What is it to you?

So Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Follow me.” They’ve just been talking about how Peter will die, about whether he truly loves Jesus, so naturally Peter turns around and points to John, asking “And what about him?” Naturally.

Jesus replies: “What is it to you? You must follow me.”

If I look back at the apostles, it seems like they often set the example for the rest of Christendom that followed. The disciples were a fractuous lot. Besides spending their time constantly missing the point, misrepresenting Jesus, and walking around confused, they seemed to fight among themselves. A lot.

Just a short while after this conversation with Jesus, they’re at it again, fighting over who gets to sit on  Jesus’ right and left hands. Once again, worried about power and authority rather than the things Jesus cherished.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It seems like every time some Christian does something I find truly inspiring, John Piper (and others like him) feels the need to go on Twitter and say goodbye. Indeed, the “farewell {insert name here}” trend has become one of the most famous pieces of public disapproval that Christians use against those they deem doctrinally unsound.

I recently chanced upon a Christian blog, which will remain nameless here, driving the point home with uncharacteristic exuberance. The actual post was a warning against how Angus Buchan will “take his deceitful show on the road to unleash its contagious religious lies into the unsuspecting world.”

While this is a great example of one Christian disowning another with the judicious application of vitriol, the point of the article wasn’t what drew my attention most (I am also very much like the disciples, it seems). Hidden in between the unsubstantiated claims and personal attacks on Mr Buchan is this gem: He is placed among his “NAR / pseudo-charismatic counterparts such as Reinhard Bonnke, At Boshoff, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, TB Joshua, Joyce Meyer, Todd Bentley, Rick Warren, Rodney Howard-Browne, Billy Graham, TD Jakes, Nevil Norden, Kenneth Copeland, Rob Bell, Reinhard Bonnke, John Piper, Kay Arthur and Cindy Jacobs to name but a very few.”

To name but a few. Look at that list again. If the writer truly believes that each of those people (and the large theological streams they represent) are part of the “vile deception of the false gospel”, then the true gospel must be believed by an extremely small group of people. That list encompasses almost the whole spectrum of major Christian movements. There is even some nice inside-greeting there, since John Piper has Farewelled Rob Bell years ago for his views on hell.  This is an extreme version of the same problem that plagues anyone who declares anybody unChristian because they espouse a different theology.

Do you really believe that you, and only you speak for “true” Christianity? Can you be so arrogant as to think that everyone else is either completely misguided or false prophets? Who gave you the authority to say who is and isn’t Christian? Where did you even find the gall to assume that you know what true Christianity is?

There are thousands of people honestly seeking God who don’t believe as you do. Smart, loving, deeply committed Christians read the same text and believe wildly different things. Why should you be any different?

Rachel Held Evans recently replied to a “farewell” blog with her characteristic wit and insight: “You can’t “farewell” me from the Table because it’s not your Table to set. It’s Christ’s. And the hungry are welcome.”

The hungry are welcome. By all means, rather spread your bile and destructive judgements. Keep going trying to split the world into US and THEM.

But remember, when you deign to cut off legitimate seekers from Christ’s body, know that He just might turn and ask “What is it to you?”

What is it to you?

“You must follow Me.”

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Listicles: subverting your self.

The article popped up in my newsfeed, clickbait headline blaring: the 65 books you need to read in your twenties. Being a person of self-restraint and sober judgement, I clicked on the link, naturally. It was, as the attentive reader might have guessed, a Listicle.

The listicle seems to be becoming the dominant article form of our time. I see more of this once shy creature in my facebook feed than almost any other kind of article these days- and I have friends who love the long form article.

Like most listicles, this one had a series of numbered pictures with a paragraph standing by like some awkward parent. Book covers were displayed, shining, next to a digit somewhere between 1 and 39, with the paragraph allowed to sing its praises, as long as it did it quickly and then shut up.

I had only read one of the books on the list.

Cue the shiver of book-induced FOMO. I felt out of touch, wondering why I’ve not dived into the pool of things-you-must-read-in-your-20’s. I only have three years left! I wasn’t alone. The comments on the post both stated their inadequacy as measured by the list. We all felt like we should have done better. We were all voracious readers, after all.

The unexamined life is not worth living. So, striving to at least fake an existence with a reason for continuing, I stopped and took a step back. Who was the person writing this? Some random person I don’t know from a bar of soap, who had the time and inclination to scratch out an example of one of the most effortless articles in existence. And I was giving her any kind of say in my life?

It works like this. Take 65 books you really loved, google their covers and say why you liked them. Now add a title that makes it sound authoritative. Profit.

I could do it too, but unlike this person, my list would be full of mind-bending Science Fiction instead of books written by or about rock stars. I would have a few (very few) books on philosophy instead of feminist manifestos by popular celebrities. Instead of something by Chuck Palahniuk, I’d offer up books like Shantaram and The Book Thief.

This does not mean that my list would be better. For instance, I’ve been meaning to read Chuck Palahniuk for quite some time. There were many incredible books (I hear) in that listicle, but that does not make it authoritative. A title claiming that you MUST read them does not make it authoritative. As hard as it is to believe, not even numbering the posts makes it authoritative.

A better title would probably have been: Books I really liked reading in my 20’s. And that’s the problem with so many of these cookie-cutter articles: they are merely someone’s opinion disguised as a definitive take on the world.

We are taken in by the form, by the way it is dished up, made to believe that we must conform to the reality it tries to sketch. Truly, the medium is the message.

What do you do with a problem like the listicle? Maybe their worth lies in the possibility of encountering something new. If it’s all just opinions disguised as something more, we can stand back and decide whether we would like to explore the world that is offered up to us. If we don’t, that’s great too, but too often we are pulled into the clutches of inadequacy by a form that is barely worth the angst.

But don’t give it power, don’t let it depress you. The listicle thrives on people missing out, or feeling like they do. It is unfortunately a fact of life that if you do one thing, you miss out on another. Never allow a number and a picture to make the things you’re doing right now feel less worthy of your time.

Unless they are. Then you should run.