RADICAL 1: of, relating to, or proceeding from a root 2a: a root part b: a basic principle 3a: marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional b: tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions.
I first put this dictionary definition on an overhead slide in 1989 as our junior high youth group embarked on a journey through the Gospel of Mark. I told them the radical stories of Jesus and the radical Anabaptists of the 16th century. I’ve always been drawn to the radical nature of our faith. I still use the word in my introductory lecture on Anabaptist Theology.
Lately, however, this word is becoming suspect. In the news we hear stories of the “radical elements” in various religions that perform acts of terrorism. Here in the west reporters go to the nearest mosque and wonder what the imam is teaching his people. All religions have these “radicals” and it seems that the element that most of them take to the extreme is violence and fear. Christianity has its KKK and various militias while Islam has its El Quaeda and other groups. This is why many in the west have turned their back on religion and turn to atheism, even though most people of the world’s religions would disassociate themselves from the “radical” groups on the fringes of their religion.
The usual response to these radicals is the majority’s status quo, using conventional justice systems and conventional weapons, wielded by conventionally approved powers. They use very conventional penal substitutionary language, “The perpetrators will be brought to justice. The guilty have to pay.” Osama bin Laden, Sadam Hussein, and other “perpetrators” have been killed in the name of justice and others have taken their own lives unable to bear the weight of their wicked deed. Yet the problems remain.
I also abhor the violence done by these radicals, and I agree that religion is part of the problem, but religious problems need religious solutions, and the only way to deal with radicals is with a different kind of radical response. Conventional means have not worked. The way to respond to 9/11 is not through conventional warfare. The way to respond to school shootings is not to arm teachers with guns.
Who am I to speak? I am a contemplative theologian and not an activist, but I would like to be the imam who gets accused of inciting activists of peace, a revolution that uses peaceful means to reach that elusive peaceful end that all people desire [SHALOM]. It may sound hopelessly naive and impractical but I believe the way of Jesus is relevant here. He practiced a radical hospitality and a radical love that disarmed the principalities and powers. It was so revolutionary they had to kill him for it. He died for us so that we don’t have to die but also so that we don’t have to kill. Jesus conquered death by resurrection, the power of life. Now that is radical!
May the power of love and life prevail in our world. Yesterday we had the Boston Marathon bombing. Comments about “radical elements” being responsible for it were again made by reporters. I pray that our leaders will do some radical and creative thinking in response to this tragic incident.