Righteous anger, one of the best weapons in the satirist’s arsenal, can eat me alive if I’m not careful. Jesus must look at some of my moves and shake his head. But then he takes me in his arms and loves me. Why can’t I do likewise to those who let me down?
As much as I want to be the humble tax collector, I often come off as the self-righteous, judgmental Pharisee. (See Luke 18:9-14). Even when I’m spot-on in my assessment of those whose missional myopia places self-appointed pastors/speakers/authors on a pedestal, my response at times is definitely not Christ-like. Time after time, I fail to put the Greatest Commandment into practice.
During one of my recent holy hissy fits, Mark Van Steenwyk’s posting titled “A More Gracious Radicalism” graced my Google reader. Turns out I’m by no means the only one who struggles with righteous anger. As Mark writes that his wife noted:
something that needs to be addressed here and in all the various corners of the radical Christian world: radicalism often turns people into jerks rather than lovers.
He elaborates on this blunt admission of our failings:
When Christians, upon discovering the deficiencies of their traditions begin, in earnest, to tap back into the root of Jesus’ provocative Kingdom message, they are often likely to become judgmental and angry towards their brothers and sisters in Christ than they are to weep for those brothers and sisters. They become increasingly aware of the failures of the Church, of the compromises (large and small) of their friends, and more tenacious in exposing falsehood wherever they find it.
He admits this may be painting with a broad brush but he paints a caricature that isn’t a pretty sight.
The prize for biggest downer used to go to the hyper-Calvinists; now that prize is increasingly going to the would-be radicals. Some of the most divisive and harsh people I know are (ironically) committed to nonviolence. Some of the most unloving towards the Church are the very ones who stress again and again the need for the Church to embody Christ’s love in the broken places. I don’t say this to condemn, but to confess. I think I may have contributed to this grumpy trend.
To be fair, some of the most gracious, loving, and tender people I know are also radicals. It seems that the heavy business of following in the footsteps of Jesus lends one to extremes: either extreme sourness or extreme compassion.
So how do we move out of this missional muck? Here Mark offers some practical advice:
We must mourn the old world, the old ways, and its cycle of death –- the cycle of greed and violence and oppression as we move into the kingdom of God. And, as we do that, [we] must let go of the illusion of our own moral purity. We must not reach for an easy pseudo-alterity. We can’t render ourselves radicals because we happen to have superficially opted out of the system and donned the garb of the gutterpunk.
If we are able to live the part of the radical without mourning our own complicity and mourning for those trapped in the cycle, we are simply a clanging cymbal. If, because of some strong exercise of willpower we manage to, based upon the heat of our own anger, carve out an entire way of life that stands in contrast to the empire, but have not love, we are simply the beat of an angry drum.
Lest we beat ourselves up, Mark helps point us toward the source of our true light:
If the way of Jesus is about anything, it is about love …. God entangled in a loving embrace with his creation, seeking to make it whole. If we are to be radical about anything, let it be love. Let us be reckless in our love — not only for the poor and marginalized and broken, but also for the rich and powerful and proud. Let us embrace a gracious radicalism, that recognizes that the grace of God (which is really God’s gift of himself to the undeserving) is free to all.