Practice What You Preach!

Quincy Brown


When I went to college, I had to find creative ways to integrate my curious mind with an active faith life.  I found that being a Christian in the church was a bit different than being a Christian in college.  At first, bridging the life of the mind and the life of faith together was difficult.  And it didn't help matters that Michael Peterson, a non-traditional student classmate, and leader of the Christian Fellowship group that I attended, told me that the comic books that I enjoyed reading were not orthodox.
Not understanding what the word orthodox meant, and not wanting to cause conflict, I consented to blindly follow Michael's lead and tried to be "orthodox." In doing so, I ignored my imagination and natural curiosity, even though I continued to read comic books secretly!  It didn't take long for me to run into difficulties, however, as I quickly realized that do things Michael's way was like trying on a pair of pants that were two sizes too small.
I was stuck.  Michael's conventional ways were challenging for me.  His faith focused on having right beliefs from doing things “by the book.”  He told us that we couldn’t read anything other than the Bible outside of class, and he championed finding ways to talk about Jesus, even if it was a forced conversation.  While I struggled with trying to live by Michael Peterson’s standards, I did manage to live as faithfully as a college student. 
When I graduated and went to theology school to pursue God’s call to ordained ministry, I encountered another challenge to the way I lived out my faith. I was assigned to work at a homeless shelter as my ministry in practice assignment where the objective was to find a way to integrate “right thinking” with right action."  Again, I struggled with the assumption of an "either/or"idea of being Christian. 
I questioned, “How was I supposed to reconcile the "either/or" perspective that I'd encountered?”  Do I follow what I learned from the church tradition and believe the right thing, or do I follow what I learned from Christians that I respected who did the right thing?” This dualistic puzzle flew in the face of my homespun theology of practicing what you preach.  Unfortunately, my notion of “practicing what I preached” didn’t seem to ease the religious tensions that were presented to me in my training to be clergyperson and I struggled to make sense of things.
While it seems silly now, at the time, however, it never occurred to me that I was following faulty logic to make Christianity an "either/or" proposition between beliefs and actions.  It's taken me nearly twenty years to work through this "either/or" quandary to move towards a "both/and" position that provides the best of both worlds: right beliefs and right action, the integration of faith and work together.
A few years ago, I came across a new word to describe this "both/and" position of bridging faith and works, and right beliefs and right actions together. Orthofilia (or-throw-feel-ya) is a newly coined term that means, “right relationships,” and describes the alternative “both/and” basis for faith that goes beyond the “either/or” emphasis to unite both beliefs and actions together.
Equipped with a new concept for my faith toolbox, I began to see the idea of "right relationships" as the (love, serve, and care for) "one another" passages of both Old and New Testament Scripture.  I also began to understand some of the problems of choosing right beliefs over against right actions. Each attempts to reduce Christian faith to simple emphases and does not permit us to benefit from growing spiritually in the dynamic tension of the "grace/works" paradox of practicing what we preach.
I invite you to find ways to "practice what you preach" in your encounters with others in the days to come, especially with those who don't attend your church.

On the Journey,


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