Bedtime theology with the 8 and 10-year-olds...  

(In the kitchen

Me: (Sings a silly song and dances around

8 yo: Zero followers! 

Me: Awww, come on! That wasn’t that bad! How do you kids know about social media followers?

10 yo: We heard about YouTube followers at school. 

Me: Oh. Well, I wonder how many followers Jesus would have if he were on YouTube? 

10 yo: Whoa, he’d have so many followers that he’d break YouTube.

Would Jesus really have that many YouTube followers? You might think so, but then again he had some pretty unpopular advice. Imagine these posts: 10 Easy Ways to Sell Your Possessions and Give the Money to the Poor. How To Hang Out With the Most Unpopular Crowd. Give up Your Life with an Excruciating Death. This doesn't seem like a popular channel to me. 

It's funny because people are absolutely monetizing religion on social media (my son explained to me that when you get a certain number of followers, YouTube actually pays you. I had no idea.) People are monetizing religion in all kinds of ways, but people have always done that. Martin Luther, 500-some years ago, spoke out against the sale of indulgences by the church -- basically a piece of paper saying that you or a loved one could get into heaven. People were buying these when they could have been buying food or providing for other basic needs. Today you can buy a "God Bless the USA" Bible being hawked by a presidential candidate (I would not recommend this). The more things change, the more things stay the same. 

What does it really mean to be a follower? On social media, it means something, but does it mean everything? People follow influencers and social media stars, sometimes to their detriment. I recently learned that there's a male fragrance influencer who is talking middle school boys into buying glass bottles of expensive cologne, which are shattering in lockers across middle America. Some people craft a life around a social media influencer, but they don't last forever. Then what? I suppose you could move on to the next influencer. And/or, you could follow Jesus. 

Following Jesus can be kind of a pain, honestly. When I think back on the times when I really feel like I was following Jesus, it's often been an inconvenience. It's often been when I've put someone else's needs first, admitted a wrongdoing or let something go that I wanted to have. Frankly, following Jesus, in my life, has caused me to move across the country, live in three different states and end up far from my family of origin. One has to wonder if it has to be this complicated. 

I think often of this blessing by writer Edward Abbey, from his Desert Solitaire (Ballantine Books, 1971): "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." I suppose following Jesus has led me to some wild places, but there is life and joy there, too.

Not every journey with Jesus has to be far and wide. I also think of Mother Theresa's advice to someone who wanted to come to India and serve the poor with her. She told them to start in their own neighborhood first. Either way, following Jesus gets a little complicated, messy and inconvenient. 

But what's the alternative for me? Complacency? Numbness? Self-centeredness? 

Following Jesus, at it's best, is a lifelong endeavor. Sometimes I do it well, sometimes I'm hopelessly off the path. On the good days, I find myself asking: where is God showing up in this situation, person, place or thing? On an even better day, I jump right in and follow. 


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