The Wayfarer and The 5 and 25 Christian: All That We Need To Follow Jesus

My good friend Nick and I – who serve as youth pastors together at our church – have been working on an idea for a few months. Before I tell you about the idea, I want to tell you about Nick and I, and the amazing relationship that we have grown into.

Nick was the solo youth pastor at the church when I joined in 2012. I heard his name being spoken aloud, but I didn’t get the chance to meet him until the late spring of 2013. Our church was hosting a food drive, and he and I both showed up to bag up groceries, break down boxes, and serve a number of families in poverty that were coming to receive what we had to give.

We started talking about shared hobbies, like fantasy and sci-fi geekdom. Then, our conversation turned towards our theology. In that short conversation about what we believed, what we thought it meant to be a follower of Jesus, I knew that Nick and I were going to be best friends.

Beyond shared theology, we also had some shared experiences. We were both medics in the Army, both assigned to combat engineer units in very dangerous locations. We had both seen and experienced things that changed us forever, and we both had to leave service with a medical discharge, due to crippling PTSD. We both struggled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. And we both had come to believe in a philosophy of total non-violence, because of our experiences in the military.

So, Nick and I have had quite a journey together over the past year and a half. It’s been a journey filled with shared doubts, anger at injustice, questions about whether it’s worth it, prayers for a better world, conversations where we yell at each other about things we completely agree on. We’ve laughed together, mourned together, cried together, and eaten “emotional burritos” together. In a life full of great friends, I have never found someone like Nick, someone that I feel is truly my “soul brother.”

We’re pretty much the definition of bromance.

NOW… on to the idea that we had.

In the military, there is a thing called the “5 and 25”. What this drill means is thus: if you are on a patrol, or in a convoy, and your unit has to stop and dismount, you perform a “5 and 25” sweep. First, you sweep the 5 meters around you, to ensure that the area around your person is secure. Next, you sweep the area 25 meters outside of your immediate area, to ensure that it’s safe for everyone else.

As Nick and I have grown in faith and ministry together, we started kicking around the idea of a “Wayfarer Church”. It would be something distinct from what many people see as “Christian” – that is, a collection of rules surrounding what to do and not do, who to associate with and who to reject. Instead, we would focus the “Wayfarer Church” on being “wanderers along the Way of Jesus.” Our movement would be open to all who seek, all who question, all who wish to follow the example set by Jesus (and others) in kindness, compassion and charity towards all.

As we kicked this idea around, I mentioned the idea of the “5 and 25 Christian”. To me, the 5 and 25 Christian would be a simple explanation of 1) what a Follower of Jesus is supposed to be and 2) what a Follower of Jesus is supposed to do. There would be Scriptures describing each of these categories, and the Scriptures follow.

The 5

 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

The 25

Matthew 25:31-46 New International Version (NIV)

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

The 5 and 25 Christian (henceforth called “The Wayfarer”) needs nothing else to know what God expects, and what God taught us to be and do through Jesus. There are plenty of other words of spiritual wisdom in the Bible, and the Wayfarer seeks the truth in Scripture, wherever it can be found.

But it all begins with the 5 and 25.

If we committed ourselves to simply being what Jesus called blessed at the beginning of Matthew 5, and to doing what Jesus called righteous at the end of Matthew 25, we would be the kind of Christians that the rest of the world could be drawn to. Our beliefs are well-known, but our actions have not been the kinds of actions that follow this pattern of being and doing that Jesus calls us to. We have been so concerned with the wealth of Scripture that talks about the other people and what they should be and do that we have forgotten to take the log out of our own eye.

Christianity has been tied up with Empire since Constantine decided to use the sign of the Cross to conquer. We had a scant few hundred years to try the faith like Jesus taught it, and the 1700 years following have seen every major Western empire rule with the power of the Church. America is one of those empires, even if we refer to it as a Democratic Republic. The problem with tying Jesus up in Empire is that it completely betrays who Jesus was and what Jesus taught and stood for. Jesus never stood for the powerful, and He never called the privileged “blessed”. Instead, He stood with the outcasts, the misfits, the judged and condemned, and He called them “blessed.” An Empire can never put aside power for the sake of compassion: it would cease to be an Empire. Similarly, Followers of Jesus cannot ally themselves with power, when we are called to be the voice and the advocate for the powerless.

So, maybe it’s time to give up the failed experiment of the last 1700 years. Perhaps it’s time that the title “Christian” give way to something new, something radical. Maybe it’s time for the 5 and 25 to become our creed, for us to commit ourselves to being the kind of people that Jesus called “blessed” and doing for “the least of these” what Jesus commanded us to do.

I’m no longer happy being a Christian. I want to be a Wayfarer, wandering along the path that Jesus has laid out for me. Perhaps sometimes I’ll wander from the trail – but “all who wander are not lost.” I know who I follow, and I know where my path leads. It leads to the Cross, it leads to pain and suffering, it leads to death – but it ultimately leads to resurrection and life everlasting and abounding with joy.

Come with me. Stop being a Christian, and start following along the Way.

Grace and Peace in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Michael Woywood

A Jesus With Teeth: How A Violent Culture Made Me Into a Lamb and Christian Non-Violence Turned Me Into A Lion

Today, I have proudly written the longest title in the short history of my blog. And there was much rejoicing…

On to our topic, one which is near and dear to my heart and which has been on my mind quite a bit the past few months…

I consider non-violence to be at the core of the message of Jesus. He emphasized it quite a bit during the few years of His public ministry.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“You have heard it said: an eye for an eye, a life for a life. But, I say, if a man slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him your left one as well. If a man demands your coat, give him your cloak also. If a man compels you to walk a mile with him, walk two.”

“You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers (or those who work for peace), for they will be called the Children of God.”

“Put away your sword! Don’t you know that those who live by the sword die by it?”

I think those quotes (with possibly mangled wording) make it clear that those who love God and follow Jesus cannot live a life of violence, or even condone violence.

This is a very controversial topic in America, even among American Christians. America is the land that violently cast off the chains of tyranny from Great Britain and forged itself into a prosperous nation. America is the land of the Old West, where justice came from a deadeye sheriff with a quick draw. America is the land that defeated Nazi Germany (single-handedly, if you listen to some) and Imperial Japan with force of arms.

America is also a land in which thousands die by gun violence every year. America is a land of unprovoked invasions and never-ending wars. America is a land where warriors are celebrated and peacemakers are reviled, where armed vigilantes become heroes in the media and peaceful protestors are abused by police. America is the land where not even elementary schools are safe, or movie theaters, or shopping malls. America is the land where guns outnumber citizens, and people walk the streets in fear for their lives.

Non-violence is a very controversial topic, because we’re a land of wolves. We don’t want to become “sheep”, passively accepting evil and tyranny. We want to keep our power over the forces arrayed against us locked and loaded and under our bed.

The popular saying goes, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Jesus didn’t carry a gun, and He changed the world.

Ghandi didn’t carry a gun, and he freed a nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t carry a gun, and he helped America find its conscience.

Malala Yousafzai didn’t carry a gun, and she stared down an armed terrorist.

I don’t claim to be an expert on violence and non-violence, but I do claim some experience with it. In 2006, I found myself, with my unit, in the most violent city in Iraq. Ar Ramadi was like the Wild West, in that everyone had guns, and the only victory to be found was in having the most and biggest guns. I went to Ar Ramadi with no particular hatred of the Iraqi people, but with a great deal of fear of the danger the city posed. Within only a few months, I had aimed and/or fired my gun several times.

And I hated them. Oh, how I hated them. I wanted each and every one of them to die violently. I wanted to bomb that city into a parking lot. I wanted to wipe it off the face of the Earth and never hear its name spoken again.

And for years after, Ramadi became the world for me. Ramadi was the most important lesson that I ever learned: that the only way to beat a bad guy with a gun was to be a good guy with a gun.

I thought it made me powerful.

I thought it made me brave.

But, the truth is, the only thing that living a life of violence ever made me was afraid. It didn’t make me a wolf.

It made me a sheep.

Violence made me live in a world where I passively accepted the presence of evil, and was only prepared to react to it with the same methods.

Violence made me live in a world where I was constantly afraid, constantly on guard, constantly worried that I wouldn’t get the chance to shoot before the other guy shot.

Violence made me live in a world where every single person I saw was a threat, a possible enemy to be evaluated and resisted.

And it was Jesus, with the message of non-violence, that set me free.

See, Jesus’ non-violence isn’t a passive acceptance of evil. The non-violence of Jesus doesn’t sit back and take it.

When Jesus talked about turning the other cheek, He taught it as an act of resistance. Slapping a man on the right cheek was an insult, something used with a servant or a slave – the culture that He lived declared the left hand to be unclean, and so slapping someone on the right cheek with the right hand required a backhanded slap.

So, when Jesus said, “Turn your left cheek”, He was actively challenging the evil of degrading violence. In order for someone who just backhanded you on the right to slap you on the left cheek with the hand would require him to treat you as an equal. The only way such a man could insult you by backhanding you across the left cheek was by using his unclean hand. So, either the man has to treat you as an equal (thus shaming himself after treating you as a slave), or he has to become a lawbreaker by using his unclean hand.

Both cases are active resistance against violence, but in non-violent ways.

In another example, Jesus told His listeners that if someone asks for your coat, you should also give them your cloak. This wasn’t a message about generosity. In Jewish law, a debtor could demand as repayment everything you owned… except for your cloak, because you could use your cloak to keep you warm at night. So, when Jesus says, “Give them your cloak too”, He isn’t suggesting that you simply lie down and take it.

He is urging non-violent action against an unjust system.

Ultimately, this is what the practice of non-violence is about: confronting unjust systems without using unjust means.

Violence is about power, and power is the prime instrument of injustice around the world. Injustice exists because those with power use that power to deprive others of equality, liberty and life.

You can never fight injustice with violent power. The saying that comes to mind is, “Fighting for peace is like f***ing for virginity.”

The only thing that can overcome injustice is non-violent resistance. The only thing that can overcome abuse of power is peacemakers staring it in the face, daring it to go one step further, holding up the mirror to its own evil.

The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy who refuses to use one.

That refusal, that adamant defiance of violent systems in the face of injury and death, is why I say that Christian non-violence made me into a lion.

No longer do I need to live in fear of a violent world… because I reject it.

I don’t have to worry about being powerless against my enemies… because I love them.

I will never worry about whether or not I have my sword… because I have put it away for all time.

And I don’t have to worry when a machismo-filled, Old West culture tells me that the Jesus I follow is a sissy, or that following Him has made me one… because my Jesus has teeth.

The Jesus I follow doesn’t passively accept evil. He actively rejects it, and rejects the means by which it perpetrates that evil.

The Jesus I follow doesn’t cower in the face of unjust systems. He lifts people out of degradation, and teaches them how to lift themselves up.

The Jesus I follow isn’t powerless. He empowers.

Will you follow this Jesus with me?