Our twenty-first century world is shaped by the common cultural terrain. In many cases, that is all about who or waht is followed on social media and online. It is desgnated by “following” which conjures images of FaceBook and fanbases, celebrity and lifestyles, loyalty and imitation. There is exuberance in the widness and the freedom of it all. But in Christianity, the invitiation “to follow” precedes all hint of the internet. In an odd kind of way, it connects with many of the same characteristics.
The invitation to “follow” comes in the Gospel with both simplicity and demand. It is issued with clarity by each of the evangelists. In a sense, it is about becoming a fan of Jesus and his teachings. Being a fan is a complicated business: it is about marketing and branding, communicating links through headgear and t-shirts, online time and events like concerts and premieres, games and playoffs. It means linking to the data, recognizing the names of significant figures, knowing the process and understanding the rules and the etiquette around it all. In Christianity, it is about linking with the key teaching, establishing a connection and a familiarity with the beliefs. Looking at those teachings, like “love one another” or “Blessed are the merciful” actually means figuring out how to DO it, how to LIVE it. It is not as easy as clicking on a button or adding a jersey to a collection. To follow the Gospel demands curiosity, attentivness and purpose. The decision “to follow” means choosing with purpose and recognizing something far greater than self.
Like online sources, the Gospel invitation to follow is always there. There are countless openings, but they may not be as mind-blowing as internet sensations. Like the message itself, they are clear and direct, engaging but not overwhelming or seductive. They rest in the realm of traditional insititutional structures realigning resources for the world and lifestyles that are evolving. And yet, that in itself bears a curious connection to the original, to the Gospel message itself.
The Gospel was all about connections between people and beliefs, lifestyles and decisions. The texts were recorded only after the oral tradition was in place. And as the written gained momentum and then dominance, historical contexts honed interpretations and practices. Some of these interpretation were ill-placed and even conradictory to the Gospel itself. Some may have lead to the stigma that is currently clinging to religious beliefs. And yet, the Gospel itself survives as an invitation extended to each person for personal consideration and choice. It proffers the chance of becoming a better preson and looking to something greater than self,
Maybe, as the curtain falls on the institutions of the twentieth century, the lifestyles and communities they housed need not be lost. Maybe the Gospel message can be rediscovered and found relevant in this century. Maybe that possibility is sitting on the edge of a keyboard waiting to be accessed.