A new kind of radical
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be radical.
It is a word that is tossed around a lot in evangelical culture.
An entire group of modern day pastors have gotten famous off writing books and speaking at conferences about how to be a radical. It’s a tear-you-down-before-we-pump-you-up kind of strategy, and judging by the bestsellers list, people like it.
You THINK you’re a Christian?! THINK AGAIN – the back covers of their books read.
Are you willing to throw away your comfortable, meaningless life and do something IMPORTANT for God? – they shout at conferences to choruses of Yeses and Amens.
I was once one of those Yes-ers and Amen-ers. I forked out the money I earned from my job at a pizza parlor to attend those conferences and buy those bestselling books. I’d underline the passages that challenged my “lukewarm” spirituality, feeling inspired to do more illogical, crazy things for God.
I began to think that the ordinary life – having children, owning a home, punching in to work each day – was for lukewarm people who accepted mediocrity for their lives. I must go into ministry! I must be a world changer! I am a radical!
When I heard messages of grace – that through Jesus, God loves you no matter what you do, end of story – I thought to myself “LUKEWARM!”
But so many of us now know that the burnout rate for this thinking is high. Like many of my peers who were white knuckling through our faith, always attempting to DO more and BE more and live differently than the world, I began to feel poisoned.
I’ve been out of that thinking for long enough that when I see it now, I coil back. When I hear the world radical, I cringe. I have found freedom from that, after years of shame and performing.
Nobody from a Christian doctrine will come outright and tell you they believe you have to behave a certain way to be saved, even if that is essentially the message they preach. But Joe said something I thought was so true and poingant the other day, so I’m going to quote him on this one.
“They’ll never tell you that you have to earn salvation,” he said. “But what they do say is ‘if you’re not doing this or that, then you have to question if you really are saved.'”
So at that point, it’s a matter of semantics, isn’t it?
As I spend my days changing diapers and folding laundry and cutting sandwiches into bite sizes pieces for Baby G, I chuckle thinking back to how my teenage self would have mocked my life. But now, having escaped the “do, do, do” theology of my past, I’m at peace with it. When Joe comes home from his job in Corporate America and greets his daughter with 1,000 kisses, I say a quiet prayer of thanks. When we migrate to the dinner table and make small talk about our days – he about various projects and coworkers or the audiobook he’s listening to in his car, and me about small milestones in Baby G’s life – I am overflowing with contentedness for my very ordinary life.
Perhaps the radical Christian movement got a little mixed up a long the way.
Perhaps we are most radical when we show kindness to someone we dislike or disagree with, or patience for the store clerk who is bagging our groceries oh-so-slow when we are in a rush. Perhaps it’s in the moments of cutting a sandwich into tiny pieces for someone who is dependent on us. Could it be a radical act to answer the phone to a friend in need right in the middle of our favorite show?
God is there in those ordinary, boring moments when we choose to love. Grace can be found with the person who lives overseas or starts a church plant – but no more so than with those who live quietly, mind their own business and work with their hands.
St. Teresa of Avila – a true radical, in the rightful sense of the word – was constantly being asked by people how to emulate her heroic life.
“Be faithful in the small things, because it is in them your strength lies,” she said.
She would often send Calcutta visitors back home and tell them to change the world by loving those in their families and communities.
“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action,” she said.
It isn’t about what you do, but how you love.
I read a poem that John Blase wrote on his blog today, The Beautiful Due, and I found it encouraging to be reminded that loving our children is a noble, even radical act.
Life slips from our grasp by merely living. You are overtaken by a child’s needs then suddenly the child is grown and you’ve aged close enough to fifty to round up. There’s no need to be morose about this. God remembers all your generosities and has pressed them into bottles to ferment until the fullness of your time arrives. In the meantime, promise to love yourself.
Don’t think that I am impressed with myself in all this. Just the opposite. I know just how flawed I am and how small my life is. But isn’t that part of the beauty of all this?
Today, we might walk to the produce stand where I will buy local vegetables for my family, making sure to smile and make eye contact with the shop owner. Then maybe we will return a book to the library so that someone else can read it. Then we’ll come home and I’ll hold my baby’s hand as she practices little steps that for her are frightening, life altering leaps. If she falls, I will hold her and kiss the top of her head.
All the while, I’ll be uttering thanks for this very ordinary life.