Thursday, November 16, 2006

How Much Is Enough? Extreme Religion in the Dock

I heard THOSE words again (Luke 17:10) at Mass several days ago now.

"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Is this a recipe for burn-out? A call to radical discipleship? An excuse to "diss" others who don't measure up? A reason to feel (even more) guilty? Naw!

We live in a society (American) that treasures moderation, especially in religion. Don't get too involved now , or over-extreme or overly committed to any one idea, task, or ideology. In America, we're for "what works, " what's "practical" and hence accomodating, easy, and palatable to the majority.

And who can blame us? We could all point to examples of extremism in religion which damage the ecology/ social fabric/ stability of our lives. I won't even go there.... you can cite your own examples, from burning towers to the door bell ringing in the middle of the ball game. Ding-dong. It's the Avon lady of religions, come to save your soul on your own doorstep. How inconvenient. How inappropriate.

The utilitarian, the democratic, the "let's-all-just-agree-here" populism which has ruled the roost in America for generations provides us a barrier with which to keep out the crazies, the unruly, the extreme. It's very helpful that way.

However, that same civil religion can also prove to be the greatest enemy of true religion. This is true because a low-grade, commitment- resistant faith allows us to bail out whenever the discussion gets too uncomfortable, challenging, or close to home.

It is like a cow attempting to communicate with a dog. Same class, different order, definitely different genus and species.
However, I WANT to be different, to be pro-Christ and contra-cultural in the finest Niebuhr-ian sense. It's the winsome radicalism of Jesus, of Ghandi, of Mother Teresa. It's the radicalism that never ceases to cry out for the God of the Poor, the God who challenges and changes us, the God who died and rose for us.

So, call me radical. Go ahead. I dare 'ya.

I like the challenge of religion lived on the edge, as long as and especially when that edge is close to the Heart of God. No matter what we do, we can never love God or love others too much. and that IS a challenge to all of us.


Kyle said...

Hardcore, baby. Have you read Walsh and Middleton, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire? You'd go nuts...

Phil B. said...


I haven't heard of it, but based on the title it sounds like it might be a mix of "Christians against the empire" and Walter Wink's work on the principalities and powers. I'll add it to my (too long) list of books to read.