Guest post by Michael Yankoski
Over the past ten years I have had the chance to speak to hundreds of thousands of people, with invitations coming from universities, non-profit organizations, city councils, and churches. While this has, of course, been a great honor, my decade of being an “itinerate speaker” has generated an urgent question in me: does Christianity work well enough as a mere idea, or must faith move out from the realm of rational belief in order to become manifest in our lives?
A confession will illustrate why I describe this as an “urgent” question: it’s all too easy to “fake” the appearance of genuine faith, to preach about what Christianity means rather than live what Christianity teaches.
As my “itinerate preaching” years wore on, it became all too evident that many of us (though not all) who were paid members of the enormously popular “Christian Carnival” were more interested in keeping up a facade, of maintaining a masquerade, of putting on a good show. We were primarily focused on seeming to be something, rather than seeking to live a genuine life of faith and seeking to encourage others toward a life that we were ourselves experiencing in deep and profound ways.
And, the more I revealed this deep disconnect I was experiencing, the more I began to realize that this frustration with the facade is the case for many people of faith, not just those who are in the pulpits or up on stage. What I began to discover is that—for whatever reason—Christian faith has—for far too many people—become a sort of image-management game. The faith that is meant to have a profound impact on our lives has been relegated to the realm of mere ideas, confined to a set of doctrines that help us be “nice” or “respectable” rather than leading us into a particular way of life.
(And by “a particular way of life” I mean a life marked by habits such as contemplation amidst our cultural frenzy, listening prayer despite all our deafening distractions, intentional simplicity within our culture’s boundless greed, hospitality amidst our addiction to autonomy and individualism. The list goes on.)
At the end of a difficult speaking trip, I limped my way to a monastery for a personal retreat, wondering if I was about to abandon the “Carnival” altogether. While there, a kind and wise spiritual director listened as I told of my dissatisfaction with a religion that was just an idea, just a facade, just a masquerade.
“There’s an antidote to this poison you’ve swallowed, you know,” he said.
I looked up, more than a little skeptical. “Really?”
“A deep tradition within Christianity, with its roots back to the time of Christ and beyond, focused not on having the right answers or being able to talk a good talk, but rather being oriented and then living toward a particular way of being in the world.”
This conversation launched me on what I have come to call “The Sacred Year”—a year of deep engagement with Spiritual Practices, some old, some new, in a search for depth in my walk with Christ instead of the surface-y masquerade I had become so entrenched in.
I’m convinced that we misunderstand Christ’s invitation to “come and die that you might truly live” when we think this has to do only with ideas and concepts. This is an invitation to a way of being in the world, a way of patterning our lives, a way of habituating our days such that we become—by God’s grace—conformed to the image of the Son (cf. Rom 8:29).
Jaded and disillusioned after almost a decade of talking about Christianity more than actually living and experiencing it, I found great sources of nourishment, great life and hope amidst an intentional season of practicing my faith. That is what The Sacred Year is all about: “mapping the soulscape of Spiritual Practice—how contemplating apples, living in a cave, and befriending a dying woman revived my life.”
So, my brothers and sisters, I leave you with an admonition toward a lived faith, from the wise words found in I John: “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18, ESV).
May it be so.
About the Author
Michael Yankoski is a writer and speaker who compels audiences around the world toward a Christ-centered response to our world’s needs. He holds a Masters Degree from Regent College, and is the author of several books including The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice, Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America and Zealous Love: A Practical Guide to Social Justice. Michael has also served on the Board of Directors of World Vision U.S. and the advisory board of Kilns College.