June 27, 2011
Practicing the Way of Jesus in the Messy Details of our Lives
Thanks to Mark Scandrette, author of Practicing the Way of Jesus, for this inside look at how he strives to integrate the teachings of Jesus into the details of his life.
So many people feel a pull toward a more embodied path for spiritual formation. But as one leader recently observed, "There is a lot of radical noise in the church today with little radical action." I wrote my latest book, Practicing the Way Of Jesus, to help address this gap between how we want to live and how we actually live. In the book, I suggest that followers of Jesus have always been formed best by taking tangible steps in solidarity with others, to live into a vision of life in the kingdom of God. I like to call these risks of obedience, "experiments," because we learn to integrate the teachings of Jesus into the details of our lives through creative trial and error. An easy way to get momentum is by inviting a friend into a short-term shared experiment.
Over the phone last week my friend Nate made an offhand comment about how his electronic communication devices were crowding out his awareness of God and attention to people. He said, "Its gotten out of hand when I reach for my device before kissing my wife good morning." Nate and I both spend a lot of time using communication technology in our work (smart phones, email, etc). These are compelling and useful devices for getting things done and staying connected; however, we've both noticed a tendency to be compulsive, jumping up to check email before having a few moments of prayer in the morning or replying to email or status updates at the breakfast table when we should be giving our full attention to those we love. We asked each other, "Why do we do struggle with this?" Partly its the little 'hit' you get when email arrives in the inbox. But we surmised that on a deeper level, it's because we have a fear of missing out or worrying that if we unplug we might lose some of our power to control what happens in the world.
How do the teachings of Jesus speak to these issues? He invites us to trust and not worry, to "welcome children" and to pay loving attention to the people nearest us. Nate and I decided to do a a seven-day experiment together to pursue these things, using principles of abstinence and engagement. We made a commitment to do the following each day: (1) engage face to face with another person and read something on paper before turning to our devices; (2) limit checking email to twice a day-- once in the morning and once in the late afternoon); (3) When going through text messages and emails, pause momentarily to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done..." for each person represented before hitting "reply" or "delete."
Nate and I both experienced dramatic shifts during the week. Clarifying boundaries between work and rest made us more available to our families. Pausing to pray for each person we messaged elevated the task of correspondence to a sacred appointment. And by adopting voluntary limits, we both felt less stressed and hurried. During the week, I struggled to pray mindfully before hitting "send," and once or twice Nate checked his email an extra time. But in general, we found it easy to keep these commitments because we were doing it together. We learned something tangible about what it looks like for us to practice the way of Jesus in the messy details of our lives.
For more on Mark and his other experiments in the way of Jesus, visit www.jesusdojo.com.