Saturday, February 2, 2008

Not really a radical...

A couple of things happened this that have caused me to muse on the nature of how I pursue Christianity. First, I read a friend's blog on which he quoted a rather obnoxious response that was made to him on theOoze. Now, I've enjoyed a good many conversations I've had on that site but there has always been an element of "radical emergent" people who are quick to condemn anyone who is a vocational pastor, has a church building, or talks about dogma. The post my friend quoted on his blog was one such post.

Over the last couple of years I've really gotten tired of people with an activist bent towards their Christianity sniping at anyone who isn't lock-step in line with them. Encounters with "radical-emergent" folks, conservative Evangelicals™, and church growth gurus have left a bad taste in my mouth. It's not that I don't think that Christians ought to be a light in this world and help others, it's just that I'm tired of watching friends getting smacked in the head for daring to post questions to the activists. They're too busy to be in conversation, it's more easier to verbally assault someone on the way to the next big event.

As I was dealing with my renewed feelings of slightly-negative ambivalence towards activist Christians, I decided to pick up a biography on William Wilberforce to better prepare myself up the upcoming "Amazing Grace" class I'll be leading. Almost immediately I discovered a wonderful truth, for all his struggles supporting one good cause after another, William Wilberforce was not an activist. Rather, he was an idealist.

Now, it might appear quite odd to divide activists and idealists. After all, to most people activists are simply idealists in actions. From my personal experiences with activists and the biographical reading in which I've been immersing myself, however, I've noticed that many activists aren't actually idealists at all. Oh, perhaps at one time they had been idealists who had gotten bitter and in-grown at seeming failure of the world to get with the program - but the activist Christians I've met (and the ones I've encountered in my reading) are actually willing to leave their ideals behind as they attempt to whip people into shape. Activists are, all to often, revolutionaries who enjoy the act of tearing down - but have nothing to offer in it's place.

Idealists are different. Their ideals govern not only their goals and tactics, but also the way they respond when the world doesn't move the way they want. Idealists aren't as likely to write off a group of people (like, say, a political party or those who live in a geographic region) as activists are. Rather, they'll work with people who are in agreement with their goals, and when they are not will learn how to disagree with civility. Idealists may find themselves wielding power, but don't actually want power. Idealists, very often, aren't revolutionaries - they are reformers. Their desire isn't to see society turned on it's head as much as they want to see society ennobled for all. Their desire isn't to win - rather, it's to bless. Activists too often have forgotten that distinction.

Here's the thing. There was a time in which I would have loved to have been an activist Christian - tearing down any obstacle which stands in the way of my understanding of a "pristine Christianity." I've hung around activist Christians of many varieties: Evangelical™, Progressive™, Emergent, and Catholic. There is a vibrancy to all of them that cries out for the Kingdom of Heaven. I may not always agree with what each thought the Kingdom of Heaven was - but I can't deny the passion of the cry or the heart that makes it. The problem with me actually being an activist Christian is, and has always been, that I'm just not made up that way.

I have no problem knocking down walls, asking inconvenient questions or pointing out our corporate faults - but I pursue these out of a desire to devastate or cause upheaval (whether or not I'm perceived that way is another question). Rather, I pursue them because I want us to come back the ideal to which we say we're aligned. That is, the person of Christ and the story of the Church (read, dogma). The theological pursuit which has claimed me for the better part of 15 years pretty much sums up why I do what I do - I see the path forward through what has come before. That is, the path to the future runs through the ancient.

So, while I may admire the zeal of the revolutionary and the activist I have to admit that is not who I am. I'm just not a revolutionary - I'm too much of an idealist for that. My lofty goal is to step into the destructive frays which impede the call to discipleship for people, and enter into them with as much grace as can be mustered. I don't alway succeed - in fact, I too frequently fail - but that is my goal, that's the desire of my heart.


Matt said...

I would have never disassociated idealist with activist. Thanks for the insight. It makes me hope that I never knock down walls just for the sake of destruction.

wezlo said...

I never would have separated them either - except I kept running across activists who were "progressive" or "atheist" or any other number of things that spoke with the same destructive foil as the worst cases of Christian Fundamentalism. All you have to do is change the words, and the message is the same, "Be like me or I will hate you."

Try as I might, I can't walk away from the idealism the Christian faith draws me toward. This often ticks me off, though - it would be a heck of a lot easier to actively skewer people (metaphorically) and just be about "winning." Dang it.