16 August 2012

Radical hope

Link to "radical"--an interactive entry on visualthesaurus.com
As I implied a couple of weeks ago in my comments on the "Whoosh!" vision in Britain Yearly Meeting, I'm often skeptical about the use of the word "radical." It's like the word "passion"--I just hate to see a good word lose power through overexposure.

As the thesaurus app on the right indicates, "radical" is an adjective for something "far beyond the norm" or "markedly new" or "revolutionary," and is closely linked with the word "root." But in popular use, it sometimes seems to mean "something that irritates conservatives" or "some slogan or theory that enhances my self-image as a progressive person without requiring much actual risk." Tell me if this isn't fair.

In the specific case of some Friends in Britain Yearly Meeting and elsewhere, "radical" seems almost synonymous with "post-Christian"--which seems a very conventional stance to me--very consistent with the surrounding culture. In the best case, this use of the word "radical" seems to have an aspirational, if-only quality to it: we'd like to believe we can live a simpler, more egalitarian, more mindful, more spiritual-not-religious lifestyle; and even if we're not there yet, that word can stand in for our intentions in the meantime. At least it differentiates us from those still living in Christian ignorance.

I'm aware that I'm really on the edge of caricature and unkindness here, but please comment and fill in what I seem to be missing. In the meantime, let me propose that there has probably never been a place of significant Christian influence on this planet, where that influence has not been accompanied by truly radical change: education, health care, huge improvements in the status of women, and weakening of totalitarian structures--even when the earthly agents of that influence have seemed ignorant and highly inadequate, perhaps even unaware of the full extent of the changes they were helping unleash.

(See Vincent Carroll's and David Shiflet's brief and readable book Christianity On Trial:
Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotryfor a systematic exposure of many myths and cliches about Christianity's supposed racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, and anti-environmental record. And, over twenty years ago, David Stoll's Is Latin American Turning Protestant described the radicalizing impact of the Bible on missionaries who started out as conventional conversionists but who became agents of social justice.)

Often these deep shifts have taken decades and generations, but here and there a movement has arisen that has given history a push. Quakers were such a movement; they (we) catalyzed major campaigns for freedom of religion, social justice, prison and mental health reform, due process, conflict resolution, impartial aid to combatants and refugees, abolition of slavery, the right to refuse military service and military taxes, and promotion of equal rights. Many of these campaigns involved civil disobedience, as a result of which many were imprisoned and some died. Nobody could argue that the Friends who initiated and supported these campaigns were flawless disciples, but they had made crucial connections between the Lordship of Christ and its ethical consequences--connections that made the risks of radical discipleship worthwhile.

So much for our past. But today, somewhere between 1.1 and 1.5 billion people on our planet remain in extreme poverty; slavery and oppression are far from eradicated; most governments and warlords still believe in lethal force to solve conflicts; institutions of "national security" are becoming ever more sophisticated and pervasive; and Mother Nature's willingness to absorb our pollutants may be coming to an end. The Bible makes it clear that we are God's ambassadors of reconciliation, but that to engage in this witness, this Lamb's War, requires whole-life dedication. What hope do we have for a radical witness in our future?

First, I continue to resist calls to evangelical machismo. (I interpret Bruce Arnold's recent blog post, "The early Quakers and the fire within," as making a similar point: the home hearth fires are as important as the wildfires.) The first task of our meetings and churches is not to mass-produce prophets and activists, but to become places where the Holy Spirit can form us all according to our spiritual gifts. When our meetings are places where we trust God to order our worship, our church governance, our outreach, and our family lives, then we can sort out the divine division of labor by which those who truly are the prophets and activists will be found and supported.

Secondly, I nevertheless hope for a major revival within and beyond Friends. Christian Peacemaker Teams, Occupy Wall Street, Friends of the Light (Michigan), the Catholic Worker movement and Catholic religious, the Plowshares Movement, Voice of Calvary, and many other groups and churches can serve as incubators, models, and catalysts. Under the influence of prayer, Bible study, intervisitation, a firm rejection of elitism and glib categories, and an ever-increasing mutual respect, I hope that the old boundaries between activists and the bulk of our congregations can be melted down. This to me feels like radical hope.

Desperate Theologian introduces and summarizes Scot McKnight on "The Radical Message of Jesus." (See the video, too.)

Christian comedian Mark Lowry has his own take on Jesus' radical message. "I read Matthew 23 and I put my name in there...."

Rebecca Tucker: "We need to need. We need to need God. We need to need our friends and family emotionally. But we also need to need our neighbors in tangible, forgiveness-provoking ways."

Grace Biskie, "I believe God expressly asks us to love people who are different than us."

Robin Parry on the post-Christian Olympic closing--specifically John Lennon's "Imagine."

Friends Committee on National Legislation (USA): "Escalating threats of Israeli attack on Iran." And Mondoweiss' "Iran hysteria watch."

Robin Mohr's blog celebrates its seventh birthday.

The Ghent Legacy, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."


Alice Y. said...

This post is great Johan. I love what you say about "there has probably never been a place of significant Christian influence on this planet, where that influence has not been accompanied by truly radical change". It's great that you can hold out that promise.

It reflects my own experience in personal transformation. I am trying to follow Jesus, in the Quaker way, and that commitment has brought transformation into every part of my life that it has reached over the last twelve years. I am excited by what reaching for God has already done in my life.

I haven't yet seen transformation at a social level that you talk about. In those I identify as well-seasoned Quakers I can perceive fruits of their formation in such an environment. I hope I can be faithful and look out for the opportunities to be part of social transformation springing from the Holy Spirit.

Johan Maurer said...

Social transformation might be in part a convergence of community faithfulness and strategic timing. (An example whose long-term significance is still unknown might be Pussy Riot and the worldwide conversations they've engendered, some of which could be truly evangelistic.)

I hope we Friends are not so self-absorbed that we miss the larger currents into which we might be called upon to throw ourselves. Some years ago Paul Lacy of Earlham College said something like this: We're called by Jesus to be in the world but not of the world. Instead (he continued), too often we're of the world but not in it.

Jnana Hodson said...

The early Quaker proclamation of being "primitive Christianity revived from before the dark night of apostasy" sweeps away many of the false charges against religion, on one hand, and harmful teachings and practices, on the other. We need to reclaim it.

"Radical," with its senses of root, rooting, origins and originality, and support and nourishment, has long been a favorite word of mine -- healthy roots produce healthy fruit, after all.

I wonder how sustained, positive social reform could possibly occur without this spiritual underpinning and community. The attempts that come to mind all failed miserably.

Robin M. said...

Thanks for the link. It's also been seven years (and a few months) since I started reading your blog. A formative experience, for sure.

Like this: "Nobody could argue that the Friends who initiated and supported these campaigns were flawless disciples, but they had made crucial connections between the Lordship of Christ and its ethical consequences--connections that made the risks of radical discipleship worthwhile." The key reminder for me was that not being flawless is not a good enough excuse why I'm not living up to the Light I have been given.

Tom Smith said...

I find it interesting that Elias Hicks and his supporters were very concerned with the adaptation that Quakers of his day were making to the culture around them. Among these adaptations were the acceptance of material things as a goal, the Protestant attitude toward the Bible as "THE" authority, among other "cultural" positions. Today, it seems that the "Hicksites" - "Liberal" Friends - are the ones being accused of cultural adaptations toward "secular" goals. Thus the "orthodox" are the ones that claim they are not "of the world."

The question I am left with: "To Whom do we Listen?"

"You have heard it said, ... but I say unto you..."