Theologians seem drawn to impressive sounding trendy buzz words making what they philosophise about sound modern, learned and somewhat inaccessible. However despite the assault on common sense encountered through the maze of opaque jargon generated in what a few years ago was called post modernism, every now and again they uncover a word that actually helps us think more clearly about what it is we are trying to do.
One term that you will hear the modern liberation theologians using is the term “praxis”. Christian praxis is a way of saying that reflection and action emerge from their historical setting and mainly finds meaning as expressed in community life. Another way of saying the same thing is that we take our Christian principles and find ways of making them live in our current setting. This is by no means a new idea. For example Gustavo Gutierrez, widely accepted as the founder of modern South American Liberation theology states: “to be followers of Jesus requires that (we) walk with and be committed to the poor: when [we] do, [we] experience an encounter with the Lord who is simultaneously revealed and hidden in the faces of the poor”. Although this might seem nothing more than a restatement of something taken from Jesus’ recorded words, in our current Church world where all too often the most demanded of the congregation member is that they listen quietly to the sermon, the words from the Bible and bow their heads respectfully during the prayer, perhaps we do need to remind ourselves that the kingdom will have no meaning unless it is lived.
There is however a caution. Father Gustavo Gutierrez, having dedicated his career to the relief of the poor in the slums of Lima can (and indeed must) do no other than see his essential focus as walking with and being dedicated to the poor. Many others will do the same. But the same process that led him to that point will inevitably mean others in a different setting, emerging from a different history, and being confronted with vastly different opportunities and dilemmas should find a different focus for Christian praxis. The world needs Father Gustavo but it also needs peace makers, those whose concern is for the lonely, those who can focus on the needs of the sick, the new immigrants, the environment and issues leading to injustice… and this is just the start.
While it may be inappropriate to deliberately draw attention to one’s own version of Christian praxis, it is inevitable that such a total way of life would be noticed by others. Thus Quakers are almost universally recognized as having a Christian praxis with a focus on peace, the Salvation Army on working with the needy and so forth. Perhaps we need to check with impartial observers to discover what particular Christian praxis if any is associated with our particular witness.
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