the emerging orthopraxy...

Somewhere along the way, those who both love God and still make a connection with the
Christian Church as an institution, began to forget the importance of orthopraxis. There has long been an internal debate about right belief vs. right behavior - at least since the Eastern split from Western Christianity in 1054 - but the challenge has never been resolved by rigid adherence to either spirituality. Small wonder that in the West, there is renewed interest in a sanitized orthopraxis: our surrender to the realm of abstract ideas and binary theology has created an anemic and self-centered Christian witness.

This began to be experienced in the late 1970's in the US first among the Jesus People movement and later within the inter-denominational phenomenon of the Charismatic revival. Not only did more and more Americans want to feel something of God's grace from the inside out, we wanted to know how to pray as well as nourish the Spirit within as Jesus promised. At roughly the same time, mainstream Protestants found themselves exploring retreat houses and monasteries in search of spiritual direction while Roman Catholic contemplatives began teaching the new/old way of Christian meditation. 

In the intervening thirty years:

+ More and more mainstream congregations have grown anxious and frantic - and many have closed their doors - fundamentally because they have refused to become centered in God's grace and discern a new path for ministry born of both action and contemplation. They are out of balance with an over-emphasis on self-directed action that causes them to rush and try to fix everything in isolation. The words of the ancient Hebrew prophet continue to resonate: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you would not. As a friend on Facebook posted yesterday: you are free to make whatever choice you wish about your life; but you are not free from the consequences of your choice.

A new industry within Christianity has emerged: some offer a critique while others a celebration of the current demise of the institutional Church, but all share a concern that something is not working. While there are conservative and progressive solutions to our collapse, at the heart of each perspective is an awareness of the importance of orthopraxis. As Richard Rohr has written: We don 't think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. Before new experiences, new thinking is difficult and rare. After a new experience, new thinking and behavior comes naturally and even becomes necessaryPope Francis is essentially celebrating a return to orthopraxis too as he teaches the world about the intimacy of justice and mercy. Psalm 85 puts it so well: Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky. 

+ And countless young people have simply given up - not on God or faith or spirituality - but on an institution that insists of separating orthodoxy from orthopraxis. I share their antipathy and experience it from within, too. Contemporary Americans are not at all willing to hear that "God's ways are not our ways." We don't like being told that if we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always got." And without being too much of a downer, I see a great deal of anxiety, stress, narcissism and fear. Hardly the fruit of the Holy Spirit, yes? The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  

This extended insight from Rohr gets it right:  What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead an emphasis upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), your consciousness will gradually change. 

Here at the Center for Action and Contemplation we want to emphasize the importance of praxis over theory, of orthopraxy over orthodoxy. We are not saying that theory and orthodoxy are not important; like Saint Francis, we feel that what is ours to do has more to do with our practical engagements, and the way we live our daily lives than making verbal assent to this or that idea.

In the last fifty years, education theory has come to recognize that listening to lectures
and reading are among the least effective forms of learning. They are highly passive, individualistic, do not necessarily integrate head with heart or body, but leave both the ego (and the shadow self) in their well-defended positions, virtually untouched. As long as our ego self is in the driver’s seat, nothing really new or challenging is going to happen. Remember our ego is committed to not changing, and is highly defensive by its very nature. And our shadow self entirely relies upon delusion and denial. Only the world of practical relationships exposes both of these. The form of education which most changes people in lasting ways has to touch them at a broader level than the thinking, reading mind can do.

Somehow we need to engage in hands-on experience, emotional risk-taking, moving outside of our comfort zones, with different people than our usual flattering friends. We need some expanded level of spiritual seeing or nothing really changes at a cellular or emotional level. Within minutes or hours of entertaining a new idea, we quickly return to our old friends, our assured roles, our familiar neural grooves, our ego patterns of response, and we are back to business as usual.

Upon returning from sabbatical, I affirm this more than ever. 


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