Being a Christian, by definition, means we endeavor to follow Jesus. But few, if any, of us does it, really. I mean all the way. As Shane Claiborne famously once said, Jesus ruined his life. Once he went all in on what he felt God was calling him to do, everything in his life – all he held dear and felt was important – got turned upside down.
It happened all the time in the Gospels. The second someone decided to follow Jesus, BAM! life as they knew it was over.
Who wants that? Who of us is really so invested in this idea of following Jesus that we’d set it all down and walk away if we had to? I don’t know about you, but the very idea of it is pretty terrifying.
So I’m going to try and do it. With some ground rules, like I’m not going to abandon my family. But over the next 16-18 months, I want to be lot more intentional about what it means to follow Jesus. For real.
For starters, I’m excited to have my friend, bestselling author/Esquire columnist AJ Jacobs to mentor me through it. He’s done tons of interesting “human experiment” kinds of projects, but the most well known is recorded in his book, “The Year of Living Biblically.” You’ll hear from him from time to time here on the blog, and in the book that I hope will follow at the end of all of this. I’m also recruiting a team of “Jesus experts” to help me understand, first of all, who it is we’re talking about when we say “Jesus:”
- Jesus the radical?
- Jesus the healer?
- Jesus the human being?
- Jesus the feminist?
- Jesus the anarchist?
- Jesus the historical figure?
So the first 4-6 months will be sorting out this Jesus character. I have a sense that it’s some combination of all of the above, and some other stuff too. And of course, we all tend to make Jesus in our own image to some degree, so hopefully by the end of the first stage, I will have settled at least on what I mean when I say “Jesus,” though it will be sort of different for each of us.
This will start with me diving back into the gospels. And I’ll go in order that the books were written, starting with Mark and ending with John. I’m not sure how long this will take, though I figure on at least 4-6 weeks. Then I’ll work with my Jesus experts to combine what they know and believe with what I’ve taken from a fresh gospel reading. And finally, before diving into the yearlong exercise, I’ll make some kind of plan, taking on this Jesus in bite-size chunks, so to speak.
I’m also under no illusions. I’m not Jesus, and I don’t want to try to be. But I do want to try and understand him better, what motivated and defined him and what he felt should motivate and define us. I’m not content to let an particular church, denomination or even religion tell me who Jesus is and what following him means. Yes, I want to draw from the well of collective knowledge and wisdom available to me, but I’m going to do my best to arrive at my own conclusions. And I know I’ll screw it up. a lot. And that’s where you all come in.
I want you to help hold me accountable. Hopefully in a loving, kind way, but honest. You’ll be able to follow my progress and offer me guidance and feedback. And who knows? Some of your comments and guidance might show up in a future post, or even in the book. And if you know of other creative ways to help me crowdsource feedback from folks, like employing online surveys, chat forums or the like, I’m open to ideas.
How will all this look? Honestly I have no idea. But I do have a few ideas:
I’m fascinated by the story of the fishes and loaves. I have a plan to try and replicate it, in my own kind of way.
Walking on water sounds pretty awesome. Definitely have to try to do that, which will be interesting since I suck at waterskiing.
I’m going to have to spend a serious amount of time with Matthew 5, AKA, the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the mount. I’m also going to have to make friends with some prostitutes, tax collectors, the modern-day equivalent of lepers, and even some publicans, whatever the hell those are.
As a homebrewer, I’m all over turning water into wine.
I’m not exactly the most pastoral person in the world. My bedside manner usually consists of a cold washcloth and some words of encouragement like “suck it up.” But I’m definitely doing to have to figure out this healing thing. Fortunately for me, healing takes many forms. But it sounds pretty touchy-feely if you ask me.
At least for a while, I’m going to have to keep a running tally of my “sins of the heart.” Man, that will be exhausting. And time consuming.
And no, I have no plans to be crucified. But I might overturn a temple table or two, just for kicks.
So why do all of this? For starters, I’m a writer. It’s what I do. And I’m a “Christian writer,” at least to some degree, whatever the heck that means. So it seems reasonable to spend some serious time writing and thinking about Jesus. Then there’s the whole “Living it out” thing. For the most part, we Christians, or eve just those interested in Jesus, are more content to think and talk about him than actually be changed by him. Why? See above. And yeah, I’m more than a little freaked out about it, as is Amy. She’s wondering how I plan to pull off the whole “forty days alone in the desert” part. And I know some people will try and take advantage of my efforts. Case in point: one “friend” already asked me for my coat, to see if I’d give it to her along with my shirt. I reminded her hat the project had not yet started and, in so many words, to suck it.
Hey, if Jesus can call someone a dog, I can tell them to suck it…right?
And yes, I also recognize the rather ironic hypocrisy of doing all of this as a sort of professional endeavor. I want people to read, to follow along, and hopefully buy the book a couple years from now. So part of my Jesus experiment is being honest about where I can’t – or simply choose not to – live up to Jesus’ standards. But to be fair, per my friend Doug Pagitt’s suggestion, I do plan to spend some time putting Jesus in my shoes. I mean, it’s one thing to read all of these stories about Jesus, way back in the day; it’s entirely another to consider what Jesus would do if he was plopped down in the middle of my 21st-century life, complete with mortgage, iPhone, family and facebook account.
Enough for now. Want to follow along on this journey, and maybe even help out? Track my progress on this blog by subscribing here or search “#MyJesusProject” on Facebook or Twitter. Follow along, help keep me honest, and just maybe you’ll learn a little bit more about what we mean when we talk about following Jesus in the process.