This fall, I have gotten to start a new adventure: I’m participating in the Newbigin Fellowship through our church in San Francisco. I’ll spare you all the details (and the exciting reading list!), although you can follow the links and poke around to find out more. But as I’ve been reading, I’ve been frantically scribbling notes to myself to share with you on the blog. This will be probably be one of many Newbigin-fueled posts!
Two weeks ago, I had the fantastic privilege of going on retreat with the other Newbigin Fellows up to Lake Tahoe. (Totally unrelated: I always imagine Tahoe and the surrounding mountains when I read The Great Divorce, or the “Further Up and Further In” chapter in The Last Battle.) Our retreat was led by James KA Smith, whose writing I’ve reflected on a little here. I happily regressed into full-nerdy-student mode, sitting in the front row and feverishly taking notes.
On Sunday morning, our Scripture was Colossians 3:12-17. Dr Smith spoke about the metaphor of “putting on” Christ, noting that (no surprise to anyone with kids!) getting dressed is an acquired skill. It takes lots of practice. The virtues that Paul lists in this passage don’t come to us naturally. Just like the “habit” of getting dressed, the “habits” of Christlikeness can only the be result of a “second” nature, acquired, through grace, by practice and imitation.
We imitate Christ first of all, but elsewhere Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Most of us learn how to live the Christian life – to “put on Christ” – by watching those more mature in the faith. We see others who are patient, or loving, or humble, and we try to practice what they do. We keep trying, and pray to God’s Spirit to help those habits become ours as well.
Well, no surprise here: this got me thinking about reading with my kids. Specifically, I started thinking about missionary biographies and stories about saints past. I love these kinds of books. And Dr Smith’s Sunday sermon helped me name why. It’s not just because they’re sort of vaguely inspiring. It’s because they offer concrete examples (for my kids and for me!) to imitate. They capture my imagination and make me excited about the possibilities of the Christian life. They often make me feel, keenly, how half-hearted and perfunctory my own discipleship is. As a result, these books are terribly compelling.
So, since that weekend, I’ve been dragging out some of our saints books and biographies that have been buried lately. I’m ready to get busy with my kids, reading to practice discipleship!
If you’re looking for some books to start with, check out some of our reviews here. Or offer your own suggestions: who do you find worthy of imitation? What books have been little schools in virtue for you?