"I have a weird request. I'm on a quest at the moment to discern if I want to define myself as a Christian. I want to ask people I respect what it means for them to follow Jesus. In some ways I know there's not simple answers, but in some ways I want simple answers or a short definition of what it means to follow Jesus, for you. I'd love to see it on your blog. It would really help me out with where I am spiritually at the moment."
While it is true there are no simple answers to this question, here's a brief explanation of my own faith life.
I grew up a nominal Christian. Although before marrying my parents had both regularly attended church, they found themselves unwelcome in their faith homes when neither their Catholic nor Protestant communities could welcome them as an "inter-faith" couple. My early religious education consisted of yearly celebrations of Christmas and Easter, occasional visits to a neighbor's Baptist congregation, and a well-worn children's bible.
As a child I found myself drawn to this person called Jesus. I read and re-read the gospel stories. One in particular caught my attention above the rest. It was the story of Jesus and Jarius' daughter, the young girl Jesus brings back to life. As a child I was not so much amazed by the story of resurrection, for certainly there were plenty of other childhood fairy tales with miraculous endings, rather I was awed at the way in which this Jesus, this person who was so important, so esteemed, took the time to heal a little girl like me. From a child's perspective, it was his compassion for the marginal and outcast of the adult world that captivated my attention. Somehow I knew, though I'm sure no one ever directly told me, that this person loved and cared for all persons, no matter who they were or what they did and it was toward this type of unconditional, compassionate love that I was drawn.
As an adolescent, the stories I heard of Jesus grew faint as I watched what seemed to be hypocrisy in communities of faith. I heard my parents re-tell the stories of their own rejection from the Church because of ecumenical fissures and I watched TV evangelists cheat poor folk out of their monthly checks only to adorn themselves with the finest clothing and jewelry. If as a child, I liked this Jesus, as a teen I certainly did not like his followers.
It was not until I was in high school that I began to re-connect with the Jesus stories of my childhood. I had begun to attend a United Methodist Youth Fellowship (not for the Jesus-y parts, of course, but for the cool trips they took!). There I began to hear once again these stories of a person filled with compassion and love, acceptance and welcome. Over and over again I heard tales of this Jesus and his ministry.
While as a young child, I focused on his loving presence, as a teen I began to hear his message. It was not only one of love, but of justice as well. Suddenly, I began to see little by little Jesus' vision for the world...one of peace, forgiveness, non-violence, justice, inclusion, welcome and hope. This was a vision to live by! This was indeed the hope of the world! This was how I wanted to live my life!
As a senior in high school, during our last youth group lock-in, I dedicated my life to the Jesus way. I knew then and there that I wanted to live a life marked by Jesus' message of love, peace and justice.
While as I grew older and deepened my faith my understanding of this Jesus way developed and matured, my basic commitment to following Jesus and being a Christian remained the same: LOVE and JUSTICE.
It is the love I intuitively felt reading the story of Jairus' daughter and the justice I experienced in Jesus' message that continue to call me to a Christian life. Jesus incarnates for me God's great love and justice and points me toward a way of life that seeks to embody that message. It is in and through Jesus that I most fully experience the Divine. For me, Jesus' proclamation of the kin-dom is the best way I know to participate in God's great vision of peace and justice for the world. It is this vision to which I dedicate my life and into which I strive to live more fully.
For me, being a Christian simply means seeking to live my life patterned after the message that Jesus preached: justice, inclusion, love, peace, non-violence, forgiveness, mercy, compassion. It has little to do with complicated theological formulas, doctrines or creeds. Rather it is rooted in my experience and attraction to this Jesus and the way of life he embodied.
Simple it may seem, but living that life is certainly not easy.