My favorite class in my Master’s program many (!) years ago was linguistics. My happiest take home from that class is the discipline of looking closely at an author’s words or phrase or sentences and chewing over their clarity, accuracy, and beauty of expression. I also look at my own writing in the same way.
This habit of wordsmithing has been with me since third grade. By high school, when I was in the throes of writing, I exasperated everyone around me by asking, ” What’s a word for _____? ” My mother (and later my husband or sons) would humor me by suggesting words, all of which I would refuse. Then suddenly I would grab a word from deep in my brain and say, “Never mind, I’ve got it.” This interaction would particularly infuriate my mother (and later my husband or sons) who would always say, “Then why did you ask me?” (Every so often, I would use one of her words which would arouse in her first unbelief and then delight!)
In the past few weeks I have run across two sentences that became an exercise in wordsmithing. They state concepts I have pondered and written about often. But each has a fascinating little twist that totally refreshed the concept for me.
The first sentence comes from the recent book Eternal Living. a remembrance of the life of Dallas Willard by thirty of his friends and colleagues. The sentence frames Willard’s definition of the gospel: “The gospel is an invitation to a life in Jesus where I am learning from him how to lead my life as he would live my life if he were in my shoes.” Now, the title and tag line of this blog are Living as Apprentices, becoming more like Jesus for the sake of others, so you know I have thought about the concept before. But thinking about how Jesus would live my life if he were in my shoes turns everything upside down for me. Bear with me as I attempt to explain.
We often think about our moral choices as “What would Jesus do?” I read the gospel accounts to find out exactly how Jesus acted in certain situations – and the rest of the New Testament to learn how the followers of Jesus interpreted those actions for their lives. But suddenly, I’m thinking how would Jesus behave if he were living my life, not his. What would Jesus do if he were in my shoes? How would Jesus handle my losses, my fears and anxieties, my challenges, my mistakes and failures. For me this “take” on what it means to become like Jesus gives me a fresh perspective. When I am in a difficult situation and am debating my options, I think, “What would Jesus do if he were in my shoes?” Not just “What did Jesus do when this came up in his life?” This is helpful especially when we are in situations that Jesus never talked about or modeled for us.
The second sentence is from an advertisement by World Vision in the Leadership Journal for Winter 2015. It reads, “Jesus said we’d find him among the least, the lost, and the last.” Now we know that Jesus spoke to the “ragamuffins” (to borrow a phrase from Brennan Manning). He ate with sinners. He did not avoid the demon-possessed. He hung out with tax collectors and fishermen and their friends. We also know that Jesus wants us as individuals and churches to follow his example and minister out in the margins.
But this sentence answers the question, “Where can I find Jesus?” In church? In seminary? In a Bible study? In a prayer meeting? Of course. But Jesus said we would find him “among the least, the lost, and the last.” Is that where I am looking? Is that where you are looking?
We don’t all have to play with words the way that I do, but we all benefit from fresh perspectives and new understandings – however they come to us. Stale thinking is dangerous. After a while we forget that our thoughts may not be everyone else’s thoughts or we assume that everyone else’s thoughts are not as good at ours. Once those synapses are in a rut, so are we.