This week I re-read a book I got a couple years ago called In Search of Grace: A Journey Across America’s Landscape of Faith by Kristin Hahn. I highly recommend it: beautifully written, great storytelling, and a uniquely postmodern take on religious belief and practice by an unreligious, but spiritually hungry, young woman. For two years, she traveled around the US to meet with people of different faiths, but instead of just interviewing them, she actually practiced with them to experience the uniqueness of each tradition. We’re talking everything from going door-to-door with Mormon missionaries to attending the drive-in service at the Crystal Cathedral, from fasting for the entire month of Ramadan to spell-casting with neo-pagans. (I learned a lot about The Craft, something about which I previously knew next to nothing, outside of my deep and abiding devotion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most practicing pagans prefer to do rituals skyclad, which means “wearing nothing but the sky.” How awesome is that?? I had a vivid mental picture of 500 people sitting in the olive green pews at Ventura Missionary Church singing “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” stark naked, and was momentarily sad that it will never, ever happen.)
Here’s the thing that was so interesting (and pertinent to the “Christianity in a Postmodern World” conversation): it wasn’t enough for Hahn to read about, or even personally interview people from, different religious traditions. Her journey was one of experience. She didn’t want to “window shop” religions; she wanted to find God, and knew she couldn’t do it just by picking some random faith out of a “Really Good Religions of the World” compendium. She knew intuitively that practice is a (the?) vehicle to belief.
I think we in the Christian church have had this concept turned around for a long, long time. We’ve insisted that people sign off on our Very Important List of Christian Precepts before we allow them to take part in the practices through which we live out our belief in Jesus. (I know there are theological concerns with the Eucharist and baptism, but those aren’t necessarily the practices to which I’m referring. Though the Eucharist has some important possibilities as an inclusive and transforming community ritual that I think need to be explored.) I’m thinking we need to revisit our priorities and strategies when it comes to introducing people to following Jesus. Any thoughts?