WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?)

WWJD: An acronym for “What Would Jesus Do,” a phrase so popular in the 1990s among Evangelical Christians that it was worn widely in bracelet form. The bracelet was meant to remind Christians to act in a way that communicates the love of God to others.

At first, the woven cloth is uncomfortable and rubs against your skin. You wear it anyway because you’re not ashamed of your faith. And also, because it’s The Thing right now, available in every color imaginable, noticeable even on the wrists of celebrities.

Should you sit next to that kid who is alone at the lunch table? WWJD. Cheat on that test? WWJD. Go on a missions trip? Smoke a joint in the parking lot? Pick up that child’s photograph from the Compassion International table, and promise to send $28 in support each month? What would Jesus do?

At fourteen, it’s as simple as a simple question. As easy as four letters on a bracelet.

You can’t remember the day you stopped noticing. One day it was scratchy, the next, soft and frayed on your skin. You’ve lived with it for so long that you pay about as much attention that acronym as you do the lines on your own hand.

*

The boy in the hoodie sweatshirt was shot for no reason that anyone can understand. It’s been a month now, and still the facts are a little hazy, his killer free. His name is still heavy among us. His picture circulates through the news – dark skin, glad eyes, wide smile.

Elsewhere in the world, a guerilla leader named Joseph Kony hurts children in unspeakable ways. I know his name because of a video made by a man who is broken in his own way. I know because the video was distributed by an imperfect organization. Because the internet blazed with it for weeks.

The world’s great hurts are trending on Twitter, throbbing like a great open wound. Everyone has an opinion, a point of view, an answer.

Would Jesus wear a Kony 2012 t-shirt? Help plaster the city in signs on a night in April? Would he shake out his pockets to give change to the Invisible Children, or would he overturn their tables in a rage?

Perhaps he would wear a hoodie in honor of Treyvon Martin, and the hood raised up over his head would communicate a hard truth: “What you do to each other, you also do to me.” Or maybe Jesus would just take a Greyhound bus toFlorida, put his hand on the boy’s body, and raise him straight up from the dead.

*

My almost-three-year-old is standing on purpose on the fingers of my almost-one-year-old, and I am yelling at him in my loudest, most terrible voice.

These boys of mine are everywhere all at once, requiring a store of patience that I don’t have, a level of consistency that I can’t sustain. I’m cutting up another frozen pizza, wiping sauce from floors and faces, carrying, yelling, singing, hugging. I’m lugging him to the stair-steps for another time out.

And the tragedies keep happening, the world breaking open at its seams with grief.

I don’t know what Jesus would do about all this murder, racism, genocide, pain. I can’t even manage to take a picture of myself in a hoodie, because my camera is dead and I can’t find the charger in that eyesore that is my “junk box.”

But I do know that once, a man named Lazarus died, and Jesus wept. A woman was condemned, and he offered her mercy. He walked, healed, listened, narrated. He opened his arms and let the children come.

The dishes are out of control and the phone is ringing. We’re late for class, and on the other side of the world, a child is being ripped from his home to fight an evil war.

We’re late, and I’m yelling at my toddler who is white and therefore privileged in some sense. He will likely be able to wear a hoodie at age 17 without being considered a threat.

I don’t know what Jesus would do about all of this mess. Except love. Love, love, love.

The answer is as simple and as complicated as that.

  • http://www.marlow.me.uk/thornsandgold Tanya_Marlow @ Thorns and Gold

    I echo your passion and heartache for this messed up world. As evangelicals, I think we have too often lost the art of lament.

    It is good to be reminded that these things are not simple and instantly solvable, but at the same time that ‘love covers over a multitude of sins.’ Thank you.

    • Addie Zierman

      The art of lament. Yes. Love that.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    Beautifully stated, Addie. Your writing is a gift, friend.

    For so long we’ve co-opted WWJD for whatever we’d like it to mean but if we sit down to study Jesus, I’m thinking our actions would reflect another reality. I just finished reading Ed Dobson’s The Year of Living Like Jesus. His project led him in some interesting directions with unexpected results. He would likely echo your conclusion here.

    • Addie Zierman

      I’ve been wanting to read that. I think there’s definitely some truth to this statement right here: “we’ve co-opted WWJD for whatever we’d like it to mean.” I think it was Anne Lamott who said you can be sure you’re creating God in your own image if it turns out he hates all the same people you do.

  • Carra

    I’ve been burning with these questions and thoughts myself. Thanks for your thoughts and beautiful words.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thank YOU Carra. :)

  • http://bernardshuford.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    Sometimes I think Jesus would just cry. Like he did right before he raised that Lazarus guy.

    • Addie Zierman

      Sometimes I think so too.

  • http://hoxeyville.blogspot.com/ Eric Snider

    The reason I had been so annoyed with WWJD? is that it was too often taken superficially or asked about things of lesser importance. Because of the superficiality, I used to ask people: “Boxer or briefs? WWJD?” Unfortunately, or fortunately and humorously, the Jesus of 30 AD was probably going commando.

    However, you disrupt my cynicism and take WWJD pretty deeply. Like Leigh said above, Ed Dobson pushes it pretty hard and seriously.

    • Addie Zierman

      I think this is very true: it’s easy to answer the WWJD question on superficial questions, hard when things get complex. Who can know what he would do? He so often did/does the unexpected.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    Absolutely beautiful. You speak truth here.

    Love is so easy. And so complicated. And is exactly what we’re called to do.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks, Alise.

  • http://annieathome.com Annie

    My heart’s been heavy with these things too, Addie, and I appreciate your perspective on it all – the messes in our homes and the crazy pain of this broken world. I could write a book here, but I’ll just say “thank you” for now.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, there is more to be said than a blog post (or comment) could say. So much more.

  • http://www.simplelivinginc.net Neal Brower

    I’m convinced that we’re going to reach heaven, and seeing Him face to face, we will know all things, we’re told, and it is going to include some very serious surprises. I have a feeling we have no clue what Jesus may have done or not done nearly every time!
    This past weekend, a men’s organization held its annual “Gather-all-the-men-of Nebraska-Together-and-get-pumped-up” event. They made a vain attempt at getting real with men and porn (wwjd?). And they also made a larger play on political activism (wwjd? Pretty sure it wouldn’t be political activism). Anyway, it all makes me wonder if we’ll ever figure out the “speaking the truth in love” wisdom in Ephesians.
    So your perspective here, as usual, is challenging and thoughtful and compassionate. Thanks for that! Still, I’m wondering if wandering into the Trayvon Martin thing was a good idea. At this point none of us even know what actually happened. His death is TRAGIC no matter what truth comes out. I am concerned that the inflammatory racial jump to judgement is really unfortunate. Truth…love… The truth is, I love the boy in the hoodie. I also love the neighborhood watch guy. I love the Black Caucus members. I love the members of the NAACP. I even love Al Sharpton, but man he makes it tough! And I’m bummed that George was carrying a gun. I’m really sorry a teenager is dead, no matter how many school rules he’s broken or actual crimes he has committed, or was planning to commit (facts which seem to still be unfolding). My heart breaks over the demonstrations of my fellow American citizens right now. It is based on so much ignorance, I am amazed we haven’t considered him innocent until proven guilty. That’s the basis of everything we value! It is one of our best expressions of God’s grace in the human legal/political realm. Do we really their actions are going to solve the disunity among the races?
    And what if we discover that Treyvon was “casing” for crime, and he was in any one of our neighborhoods, endangering our kids…even if it was only a possibility. Would we be thankful for a “George Zimmerman” helping to keep our toddlers safe? TV distances us, giving us the luxury of having an opinion even though we don’t have the facts. We weren’t there. Is there enough grace to be spread to all involved?
    What, I wonder, would Jesus do? Carry a sign, don a hoodie, and turn this tragedy into a political circus? Hmmm…

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for this perspective, Neal. You’re right: it is complicated, and I understand and agree that God’s love is not just for the boy who was killed but for his killer, for everyone involved no matter what they did or did not do. I know that we don’t have all the facts and that the whole thing is a mess, and maybe it was a mistake to even go here at all.

      A blogger I admire, Suzannah Paul (so much shouting, so much laughter) did a post with a bunch of responses from Twitter to the Treyvon Martin thing, and what struck me was how many of the Twitter comments expressed hurt and surprise at the silence from the Christian community on the matter. It was these comments that stirred my heart to write.

      What I was trying to communicate (and what I may not have done a great job at doing) is that the whole thing is hard and complex. Same with the Kony 2012 campaign. There are so many different sides and angles and opinions, and you want to do SOMETHING, and you want it to be the thing that Jesus would do…but how can we know?

      The injustices of the world are so much closer now with the internet, with social media, with tv news coverage. I don’t know what the response should be, and, like many people, there is a sort of helpless ache about it all.

      So, I guess love. Love for the victim and the killer. A brave attempt at love for Jospeh Kony, for whatever demons drive him to do the things he does. Love for Treyvon Martin and for the man who shot him, for all of us who respond to one another out of fear instead of out of love. Love and grace and prayer and love.

      • http://oneironwaiting.blogspot.com/ themooninautumn

        I had been wondering about the lack of response in the Christian community, too, Addie. Thank you for acknowledging that this situation is the kind of thing that makes us wonder what the right thing to do/say is. It’s so baffling and heartbreaking, and, as you pointed out, we don’t know all the facts. These kinds of complicated situations are unfortunately par for the course in a broken world. And every time they break our hearts and make us pray, “Jesus, what would you have us do?”

  • http://hoxeyville.blogspot.com/ Eric Snider

    One more on WWJD? In Luke 11, Jesus is a guest at someone’s house, and sitting (or reclining) down to dinner, he starts verbally abusing his host. I am just not so sure that I should follow suit. What? You get invited into someone’s house for dinner, you accept, then give them all sorts of crap? It seems that just prior, in Luke 10, Jesus sent out 70 or 72 disciples, and urged them to exhibit hospitality (and if they are not accepted, move on).

    • Addie Zierman

      I guess I’d never thought of that as “verbally abusing.” Knowing what I know of Jesus, I can’t imagine that it was said with anything other than love. Still, what I love about Jesus (and what I will probably never be able to totally emulate) is that he chose love and truth over politeness. He said the thing they needed to hear rather than the thing they wanted to hear. There is something to that.

      • http://jenniferluitwieler.com Jen

        And, he also told them to quit being so dumb. That’s not so much verbally abusive as it is truth. Truth can hurt, and I agree, he never attempted to belittle. That was never his purpose.

  • http://www.simplelivinginc.net Neal Brower

    I love your heart Addie, and trust your motives. Your heart is impacting the Christian community right now. How cool is that?! And if you point us in the direction of love…if you take the conversation “up” to the level of the love of Jesus, then you are always doing what’s best, purest, beautiful. And you do. Love has many forms for sure, some that don’t appear immediately loving, but will be found to be so in time. Even the most harsh words of Jesus to those he encountered while on the planet. He is love, even if we can’t see it…yet.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com Jen

    I have this knee jerk thing against doing “the thing” that “believers” are doing. Sure, I get the point. Sure, it’s good and all that. And yet, a bracelet ain’t saving no body. And the dishes are a mess and the house is crumbling and the children are crying. And life is hard. And we are reduced to that simple, most difficult thing. To love.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, I find I’m more and more that way these days. But back in those early days, man if there was a Christian trend and it came in an array of rainbow colors, I was IN.

  • http://tchildschristianityblog.blogspot.co.uk/ Tim Childs

    This is a really good post; we heard about this in the UK. Last year we had some really serious rioting after a black man had been killed by the police in a district of London, the name of which escapes me at the moment, but might have been Croydon. What would Jesus do? He would no doubt despair, but at the same time talk about reconciliation between opposing sides, often neither of whom are particularly Christian in nature or outlook; the world we live in, although nominally Christian in the West, is largely a secular world with occasional nods towards Christian values, as long as those values don’t get in the way of making money, or making unpleasant governmental decisions, or controlling people in some way, or being utterly selfish.

    The sad fact is that we live in a very broken world, where on the surface everything’s fine and we all rub along together, but just underneath there is chaos, disharmony, racism, class differences, growing disparity between the rich and the poor, millions of disenfranchised people and a serious lack of even the minutest consideration for the other person; as long we are OK, then to hell with everyone else! It has always been the way sadly.

    Sometimes, we need to just live the Gospel, and just be there for people, be prepared to listen, to learn and hold out our hands; even when we do this imperfectly, we make the world a slightly better place. We can pray for clarity and to really understand what Jesus would do, and try to do it ourselves.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for adding this, Tim. I think it’s so true about all the chaos that’s there just underneath…and events like this bring it to the surface. It’s hard to know how to respond to these things, but acknowledging that they’re hard and it’s all broken and that this all MATTERS to God seems like a good start. Loved this line: “We can pray for clarity and to really understand what Jesus would do and try to do it ourselves.”

  • Anita

    Not original with me, but WWJD? pretty sure He wold not pay $40.00 for a hat with that logo on it.

    • Addie Zierman

      Agreed.

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