I was leading a retreat a few weeks ago, and the first thing I did when I arrived was to rearrange all the furniture in the room. It always feels like a small thing, this removing the big table from the center of the room and creating a circle of chairs with a small table of sacred things at the center. And yet, everything shifts – the energy in the room, the depth of the conversations, the openness to trying new things and perhaps even our perspective. I confess, I actually rearranged the furniture three different times throughout the retreat.
I have come to see that this as a tangible way of creating space together with a group, it is part of the way the group begins to form together. Some church planter friends tell me the act of setting up chairs and sound systems and children’s spaces – these collective acts of creating space to worship God together is part of what bonds the church plant together. My friend Sara and I have been discussing this in relation to the noon service worship community. Our ongoing conversations and experimenting around the placement of chairs, the use of microphones, and creating shared rituals and ways of inviting people into leadership are all part of a larger theology of praxis. Professor Kathryn Tanner explains it this way,
“Theology is often identified with the productions of educated elites such as clergy and academics…Christian theology has to do, instead, with the meaning dimension of Christian practices, the theological aspect of all social significant Christian action. Christian theology in this primary sense would, accordingly, be found embedded in such matters as the way altar and pews are arranged. Their placement usually has a meaning, a theological aspect, that embodies a sense of the difference between minister and laity, and between God and human beings. All Christian activities would have a meaning or theological dimension in this sense – going to church, protesting poverty, praying, and helping one’s neighbor. They are socially significant Christian actions in virtue of being constructed by a sense of what Christians believe and how they should lead their lives. […] In the ordinary course of Christian life, there is also occasion for engaging in theological investigation of those beliefs, values, and symbols. One does that when one’s beliefs are directly challenged, or when it simply becomes clear that others do not agree […] Theology as a specialized intellectual activity raises the same sort of questions but often in a more general and abstract way. It investigates them, moreover, in a sustained fashion according to criteria less attuned to urgencies of everyday life […] meeting such criteria is a luxury that the needs of everyday life cannot often afford […] an approach to theology as a part of Christian culture suggests that specialized theological investigation should be placed on a continuum with theological activity elsewhere, as something that arises in an ‘organic’ way our of Christian practice.” (Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology, pp. 69-71.)
Tanner maintains that everyday theology organically arises from our “mundane” conversations about seating arrangements and the many emails about our decision making process. Academic theology is disconnected from this stuff of the everyday, and needs our everyday theology to inform it.
So “praxis” is theology done in an organic and collaborative way, rooted in our own lived experiences and the wisdom that arises out of the communities with whom we share this work. I’m ever so grateful for the opportunity to be learning together with our praxis communities. Now back to rearrange the furniture once more….