I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago. It was at a Father's Day bbq and my sister-in-law was updating me on the whereabouts and activities of some of her family members. One of her sisters has struggled with various chronic illnesses and, largely as a consequence of inactivity and frustration with her limitations, had put on quite a bit of weight. But then she get involved in some "new" eastern practices. I don't remember the name of the eastern system - but that doesn't matter. What I've been thinking about since that conversation is my sister-in-laws description of her sister's involvement.
Apparently, after just a few months, her sister had experienced an amazing transformation. Aha - that kind of language always heightens my interest! My sister-in-law went on to describe this "thing" - it involves some meditation but it's really a whole way of life. It affects EVERYTHING! Hm.
OK - so here's three other strands of thinking that converge at this point. First - last year I read a book by Bruxy Cavey called The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus. BTW - if you want an audio overview of the book - basically it's an mp3 file of Bruxy talking about the book at a book release party - go to http://www.theendofreligion.org/podcast/theendofreligion_bookrelease_128.mp3. The gist of it is that although people these days are getting very frustrated with Christianity as a RELIGION, something about the person of Jesus still intrigues them. So the question is, did Jesus ever really intend for us to reduce our practice of the things He taught to the system we now call Christianity? Have we somehow missed the forest for the trees? Is Christianity - the form that we have developed and defended - all there is?
The second strand is simply a quote someone brought to my attention just a month or so ago (sadly I'm not sure who brought it to my attention OR even who the original author of the quote is!). But the quote is this: "Jesus didn't come to make us Christians, but to make us fully human." Well - you can think about that - maybe until the proverbial cows come home! I think maybe it's a concise way of saying the same thing. And of course that reminds me of a book by Jean Vanier called Becoming Human. And, while I was checking to make sure I had that title right, I discovered that Jean Vanier and, another of my favorite authors, Stanley Hauerwas, have a new book (published October 2008) entitled Living Gently in a Violent World. Sounds good. But those were just sub-strands...
The third strand is a brief conversation I had just a few days ago with the 21 year old son of one of my best friends. I haven't seen him for a few years and he came for a visit. In the course of conversation, he made reference to the fact that he had decided when he was in grade 11 that he should check out Christianity for himself (having been raised in a home that is certainly not explicitly "Christian"). So, he went to youth group for 2 years and, since that didn't seem to lead to any prolonged commitment to Christianity - or, at least the institutional form - I'm assuming that he found it lacking in the kind of depth he was looking for.
So, those are the 3 strands that lead me to this thought: being a follower of Christ is NOT about accepting and perpetuating a system of beliefs and the practice of religious rituals. It IS - or ought to be - a way of life that affects everything. It's who we are, it's what we do, it's what we think, it's how we spend our money and our time and our talents, it's what we eat. But it's all this, not in some narrow, legalistic manner, but in absolute and total FREEDOM. To be a Christian isn't to be confined to a narrow set of beliefs and practices. It's to be free to grow and learn and love - to be fully human, as Jean Vanier puts it. The early Christians called it "the way". How sad that we, safe and sound in our sanctuaries, have often hidden "the way" from view and reduced Christianity to a mere "religion"!