This is my review of Part 2 “Telling Stories of the Present” in A Living Alternative, along with an unplanned segue to an excerpt from my new book. After the first section that was marked by unexpectedly heavy historical research the second section appeared to be completely the opposite with titles such as “Jesus wasn’t Cool.” I enjoyed reading the personal stories about leaving Evangelical Christendom and finding a new home in Jesus-following Anabaptism. For me as a practical theologian there is nothing as engaging as personal narratives of faith journeys.
The central of the seven articles in this section, “The Table as a Model for Anabaptist Spiritual Formation” was the meeting place around which the story tellers were gathered. I think this is my favorite essay so far. The concept of “Table Church” could be also be seen historically as the primary meeting place for early Anabaptists and also a model for how churches might look in the future. The concept seems to fit the movement toward “new parish” and “slow church” models that have been publicized recently.
Perhaps the most provocative quote however, came in Benjamin Corey’s article: “When we turn our hearts back to God and reclaim the invitation to follow Jesus (even if that means turning away from religion that bears his name) we find new life.” This quote is reminiscent of authors such as Bruxy Cavey (The End of Religion), Peter Rollins (Insurrection), Spencer Burke (A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity), Rob Bell (Jesus Wants to Save Christians) who also suggest that following Jesus may involve turning away from the Christendom religion.
In the same vein—as I wrote in the introduction to my new book, Spirituality With Clothes On—“there have been a number of books on spirituality published recently with “naked” in the title. The idea of nakedness is not only attention grabbing in a sexualized culture, but nakedness symbolizes the values of vulnerability and authenticity, a radical back to basics approach in a western culture that has made life very technological and complicated. “Naked” books attempt to get at the essence of spirituality that is at the core of our being, often bemoaning the stuffy religious dogmas and tired rituals that we see on the outside.”
In my book I counter this trend: “Although this quest for nakedness is a good thing for our spirituality, I believe that there is really no such thing as a naked spirituality. It is impossible to strip off all the clothes of religion, family, culture, and history to reveal an idealistic pure connection with divinity underneath. Our spirituality is always shaped by the clothes of our experience. In fact, maybe by beginning to recognize and embrace, even integrate, all the layers we are wearing we will be better equipped to find the authentic naked self underneath. We are what we wear; we cannot separate ourselves from our experiences and our surroundings.”