Christianity in the United States is an enigma. Our society is bursting at the seams with religion. We claim a Judeo-Christian ethic at the core of our history and national life. Americans go to church in droves; ministries are flourishing; religious discourse permeates all facets of our culture, including politics and even sports. A billion-dollar industry has sprung up around Christian-oriented music and other spiritual paraphernalia.
Yet much of what passes as Christian faith in this society is vapid and shallow, if not dangerously distorted. The very language used betrays at least one aspect of this Americanized pantomime of biblical faith: We "go to" church. We step out of our lives to practice our faith in a specified and compartmentalized time and place.
During this liturgical year, thousands of churches will follow the lectionary and read the gospel of Mark. While congregants sit in comfortable pews facing an altar bedecked with an American flag, the voice of the earliest evangelist will cry out with his stark and uncompromising vision of Jesus and his clarion call to follow God's anointed one along a way of conflict and challenge.
Mark's gospel offers an antidote to domesticated, superficial Christianity: It is a radical manifesto of discipleship. The gospel of Mark is as much about the formation of a discipleship community responding to Jesus' proclamation of God's reign as it is about Jesus himself. According to Mark, that response requires breaking from the corrupt social order and accompanying Jesus on the way of the cross.