Here we are, deep in the dog days of another summer. School is out, vacation days are being cashed in, and picnic baskets are being packed. Barbecues are firing, pools are splashing, and ice cream trucks are rolling. Meanwhile, thousands, yea millions, are taking to the great American highway. Seventy percent of the U.S. population will hit the road this summer – off to visit grandma, the beach, the closest roller coaster, or a national park. We love to feel the breeze on our faces and the road beneath our wheels. We can’t stop ourselves from being a traveling people. We always have been.
In prehistoric times we hoofed it, walking out of Africa scientists tell us, to every point on the globe. Then we built boats, domesticated horses, constructed wagons, engineered planes, trains, and automobiles – not to mention submersibles and space ships – so that no corner of creation has been untouched by the human foot it seems. We keep moving, rolling, and running, so much so that the theme song of human history might well be Willie Nelson’s, “On the Road Again.”
True to form, Christianity is a fluid faith for a pilgrim people. It is a spirituality of sojourn, of “goin’ places that we’ve never been; seein’ things that we may never see again.” Yet, we don’t always understand faith this way. Look at how we have structured it, however, and it is easy to see why we most often view Christianity as an incorrigible, fixated fortress rather than a living, dynamic movement. Our doctrines, constructed and accumulated over thousands of years, stack up like heavy stones. They are unassailable, infallible, and immovable. The buildings that contain our worship services are almost always built of rock, granite, or the hardest and heaviest material we can find – and there those buildings sit in the same place for centuries.
Then, try being an idealistic reformer who seeks to change a church’s policy or its strategy to meet the world where it now is. If you’re not taken out behind the vestry and quietly crucified, you will find that change in the church usually moves with all the terrifying speed of a melting glacier. This betrays our roots and the trajectory set for our faith from its beginning. With his last conversation with the disciples before his death, Jesus described himself and faith in him like this: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Put more accurately, “I am the true and living way.” This had such a profound effect on the first followers of Jesus that the earliest self-description of Christianity was “The Way.”
The term “Christian,” referenced only three times in the entire New Testament, was used by outsiders. It was a moniker attached to this cult, this sect of troublemakers. But the first “Christians” didn’t call themselves “Christian” at all. They called their life and faith, “The Way.” It was the Path. The Road. It was the constantly evolving, winding, opening arc that took this “band of gypsies down the highway.” It was an animated, breathing ethos; certainly not a hardened codex of legalistic dogma.
So it doesn’t appear that Jesus came to establish an inflexible, competitive religion that would be pitted against other belief systems. No, Jesus came to initiate a way of redemptive and gracious living. He came to show us how to live the life of redeeming love, love for God and for others. He embodied all that the Divine requires, that is, “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
There’s nothing about walking this humble Way that should be turned into coldblooded institutionalism. It should never be used to exclude, marginalize, or be employed as a tool of separation. This Way can only unfold and expand, taking us further down the road and deeper into the loving heart of God. This isn’t religion. This is the true way to live. And while love is often “a road less traveled,” it is the worthiest of journeys. So let’s hit the road.