It's been a week now since I announced my newest project, which is to spend between 14 and 18 months figuring out what it seriously means to follow Jesus in our 21st century western world.
Tons of people say they are Christians, or even go so far as to say they follow Jesus, but which Jesus? And what exactly does it mean to follow him, especially today, in my life right now, with a mortgage, an iPhone, two kids, a wife and a writing career?
Not surprising, folks are much more ready with opinions about what I should do than they are with examples of how they are following Jesus. But even answering basic questions about what some "dos and don'ts" of Jesus-following has elicited far more onlookers than respondents on a recent survey I created to gather reader input.
I think it's because, despite how central "being a Christian" may be to lots of our identities, we don't really spend that much time thinking seriously about how making such a claim should be impacting our daily lives, our decisions and how we engage the rest of the world.
So I'm making a concerted effort to figure that out, with the hope that some folks will join me in the process and share what they learn too. I'm assembling some experts to help guide me through this exercise too, like AJ Jacobs, Esquire Editor-at-Large and bestselling author of a book about his own year-long human guinea pig experiment, The Year of Living Biblically.
I'm also calling on people from the Christian and Jewish traditions -- hopefully from all across the theological and social spectrum -- as well as historians and activists to help me define which Jesus it is I'm even talking about. Then I'll need them to help keep me honest, to call me on it when I screw it up. Which I will. A lot.
I have settled on a few things I will need to take on during my "Jesus Year," based on my first week of reflection, combined with the feedback I have gotten from the survey. These include:
- Living out as many of the commands as I can manage as outlined in the "Sermon on the Mount."
- Make a concerted effort to fulfill all seven of the "Acts of Mercy" from Matthew 25, including: To feed the hungry, To give drink to the thirsty, To clothe the naked, To harbor the harborless, To visit the sick, To visit the imprisoned, and To bury the dead. (Some of these sound way easier than others, and between you and me, clothing the naked could actually be kinda fun if I play it right).
- Fasting. Jesus spent 40 days in solitude, fasting in the desert. But my wife has promised me she will kill me if I bail on them for that long, so I'm trying to find another way. Instead, throughout Lent in 2015, I'm planning to consume nothing but liquids. Thank God beer and coffee qualify, or I'd never make it.
- Feeding 5000 people. I'm actually already working on this one. Now, I knew I lacked any special "Jesus wand" to turn five loaves of bread and two fish into a crap-ton of food, but I also do take to heart Jesus' claim that we can achieve similar, or even greater things, than he did during his ministry. But I also think He didn't mean for us to try and manage it alone. So I'm doing a "trade-up" campaign, in which I trade goods or services for something of equal or greater value, with the goal of having something at the end worth about $30,000, or that will provide other means to feed at least 5,000 people. We started last week with six copies of my own books, which then got traded for a mountain bike. Now we're offering a2,000 book cover design and manuscript editing package that a pair of professionals from the publishing industry have put up. Not bad progress from six books in less than a week, if you ask me.
- Selling what I have and giving it to the poor. Jesus told one rich guy in the Gospels to sell all he had and give it to the poor, but he didn't say it to everyone. So I'm thinking I'll go with the "half off" deal his cousin, John the Baptist, offered people. I also promised my wife that, in selling or giving away half of what I own, I'll stick to my stuff specifically and not anything she identifies as "ours." But hey, I figure it's still a worthwhile exercise in letting go, and in assessing how much crap I really do have, much of which I don't even need.
- Praying. This one is tricky for me, but there's really no way around praying if you want to do what Jesus tells us to do. First, I have hang-ups about praying in front of other people. Put simply, I don't. Fortunately, Jesus says not to make a show of your prayer, so I think I can get away with praying in solitude. But the other issue is what exactly I'm praying too, and why. For starters, I don't really believe in a God that "makes things happen," as if we were pawns in some larger cosmic game of chess. I'm open to at least the possibility of God working through us, but I'm not even sure what that means, especially since I struggle to conceive of God as some "supernatural, other being." To me, praying to God would be a little bit like praying to a well full of fresh water. Sure, I could say "hey water, you're awesome! Sure wish you'd help our crops grow and keep me and my family from shriveling up like raisins, to which the well would respond (if it could speak, I guess), "Hey stupid, fields don't water themselves; get off your ass and do it yourself!"
I'm also planning to try some more lighthearted things, like walking on water (I saw a guy with an awesome hydro-jetpack down on the Willamette river that may be my new best friend), turning water to wine (I'm already a homebrewer, so this one will be easy, though it will take me longer than Jesus. Damn you fermentation!!!) and other Jesus-y stuff.
But then there are the bits like healing people (hello, malpractice!), getting crucified, denying your family, and so on. For some of these, I'll simply have to rely on my experts to help me find a way to engage these without completely destroying my family in the process. After all, I'm trying to figure out what it means today to follow Jesus; I have no illusions about actually trying to be Jesus. Thankfully that's well above my pay grade.
Got a trade-up idea? Email me at cpiatt (at) christianpiatt (dot) com.
Want to follow along on this journey, and maybe even help out? Track my progress 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.