Practicing the Way of Jesus – by Mark Scandrette #3

This is the third and final post in a series from an interview with Mark Scandrette on his book Practicing the Way of Jesus.  Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE, a collective that invites people into integrative spiritual experiments and practices, (with an emphasis on creativity, community building and social action). Each year he hosts a series of projects, retreats and workshops that explore and inhabit various core themes in the way of Jesus. He lives with his wife and three high school aged children in an old Victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District.

A new way is possible

A new way is possible

In the second part of your book you talk about specific areas of experimenting – identity, purpose, security, community and freedom and peace.  This is pretty radical experimentation.  Can you share a few stories of how people have lived out experiments in these areas.

 

Asking the what if questions

Asking the what if questions

This book is full of stories and examples of what groups of people have actually done to take steps to practice the Way of Jesus. Our original group started out by imaginatively asking “what if questions.” What if instead of just talking about prayer we actually prayed?” This led to our first group silent prayer retreat. “What if instead of just learning about God’s heart for justice we take tangible steps to help affected people?” This led to intentional friendships with homeless friends, a neighborhood safety campaign and initiatives to address local human trafficking.

Or, “What if instead of just confessing our areas of brokenness we took steps to support each other in making positive changes?” This question led us to a shared practice called “Experiments in truth” in which we each commit to a radical life change over 40 days. Through this many of us discovered the power of taking vows and applying disciplines of abstinence and engagement to our persistent issues.  We discovered that in the solidarity of a group we could make life changes that we hadn’t been able to on our own.

Our neighbourhood matters - lets keep it clean

Our neighbourhood matters - lets keep it clean

In the opening chapter of the book I describe one of the most memorable experiments we’ve done. In response to Jesus instruction, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” a group of us decided to sell or give away half of our possessions and donate the proceeds to global poverty relief. That provocative step opened up deeper questions of heart motivation, spending patterns and the accumulation of debt. As a result we saw people in our group pay down their debts, learn to practice contentment and gratitude, live more simply and sustainably and experience great freedom and simplicity in their lives.

 

Our neighbourhood - what we do matters

Our neighbourhood - what we do matters

My challenge to readers is to think about a change you want to make in response to the vision of life Jesus offers and then ban together with others to take a practical step. Although some of the stories I share in the book might seem radical, the deeper point I’m trying to make is that we can each take a next step, even if its a baby step,  to practice the way of Jesus.

Say no to violence

Say no to violence

Practicing the Way of Jesus – An Interview with Mark Scandrette #2

This is the second post in a series from an interview with Mark Scandrette on his book Practicing the Way of Jesus.  Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE, a collective that invites people into integrative spiritual experiments and practices, (with an emphasis on creativity, community building and social action). Each year he hosts a series of projects, retreats and workshops that explore and inhabit various core themes in the way of Jesus. He lives with his wife and three high school aged children in an old Victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The be at Peace Project Portland

The be at Peace Project Portland

You talk a lot about experimenting with embodied faith.  What do you mean by that and why is it important?

Taking steps to experiment with how to embody our faith is important for several reasons. One, is that we have been invited into a transformed life– by the example, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus– into a new way to be human that is characterized by love. Second, transformation happens through taking risks of new action to cooperate with God’s grace. The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in you…” (Philippians 2:12-13)  I like to describe this process as an experiment because we are testing out what new actions and habits make us most available to the work of the spirit. A crisis I see in the church today is the wide gap between what we say we believe and how most of us actually live. We seem to have an insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding. We’ve operated for a long time under the misguided notion that right thinking by itself will lead to right and good living. But the reality of the kingdom of love, described by Jesus, has to be experienced to be understood– by taking practical steps of obedience and then reflecting on those outcomes.

 

Group practicing contemplative Prayer

Group practicing contemplative Prayer

It is clear, from the sermon on the Mount, that Jesus intended for us to put his teachings into practice (Matthew 7:24). To do this we can ask ourselves a few helpful questions:  “What is Jesus inviting us into?” “How do his instructions connect with the details of our lives and the situation and struggles of our society?” And, “what steps can we take to practically respond to his vision and instructions?” For most of us, it is easier to make a change or take a step of risk if we are able to do so in solidarity with at least one other person. Jesus sent his disciples out to experiment in groups of two and the radical love of the beloved community we read about in the book of Acts was a phenomenon of collective action. Historically, when people have wanted to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, they band together in groups of common action and practice to resist the dominant culture.

I think this book is tapping into a widely felt hunger for a way of life shaped by Jesus.   After two months, the book went into its second printing and has been translated into several other languages.  Almost every week I get an message from someone saying that they are organizing a group in their church or neighborhood to be a community of practice. A group in Portland decided to ban together to practice how to “Be at Peace” and as a result, one member of the group reconciled with his deeply wounded ex wife.” A group in Salt Lake city took steps over the summer to simplify their lives by working to give away half of their material possessions. A group in Oslo, Norway will be meeting for the first time this week to commit to a shared daily practice of stillness prayer for the next 30 days.

 

 

 

Practicing the Way of Jesus – An Interview with Mark Scandrette #1

Over the next few days I will post several parts of an interview with Mark Scandrette on his book Practicing the Way of Jesus.  Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE, a collective that invites people into integrative spiritual experiments and practices, (with an emphasis on creativity, community building and social action). Each year he hosts a series of projects, retreats and workshops that explore and inhabit various core themes in the way of Jesus. He lives with his wife and three high school aged children in an old Victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Practicing Way of Jesus

Practicing Way of Jesus - by Mark Scandrette

“One experience of embodied intentional practice can teach more than a year’s worth of Sunday School…. Wherever possible we need to create environments that include both good instruction and opportunities for shared action.”  What exactly do you mean by that and what are a couple of practical examples of how churches could live that out?

There was a time when most people lived and worked and worshipped in closer proximity to a particular place people. Due to mobility and meta economic forces, most of us today live in one place, work in another and worship or create community elsewhere. Our lives are increasingly fragmented. Because of this we have to become more intentional to close the gap between how we want to live and how we actually live. In this day and age I don’t think its enough to talk about living out God’s shalom. As one of friend so poignantly put it, “A lot of us are talking smack about the kingdom of God, but not doing jack.” To address the “disembodiment” of the modern age, we can invite one another into shared actions in response to gospel vision.  We need spaces and contexts where we can live out the teachings of Jesus together in the messy details of life– spaces more akin to a karate studio than a college lecture hall. I I think this is why we are seeing a renewed interest in a theology of place and the pursuit of neighborhood-based Christian community.

Once when I was a child, I watched my dad bring home a man who he found passed out in a snowy ditch. I saw my parents welcome him into our home and into our church community. He became my “uncle” Leroy and spent Sundays and holidays with our family. I saw the story of the good Samaritan lived out in front of me and I was invited to participate. I think that experience opened my expectations for what it might mean for me to embody the compassion of Christ. To caring on that legacy, we’ve taken our children along to feast with our homeless friends and they have helped us welcome vulnerable people into our home. This week my daughter is throwing a birthday party for one of her friends who is without parents– and I’d like to think that she does this quite naturally because of the way she has seen hospitality modeled and practiced in our family.

 

See you next month

See you next month

Congregations can encourage embodied faith by creating the expectation and opportunities for shared action and practices. A small group can be transformed into a place of practice by simply seeding the question, “What is one thing we can each do between now and the next time we meet to practice what we have explored together?” I know of congregations who, in response to global poverty, invited one another to eat on $2 a day for for a time, collecting the savings to give to organizations that address hunger or clean water. A church can invite its members into shared times of contemplative prayer or service at a local shelter or into a shared spiritual discipline. As a way to address the addictive tendencies of electronic media, many communities have done experiments with limiting or fasting from facebook or internet use for a period of time. I think the simplest way to get started with experiments like this is considering one step you would personally like to take to live in the Jesus way and invite one other person to take on that action or practice with you.

A community effort

A community effort