A Mystery to Participate In

by Mark Votava


Does Jesus really want us to believe in him if we do not practice what he taught about love, community, humility, grace, compassion, kindness and authenticity?  It seems that Jesus is not really an idea to believe in but more of a mystery to participate in.  I want to participate in the mystery of the body of Christ here in the place that I live.  Christ is drawing me into community where I find the many faces of God through my neighbors as I practice my spirituality in the twenty-first century.

  •  The rain came down, the stream rose, and the winds blew

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the stream rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash”  (Matthew 7:24-27).

  •  A practice-based approach to life

It seems that Christ is emphasizing a practice-based approach to life.  He must want his body to practice his words and teachings.  It is within the context of shared life, proximity, living into the ordinary, seeing the sacredness of life and a commitment to a particular place where the body of Christ can practice their faith as a way of life together.

  •  Christ’s teachings are practiced together in everyday life

This is very foreign to the dominant paradigms of the day, but Christ’s teachings are always based on practical life situations.  They are best practiced together in everyday life. The apostle Paul passed this on as well.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice …”  (Philippians 4:9).

Or, to the church in Corinth,

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ  (1 Corinthians 11:1).

They must have grown to know Paul deeply and have been encouraged in what they had seen in his relational life among them.  He is encouraging them to live with a grounded practice-based theology within their local context just as he did.

  •  On-the-ground practice based-theology

We should develop our theology not just from an intellectual or theoretical perspective, but from what I call an “on-the-ground practice-based theology.” All theology should be practiced, tested, and even discovered in the context of real-life experience.  It should not dismiss everyday life, but instead integrate it with the intellectual stimulation that comes through learning new information. Learning is both intellectual and environmental within the context of the locality we live in.

  •  The integration of both/and

It is not either/or but an integration of both/and.  Just as the church cannot be separated from locality, so the academic and intellectual cannot be separated from the environmental and local contexts of life.  We desperately need the paradox of combining the environmental learner in local relational contexts with the intellectual academic learner of the classroom.  A Christianity that doesn’t hold to this paradigm is likely to be empty and irrelevant to life.

  •  The body of Christ in everyday contexts of life

Why do many people question the existence of God today?  I think it might have something to do with the reality that many people have never seen the body of Christ in the everyday contexts of life.  All they have seen is what we box up inside of a building or cram into a ministry one day a week.

  •  Others have not experienced grace and love from us

It doesn’t seem holistic to a lot of people—me included.  They have not felt from us God’s love. They have not experienced from us God’s grace.  We have not fascinated them with God’s beauty.

  •  Creating a culture of imagination

I think it is important to have an awakening around this on-the-ground practice-based theology.  Let’s take the theology of the intellectual in the classroom and integrate it with the on-the-ground practice-based theology of the neighborhood.  There need not be any dualities between the two.  Let them become one and we will see a culture of imagination rise from the dead.

In what ways do you take a practice based approach to your spirituality?