For some reason (likely the influence of the modern era appel to reason, enlightenment, and science), we like to separate things. We like categories, labels, systems, and the fences that keep us isolated from others and from ourselves. The dichotomization of our private and public worlds provides a sense of protection, privacy, and the perceived safety of unvulnerability.
“In flight from public controversy this person or that reaches the sanctuary of a private virtuousness. Such people neither steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, but do good according to their abilities. But in voluntarily renouncing public life, these people know exactly how to observe the permitted boundaries that shield them from conflict. They must close their eyes and ears to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self-deception can they keep their private blamelessness clean from the stains of responsible action in the world. In all that they do, what they fail to do will not let them rest. They will either be destroyed by this unrest, or they will become the most hypocritical of all Pharisees.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Works, v.6
What does it look like to be Christian? We can’t be Christian in the confines of our that which we call private. What does it mean to be Christian in public? To engage conflict with peace? To take action in a broken world?
I was speaking with a group of junior high and high school students this weekend about issues of marginalization and oppression. I specifically turned the conversation from acting on global issues to recognizing injustice within our local proximity. For them, it meant moving from a focus on hunger in the world to the often unjust or unloving treatment of peers in the classroom, at the lunch table, on the athletic field, and within social circles based on economic status. I asked the questions, “If Jesus showed up right here, right now, in this place, who are the people to whom he would be giving his attention? How would he be spending his time? How would he be listening to the voices of those who are often forgotten or ignored?”
An ever-so energetic, enthusiastic, and hormonal adolescent boy instantly shot his words from his reclining chair, “You mean like… what would Jesus do? Like the bracelets.” As I reverted back through the 1990s and the “WWJD?” movement, the phrase made my insides cringe and quiver while my mouth slowly opened and reluctantly uttered, “Yeah?”
I had to concede to my now junior high nemesis.
Essentially, I was hoping that these young minds would actually consider who the person of Jesus was and how he may enact love in our current context minus the popular Christian subculture catchphrase that makes the reality of the question so easy to dismiss.
“What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities and professor of philosophy at Syracuse University, begins, “In 1896, Charles Sheldon, a pastor in Topeka, Kansas, wrote a book titled In His Steps. The subtitle of Sheldon’s book, What Would Jesus Do? fueled the later ‘WWJD’ industry – the bumper stickers, T-shirts, and bracelets that boldly pose a question to which the Religious Right is sure to know the answer. My hypothesis is if our friends on the Right really mean to ask that question instead of using it as a stick to beat their enemies, they are in for a shock.”
I would agree with Caputo and therefore may create my own line of products to sell in a Parable or Lifeway Christian Bookstore near you (because that’s what Jesus would do). The products would read, “WWJD? You don’t want to know.” No. Really. You probably, really don’t want to know.
It appears as though my last post was published on August 11 – almost a month ago. I suppose there is a reason why I have not written in nearly a month. On August 12 I was offered and accepted a new position at MVNU, where I have served as a Resident Director for the last 3 years. I am now in the position formerly known as the Associate Dean. Though the listed responsibilities are essentially and/or technically the same as in previous years, the name of the position has changed, symbolically reflecting the change that I will/am bring/bringing. I am serving as the Director of Student Involvement and Accountability in the Office of Student Development. My title is the next-to-longest name second only to Rick Teasdale (not to be confused with an actual person), the Assistant Associate Vice Regional Director to the Chancellor of Student Services. My new role at MVNU includes serving as an advisor to the Student Government Association, chairing of the University Judicial Council and Campus Life Council, providing leadership development and mentoring to students, and handling all discipline process and accountability standards for students. I’m also the University Liaison to the Parents’ Association.
In the midst of the transition into my new position I’ve been quite wrapped up with a number of things. Sarah, Kyla, and I moved out of the RD apartment attached to Oakwood Hall. Per my request, we were able to maintain MVNU’s campus as our place of residence. My next post will tell about our move down the hill from Oakwood Hall to the Rosewood Apartments. We primarily wanted to remain on campus in order to continue living life among the students that we love, opening our home to all those who accept the invitation to journey with us, together in the struggle to learn what it really means to live in the way of Jesus.
I realized during a time of silence on our SGA Retreat (a couple of weekends ago) that the consistent and abnormal practice of solitude, prayer, and reflection is essential in the midst of all the things both good and bad that fill our lives. So… I am not particularly proud of the fact that I’ve had only 2 days off in the last 29 days but I am excited to enter a new season of life that possesses a more natural and healthy rhythm of existence. A more consistent schedule of thinking and writing will reignite the posts that are going to be published on a much more regular basis now that the time demands of transition have subsided.
I also moved into a new office. It’s name is Sweden. Stop by. We’ll share some coffee and conversation.