I have a friend– now an earnest Christian– who occasionally tells the story of his spiritual journey. Though he was born into Christianity, he wasn’t very involved in church while he was growing up. In college, he engaged an exhaustive investigation of world religions, after which he joined a group of Tibetan Buddhists in his town. After several years, he came to a point of personal crisis in his life where he was not involved in Buddhism and did no meditation at all for over one year. At which point he declared that he was no longer Buddhist, because he wasn’t practicing. And, as he says, a Buddhist who is not a practicing Buddhist is not a Buddhist at all.
I remind myself of this story frequently, because it reminds me of something obvious that I nevertheless missed for most of my life: Christianity is a set of practices. Like the other Eastern religions of the time, Jesus intended to lead people into a life that put into practice his teachings. He called people to ‘follow’ him, even more in his deeds than in his words. He promised salvation not to those who gave ascent to his teachings, but to those who did what he said. In my years of pondering this, I’ve come to wish we posessed a term like ‘practicing Christian’ to underscore the importance of this oft-ignored truth.
Mark Scandrette’s new book Practicing the Way of Jesus put this issue front-and-center for me. In both his words and in the actions that he describes, Mark is a person who puts Jesus‘ teachings into practice. And in so doing, he sidesteps many of the trappings of the folk-religion that passes as Christianity, and many of the theological debates that inoculate us against the power for life transformation that Jesus offers. This book posits Jesus as more about ethics and worldview than theology and doctrine. It claims that Jesus was living in a way, rather than just reciting teaching. And that when he was teaching, Jesus was teaching things that were meant to be performed, rather than memorized or displayed in cross-stitch. It shows Jesus as a sage whose followers were doing just that– following him, in word and in action.