Villification and the Way of Jesus

More often than not, I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus. {Eugene Peterson}

With our move to Charlottesville, our book club has fallen behind. However, Eugene Peterson’s The Jesus Way refuses to be ignored. A couple years ago, I heard Eugene give a lecture based on one of the themes he develops in this book, the observation that Jesus lived in stark contrast to all prevailing societal modus operandis of his day, both to the way of the Pharisees (the way of religious rigidity) and to the way of Herod (the way of power). It wasn’t only the message of these groups that Jesus resisted – it was just as much their way, the manner in which they pushed their message. The cliche has truth: the medium is our message.

However, dominant church culture has bowed at the feet of pragmatism. If it works (however that is defined), then by all means, do it. With this conviction, we baptize commercialism and individualism and every manner of gimmicky shlop in the name of Jesus. Art becomes merely propoganda. Friendship and justice and hospitality become merely bait. The Gospel is made subservient to a political philosophy or a theological grid or a historical prejudice.

At odds with all this message stands the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Jesus does not offer merely a message or an agenda or a bullet-point list of cultural ills to eradicate. Jesus offers himself, God made flesh. Jesus offers his words and his actions and his friendships and his conversations and his pains and his love. Jesus is the truth, absolutely. Jesus is the life, thank God. But Jesus is also the way, the how, the manner. It is simply a perversion of Jesus’ message if we assume that message to be codified only by theological assertions. Jesus’ message is himself, the son of God, come to save us.

All this seems timely to me. You might have noticed we are in an election year. Why do politics often bring out the worst in us? I’ve already written about the shameful smeer campain on Obama. Unfortunately (but certainly not surprisingly), it has not slowed. I continue to receive forwards and video links and alarming emails with lots of exclamation marks and capitals. A small bit of it centers on policy, fair enough. Most of it, however, maligns character, distorts positions and uses fear as a prime weapon. The Christian response is clear: none of that is the way of Jesus.

The past few weeks, I have been just as apalled at the vile and venom that has been spewed at Sarah Palin. Again, debate on policy and questions of experience are fair game. But the relentless attack on her family, the cruel mockery and elitist jabs at her rural home are, in my opinion, despicable. Of course, it bears repeating: none of this is the way of Jesus.

Personally, I am disgusted by the villification. I know that both parties have their own blame to bear. And of course both sides will claim the other side fired first (sounds eerily like Russia and Georgia). But when we begin to view the other as our mortal enemy, one who we must crush at all costs, we have truly lost our way.

I return, then, to the subversive way of Jesus. I discover that if I proclaim to be a Jesus-person, then my entire life sits under his authority: not only what I believe – but how I believe, not only what I say – but how I say it, not only the vote I cast – but the way I live toward those who cast their vote differently. As Eugene said, “Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”

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