(Thoughts sparked by Peter Rollins)
I said that I currently don’t think the Way Jesus lived and about which he spoke is based on belief. I do not mean belief is absent. I’m just saying it’s not fundamental, the way we use it to divide ourselves in North American society. I was reminded this the other day when I was thinking about a baby.
A baby is born into a family. And instantly it is accepted. It is welcomed. It is loved. It is given a first name and immediately has a last name. It belongs to the family. It belongs.
Later, the baby grows up and begins to take part in the life of the family. The baby becomes a child and shares in regular practices or rituals with the family. They eat together, they play together, they shop together. They may go to church together, sing songs together, pray together, dance together, and watch movies together. This child now shares in communal behavior. She behaves a certain way.
Later, still, the child begins to question some of the beliefs she was taught. This self-examination period could last an uncertain amount of time. But the child, now a teenager, begins to reaffirm some of the beliefs of her parents and dissents with other beliefs of her parents. Some become her own and others are rejected and let go.
What is amazing about this is not that she believes some things her parents do or that she does things her parents do or that she belongs to her family. The amazing beauty is the order. She first belongs regardless of beliefs. She then hangs out and shares in common practices and rituals regardless of beliefs. Finally she learns to believe certain things (many will be shaped by that experience).
Why is that novel? Well, in the church we have done the opposite. We have said you cannot be a part of us (you’re not one of us) unless you believe, until you believe. Even more, you cannot participate in our common practices and rituals until you believe, without belief. So we have been taught, learned, and continue the practice of exclusion based on belief. It is many arenas---democrat versus republican, left versus right, etc. I see it all the time in D.C. and it makes my stomach churn. Why does it matter? Jesus, the person on whom Christianity is supposed to based, did the opposite.
He first accepted unconditionally 12 guys, mostly from the lower class of society. He didn’t ask them what they believed, he didn’t ask them to believe anything. He just said, “Come and follow me.” They were welcomed and loved, without doing or believing a thing. In fact Jesus did this with a lot of people. As I write in another section, he didn’t hang out with ex-tax collectors and ex-prostitutes, he hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors among others. He loved people unconditionally before any change in belief or action.
Once in his circle (and there more than just the inner circle of 12), people joined him in communal practices and rituals. They broke bread and ate together. They sat and listened to stories and parables together. They hung out with the poor and children together. They fed people. They healed people together. They spent time with those with no friends, no family. They loved people. They befriended the unfriendly; they loved enemies. They spoke with the occupiers. They healed the lame, the blind, the lepers (those with skin diseases). All this was done without a single plea or appeal to change their belief of God or who hey thought Jesus was.
In fact, it wasn’t until after joining Jesus and after already participating in shared practices that Jesus asked them who people thought Jesus was. They gave him answers like “Some say Elijah” and “Others say John the Baptist.” Jesus then asked them who they believed (key word) he was. Peter spoke up and for the first recorded time, we find that he believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the awaited one spoken of in the scriptures of the Jewish community. Belief came last. Belief came last. Not only did it come last, it wasn’t fundamental but a natural outworking of belonging to this community of Jesus and learning to do the things that Jesus did.
I believe in the power of change by behavior especially behavior of service. It’s the guiding principle I accidentally “discovered” and used while teaching and still use to this day especially in my own life. I never saw Jesus exclude people on the basis of belief. And I love churches and places where people are accepted even if they disagree with what is said, where people are allowed to ask questions when they don’t understand including questions without answers, where people are loved, forgiven, and welcomed unconditionally into a community that practices the Way.