It’s one thing to “follow” Jesus, it’s another matter to stand “beside” or “adjacent” to Jesus. As this contentious summer moves on and people of faith debate an authentic means to “follow” Jesus, I’m curious about how best to move from behind Jesus. I’d like to be shoulder to shoulder with Jesus. What would it look like to take the heart of Jesus’s teachings and instead of being a “follower”, become a “stand-besider”? (Think of John Lewis and his colleagues crossing the Pettus bridge at Selma arm in arm, together.)
In this era, I’m not sure it’s good enough for us to call ourselves followers of anything. We can be followers of Marx, Trump, the NRA, socialism, and anything in between. It’s also possible to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Followers can walk away without much notice and follow anyone else. Followers are a dime a dozen on Twitter. Some people live and die by their followers. I believe Christians are called to be more than followers.
Standing side by side with Jesus is a better place to be. He can see me and I can see him. He knows where I am and I know where he is. When the police come, they’ll have to take both us. When we go, we’ll all go together. Jesus can’t walk with me or talk with me if I’m following behind.
How might we begin to stand beside Jesus as a discipleship model in the summer of 2018?
1. Find something to read. Look for important works to re-read. There are new ideas waiting to be discovered. It’s also good to be reminded of what we might have forgotten or the thoughts that shaped us along the way.
2. Find something to do you might not normally do. Hammer a nail, mow the lawn, talk to a neighbor, write a letter and mail it via the postal service, or ride a bike. Embrace difference, not for the sake of difference but for the very idea of life itself. Is God in the difference?
3. What’s the best story you know? Learn to tell it better. Try sharing it with those around who may not have heard it. Have you thought about God’s presence in your “best story”?
4. Listen to the stories of others (from those you know and may not know). What are their lives like? How different are your stories? Do you share more similarities than you realize? Is God at work in their lives too?
5. Who controls your story, the narrative you tell, from day to day? Is it your Google calendar, your social media feed, cable news, your reactions to your schedule, social media, or the news? Or is it you? Are you telling you own story or are you letting others write the script?
6. Once you realize your life is not driven by a 24 hour news cycle or the next general conference; how does that change your perspective?
7. On whose terms do we engage with the world; God’s or Caesar’s? There is only one right answer.
8. Is our story best told with words or actions? Does it have to be either/or? There are no hard and fast rules on discipleship.
9. Discipleship begins with active observation of the world around us. What we see and hear determine how we respond. We draw from our experience. Our knowledge, stories, and compassion are all we carry.
10. Find thoughts to gather, people to name, and words to pray.
Richard Lowell Bryant