I had just started college as a 17-year old and completed Rush (a recruitment week for sororities). I had pledged a sorority that week but was feeling a little nervous about the decision. As much as I liked the older sorority members I met during Rush, there was one girl that made me wonder if I really fit into the sorority life. She had been in the dorm across the hall from me during Rush week. I kept thinking, “Man she is uninhibited and wild; I hope we don’t end up in the same sorority.” She was loud and abrasive; beautiful but wild and untamed. I have to admit I was a little afraid of her. Of course, she stood beside me in our first pledge photo. I had heard all the cautionary tales of Greek life, which included forced drinking, wild parties, and hazing. I was worried about what I had just gotten myself into by joining one of the ‘cool’ sororities on campus. I wasn’t much of a wild child, although I appreciated it in others, and I wondered if I would be uncomfortable, or worse still, forced to change to remain a part of this group I had pledged myself to.
As my head was processing all of that, I was primed for the speaker that took the stage in my first worship service with the Baptist Student Union (BSU). It was a dark room with really soft lighting and fantastic music. The speaker talked about all the dangers of college and how Jesus had died for our sins and would help us manage and resist the temptation to sin. I was sold – maybe I could be a sorority girl if Jesus could help me manage the temptation. He could be my excuse – “I would love to party, but I am a Christian.” It was just as self-righteous and nerdy as it sounds. As an added bonus, if I should falter, this version of Jesus I was being offered would be incredibly disappointed but would forgive me. This service was the beginning of my journey with what I like to call ‘sin manager’ Jesus or ‘Jiminy Cricket’ Jesus. He would keep me from ruining my reputation with booze and boys. My fear of letting him down meant I would keep the narrow path, or at least do my best to hide it if I should succumb to temptation.
When we moved to the United States, I was beginning high school. Our family had chosen to attend a United Methodist church. Our denomination, the United Church of Canada, isn’t an international denomination as the name suggests. United Methodism fit with our more moderate views and was similar in polity and practice to what I had grown up with. At that point I had a little exposure to ‘sin manager’ Jesus at youth retreats and through my participation in parachurch groups, but it really wasn’t until college that I adopted this view of who Jesus was supposed to be in my life.
As well as enjoying sorority life, I got very involved in two on-campus Christian groups: the United Methodist Wesley Foundation and the BSU. I loved both for different reasons. Truthfully, without both I wouldn’t have gone into ministry, although my call to ministry was not supported by the leaders of the BSU. I went to the Wesley Foundation for the deep Bible study and for the community. The Wesley Foundation was led by a woman named Rev. Karen Koons. She was fantastic at creating community and being present to us. I attended the BSU for the music (they had a full band) and for the size of the community. The BSU was always full during worship and the energy was contagious. My best friend and I attended both, and soon, some friends began to call us “Metho-Baptists.”
I joined the leadership team of both religious groups. Pretty soon after joining the leadership team of the BSU, I found myself called into the BSU director’s office. It was discovered that a group of friends and I had attended a local club and gone dancing. I hadn’t been drinking, just dancing, but they were concerned that it would appear that I was participating in what they deemed inappropriate behavior for a follower of Christ. I wanted to point out that the club wasn’t much different than the worship services that I had attended at the BSU, with fancy lighting and great music, but I knew now wasn’t the time. ‘Sin manager’ Jesus was angry at me, and even though in my eyes I hadn’t sinned, the appearance of it mattered to these leaders.
I look back on those days and I think that I missed the whole point of this Jesus thing. I don’t think Jesus just came to save us from our sins. That equation is a zero equation, one that merely balances the budget: we sin, Jesus takes that away, and we are at a zero balance. I think that Jesus came for what John 10 calls a life of abundance. Jesus doesn’t want us to just survive, making sure to avoid sinning along the way, but to thrive. The word ‘abundance’ from John 10 can be translated as uncommon or uncommonly big. Jesus wants us to live a life that is uncommonly big, and that friends is about way more then sin management. And that doesn’t have time for self-righteousness or fear of getting it wrong. If we are to live these big lives, we have to be ready to not fit in with the religious and be an outlier; but I have found that is a great place to be, with even better company. I don’t think Jesus died to save me from something but to save me for something…