I recently enrolled in a class on digital media and Christian discipleship, and the next post I’ll be making will be part of this week’s assignment: “post a picture that reflects your definition of discipleship on your Instagram account.”
“Discipleship” isn’t a term I hear used in the churches I go to or the churches I grew up in; I’m more familiar with the “believer” to “follower” spectrum of terms for that general concept of allegiance to Christ. So I had to figure out what’s different about this word before I could define it for myself.
Looking up and talking about this term, I kept seeing and hearing pedagogical inflections—schooling, apprenticeship, learning to imitate Christ—to a commutative center—connection, community, working towards membership in Christ. I reflected on how that dynamic actually shows up in my own life and I remembered Makoto Fujimura’s theology of making—of art—of humanity’s call “to partake in the co-creation of the New.”
Fujimura bases this idea on his reading of 2 Cor. 5:17 as a proclamation of “new newness,” a transfiguring reality that “art taps into…instinctively.” But he builds these ideas on the even more basic and extra-biblical concept of the “border-stalker,” a concept he draws from a creative interpretation of a term used in Beowulf.
He writes: “Border-stalkers have the ability to learn and communicate extratribal languages, and they transcend tribal norms. It’s important for them to see that they often find themselves alone, and they need to travel ‘two by two,’ as Jesus instructed in Luke 10:1. We have the capacity to adapt to extratribal realities, but the borderlands are dangerous places, as we are exposed to both the cultural storms and forces of destruction. But the border-stalkers are increasingly valued in cultures that are polarized and have created false dichotomies, as these artists can help mediate the divided reality and being the wholeness of the gospel message” (Art and Theology, p. 46).
Somewhere in there is my definition of discipleship. Now, to communicate it.
“Mearcstapa is not a comfortable role. Life on the borders of a group— and in the space between groups—is prone to dangers literal and figurative, with people both at “home” and among the “other” likely to misunderstand or mistrust the motivations, piety, and loyalty of the border-stalker. But mearcstapa can be a role of cultural leadership in a new mode, serving functions including empathy, memory, warning, guidance, mediation, and reconciliation. Those who journey to the borders of their group and beyond will encounter new vistas and knowledge that can enrich the group.”
(Makoto Fujimura, ‘Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life’)
The interesting thing about the “mearcstapa” in its original context, though, is that it was more than an outsider–it was a monster. And not just any monster–it was a threat that had to be destroyed by the eponymous hero of this ancient poem. What does that say about Fujimura’s interpretation of the border-stalker? And how does that inform what Christian discipleship might mean?
There’s a fascinating article by Victoria Symons at the British Library’s website about the “dark moor” (‘myrcan mor’) between heroism and monstrosity in Beowulf. After a close analysis between the parallels between monster and monster-slayer, Symons concludes:
“In the murky world of Beowulf – where humans and monsters act from the same motives, in the same ways and are described using the very same words – the line between hero and villain comes down to a matter of perspective: one person’s Beowulf is another’s Grendel.”
Somewhere in there is a lesson for the church. Now, to remember it.