On my desk sits a bobble head that I use when I have to go to university orientation events where I work. Jesus stands there grinning and winking, head a-bobbing, as he points jauntily at you. The figure is entitled Buddy Christ.
It amuses me to no end, and it effectively starts conversations, as folks wonder what sort of church encourages Jesus to look so downright cheerful?
But Jesus, the one that we find in the gospels, seems to have some pretty fascinating ideas when it comes to attracting followers. He either goes with the tried-and-must-take-the-added-benefit-of-being-divine-trick of just saying “Leave whatever you have and follow me”, and sometimes adding on a neat trick of disclosing heretofore secret information. Or, he addresses crowds, and gives his motivational pitch: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross and follow me.” In the parlance of the times, “Whoever wants to join up, you’re going to die. Now who wants to come?”
Any modern PR professional would be crying softly in a corner by this point. This is not the way to build a mega-church! Where are the platitudes? The reassurances? The condemnations of the nasty outsiders? Everything is going wrong! This is not the way a Buddy Christ speaks!
And yet, people came. So many people came, and followed, and some did die. But the message of Jesus which brought them prepared them for an authentic encounter with the living God, and to be transformed by that encounter. And that encounter required them to lose something: sometimes their security, sometimes their families, sometimes their sense of self, or their status, sometimes their lives. Sometimes all of the above.
I don’t know that we are as comfortable with the idea of loss as the early church communities were. We certainly don’t reflect Jesus’s methods of convincing people to follow him (that may be okay–I’ve tried the casual “follow us!” thing, and that only works on Twitter). Maybe it’s because we have so much more to lose, now that we’ve had a taste of being in control these past few millennia. Maybe it’s a human thing, and we need to shrink our egos a bit, and learn to fail a little more gracefully. I’m not sure of the answer, but I do know that as Christians, we need to learn how to lose again. We need to learn how to pray with St. Francis, “For it is giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.” And by praying it, may we learn how to live it.