Sidewalks keep us safe, but they also have their limitations. They help us move through our communities, but only on routes determined by those who poured the concrete. As Shel Silverstein reminded us long ago, the adventure begins where the sidewalk ends.
For many contemporary Christians who are serious about discipleship, the classic spiritual disciplines function like sidewalks. They form an essential contribution to the shaping of an alternative consciousness and must be emphasized as a baseline aspect of contemporary discipleship. Christian communities that shape their lives around these practices will mature in ways that communities who neglect them will not. However, the Christian spiritual disciplines will only lead us where the sidewalk directs us to go.
The classic disciplines have not formed radical Christians. They were never intended to. They provided a sanctioned path to a limited embodiment of spiritual maturity, but they have also led to alternative forms conformity to the prevailing forces of globalization and neoliberal empire. Many of the missionary orders that were the strongest proponents and practitioners of classical spiritual disciplines also served as agents of colonialism and empire. Repressive orders always depend upon some form of spirituality to be effective. The classic spiritual disciplines are not enough.
Twenty-first century Christian formation begins where the sidewalk ends. Our inability to imagine a collective life structure outside the confines of business as usual is killing us and our planet. The maturity that apocalyptic times demand of us has been stunted by the dysfunctional political systems and societies that shaped us. Our imperial, civilized selves practising disciplines shaped by imperial, civilized traditions will never upend imperial, civilized institutions. In order to overturn our imperial egos we must reconnect with the natural world, and with a wild, uncivilized God.
Where the sidewalk ends the connection between humans and ground begins.