practice what you preach

“Most good things have been said far too often—they just need to be lived.”  –Shane Claiborne

It’s been bugging me for a long time, actually. But it has taken that long for me to give voice to what the ‘it’ is that has actually been nagging at me.

I remember having the conversation out loud for the first time, about ten years ago. I say out loud because it had been rolling around in my head before then.

shoes“What happens next?” I remember asking a friend of mine, in the midst of a conversation. Upon seeing his blank stare at the question I realized a bit more explanation might be helpful.

“I mean, so much of what you hear in sermons is all about what you ought to believe or ought to be doing—but when you get there, then what? It feels as though so much of preaching is about convincing—once I’m convinced, then what?” Still the blank look. Clearly the question had some more percolating to do.

About three years ago I ran into the quote from Shane Claiborne. Most good things have been said far too often—they just need to be lived.  Exactly.

I used to have this problem—I’m getting better at it, though not entirely cured—that I’d go to the library and check out a stack of books. I would be excited at the prospect of reading them. Sometimes I needed a bag to put them in, there were so many. But inevitably, the two weeks or, if I renewed them, the four weeks would come and I would have not even made a dent in the stack.

The same basic premise gets played out in other areas—if I have new running shoes, then I’ll actually start running again. As a teenager very involved in my church’s youth group, I reasoned that if I had a new Bible with cool maps in the back and various study notes, then I’d actually read it regularly.

Around the same time as the ‘what next’ conversation I remember telling my therapist that I thought it would be good for me to run a marathon because I felt as though I lacked self-discipline. She looked at my (then) workaholic, driven, over-achiever-self sitting there on her couch and gave me a blank stare not unlike my friend’s.

What I tried to explain to her was that the thought of setting out upon a goal that could not be accomplished easily or overnight, but had a clear destination and proscribed route to get there, was very compelling to that part of me that continued to ask, “What next?” and “Is there something more?” It was tangible, definable, and required me to act—and not just think—bit by bit, if I were to be actually run all 26.2 miles.

Recently I was on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with a friend and a friend of hers. Over the course of the seven days we spent many hours in silence as we hiked over passes and walked through valleys.  One day on the way back from a 14 mile day hike I asked Katy, whom I had just met at the beginning of the trip, about the yoga practice she had made reference to earlier in the week.

“I’ve been practicing now for seven years,” she said. Over the course of the next five miles she shared what her practice meant to her, the basic tenants of practicing yoga, and the fact that she had even moved to a new apartment to be closer to the yoga studio. Though as a schoolteacher she does not have a lot of extra income, she’s been on multiple yoga retreats to continue to refine her practice.

“That’s what’s missing,” I thought to myself. That’s the link between the ‘what next’ and the Shane Claiborne quote, the library books checked out but never read, and the disciplined plan of the marathon—the actual practice of a faith that for me had for most of my life been relegated to the realm of belief. That was what I had been longing for, what I couldn’t find a language to express, but that I sensed I was missing.

But what might that look like? What would an embodied, practiced faith, do differently?

It was not that I thought the Christian church lacked in the area of practices—I remember enough from my Church History courses in seminary to be familiar with the desert fathers or monastics who separated from life in order to devote themselves to the practice of their faith.

But what about now? What about those of us who choose, intentionally, to remain a part of the world around us? What about regular, normal, day-to-day life? What about the time that happens outside of the four walls of the church, that happens in between ‘spiritual retreats’ in the normal messiness of life?

In the midst of this wondering I happened upon a new book, Finding Our Way Again, by pastor and author Brian McLaren. Though I’m an avid reader of McLaren’s work, I had no idea about this book.  The subtitle “the return of the ancient practices” made me realize that perhaps I’m not the only one that’s been asking these type of questions.

In a move reminiscent of the stack of library books and the study Bibles choc-full of colorful maps, I ordered the book on the spot.  I’m hoping that when Amazon.com delivers ‘Finding Our Way Again’ in 5-7 working days that perhaps I’ll find some of the answers I’ve been looking for over the past ten years.  Though, I’m wondering if the answer I’m seeking might just need to be lived.

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2 responses to “practice what you preach

  1. What makes you think you’re not already living out your faith? Don’t discount your time at Starbucks talking with a weary soul, or teaching kids photography, trips to Gaza, wine with us 🙂 I don’t think B,McLaren’s book will give you any new answer you don’t know or praxis you are not living. Save the $, though I like his books.

  2. That Mike Mudgett- he is a wise man. Preach, brother!

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