practical christianity

beliefs divide practices unite

it’s been a wild and crazy week around here (i know, i know, i say that all the time) but honestly, the colorado flood has really made things even extra wacky. for the past 4 years the refuge has been gathering in an old grange hall, which is this sweet little space on the “other side of the railroad tracks” in broomfield, just north of denver. we knew we were moving soon, but we expected an easier transition. the basement of the hall was damaged in the flood, and it is not safe right now for any type of gathering.  yesterday a whole bunch of us put on masks and ran fans and cleared out our gear, putting it in storage until our new space is ready. then we met underneath a gazebo in a local park, ate some good food and enjoyed a sweet evening together. honestly, i love all of the craziness because the refuge has never been about a building. our community has always been about people & relationships. the next chapter of our story does include a little better hub for advocacy & community & hospitality & transformation and i am excited for what is ahead for the little mission that should, but it’s a great reminder that everything we do is about people being together. period.

and when it’s all said and done, that’s what i care most about.

i’ve written before about how i dislike labels and coonsider myself a christian mutt, but in a recent conversation the question came up  whether or not to consider me an evangelical because i sometimes can sound like one and sometimes seem so-far-from-it-that-they-don’t-know-quite-what-that-means.  i thought about the conversation for a while afterward and had this interesting thought that  i had never said so clearly before.  i told my friend, “the best way to view me is as a practical christian.”

because that’s what i am.  

a practical christian.

sure, beliefs matter and influence our action. there’s no doubt that orthodoxy catalyzes praxis. i don’t care about what i care about just because i read a few words in the Bible or heard some good things about Jesus and decided to stake my life on it.  however, i think that it’s much easier to spend tons of time and energy hashing out beliefs, aligning with others on beliefs, reading about beliefs, and making people sign statements about beliefs than it is to actively and practically live out a vibrant and tangible faith.

beliefs often divide.  practice usually unites.

i have many friends who are so done with believing certain things that used to really matter to them but still have a mustard seed of faith left when it comes to Jesus call to care for people, advocate for justice, cultivate hope, catalyze change, and stand alongside others in need in practical ways.

and mustard seeds can move mountains.

unfortunately, our measurements of what “counts” and what doesn’t in many circles has nothing to do with practice. what typically counts is what we believe and what our positions are.  that is what helps people know who’s in and who’s out.

and it’s leaving a whole lot of people disillusioned about christianity. sometimes including me.

honestly, if it weren’t for Jesus getting under my skin and wrecking something deep inside of me, along with the good people i know in real life and online who are subverting the system for the sake of the kingdom, i wouldn’t still be here.  you all have given me a lot of hope–not that the old system would change, but that new trees are being planted with seeds of freedom, diversity, and mystery. that a practical theology is enough.

it makes me think of what brennan manning says, “ragamuffins are simple, direct and honest. their speech is unaffected. they are slow to claim, “God told me…” as they make their way through the world, they bear wordless, prophetic witness.”  somewhere along the line he also said, “if you want to know what a person believes, watch what they do.”

i highly respect many people who love theology and dig spending a lot of time processing it. i know it has its place, but i will admit i have a hard time thinking that it’s what Jesus meant when he said, “i’m leaving, and now i am entrusting you to carry on what i’ve been doing.”  he seemed to focus on feeding, healing, restoring dignity, challenging the status quo, and smashing our addiction to the law.

i believe his call to a practical faith was the most earth-shattering of all.  

it was a call to love our neighbor, lay down our stones, make peace with our enemies, give up our stuff, sacrifice our lives, risk our ego, let go of control, and make ourselves vulnerable in ways that make us want to run for cover in a church that makes us sign a belief statement and never asks anything from us except to come, sit, sing, and write a check.

i also think if practical christianity was more valued, far less people would feel like their only hope for preserving their souls was to disconnect completely from anything-connected-to-his-name.  it would help faith shifters feel far less alone and far more valued.

don’t get me wrong, i’m not saying that there aren’t countless amazing evangelical-y christians who have a very practical, tangible faith doing wonderful work in all kinds of hard places.

i’m just saying that there are a lot of practical ragamuffin christians who aren’t part of typical churches or organizations and can’t align with a long list of beliefs who are deeply and wonderfully  dedicated to living out a simple and beautiful practical faith.  

this thought is still just forming.  i am sure there are so many who can cut this idea to shreds in a heartbeat with their theological scissors, and i can hear the din of the “but what about’s…” as i write these words.  but i will say that practical christianity gives me hope.  not just for me but for other fringers who care about the kingdom but are done signing long technical belief statements.  who believe in the wild ways of Jesus but are tired of defending their faith.  who love people not programs.

who believe that the most important thing isn’t what we believe but what we actually do. 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

19 Comments

  • Actually Kathy you are picking up on the sentiment of the people. We who thought we knew after the train wreck of Religion now just want to know Him and love His people. Those who have followed him from afar have moved farther away because of Christians loud mouthed divisive rhetoric followed by little action.
    The problem stems from being trained to disciple people to a doctrine not to a Person!
    Blessings on your work!
    Jose
    GodsLeader.com

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    • thanks so much for sharing. i really like this line: “the problem stems from being trained to disciple people to a doctrine not to a person.”

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  • “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”(James 2:26) We must have a biblically based faith, for sure, but we so much more need to put out faith in action…practical christianity, I love it and I think Jesus love it too 😉 Thanks Kathy.

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    • thanks, nancy. yes, our faith is what propels us to action, and faith is so much bigger than what many have made it to be. i appreciate your thoughts!

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  • Kathy – thank you for this. Such a thoughtful, fiery and helpful post. I appreciate your voice!

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  • “it was a call to love our neighbor, lay down our stones, make peace with our enemies, give up our stuff, sacrifice our lives, risk our ego, let go of control, and make ourselves vulnerable in ways that make us want to run for cover” <— <—— YES! YES! I want to go to there! Let me be a part of *that* kind of community! {well, except the vulnerable part. Eep.}
    I remember (secretly a skeptic, shhhh) thinking a long time ago in a mega-church that it is *so* great that we are talking about loving one another and laying down our lives for one another, but I am prettttty sure that the parking lot to get out of church is going to be a typical nightmare of anxious lunch goers fighting for right of way. The last will go first, ha.
    Being in our community is softening my sharp edges, whiiich doesn't feel good. But, the reward, a life of deep love and joy and courage and resilience! and more and more healing and bonding 🙂 is worth it. I would move all over again, *even* with a crystal ball. However, had I actually had one in my possession, I *might* have packed more humble pie.

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  • We do what we really believe. Therefore I don’t sit and sing. Jesus ain’t givin’ talks in no cathedral and asking for money to pay for his Mercedes. He’s out walkin’ among the people and I’m tryin’ to keep up with him.

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  • Love it Kathy.

    I had a cheeky grin to myself when you talked about people asking if you were an evangelical because you can sometimes sound like one and then sometimes seem so far away they don’t know what it means. At different times I”ve been called a fundamentalist and a wooly liberal. I find it helps to keep ’em guessing *wink*.

    What you are talking about with wrecking something inside of you and people you know in real life it did resonate also with something for me. I won’t share this time but maybe sometime in the future. What I will say is that I have been reflecting on what Brene Brown called having experiend a breakdown, sharing that ni front of 500 people and the video ending up on you tube, realising that her llife was over from that point. Meaning that the reason she got into research was to control and predict and that her research turned up that in order to have connection, compassion, love etc it meant being vulnerable. That for folks who are loving it just goes with the territory, for others it is excruciating to consider vulnerability, having been accustomed with being “armed up”.

    Of course by what she shared and what you are sharing what you are showing is that you have been learning and expereincing what Chirst taught about in order to have life you must lose your lives. And that if you keep your life you will lose it. Brene Brown as you prehaps already know as well as describing what she exprerienced as a beakdown, calls it a “spiritual awakening”.

    And a lot about church is about beliefs. For good reasons. Many people have been sincere in thinking through what it means to follow Christ and come up with various conclusions. Again, the system and structure isn’t necessarily bad. Systems are in place for good in principle. However systems are imperfect just as you, I, Brene Brown and the whole of humanity is too. So everyhing you say about a anything-connected-to-his-name carries this. We as individuls, systems, ideoligies, world views etc. To if we disconnect fomr these we diconnect fomr community, and we disconnect from ourselves, so we are back to exercicising control, the irony being that we end up out of control by doing so through being disconnected. We may be free, powerful and independent but what’s the point of having that if at the same time we are confused, insecure, angry and afriad? So we work with what we have imperfectly accepting the imperfection and connected to the perfect love and the perfect power in Jesus. And what a beautiful journey it is! It encourages me to read what you share about The Rufuge Kathy. Every time I hear it, I have a little temptation inside me to come and visit some day. I am remebering what Barb shared about not thinking she could be loved and then knowing at The Refurge there is a place that she will always be loved by people. Isn’t this kind of thing what it is all about?

    I was at a men’s meeting on Saturday where I listend to someonspeak about a background of cage fighting, drugs, infidelity and then coming to n end of himself with a drug induces psychosis. And now in comeing to the Lord opens up his house to those addicted, is working on his marriage and I could just see light shining out of him. I was mover to tears listening and to joy! Just as you say Kathy, and as Jesus taught, you have to lose your life in order to have life.

    I don’t necessarily think that there is somethign wrong with aligning with beliefs so long as it in keeping with loving and being loved. And with issues that ar not core to faith that we hold ontl beliefs lightly and bear with one another in the difficulties we can have with differeing beliefs about secondary things that are not essential to faith in Jesus. The problem comes as we know when we are at war with each other over such secondary things and fail to be loving wiht each other at such times. We all do it or at least are tempted to and not without need to have compassion and discipline about what we think say and do at such times.

    But yes agree with you about the ragamuffins. Isn’t that what Jesus did with being rejected by religious people and connecting with the tax collector, the prostitute, the fisherman, the gentile women and women in general! And then being insulted by these same religious people in being called a “freind of sinners”? I bet he had a laugh to himself and a laugh with others at their expense. As if to say you think of thes people as “sinners”? Very well, just you let me show you what i can do with these so called sinners, these ones that call on God for mercy instead of thakning God they are not like others an boasting of thier religious observance. And thay and I wil have the last laugh! 🙂

    God Bless you Kathy – keep up the good work!

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    • PS what you are picking up on of course is what scripture atalks about with faith without works being a dead faith. But let’s not forget what Luther focusssed on elsewhere with scripture and the justification by faith. So beliefs go together with what they do. There is no dichotomy between faith and works.

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    • thanks adam. and yes, some of our core beliefs of course are what propel us toward action and it doesn’t come out of the sky or some random direction, but it’s what you call the “secondary” ones that get us into so much trouble, and there’s usually a long long list of them 🙂 i love brene brown’s work, too! peace to you!

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      • It certainly is very interesting with listening to the results tht Brene Brown’s reserch hs showed about connection, belonging, love creativity, honour, boundaries.

        Yeah those pesky scondary issues – usually connected along the lines of I know best and you need to believe what I believe! Oh we are a messed up bunch of humans sometimes!

        So all hail the core beliefs that put fire in our bellies for good *wink*.

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  • This is a great post, really resonating with where I am these days. Beautifully said.
    “Beliefs usually divide, practice usually unites.” That seems so true to me.

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