I had a chat with my friend and fellow author, AJ Jacobs, today on Skype. Aside from being a veteran journalist, he is the most experienced “human guinea pig” I know. After all, he wrote “The Year of Living Biblically,” in which he spent a whole year trying to live according to the Bible, as literally as possible. And though he had great advice and words of encouragement for me, he also left me with a few challenges in my Jesus Project I wasn’t too crazy about.
“You know,” he said, ” when I was doing my Bible year, I met all kinds of Christian and Jewish people who influenced me. I really enjoyed more progressive folks like Jim Wallis and the Red Letter Christian folks, but I knew that it wasn’t enough just to hang out with religious people I could more or less agree with.”
I knew where he was going with this, and I didn’t like it.
“But I knew,” he said, “that I also needed to spend some time with the Jimmy Swaggarts and Oral Roberts out there.”
Gah, I thought. He’s going to make me hang out with the very same Christians I spent much of my life distancing myself from.
“I didn’t exactly agree with everything they said,” he went on. No kidding, I thought. I tried to imagine me standing arm in arm with John Piper at a Masculine Jesus rally/truck pull and kinda threw up in my mouth a little. “but spending time with them actually helped me understand better why they believe what they do, and how they express themselves to the rest of the world.”
I see no way around this, and I’m starting to resent him for being my mentor already.
It may be a human instinct to surround ourselves with like-minded people, but AJ is right; Jesus specifically went out of his way to engage with people who were as different from him as possible. And he didn’t just casually pass them by, but rather, he engaged in relationship with them, sometimes even allowing them to change how he thought or acted.
Far more than many of mainstream society’s “others,” fundamentalist Christians are mine. Not the LGBTQ community, and not people who live outside and who haven’t seen the sunny side of a bar of soap in a few fortnights. My “others” are the ones who remind me all too well of where I came from.
And dammit if he isn’t right; they have something to teach me about Jesus too.
So I have been gradually coming to terms throughout the day that I’ll need to have some hyper-Calvinist preachers on my roster of mentors, or maybe an executive at Focus on the Family. I need to go to some places where everyone around me thinks, acts or even looks different than I do. And what’s more, I have to be open to the possibility of them changing me for the better.
AJ, if I didn’t already love you, I’d probably hate you right about now.
I’ll post a video of our chat on the blog soon, as well as an audio version on the Homebrewed Christianity CultureCast. Until then, go through your contact lists and help me find some good, staunch fundamentalist Christians to help show me how to follow Jesus.
God help me.
Be sure to check out AJ’s latest project, and learn how you can participate. visit GlobalFamilyReunion.com to find out how you’re related genetically to him and other famous figures. You can also learn how you can take part in his event on June 6th, which promises to be the biggest family reunion in history.