Five Ways I Suck at Following Jesus #MyJesusProject

Five Ways I Suck at Following Jesus #MyJesusProject December 23, 2014

2657911532_b6c14a2313_oAs you may know by now, I’m starting a new project (ramping up now, starting in earnest in February) in which I try for a year to really, seriously understand what it means to follow Jesus in western, post-industrial 21st century society. What does that look like? Do any of us actually do it? And to what degree, seriously, are we supposed to actually be like Jesus, as opposed to finding our own way to walk a more Christ-like path on our current context?

My biggest concern at the moment, is that though a lot of us claim to “be Christians,” or even to follow Jesus, a lot of us don’t spend much real intentional time trying to figure out what that means and what it looks like in daily life. We try not to be too crappy to other people, try not to kill, steal, adulterate (is that even a word?) or worship graven images (don’t even know exactly what that is, but I guess it’s bad). We try to love, and to accept love, though we still hurt each other. A lot. The world is messed up, so far from realizing the fully kingdom-inspired image of wholeness and reconciliation to which God invites us.

And at least in my theological world, that’s on us, not God. I believe, with all of my being, that the audacious vision of God’s kingdom, here and now, isn’t something we sit around and pray for God to make real for us. Like Jesus said, we can (and should) collectively do greater things than even he did. When people experienced healing in his presence, he never said, “hey, I did that!” rather, he always told them that it was their own faith that made them well.

That’s pretty amazing to consider. And inspiring. And terrifying.

So here I am, not so much trying to be Jesus, but trying to at least follow his life, teaching and example better. And in taking my own personal inventory, I can see that I pretty much suck at it. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, but it’s clear I have plenty of work to do. Here are five examples:

I like stuff. I was raised in culture in which the very economy depended on my affinity for stuff. I mean, what did George W Bush tell us to do to help us heal from 9-11? Go shopping, of course! I try to break the habit, but dammit if stuff isn’t awesome, shiny, fun, and freaking everywhere. Maybe I need to work the twelve steps for my stuff addiction. Maybe we all do.

I want people to like me. Especially in the public sphere, my career more or less depends on it. I post a new articles and watch with either a sense of self-satisfaction or dread as the page-views roll in or stall out at a trickle. I get the sales reports form my publishers and see my own self worth in the midst of the numbers. My ego is so wrapped up in my identity – more specifically, what I do – that it’s hard for me to talk about who I am without jumping to my work.

I’m critical of others. I’m a real pro at finding fault in other people. Some psychologists suggests (and yes, I dropped out of my PhD in psych, thank you) that such a critical view of the outside world is simply an obfuscation to keep us from dealing with our own lingering sense of a lack of worth. But the thing is, I’m onto the fact that, lots of days, I can be a real asshole. Maybe for me, it’s more about assuring myself that everyone else is nearly the same degree of asshole as I am. The thing is, when I lean on this kind of justification, nothing changes. If our sense of worth hinges on comparisons, we’re all screwed.

I let fear dictate my actions. It’s funny to me when people write to me about my writing being vulnerable, brave or the like, because to me, it’s proof positive that so much of my life is simply about trying to reconcile fear and keep it in some sort of healthy context. By naming it, my hope is that it loses some of its power. But it keeps coming back, and more often than not, it weaves its way into my consciousness like some kind of virus, infecting my judgment and my perspective. If, as Paul notes, we availed ourself to a more perfect love, there would no room for fear. Clearly got to keep that one on my to-do list.

I’m willful. One of Jesus’ most powerful phrases ever uttered, at least for me, was “Not my will, but yours, God, be done.” It’s one thing to submit your own will to something bigger than yourself under normal circumstances; it’s entirely another to do it when you’re facing death. It’s not that I think that we’re all called to be martyrs for our faith. Hardly. But if we can’t let go of control and place our own agenda and idea of how things should be in the back seat on the basic, day-to-day stuff, how can we possibly do it when things get really serious? It’s a little trickier for me, since I’m not sure I’m on the “God has a consciousness and will like human beings” train, but I do know, when I take time to contemplate, what is for the Greater Good. And more often than not, I want to get there, but only if I can’t filter it through my own personal agenda first.

If I achieve nothing more than working intently on these five things in the coming year, I’m pretty sure I’ll be a great deal closer to the Jesus path I’m talking about than I am now. Of course, considering this all is being documented here on a public blog, on our podcast and, ultimately, in a book, it may be a bit of a set-up.

Dammit, there I go, putting things through my own personal agenda-filter again. Starting again, again…

Want to follow along on this journey, and maybe even help out? Track my progress here on my blog with the category “My Jesus Project,” or search “#MyJesusProject,” or on facebook and 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.

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  • Christina-anity

    The problem with trying to be like Jesus is that it’s different for everyone. If you want to drink beer, you can justify Jesus would be okay with it. If you aren’t okay with alcohol, you’ll find a scripture to make it unethical per the bible. You seem like such a reasonable person. Maybe a humanist platform of striving to be a better person and make the world a better place would suit you better. Jesus/Bible ethics are murky.

    • Christian Piatt

      I’m adding a humanist perspective to my year. But I believe we can manipulate those guidelines too, just like scripture, if it suits us. I think accountability is critical.

    • Tony C

      This is a good post and it (maybe unintentionally!) underlines how following Jesus is a very individual thing to do.

      For each person it will be different. Which is why it is so important to actually do this by letting Him live His life through you by His Holy Spirit. Only in that way will the believer ‘get it right’, because God’s way of working with each person is personally tailored to that person. This is the beauty of being a Christian (well, one of the many beauties!) because each of us as an individual is respected by God and used individually by Him and related to on a personal basis. Being Christlike does not mean we have to grow a beard and wear sandals – although you can if you like! – but it means we need to be Jesus to those we meet. 1 John 2:6 says that whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. It’s possible to be contemporary, it’s possible to be cool, it’s possible to keep your own personality, and still be Christlike. That’s what individuality is all about. And the brilliant thing about all this is that He can then reach people who are of a like mind – through you. Because the Christian associates with his peers, whether at work, the Flying Club or the gaming group, Jesus is at large in the community. The believer is being Jesus to those he meets. Reaching individuals *at their level* just as He has always done.

  • charlesburchfield

    Have you considered a 12step program?

  • Randolph Bragg

    >I like stuff.

    So did Jesus. Even McMansions. John 14:2

    > I want people to like me.

    Jesus was even more desperate than you; he got murderous about it. Luke 19:27

    >I’m critical of others.

    That was Jesus’ specialty. Often predicated by the word “woe unto.” He had quite the list in his little black book.

    >I let fear dictate my actions.

    Then you’re simply following Jesus. Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:5, et al

    >I’m willful.

    Good. All this “submissive” talk sounds too damn Islamic anyway.

    “[…] the Quran derives from a Syriac Christian lectionary.”

    The Christian Origins of Islam, by Peter Leithhart

    Get off your knees. Stand on your feet like a man, and act like you have a little backbone.

    Don’t appeal for mercy to God the Father up in the sky, little man, because he’s not at home and never was at home, and couldn’t care less. What you do with yourself, whether you are happy or unhappy–live or die–is strictly your business and the universe doesn’t care. In fact, you may be be the universe and the only cause for your troubles. But, at best, the most you can hope for is comradeship with comrades no more divine (or just as divine) as you are. So quit sniveling and face up to it — “Thou art God!”

    – October 21, 1960 Robert A. Heinlein to Lurton Blassingame
    Grumbles from the Grave, Virginia G. Heinlein, ed.

  • Will Thomas

    Being a Christian isn’t about becoming a better or more moral person. So….not sure how this project will work out for you.