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Don’t Be Original: Jesse Furey

with Jesse Furey | June 21, 2024
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Ever feel like you have to be super original all the time, especially on social media? Join Jesse Fury as he talks about whether it's better to be yourself or copy someone else. If you're tired of trying to constantly be original, this will help.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Shelby Abbott

    Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States. Abbott is the author of Jacked and I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life), Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress and DoubtLess: Because Faith is Hard. He and his wife, Rachael, have two daughters and live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Feel like you gotta be unique all the time? Jesse Furey talks about being real vs. copying others.

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Don’t Be Original: Jesse Furey

With Jesse Furey
June 21, 2024
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Jesse: We think that the good life is found in self discovering, expressing, and then receiving affirmation of that expression. It's an incredibly pervasive, almost an unseen pressure to perform, to express yourself and to affirm other people. I think that in a time like now, the idea of trying to be like other people or being unoriginal is unheard of is almost implausible. And yet I think actually a lot of Christian discipleship in the New Testament is trying to be like other people.

Shelby: Real help for relationships in your twenties, this is Real Life Loading...

I'm Shelby Abbott. And today I'm back again with my friend, Jesse Furey. He's someone I've known for a very long time, a pastor, co-founder of a ministry designed to build future leaders within the church called the Bonhoeffer Haus. Today we're back with him to talk about why being unique is important might just be the opposite of what you're called to do as a young Christian. What? Yes.

We're also going to talk about why imitation could be the best thing to adopt into your life. It's super countercultural that's for sure, and it's part two of my time with Ryan Reynolds look alike Jesse Furey.

When you observe our culture, everything in our world screams at us right now at least, to be original, to be one of a kind, to express your own individuality, to be the unique you that nobody else can be. I want you to talk about that for a minute. Talk about that individuality, expressing your own originality kind of thing, and maybe give us an example or two.

Jesse: Yes, sure. We're living in this sort of Ultra-Modern Western Age that has been characterized by I think it was Robert Bellah, who described it as expressive individualism. We think that the good life is found in self discovering, expressing, and then receiving affirmation of that expression. I think social media is sort of wired in a way that sort of takes advantage of that.

There is something innate for all time. It's not a new thing that we want people to affirm us. We want it to be original, and we want to express ourselves. But there's something unique about this era, where we don't find our identity so much in our last name or our family rhythms or rituals. We don't find our identity so much in the church. we go to, the denomination. It used to be you'd fight wars over baptizing babies. Now it's like, “Eh, it doesn't really matter.” What matters is that I'm myself and do what makes me feel most like myself.

Shelby: And nobody could tell me who I am except me kind of a deal.

Jesse: Yes. We look at institutions now generally with distrust. Which fair enough, many institutions need to be distrusted more, but institutions, and by that, I mean everything from a local church to the government, to the army. Right? It used to be that you looked at the army, and it was this is where they form people into molds of an army guy, you know, an army man.

Now it's more like we're looking around for places that we can express our true self. Where can we be most platformed to become who we really are and express who we really feel like we are?

Shelby: Yes. Social media feeds into that, obviously. You used the word platform. That's why.

Jesse: I just think that this time it's an incredibly pervasive, almost an unseen pressure
to perform, to express yourself, and to affirm other people in their performance and their expression.

I think that in a time like now, the idea of trying to be like other people or being unoriginal is almost implausible. Yet what we talked about Shelby, is I think actually a lot of Christian discipleship in the New Testament is trying to be like other people.

Shelby: Okay, so the New Testament calls us to do exactly the opposite of the air that we're breathing.

Jesse: That's right.

Shelby: It calls us to imitate Christ. To not shoot for originality, but imitation, and even imitate spiritual fathers or spiritual mothers, that kind of stuff.

Tell me your line of thought here and maybe how can you help someone not shoot for what the culture is, the air that they're breathing, but do what the Bible calls us to do.

Jesse: Sure yes. I think imitation is like a bad word anyway. Right?

Shelby: It is. I mean it has that bad connotation, yes. Don't copy me, or you're imitating me or that. It just feels fake. Yes.

Jesse: It's very derivative. And you think about, whether it's vanilla or coffee, crab meat or artwork, an imitation is kind of a bad word. Even when we were growing up, it was just such a bad thing to be called a poser. You're pretending like you're something you're not. But the funny thing about being a poser or pretending like you're something you're not, is you actually never become good at anything without pretending like you're good at that thing.

Shelby: Okay. What do you mean by that?

Jesse: So, what I mean by that is you're not born a good baseball player.

Shelby: Right.

Jesse: You watch baseball. You look at other baseball players. You look at the way they stand. You look at the way they put the glove on the left hand and that people are telling you, but you're still looking around going, “Right, but how do I do it?”

Then practice really, if you think about practicing anything, whether it's piano, when you practice piano, you're just imitating a better piano player. You're just like a better piano player would do this better. So, I'm going to be like that.

So yes, I think when you look at the new Testament there's a shocking amount of times where you see this word imitation. It's mimesis in Greek or mimetic, and it's where we get the word mime.

Shelby: Yes, or mimicry.

Jesse: And it's throughout the New Testament. I think it's actually a very natural. Right? Your kids, learn by imitating. They're watching you all the time. Right? They're trying to figure out how does a grownup person act? So, I think it's built in, that we're imitative beings. But the narrative that we're immersed in is saying, “Don't imitate, don't be like other people.” I think there's a clash that makes a New Testament vision of trying to be like other people challenging to even imagine.

Yet you see in the Scriptures, just to mention a few in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children,” or you see this also in first Corinthians 11:1 when Paul is writing to the Corinthian church and he says to them, “Be imitators of me. as I am of Christ.” So, he's inviting the church to like, you know--

Shelby: --It seems pompous on the surface. Right?

Jesse: It does, yes.

Shelby: It seems very like, “What? Okay.”

Jesse: Yes.

Shelby: But yes, keep going.

Jesse: Yes, but there doesn't seem to be any shame in this. Right? Paul does this again in 1rst Thessalonians 1, he does it again in Philippians 4:9 when he says, “all basically, “All the good things you saw in us do those things like be like the good part of us when we were with you.”

1 Thessalonians 2:13-15. He actually talks about how the churches should imitate other churches. Hey, look at the good church and be like them. This is a basic way that we learn. So, we're growing up in maturity and maturity for Christians looks like looking more and more like Jesus.

Shelby: Okay. Yes
Jesse: Now, here's the beautiful thing about the Christian message here, Shelby, is that becoming more and more like Jesus doesn't obliterate your personality. It's not like getting absorbed into the high of mind where you're just sort of blobbed in there.

Shelby: One of many drones. Yes.

Jesse: Yes, yes. The more that you become like Jesus the more you also become like that person that God intended you to be in full which is beautiful. So, you actually kind of get at the thing that we're hearing. We're supposed to sort of like, just find who you are, express who you are, demand allegiance to that thing, and that's the good life.

What Jesus says is actually, “No, lose yourself. Die to yourself. Take up your cross, follow me.” [Paraphrased] Actually, but in the end, the very thing you're looking for by going with a straight line, you get, but it's just a roundabout way. You get as you lose and lay down yourself.

Shelby: Probably like satisfying.

Jesse: Yes. Ultimately a more satisfying way. I think that's right.

Shelby: Yes.

I'm reminded here of when Jesus was tempted by Satan, before He started His public ministry of like, “Hey, here's a shortcut, you can get all the glory that you want, all the influence and power that you want, if you just do it my way.” [Paraphrased]

Jesse: Yes.

Shelby: And Jesus is like, “No, I'm going to go around this way, and do it the real way.
I'm not going to take any shortcuts to get to the destination that I want,” because there is something innate within us. You're right, you're definitely right about younger people, wanting to figure out and get to the truest answer of what their questions are.

For example, this was just yesterday, my daughter asked me a very insightful question. She goes, “Daddy, what language do deaf people hear in their heads?”: I said, “That's a very good question. My guess is, if they've heard a language before, they became deaf, they maybe think that in their head as they're signing. But if they've always been deaf, I don't know. And maybe it's something that doesn't sound like anything.”

Her question itself was insightful, because it was the only way that a child learns language is by imitating what they hear. They don't read about it. They imitate what they hear, and then they discover context for certain things. I remember explaining sarcasm once to Quinn when she was five, and she did not understand it. But I gave her an example of sarcasm and she was five. She was like, I understand it. [Laughter]

Then just the other day we were around some other little kids that she was like, I said something totally sarcastic, in a benign way that wasn't mean or anything like that. I said something about me - like maybe, I don't know - I'm going to be eating all the food at the table anyway so nobody will get anything. It was something sarcastic like that. Quinn, my oldest, she leans over to me and she goes, “I don't think they understand sarcasm, Daddy.” [Laughter] It's just like, I was like, “Well, you do.”

Why does she understand sarcasm? Because I'm a jovial, sarcastic person in our home. And sarcasm is one of those things that you can't really, like, It's almost like irony. You can't really write down what irony is, but I can give you a lot of examples to flesh out what it is.

Jesse: Yes.

Shelby: And that's the very thing that you're talking about here. It's like, well people learn by imitating, and often they can read about it, even what you were talking about before with, like the hammer. I could read a book about how to use a hammer, but if I want to really learn how to use a hammer, I need to watch someone using a hammer.

Jesse: Right. There's imitation in all learning. But when I think actually the Christian life, this is something that we've largely lost. And by the way, I think this is part of what makes gender and sexuality in the body of Christ challenging to understand in part, largely in the Western church at least in the expressions that I've had experience in - the idea of a spiritual father or spiritual mother has largely been lost.

Shelby: Okay.

Jesse: In other words, you might have a mentor, which we use a mentor language.
I don't have any problem with that. You might have a coach. You might have a pastor, but you probably don't have a spiritual mother. You probably don't have a spiritual father, but I think actually that's part of what women and men in the church are meant to do, or in the body of Christ are meant to do, is to just model to younger men and women, what it looks like to be a Christian in your workplace, how to be a Christian in your neighborhood, how to be a Christian mom, how to be a Christian dad, if God blesses you in that way - how to be a Christian single woman. The New Testament actually has examples of this younger women learn from the older women. Older women teach the younger women, show them how to be a Christian.

I pastor a church with older men and women who often are just like, “I don't really know what to do. I don't know how to disciple people.” Sometimes I think they're over complicating it. I think a lot of it is just invite them into your life and model to them what it looks like to be an older Christian.

If you pray, then invite them to pray with you. If you read your Bible, then you can do it together or talk about what you're reading, because a lot of it is just helping them to imitate, help them to look. And go, all right that's what it looks like to be a faithful seventy-five year old woman, or that's what it looks like to be a mom of little kids, or that's what it looks like to be a single man in his forties. Now I have something to sort of aspire to.

The big thing here that I want to say is it's really about formation, that I'm forming myself into not an exact duplicate, not a derivative kind of imitation model, but like—

Shelby: --Not a carbon copy or something?

Jesse: Yes, it's not a carbon copy, but it is in a way that that person is more like Christ than I am in their maturity. I want to look like that.

Shelby: Is this always like older to younger or can it flip the script in terms of like older people learning from younger people?

Jesse: Sure.

Shelby: Or is it generally like older generations communicating their wisdom to younger generations?

Jesse: Well, I think that imitation in the New Testament, typically there's some way to observe. For us to imitate Jesus, our way to observe Jesus is primarily in the Bible. Right? We have a written record of who Jesus was.

Shelby: Who He was, how He lived.

Jesse: Yes. Secondarily, and this is part of the whole imitation model. Secondarily, we do get to see a little bit about who He was through generations of people who have modeled after Him. But primarily it's the Bible. We have the Bible. We get to read about Jesus. He's revealed that about Himself. We view.

The second thing is there's some authority. If you're imitating someone, you're submitting to some level of authority, even if that authority is just - this person has excellence and something I want to be excellent in.

Shelby: Yes.

Jesse: And that's where I'd say, generally we're talking about age, but not exclusively. Right? If there's someone younger than me, that is more excellently demonstrating a Christ-like patience, I want to learn from them, because I lose my mind sometimes. I'm just like an impatient monster at times. Just because I'm older than someone doesn't mean I can't go; I need to submit to their authority in this and learn from them and become more like them.

The third New Testament truth about imitation is that it exists within the identity of being in a family. That is the family of God. That when you think about Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God as beloved children.” You see that identification precedes imitation. You have to be identified in the family. You're not trying to imitate in order to be accepted. You know, like, “Look at me, God.

Shelby: Right.

Jesse: I'm so much like Jesus today. Will you be happy with me now?

Shelby: Right, right, right.

Jesse: That's not the New Testament model. The New Testament model is. God is already happy with you in Christ. He already loves you. He already wants you close. Now you're looking at Jesus and you're going, “Oh, I want to be like that.” So, identity in the family.

The last thing is there's something imaginative about it. What I mean by that is we get the Bible, and the Bible shows us Jesus, but the Bible doesn't show us Jesus at Starbucks, interacting with the barista who is having a hard day.

Shelby: Right.

Jesse: Do you remember the old what would Jesus do bracelets?

Shelby: Yes. Well, they've made a resurgence again.

Jesse: Oh, are they back again?

Shelby: Yes.

Jesse: Okay. So, generally you're wearing those bracelets and avoiding the kind of life that Jesus lived. It's not going to work. Right? Because you're not going to do what Jesus would do because you haven't read the Bible, or prayed, or fasted, or had solitude, or done any of the things Jesus would have done.

And so, but it does require you to go, well, I've been reading about Jesus a lot. I've been spending a lot of time with Him. I've been praying a lot and now I sort of know, or I have a general idea, that He would probably serve this person in this particular way. So, it does take some contextualizing.

Shelby: Yes, I think there's a hunger there, too.

Jesse: Yes.

Shelby: That whole premise, what would Jesus do? It's an idea of, what can I model my life after that would be better than what I'm currently doing. Which is always interesting, you get these little glimpses of that kind of stuff within culture all the time, because there's a certain way that the flow of the river of culture goes. Every now and then people are like, “Nah, I don't want to do that because this is messed up. Why is everybody a lemming here just following everybody else?”

You do get this, “No,” even if the flow of the river or the following of the lemmings is be original. There's the irony, you know, be original, just like all of us.

Jesse: That's right.

Shelby: But it's not, it doesn't make any sense when you really think about it.

And I love that it's right there on the pages of Scripture. It's just like staring us right, right in the face and going, Hey, This is the opposite of the air that you're breathing right now. And so, I'm glad that we're like able to put our finger on it in a pretty specific way.

Can you give me like, maybe an example or two from what you've seen and how you've seen this done well, or maybe done poorly?

Jesse: Yes, sure. I think done poorly, I'll put it this way, imitation done poorly makes you into a hypocrite.

Shelby: Okay.

Jesse: What's a hypocrite? A hypocrite is someone who wears a mask. In other words, they want to preserve some hidden identity, while they appear to look like something else. So, thinking about imitation as a performative thing where you're just sort of putting a mask on for certain contexts so that you'll look a certain way, while trying to maintain that hidden identity that you really don't want to give up. You really want to look like that. That would be done poorly.

Shelby: That's great. That's super helpful.

Jesse: That's a huge danger to a life of discipleship that embraces imitation would be to say, well, let's make sure that your identity really has been changed and that this is coming from a place of the heart. Right?

The only difference between a hypocrite and someone who's imitating in a Christ-like way, or the primary difference is the person imitating in a Christ-like way wants to become the thing that they're acting like.

Shelby: Yes, yes, yes.

Jesse: It's not just a mask. They're like, no, no, no, this is who I want to be. In fact, this is who Christ has made me to be. Now I'm just trying to live into it.

I would just say done well; it takes time. It takes a commitment to be in a community over time. It takes humility to say, “Well, I actually am not the most excellent in the world.” And it may take humility to ask someone, “Look, would you be a mentor to me?” What I mean by that is, could I just sort of, can I tag along some. Don't be weird about it.

Shelby: Where are you going, can I follow you? [Laughter]

Jesse: Like, can I, can I stand in the corner of your home for a few hours every Tuesday? Like, no, probably not that. But you might say, “Hey, it might be more valuable to me to just once a month come over for a family dinner where I'll be a super chill house guest. I'll just eat whatever you're making and I just [want] to be around you and your family.

Practically, I like to think about this, you have to aim at it. So, in the beginning, just going, all right, I really want a spiritual mother in the faith. Someone that can model to me what it looks like to be a more Christ-like older version of myself. Someone I'd like to be like, at least to a certain extent.

I think you have to read your Bible. I mean, this is just straightforward. How do you imitate Jesus If you're not reading the Bible? We don't have access to Him in some other way. I mean, we can pray, and we can read other books, but really our prayers should be saturated in the Bible. Other books should be telling us what the Bible has already told us in ways that we understand. So, I really think you've got to read the Bible.

Shelby: Jesus was the Bible Man. He constantly quoted from the law and the prophets all the time. So yes, don't give us that excuse. Yes.

Jesse: Even that part that you mentioned about the temptations in the wilderness. Right? His responses are Deuteronomy 6, Deuteronomy 8, Deuteronomy 8.

Shelby: Yes.

Jesse: Yes, model with a mentor over time. Just spend time with somebody and then do it within the family of a local church. And ideally, this is hard when you're younger, you may not be able to spend as much time in one church.

Shelby: Yes. Yes.

Jesse: But I would say, you may have to find a church that's just good enough, and just settle in and go, look, no family's perfect, but I need to be in a family within a local church in order to really model well, to imitate well.

Shelby: Yes. I'm glad that you mentioned it too, like it does take guts to like initiate on your behalf. I have found that in general, not always, but in general, older people will not ask you to come under their wing and learn from them.

Jesse: Correct.

Shelby: It doesn't usually work that way. I'm sorry that it doesn't work that way, but it doesn't usually happen like that. Therefore dot, dot, dot. We need to be the ones to initiate those kind of relationships. We need to look at it and go, Hey, that's a person. I want to be like. Therefore, I want to ask them if they would be willing to allow me to be an imitator of them in all the ways that you mentioned.

I had this conversation with an older guy. He's about, like, one stage ahead of me. So, he's about fifteen years, twelve, fifteen years ahead of me. I got up the nerve to go -I kind of felt like I was asking him out on a date – [Laughter] that old feeling of like, I'm about to be crushed here if he says no. [Laughter] But I said, “Hey, would you be willing to meet with me? I'd love to learn from you, because your faith is obvious for one, it's contagious and I want to be like you.”

He was like, I'm very, very busy, but let me talk to my wife about it and pray about it. So, about a month later, he was like, “Yes, I'm willing to give it a go.” And I ended up meeting with him for about two years solidly, like once a month for about two years. It was enormously beneficial to me in terms of my spiritual growth and development.

He was like this spiritually infectious person. I was like, I do not have a faith like his and I want to be more like him. Now we ended up meeting for two years, and it drifted off a little bit, but I considered those two years to be incredibly influential in my life. It would not have happened, if I wouldn't have simply asked him, just taken the initiative and asked him.

I think if you're young and you're listening and you see someone who's traveled the road ahead of you, in whatever form or fashion it would be, maybe it's not even in terms of years, but it's someone who's done something that you admire, talk to them, initiate, and learn from them. It's a great way to be an imitator, especially as we've been talking about today, spiritually.

Do you want to add anything to that at all?

Jesse: Yes. The only thing that I was thinking about was just to get real practical, because I think that was really helpful, is it may not go so well if you say, Hey, could I imitate you? [Laughter]

Shelby: Can you pretend like you're a mother hen, and I can come under your wing? [Laughter]

Jesse: Could I sit under your wing? And can you keep me safe and warm?

You really might have to just say, “You know, I'm looking for a mentor.” Or like you said Shelby, “I'm looking for someone I could learn from and I really admire your faith.” Another thing that I think you may need to do as a young person is just be realistic about time. That's why I said a lot of this takes a long time in part, because most of us will not have the opportunity to live life as closely as Jesus did with his disciples with anybody.

Shelby: Right.

Jesse: Other than maybe our own family or roommates. So often you look up to someone in the church, and you're like, I really want to be a mom like that one day.
Well, that mom probably is really busy.

Shelby: Probably yes.

Jesse: I'd say just be realistic about you might not get a lot of time. I'd say also be willing to go onto their turf, because, in fact, that's often the best way to do observation and viewing and looking at. You probably don't want to say, “Listen to this podcast and now I need someone to imitate and I want it to be you, because that feels a little bit too forward.”

Shelby: Yes.
Jesse: Or will you be my mom? [Laughter]

Shelby: You know, my mom might be even worse. [Laughter] Excuse me, miss. Will you be my mom? [Laughter] You might get the police called on you for that.

But in addition to this, I also want to say imitation is a really important way of living missionally. It's a way to learn how to share your faith. It's a way to learn how to be intentional, to move out, and make yourself uncomfortable by asking questions where you could get rejected.

But you often learn the most when there's the potential to be hurt, or you actually do get hurt in that process. So, stick with it. It's obviously clearly looking at the Scriptures a way that God wants us to live. I'm grateful that we were able to really unpack it. And like you had said, give us some practicals to talk about it as well.

Is there anything that we talked about today that you feel like you would want to add anything? You're like, you know what, I didn't get really flesh out that idea as much as I wanted to. Is there anything else I want to give you room for that?

Jesse: Yes, not really Shelby. This has been a great conversation. I have really enjoyed this. I would just say, thinking about the Christian life as in part a life lived so close to Jesus, that I'm just watching Him all the time. I'm going, “I want to look like that.” That would be the thing I'd love to leave listeners with. The practicals I think are really important, but you actually do have direct access to Jesus. You don't have to imitate someone, who imitated someone else, who imitated someone else, you know, for two thousand years.

Shelby: Yes.

Jesse: You can actually just read the Bible and spend time with Jesus and be so close to Him that you're going, yes, I want to flow like He flows. I want to respond like He responds. I want to live like He lives. And so that - I'd love to leave listeners on that note.

Shelby: As we never used to say when I was growing up, be a poser. I love the fact that I was able to talk about this today with Jesse because it really is right there in the pages of Scripture. “Be imitators of Christ.” Don't necessarily be original. Of course, if you were listening to our conversation, you know what I'm saying and what I'm not. But the narrative in our culture is clear and almost undetectable. So, be very careful about what you're choosing to believe every day. And fight that battle by staying in the Word of God.

If you liked this episode of Real Life Loading…, or you thought it was helpful, I'd love to I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend. Wherever you get your podcasts, it could really advance what we're doing with Real Life Loading, if you'd rate and review us.

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I want to thank everybody on the Real Life Loading team. Really appreciate you all, you guys make it happen. I'm Shelby Abbott, and I'll see you back next time on Real Life Loading.

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