12 episodes

Host Ragan Sutterfield interviews a diverse mix of Christians on how they practice the way of Jesus in their daily lives. Each interview includes insights that will help you on your own journey.

thewaywepractice.substack.com

The Way We Practice Ragan Sutterfield

    • Religion & Spirituality
    • 4.9 • 7 Ratings

Host Ragan Sutterfield interviews a diverse mix of Christians on how they practice the way of Jesus in their daily lives. Each interview includes insights that will help you on your own journey.

thewaywepractice.substack.com

    The Grail of Creation

    The Grail of Creation

    When I was a child, few movies captured my imagination like the Indiana Jones series. Indy was everything I wanted to be—an adventuring scholar, at home equally in a library or a jungle; a good guy with a gruff edge. I saved my money, bought myself a felt fedora and a whip, and set off into the woods in search of adventure. I didn’t discover the Ark of the Covenant or escape ancient booby traps, but I did find a few old bottles and a cobbled leather shoe—exciting enough fare for a nine-year-old.

    Perhaps it was a sense of nostalgia for that excitement that led me, on a night when my family was away, to sit down to dinner and watch my favorite film in the series: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

    For those who don’t remember or have had the misfortune of never seeing it, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade traces Dr. Jones’s adventures in search of the Holy Grail, all the while battling Nazis and encountering the supernatural despite his skepticism.

    In one of the early scenes of the film, Jones is discussing the Grail with his colleague Marcus Brody. Jones is skeptical about the Grail legend which he takes to be little more than a Medieval fairytale. Brody responds that, "The search for the cup of Christ is the search for the divine in all of us. But if you want facts, I have none to give you.  At my age I'm willing to take a few things on faith.”

    Brody’s response is a wise one, one that names, perhaps, the reason for the long and flourishing tradition of Holy Grail stories, from L’morte de Arthur to Monty Python. We all want to understand our relationship to the divine and so the grail legend has been a vehicle for us to explore this mystery in the best way human beings know how: through stories. With the grail on my mind, I began to work through a problem I’ve been pondering, the problem of the Ascension.

    Creation, incarnation, resurrection—these are essentials for our understanding of God in Christ and each has a great resonance for me. Part of the reason Christianity has remained my faith and practice is because of our profound belief that God created the world and redeemed it by becoming a part of creation, suffering inside of it, and opening the way for new life within it through resurrection. But the Ascension has always been a hard reality for me because it seems to be moving in the opposite direction. The Ascension appears to say that Christ was simply a visitor to earth, like some alien from a spaceship, who doesn’t belong here and so has left us for a better place, like a big shot who gets stuck in coach on an airplane and is quickly ushered to first class by an apologetic flight attendant.

    To put it more theologically, how do we make sense of Christ’s promise in the Gospel of Matthew to be with us always, even until the end of the age, when it seems that in the Ascension Christ has clearly abandoned us, albeit under the divine care of the Holy Spirit? How is it, as Ephesians puts it, that Christ who is seated at the Father’s “right hand in the heavenly places” is also the one “who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:15-23)?

    I found help for my questions in a wonderful essay by the exiled Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov (1874-1944). Bulgakov takes up the quandary of the Ascension and solves it by drawing on the tradition of the Holy Grail with a brilliant twist. The Holy Grail tradition, of course, is that the cup Christ drank from at the last supper was then given to Joseph of Arimathea who used it to catch the blood and water that spilled from Christ’s side when he was pierced on the cross. Legend has it that Joseph then took the Grail to England where it was hidden and became sought after by such great knights as Sir Galahad of the King Arthur’s round table.

    These are legends of course, but Bulgakov draws on these legends to say something profound. “The image of the Holy Grail, in which the holy blood of Christ is kept,” he writes, “expresses precisely the id

    • 7 min
    The Willow at the End of the World

    The Willow at the End of the World

    There is a place in a forested park near my home, on the lower side along the creek, where my family likes to spread a blanket or hang a hammock in the nearby trees. We love the water and the life it feeds. It is a good place to sit and be and watch. Once along this creek we found the iridescent wings of a Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly; another time we discovered a salamander, swimming among the rocks. There are always plenty of birds and dragonflies and water bugs moving about.

    Beside the creek, on the opposite bank, there is a Black Willow tree that hosts Yellow Warblers each spring. In summer, its leaves are food for the caterpillars of the Eastern Tiger Swallow-tail.  And in the winter, it offers a perch to Goldfinches. The Black Willow is a native tree in Arkansas, common along creek and riverbeds. It grows quickly and helps control erosion along the banks. The willow’s wood is useful for a variety of purposes from making artificial limbs to baseball bats, and the pollen from its flowers is known as a source for particularly delicious honey.  It is a tree full of life and healing.

    On a recent visit to the creek, I noticed that this Black Willow had been cut to a stump of a couple of feet. I don’t know why, but for some reason the parks department decided to remove the tree. I doubt that as a result anyone is sporting a new limb or that a child has a new bat to use on the softball fields across the street. It was cut, hauled off, and likely turned to mulch. Despite the waste, however, I was glad to see that the willow was on its way back, not ready to accept its death. From the stump there are now several new trunks developing, working back up toward the sky. It is hard to kill a willow like this, for its true life is beneath the ground. 

    In the final chapter of the book of Revelation, we find a description of a river and a tree growing on either side of it. As I imagine the scene, I think of a willow like the one in the park. And that image is strengthened for me by the way John of Patmos, the author of the Apocalypse, describes this Tree of Life. 

    We have different ways we talk about trees. Go camping in a National Forest and we might remark about of the beautiful trees around us. Get a logging contract for that same forest and we’d talk about the timber. Biblical Greek is no different. Dendron is the word for tree, the kind you might see camping, but the word xulon—that meant timber or lumber. And strangely it is xulon that is the word used in Revelation for the tree beside the river. What we read as “the tree of life” could more literally be translated as “the timber of life.” Not quite the same ring to it, but it is an accurate rendering.

    It is hard to know, of course, what John meant to say through this choice of words, but I think we have some license to believe using xulon rather than dendron was important to him. Revelation is a poetic book where word choices matter and carry a lot of meaning. Maybe John wants us to understand that this tree is not just any tree. Maybe he’s hinting that the tree of life is the cross resurrected.[1]

    It may seem strange to us to think of the cross as a tree, but in the New Testament Luke, Paul, and Peter all refer to it that way. Christ was “hung on a tree” they tell us and in every case they use the word xulon. In this use, they are providing us with a different image of what the cross is—not merely a source of death, but also a bridge to life.

    Historically, and across many cultures, trees have long worked as symbolic links between the realms below and above. They are rooted firmly in the ground, connected to the depths beneath the surface, and yet they can tower into the sky. The cross, John seems to be saying, is just that kind of bridge. It is the tree that provides the way by which God finally brings earth to heaven and heaven to earth. In this image, heaven isn’t some distant spiritual realm, but a reality tha

    • 10 min
    Meta, Fantasy, and the Found World

    Meta, Fantasy, and the Found World

    I walk on a trail in the early spring, leaves bright—a yellow green, not fully operational, not yet manufacturing the chlorophyll that will be the plant’s food, not yet mining the sun for its energy. Operational, manufacturing, mining—no—breathing, eating, growing. There is a change creeping into my language, a forming—conscious and unconscious—into the patterns of the Machine. It is happening around me too. My children ask me to “pause” the reading of a book. It’s not a wrong word, it works and could have worked a hundred years ago, but its not what I would have said as a child. It is a word they’ve learned in the context of a computer—“will you pause Bluey so I can get a snack?”

    The path is still muddy, here and there, water is settled on the clay from a rain the day before. White-throated Sparrows let out their szzzz call as they dart across the path, robins signal a warning of my presence with a twitch of their wings. There are titmice and chickadees, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, the metalic sound of a cowbird.

    I do not have my binoculars with me. I leave my phone in my pocket instead of keeping an electronic list of the birds I encounter. I am simply walking, looking and listening. I am paying attention.

    There’s a kind of self-forgetting that comes with this kind of walking. It can happen in a city, but it is easier, more consistent, when I am in wild, undomesticated places. It is like reading with the lights turned up—every word more legible. I hear and am aware, my body seems to belong, but as soon as I begin to think about it, as soon as I begin the work of cataloging or identifying—it goes away.

    There is a mode of intentionality that Martin Heidegger called “attunement.” It is precognitive, pre-theoretical. The world in such a mode is not made up of discrete species, there is nothing there that could be categorized and put down on a list—warbler, sparrow; oak, elm. Instead, in “attunement” the world is encountered and constituted as “something I am involved with.”[1] As James K.A. Smith puts it: “humans construe the world—and thus orient their actions and pursuits—primordially on the basis of an affective relation to what matters.” When we begin the work of theorizing, scientifically breaking down the world into its parts, then I experience what Heidegger called a “dimming down” of reality. My attunement becomes diminished, my experience mediated.

    Earlier in the week, I’d taken a walk with our dog—a brindle mut, a terrier and lab and hound and who knows what else. She is young, the world still fresh with scent, her head bobbing down along the sidewalk, her ears twitching at the sound of engines and the bark of dogs behind wooden fences. As I walked, I listened to an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of the company formerly known as Facebook and is now Meta. He was talking about the coming “Metaverse”—a virtual reality landscape that in Zuckerberg’s vision will provide a whole new mode of human life and economy. He spoke of Augustus Ceasar and expressed a curiosity of cloaked admiration for the way Augustus had ended the wars of Rome. Virtual Reality, he said, could do that. It shouldn’t be seen as an escape from a distopia, but rather an expansion of our options—a peace building enterprise like that of Augustus through which human violence and aggression can be contained in a new economy.

    I thought of Heidegger and the dimming down of our encounter with the world. For all the technical prowess and computing power we could achieve, the Metaverse will never be anything but a shadow cast upon the wall of a cave—a reduction and simplification, forgotten only because we’ve been plugged into the chains of our choosing.

    Why would anyone want to be in the the Metaverse? I must admit I have no personal sense of the appeal and most science fiction has presented such worlds with dystopia

    • 16 min
    Jon Stock - Friendship and the Love That Covers All

    Jon Stock - Friendship and the Love That Covers All

    A conversation with Jon Stock, the co-founder of Wipf & Stock publishers, about friendship, life in community, and good reading (all with with some properly impious cursing along the way).


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    • 1 hr 33 min
    Sylvia Keesmaat - Living Justly in the Midst of Empire

    Sylvia Keesmaat - Living Justly in the Midst of Empire

    Syvlia Keesmaat is a biblical scholar and permaculturalist outside of Toronto, Canada. In this wide ranging conversation we talk sheep dogs, the bible, and how heating a house is a matter of discipleship.

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    • 1 hr 43 min
    Steven Tomlinson - Becoming a Person for Others

    Steven Tomlinson - Becoming a Person for Others

    Economist, theologian, and playwright Steven Tomlinson shares his journey toward becoming a person for others.

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    • 1 hr 30 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
7 Ratings

7 Ratings

JMLuster ,

Taking Stock

A lively, fresh and stimulating conversation that opens doors and lines of thought.

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