Over the last five years, we’ve been witnessing just such a crime. It has, sadly, been a corruption in parts, a slow death that has gone almost unnoticed by all but the most observant. The victim: the verb “to follow.”
To wit, ask yourself what it means to follow something or someone. Think about the ways you’ve last used that word, whether you were referring to watching your favorite television series, like Lost, or being the dedicated fan of a band, like U2. Do you participate in social network sites, such as Facebook or Twitter? If you do, you’ve probably “followed” someone—meaning you’ve subscribed to that person’s daily, or sometimes hourly, updates about what’s going on in his or her life (in 140 characters or less, of course). Whether you feel yourself worthy of it or not, you’ve also mostly likely got your own set of “followers,” friends or family who are interested in what you have to say.
More and more, following is an action that no longer requires any, well, action. Instead, it has come to mean something passive and impersonal, requiring little of us in terms of sacrifice or change. Indeed, to follow someone used to mean we “proceeded after” them, actively following in their footsteps. To follow a philosophy or religion meant we engaged in that belief system as a calling or way of life. To follow meant we accepted the authority of that person or calling so that we might seek to act in accordance with that which we were following.
As the new senior editor of Conversations Journal, words and their demise are of more than simply passing interest to me. If we are followers of Christ—the Logos, the Word made flesh—words and the value they carry reflect the manner in which we value communicating to one another, those for whom Christ died. Indeed, Richard Foster’s excellent article in this issue goes into much greater detail about words and what they teach us about the Jesus way. I hope you will not only enjoy but be transformed by his words.
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s get back to following.
When Jesus called His disciples, and by extension us, to follow Him, He wasn’t talking about something easy, impersonal, and detached. As Eugene Peterson shared during RENOVARÉ’s International Conference on Spiritual Renewal in San Antonio, Texas, the way of Jesus is “robustly human,” deeply conversational, and highly ordinary. Jesus requires our participation. We can’t simply be a fan or an admirer; we must enter the story; we must participate in making meaning, just as we participate in and personalize our understanding of what the metaphor of “the way” might mean.
The theme of this issue, and the intent of the changes you see within these pages, is “Following the Jesus Way.” The word “following” here does triple duty.
First, following the Jesus way means this issue follows after, both chronologically and thematically, the work and meaning that RENOVARÉ and its partners put into their International Conference. Aptly titled “The Jesus Way: Recovering the Lost Content of Discipleship,” the event hosted gifted speakers and teachers such as Eugene Peterson, Chris Webb, Dallas Willard, and others—many of whose words you’ll find in the pages of this issue of Conversations.
Second, the content of this issue—its ideas, articles, and exercises—is meant to assist you, the reader, in learning about what the way of Jesus looks like in practical and personal terms. We ask the questions, What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean when He asks us to follow Him, and how have others done just that along the Way? As Eugene Peterson writes in his book The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, “To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it.”Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus Is the Way (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 22.
Third, following the Jesus way is something we at Conversations are seeking to do in the redesign and restructure of both the physical journal and our website. And by this, I don’t mean to trivialize what following the Jesus way might mean. Back in March, the staff of Conversations, including our editor in chief, Gary Moon (Transformational Theology), and new section editors Mindy Caliguire (Honesty About the Journey), Cindy Bunch (Life Together), Jan Johnson (Intentionality of the Heart), Emilie Griffin (Classical Spiritual Exercises), and Joannah Sadler (Features) gathered at a retreat center in Virginia to talk about the future of the journal. For a weekend, we lived in community, praying, talking, laughing, and journeying our way into what it means to run Conversations the Jesus way, what it means for this community to follow Jesus.