Book review/recommendation

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?

5 thoughts on “Book review/recommendation

  1. Morphea

    Nothing profound from this little brain, unfortunately, except: Oh, wow. This sounds so RIGHT to me. I’m gonna get that book.
    Here’s the thing – this really blew MY particular head wide open because of the fact that I attend a church with frightening regularity, sing in the choir, take the sacraments, close my eyes during prayer and even feel something spiritual from time to time. Even though I [getting really honest now - please don't take offense] do not identify very well with the modern Christian church (except Episcopalianism [smile] – at least those that don’t have their knickers in a bunch about the gay bishop that got ordained, that is), don’t believe many of the things I used to think were essential to claiming the Christian faith (we’re even talking Nicene Creed stuff here – gasp), and kind of don’t like what Christianity has become in oh, say, the last 1500 years or so.
    And yet. Ms. Hahn and Aly say that might not be as big of an ideological problem as I thought. Much to think about. Quite a wonderful thought, really, for me.

  2. Doug

    I wonder what would be included on a list or “practices” if we were trying to describe what a Christian does; that is to say how does one “practice” this faith.
    It is interesting to me how some people will describe themselves as “non-practicing” they might say I am a non practicing Jew or Roman Catholic. I suspect they are thinking of the rites and sacraments when they say that.
    According to a study I just read the number of American that are not affiliated with any religion has nearly doubled in that last 15 years while at the same time the number who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” has increased by about a third.
    I am intrigued by the idea of practice. Is a M,D. who is not practicing medicine a doctor?
    Some faith groups make so much of believing the right things that the “practice” of their faith is only a matter of holding to certain propositions. Evangelicals, for instance want to make sure a person believes the right things about Jesus before they are willing to call that person Christian. They even call those who are in their group “believers”. While I am not desputing the value or importance of belief I wonder how it relates to practice.

  3. michael lee

    I say we put James and Paul in a locked cage and let them duke it out.
    “Grace by faith alone!”
    “Faith without praxis is dead!”

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  5. june

    Just read this for the first time (thanks to 3 FTA) and am marveling at:
    1) that the main reason I didn’t read it in 2005 was that I didn’t know what a blog was or who Mike was and
    2) at the three vastly different responses this post elicited and
    3) at how much I miss Aly writing on the blog.

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