“Of making many books there is no end and much study wearies the body.”
– Ecclesiastes 12:12, NIV
More Than Words
If you’re around me long enough, you’ll likely notice that I like words. I enjoy games like Boggle and Scrabble. In my downtime I read and write poetry. I attend the Festival of Faith & Writing every two years. And on more than a few occasions, I’ve been accused of making up words.
I love words so much that I’ve pursued vocations that immerse me almost daily in written words. I’m a pastor in a Christian tradition that has been described as “People of the Book” and in a denomination that has made much of academic study, employing a vast repertoire of words in our pursuit of theological precision. I have a library in my office and another one at home with far more books than I’ve been able to read (yet). Words light up the playground of my imagination as I explore the emotions and inklings stirring within me and encounter the many layered contours of the world around me.
While I would love a retreat that allowed me time and space to curl up and read more books, I’ve discovered along the way that words are never enough. Though I see great value in reading and writing, I realize the truth of Ecclesiastes’ conclusion that “much study wearies the body.” The Bible also expresses it this way: “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) In his book, You are What You Love, Jamie Smith contends that humans are more than a brain-on-a-stick. I continue to find that image helpful in remembering that our faith, and indeed our reality, is always meant to be more than words.
But much of my own discipleship has been focused on words. Growing up – and even into seminary – the conversations about discipleship centered around what knowledge we needed to learn about God, about the Bible, and about theology. We had conversations about what it meant to believe in God. We spent time talking at the dinner table about a scripture passage or a devotional. We had Bible classes in school and I even learned a couple biblical languages to better understand the words of our faith. Seldom, however, did someone say “Come, follow me and I’ll show you what faith looks like.”
In all fairness, I have learned much about how to live a faithful life by observing others in the Christian community, including my own parents. But there seems to be quite a contrast in that we have all sorts of structures – Sunday School, sermons, Christian schools, devotional booklets – that teach us what to believe, but not many structures that mentor us or coach us into living our faith within our day-to-day realities.
In playing several sports while I grew up, the best coached teams taught us about the game in the context of practices where we attempted to play the game. We learned strategy, purpose, and even appreciation for the history of the sport, while being shown how to field a grounder, steal the basketball, or make a safe, clean tackle.
And so, I’ve been wondering lately, what could a whole-life discipleship look like? In what ways can our discipleship become more attentive to how we live as Christians, rather than focusing on just what we believe as Christians? As John says in his first letter, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
When it comes down to it, our hope in writing these posts is to use our words to point us towards ways we can live more fully and more faithfully as God’s people. Or to say it from a slightly different angle, these posts will be an invitation into a life of following Jesus Christ that is much more than words.