I really thought I was a ninja when I was a kid. Seriously. Well, at least a ninja in training.
I took taekwondo and judo from the age of 4 until I was about 10. It was awesome! I still remember most of the forms and drills, including many important skills, like the little peculiarities around how to punch correctly.
My favorite, though, was breaking boards. It was an absolute thrill to focus all of your mental and physical energy into one spot on a wooden board…and then destroy it! When you are 8 years old and you can destroy a piece of perfectly cut wood, you feel like one dangerous dude.
Taekwondo literally means “the way of the hand and foot,” but taking taekwondo was more than just learning how to kick and punch correctly. It was about discipline, self-control, and integrity. And so, in many ways, taekwondo concerned the whole of the person. And the place that you practice taekwondo (or other martial arts) is commonly called a dojo. Dojo literally means, “place of the way.” In many ways, a dojo is a place to be formed into a way of life.
As I reflect on this facet of my childhood, I hear echoes of Saint Matthew and the Gospel which bears his name. A central theme from Matthew is discipleship: a posture of formation in which one forms their life to the teachings of their rabbi. A rabbi selected disciples whom the rabbi believed could carry on their teachings, disciples who could be like the rabbi. When Jesus says to Matthew, “Follow me,” Jesus is inviting Matthew into a way of life that would carry on the teachings of Jesus. Even more so, Jesus believed that Matthew could be like Jesus, do the things that Jesus did.
Further, that invitation is extended to us as well. That is the author’s intent, for us to hear the invitation like Matthew and then get up and follow. So as followers of Jesus, we are being called and formed into a particular way of life, a life in the way of Jesus. Ultimately, as the disciples of Jesus, we should know that Jesus believes in us, believes that we can carry on his teachings and do the things he did!
It would be easy for us in today’s world to see the church as our dojo, the place of the way, the place where we are formed. But honestly, I don’t believe that the church should be viewed as our dojo. Don’t get me wrong, formation happens at church, and our liturgy can and should form us. And while Jesus did teach at the synagogue, the vast majority of the formation of the disciples happened out in the world, in the community, amongst the people. Life in the way of Jesus is about getting our hands dirty, standing with and among the people. Followers of Jesus hang out with the type of people that Jesus hung out with and seek out the places and situations in which Jesus was present.
It might sound a little cliché, but the truth is that the dojo for the follower of Jesus is the fullness of the world around us. Our communities and daily movements are ripe with potential for the movement of God, and Jesus invites us to partner with God in bringing light and love into every encounter, the most common and the most unexpected.
For me, the dojo for life in the way of Jesus has been the soup kitchen, the food pantry, and a laundromat. Even protests, homeless shelters, PTA meetings, and hospital visits can be approached as the dojo for our faith journey. The Jesus dojo is the street we live on, the school our kids attend, the restaurants we frequent, and the grocery store aisles we walk amongst.
Jesus says, “Follow me.” To where might he lead you? To where might you follow? Where will you do the things Jesus did? Where will you share the light, grace, and love of God?
Consider these questions both for yourself and for you kiddos and family:
Where are the places in the community where your faith journey has been shaped or challenged?
What facets of your life have you missed opportunities to engage your faith?
Where is Jesus inviting you to engage and explore your faith?
What is a challenging place to consider as a dojo for life in the way of Jesus?
Love the dojo analogy–and now that we’re away from our church families, this is a good reminder that we can still be formed in so many other contexts.