The familiar (annoying?) tune of the Munchkins might as well be our church theme song, except that the path we trod as Christians is not the famed Yellow Brick Road. We walk the Jesus Way. We are, nevertheless, followers. We follow, follow, follow. (Sing with me now! Ug.)
“Followers.” There is little about this word that rings positive in the times in which we live. Do you want your kid to be a follower? Do you want to be known as a “follower?” The prevailing culture prizes autonomy, self-sufficiency, and “doing your own thing.” Everyone wants to be a superstar, “original.” Many of our cultural heroes not only stand apart, they stand alone. Who wants to mimic another?
And yet, we believers follow. As Jesus people, Jesus’ people, we do not blaze our own trail through this world. We seek to unmask the idolatry of incessant originality and instead give thanks for a “path of righteousness,” a way that leads to good standing with God (Psalm 1). And we do not walk alone. We walk behind one who has gone on up ahead of us, securing the destination and marking the way (Hebrews 2:17-18). It is encouraging to know that someone has been this way before.
In younger days, back before parenthood and grown-up responsibilities, I was a frequent backpacker. Especially in Boy Scout days, the packs we donned were of such a size that it made seeing the trail up ahead difficult. Although the landscape to the sides could bring visual relief, one usually spent the better part of a day’s walk staring at the waddling pack just ahead. And the boots. You learned to watch the boots of the guy in front of you. Up and down hills, across streams, around the mud: By paying attention to the boots a few steps in front of you, you could avoid a great deal of pitfalls along the way. Muddy socks, slippery moss, twisted ankles. It paid to be an attentive follower.
We are talking in church lately a good deal about DISCIPLESHIP. A disciple is essentially a student: a pupil of a teacher. Disciples follow someone. As it were, they study the feet of one who walks ahead of them and seek to mimic the moves and follow the same path. Discipleship means giving up on the idea that one can bushwhack a corridor through life however and wherever one sees fit. The mark of baptism says, “I am a follower of Jesus now. I am walking in his way, following his steps. I relinquish the idea that I must always be my own woman, my own man.”
In the regressive, selfish times in which we walk, this new posture is as counter-cultural an act as one could imagine: to give up our “God-given” right to walk alone, in our own way, and instead to give over our lives to one who leads, guides, and directs our path. Following smacks of foolishness. And yet, it is the way of salvation. Step by step, turn by turn, we study the feet of Jesus and mimic his moves. Therein we find ourselves, and our neighbor, and God—all in following another.
In the words of songwriter Chris Rice:
Father Love prepares a place,
and Brother Jesus leads the way.
Follow to the place where you belong.