This is why I have truly enjoyed reading a book recently:
I requested the book from Thomas Nelson directly, and I received it free, but this book is one reason why I continue to seek, to pray, and to see my spiritual development in this world as necessary to my overall personal development. So many texts dealing with Christianity emphasize appalling things: standing up to sinners so they know they are sinners, condemning groups that don't fit the Christian "ideal," attacking other religions (including other Christian sects/denominations), amassing wealth, or otherwise suggesting activities and thought processes that I find decidedly unspiritual.
This book is so different from that standard. Leonard Sweet, through gentle metaphor and perceptive use of the bible, is urging us to stop all that nonsense. Rather than attacking the world with religion, filled with our own superiority or purity, Sweet does all he can to pull us back to the spirit. We are no better than others. If we feel the need to "lead others to redemption," it is because we seek our own satisfaction, not God's. Instead of leading, instead of feeling as if we know all the answers and are obligated to show these answers to everyone, we need to set ourselves among the world, not as leaders, but as members of a whole wonderful group of followers, all trying to live life as beautifully as we can.
I would love to criticize the book for not giving us specific things we could do to ensure we are following as we should, for the book's metaphors get the ideas across in a more theoretical way, and might not really reach the general public without more kinesthetic examples. Then again, I'm not sure this book is for just anyone. In a way, it seems to be intended for the very "leaders" who are not doing what it suggests. However, I think followers of all ages could learn from this. I know I have. Besides, as Sweet says, following a specific set of precepts he proscribes would be no different than going through the motions at church, as we do now. What he urges instead is that we back off, listen, and act as the spirit moves us, always seeking reconciliation, showing love and mercy, not judging or excluding (just as the bible says Jesus did in his own life).
This book has reminded me that I am a seeker--that I will always be a seeker--for my entire journey through life is a process of becoming more understanding of others, more thoughtful, more receptive to the movements of the Way in my life. I just finished the book, but I will likely return to it again, often, as my journey continues.
All this rethinking reminds me of recent events, with the news frenzy surrounding Tim Tebow. I cast no doubt about his character or his devotion to his faith. I commend him for that. But I don't think bending down and praying to God after a football victory is "following." His visits to hospitals, yes. His humanitarian activities, yes. Sweet put it this way (though he was not speaking of Tebow in particular, I am sure):
Followers of Jesus are not [sic] supposed to be identified by ritual practice even while we continue Jesus' mission of caressing the world. We are not to showboat our religious identity or grandstand the gospel or parade our praying. In fact, Jesus exposed puffballs of piety and punctured the vanities of the upright and the uptight. "When you fast," he cautioned, "wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting." And "when you pray, do not ... pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others."
Can I blame Tebow? Nope. How do I know that this blog entry isn't my own form of posturing for the masses? Tebow is on his journey, and I am on mine. All I know for certain is that his methods are not mine, and they cannot be if I am to follow my own path truly.