This might be the best compliment I've received since someone thought I was gay because I was affirming God's desire for full participation of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church. As my wife will tell you, I excitedly called her after that interaction and exclaimed, "I can pass!?!" That was a hilariously good day.
You're a radical but you're not crazy about it. This came from a relatively new friend whose been attending our campus ministry gatherings this semester. This exchange student, after a few months working in a Caribbean orphanage, will return to Europe to complete their studies and then endeavor on building an intentional community in the model of Shane Claiborne's The Simple Way and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's Rutba House. It was an impressive compliment to me because of the source. I'm so impressed by this friend, by their journey and willingness to dive into so many different experiences educationally, missionally, and relationally, all to embody the life of Jesus.
I'm not blogging about this compliment to garner self congratulations on this quip from a sibling in Christ. Rather, I'm writing because it's almost Christmas and I haven't spoken in this forum since before the election. You might surmise that's because I was less than enthralled with the results. That's in large part correct, though those fears aren't primarily my own. The election of Donald Trump, as well as his ensuing cabinet picks, has stricken fear into the hearts of people I love. Friends in the LGBTQ+ community. Friends of color. Friends who are women. Friends who are Muslim or whose religious garb holds much in common with Islam. Friends who are immigrants, especially from Latin America. Now, there's more clear and convincing evidence that Russia influenced the election, hoping to lead to Trump's election.
Whatever radicals are, they aren't silent.
That's why I'm writing. My friend reminded me of who I want to be at my core, and fortunately, saw that active and alive in our campus ministry community. In reading the book Beyond the Screen along with other campus ministers from around the Southeastern U.S., I was reminded of the importance of digital presence, and specifically that social media are tools that can be used for the building up of community. I've also recently rediscovered a voice within myself while preaching after a drought where I felt largely dissatisfied with my sermons. In large part, that dissatisfaction grew from a place where I realized I was saying a lot of things but silent about the things that truly mattered.
Radicals speak and act in ways that are consistent with their convictions.
The primary definition of the word radical relates not to extreme behavior, but to connection to the root or the origin of a particular thing. This is helpful, for while we've taken radical to primarily mean something extreme, radical first connotes a fundamental tie to the core of your being. If your behavior arises from your convictions, that's a radical behavior in the most specific of definitions. Oddly enough, though, in our culture, that's also become seen as an extremist position. Take, for instance, the commitment of intentional living communities to pool their resources in common so that all who have need have access to those shared resources. This is a Biblical priority set out for church communities in Acts 2 and embodied in Jesus's command to give to those who ask. Most Christians consider this a radical approach because it seems extreme, when it's radicality is actually tied to the fact that a common purse is at the very origin of Christian practices.
In a documentary following The Simple Way, these people were referred to as ordinary radicals. There's something nice about that, though I think my friend's words get to the heart a bit more clearly. Radical but not crazy. Authentic radicals? Compelling radicals? Just radicals? I'm not sure of the lingo yet, or whether the lingo matters that much. What I'm sure of is that those of us in the church are called to a radical life. We're called to live in constant communion with our root, our vine, who is Jesus Christ. The fruit we bear in word and deed should be evident that we rely upon God as the origin of our entire existence.
Most days, I honestly don't feel like I live up to the compliment I was given. But I want to, and this public admission is a sort of accountability exercise. If you see me failing to embody the radical way of Jesus, call me on it. Help me to see where I can be a better image of God, where I can more accurately reflect God's love for the cosmos. Silence and empty words aren't enough, nor are inaction and distracted behavior. I want to be the radical my friend sees in me. Sometimes that desire is the best testimony we have to give.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.