On Life as an “Ordinary Radical”

On Facebook today, I posted my status as: “I still want to be an ‘ordinary radical,’ which begs the question, ‘what am I waiting for?’ ” In speaking of an “ordinary radical,” I was referencing a term coined by Shane Claiborne of the Simple Way community in Philadelphia. Shane wrote a book called The Irresistible Revolution: Living Life as an Ordinary Radical, and a follow up entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, both of which I’d highly recommend. I knew (of) Shane before his books made him famous, though, as he has been connected to Circle of Hope, my (former) church community in Philly, for some time. What I find so inspiring and challenging about Shane’s writing and, more importantly, his lifestyle, is that it directly challenges the status quo of what passes for being a Christian in USAmerica. Following Jesus isn’t so much about whether or not you cuss, or smoke, or read your Bible every day, or vote Republican (or Democrat), etc. Rather, being a Christ-follower is about living as if Jesus really matters. Because the U.S. is not the kingdom of God, we do a great disservice to God’s kingdom when we take what the “world” does, slap a “Christian” label on it (“testamints,” anyone?), and think we’re being different. And by the way, the term “world” in Scripture and as I’m using it refers to that kingdom, that power, that has been set up in opposition or as an alternative to the reign of God, so in this case the “world” means life, culture, and politics in the U.S.; it does not refer to the created order, which God called “good.” When Scripture challenges us to be “in” the world, but not “of” it, it’s not asking us to create a Christian ghetto filled with “contemporary Christian music” and so-called “Christian” bookstores, etc. No, what we are called to instead couldn’t be further from this nonsense.

We’re called to take a hard look at our economic participation in the world’s system, and on this count capitalism doesn’t get off much better than the command economies of communism, etc. I really like what Shane says about this when he speaks of imagining a world in which capitalism (the pursuit of one’s own self-interest above all else) isn’t possible and communism (state control of one’s economic choices which in theory is meant to insure that all get their fair share, but in practice of course falls far short of this goal) isn’t necessary. So the point is that just because it’s easy to make consumer choices just like most other people, and in fact quite difficult not to, that doesn’t make it right. We should wonder about the big box retailers that dot the landscape of developed countries and ask ourselves whether the economies of scale they afford us are more important than the conditions of the workers who create most of the goods for those stores, which is to say nothing of the environmental impact of the global supply chain. Moreover, knowing the statistics on global poverty and hunger (and we should know them), not to mention the home grown poverty and hunger that can be found in most of USAmerica’s big cities and rural countryside (which is qualitatively different than that experienced by the poorest of the poor around the world, admittedly), we should ask ourselves whether we really need or should have all of the comforts of our middle class way of life while so many go hungry, naked, and cold every night. People like Shane recognize that my decision to have a Quarter-Pounder-with-Cheese or to buy a 3rd HDTV for my house matters a lot more to my neighbor, and to God, than whether or not I say a bad word occasionally or have a beer every once in a while. As a Christ-follower, I know that living in a single-family home with only my 3 person single family and owning 2 cars and doing all the other things that go with those choices, including working to pay for them, is inherently problematic, if not downright sinful. I am the rich man in Jesus’ story, and the middle class mess I’ve just been describing is my “eye of the needle.” What if my family and I lived in community (like we once did for a short time), with several families or individuals sharing resources under one roof, which in turn would make it possible to be less beholden to “the man” of corporate America so that I could spend my days loving and serving my neighbor instead?

Likewise, what if my life in Christ exemplified the truth that following Jesus isn’t about lending intellectual assent to a series of propositions, neither is it about a behavior checklist of rules, but instead is about the degree to and manner in which I love those right in front of me, and the intentionality behind where I place myself (where I live, work, worship, etc.) which has a lot to do with who’s “right in front of me?” What if I quit taking it upon myself to draw lines and decide who’s “in” and who’s “out” of God’s kingdom, as if such things were up to me, and instead loved everybody that came across my path, trying my best to remember the adage: “If you’ve come here to save me, don’t bother; but if you’ve come here because you recognize that your salvation is bound up with mine, then let us labor together”? This is life as an “ordinary radical,” as I understand it. It has to do with opting out of the “American dream” and pursuing God’s dream for the world instead.

Jesus clearly had little patience in Scripture for the religious leaders of his day who tied such heavy burdens (rules, etc.) on the backs of the people, refusing to lift a finger to help them at all, and I suspect Jesus is similarly inpatient with the religious leaders of our day. If we remembered that nothing we have is ours and so shared that which we’ve been blessed to steward, we “would have no poor among us.” If we cared for the sick like we should, the healthcare debate would largely disappear. If we remembered that we are citizens of God’s kingdom first and foremost, we wouldn’t care so much if “illegal aliens” overrun “our” country, especially since we’re all “illegal aliens” in the first place, unless you’re a Native American. If we loved and cared for unwed mothers and their children (especially pregnant teens), much of the heat surrounding the abortion debate would go away. This too is life as an “ordinary radical,” to choose Jesus and pledge allegiance to his kingdom exclusively, because you “cannot serve two masters.” I could go on, but this is some of what I was referring to. What do you think?

One thought on “On Life as an “Ordinary Radical”

  1. Thank you! How eloquently you express my feelings about life and the way it could/should be. I am not a Christian in the accepted sense but Jesus’ teachings transcend all religions. They are just the way people should be to one another.


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