a loving challenge to live out more faithfully questions of justice and economics. It’s a guide for socially responsible shopping based on questions about how corporations treat employees, demonstrate care for the environment, contribute to justice or injustice. Its helped us to rethink how we spend our money, a reminder that every act has consequences and that small changes can have far-reaching impact.

Sabbath, by Dan Allender. I’ve mentioned this book before, but continue to be surprised at how Allender’s discussion of Sabbath has challenged much of what I think about work, time, schedules, goals, relationships, worry, rest. The practical application of Sabbath, I’m realizing, reaches into every corner of our lives. Sabbath is a way to set aside anxiety, disengage from the values of the world around us, and step into a place of quiet where God can begin to transform us from the inside out.

Other books suggested by those I’ve talked with:

Living Like Jesus. Another book by Ron Sider, this one challenges individuals to be conformed to Christ, while reminding the church to provide “a little picture of heaven,” in relationships, economics, politics, service, stewardship of the earth. I had forgotten how quietly practical this book was, and agreed immediately when it was suggested.

Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance, by Bob Buford. My husband Whitney recommended this one as a practical encouragement for men in mid-career to rethink their values, reaffirm identity in Christ, and use resources, opportunities, and experience strategically for the kingdom of God. I haven’t read it, but like the questions it raises: What am I really good at?  What is most important to me? What do I want to be remembered for? I find myself wondering if there’s a similar book for mid-career women.

Not the Religious Type, Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist, by Dave Schmelzer. Again, I haven’t read this, but plan to. Here’s part of a review on Amazon that caught my attention: “Schmelzer makes the case … that each of us has cultural baggage, Christian, secular or otherwise, that can be detrimental to following Jesus, but that rather than fighting over issues of one culture over and against another he argues simply for the experience of God wherever a person may be.” This sounds like an effective pastor’s personal story of his experience of living and sharing the gospel, a helpful demonstration of faith in action.

It’s been interesting to me how many of the people I asked about books and praxis had nothing that came to mind. I rephrased the question several times: What’s helped you in your Christian walk? What’s challenged you to change in some way? What might you give to someone wondering what it means to live as a Christian? What have you read in the last year / recently / that you remember that has made a difference in how you live?

I know there are good books out there. I’m assembling a list gleaned from my favorite book blog – - to share in my next blog post and to read in the year ahead.

But I'm still asking the question: any books you’ve read that have shaped your praxis, challenged your practice, brought new energy to your walk of faith?

If so, please share them! Praxis is a conversation.

I’ll close with one last suggestion offered by one of our daughters - Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, by Wendell Berry. I’ll quote most of it, since it’s a great reminder and challenge as we start a new year:

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.

Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus

that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
. . . Practice resurrection.