These are words most of us in our postmodern, post-Christian, post-everything society do not want to entertain. Frankly, we’d all rather focus on, well, that which entertains. Many of us do. And, unfortunately, many churches do as well.
This is why I am thankful for Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. His works remind us of our handed-down-ness. We haven’t made up Christianity and the church. It has been handed down to us as a gift for us to receive. The cultural winds that blow and swirl around us are always tempered by the rootedness of our faith.
The good news is that God has already given us all that we need to enjoy the life we were made for in Jesus Christ. For every new sign of hope, there is ancient wisdom to help us interpret how a new thing can be rooted in God’s old, old story. For every fresh wind, there is a rudder to lead us on toward the beloved community of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
With this wisdom in mind, Wilson-Hartgrove takes us on a journey through his unconventional catechism. Rather than beginning with orthodoxy (beliefs), he aims at orthopraxy (practices) through asking a series of “Why?” questions. His hope is that through this trail of questions and embodied practices, we might reengage with the ancient story and “inspire hope in our time and ask what convictions undergird a way of life that makes such witness possible.” As he states, “This is a book about why. Why do people who follow Jesus do the things we do?”. The result is that the dividing wall between belief and practice will begin to crumble as we see orthodoxy and orthopraxy as one and the same: true belief is true practice.
The chapters flow from essential thought-provoking question to essential thought-provoking question. They are the following:
- Why We Eat Together
- Why We Fast
- Why We Make Promises
- Why it Matters Where We Live
- Why We Live Together
- Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
- Why We Share Good News
Each of these questions gets examined in real life. This book is not an idealistic utopian vision. Rather, it is a picture of the hope emanating from actual communities living actual life together.
It is messy.
It is difficult.
And yet it is hopeful.
It is hopeful because the accounts given take us beyond merely showing up on a Sunday morning. Notice: none of the questions dealt with have anything to do with our behaviors on Sunday mornings. At least not directly. What Wilson-Hartgrove is doing is bringing our attention to our collective life as the people of God and what it is that the Church has been doing since the time of Jesus. Is there a purpose behind this? What is he trying to point out to us? I’ll leave that to you once you read it.
It is also an “awakening of hope” due the very fact that these practices are actually being practiced by real people. For those of us who have wandered and wondered if there is truly more out there, this book opens up the imagination in a way that says, “You too can do this.” And, further, “You can do this with others. You were made to do this with others.” This is not another example of an individualistic pietism. It is subtitled “Why We Practice a Common Faith” because our faith is a community-creating one in which we share things in common. We are disciples who live under common disciplines.
Overall, I recommend this book to those seeking an embodied spirituality and faith, both those who have been within the Church for some time and those who haven’t or aren’t. The story out of which these practices flow is found on every page illuminating us of what and who it is that push us into these communal realities. The chapter “Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill” was especially poignant, challenging, and yet encouraging for me as I’ve grown up in the conservative Christian realm where being pro-life is a prerequisite, but a consistent ethic of non-violence is often an afterthought. Filtering his position through the resurrection of Jesus, he wonders if Jesus didn’t inaugurate a new way of life that dethrones violence as the answer. Did not Jesus image “a God who would rather die in love than guarantee justice by the threat of violence”? Tough questions with implications worth wrestling with.
The book didn’t come by itself. It’s partner is a series of videos brilliantly done by The Work of the People. Their work always results in a broadening and deepening of the imagination through both content and visual beauty. It is no different with the people and stories presented in this DVD. You will hear from ordinary people being and doing extraordinary things alongside others in the messiness of regular life. If you are tempted to get the book alone, do not. The DVD and book intertwine and bring out subtle yet profound aspects that each by itself cannot.
Get this book and video. Gather with others and engage with their material. Experiment with the practices. Embody them. I pray you find your community awakening hope.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.