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What Happens When Radicals Fall in Love?

Being a radical has never presented much of a challenge for me. Even as a little kid, I asked hard questions. Took no prisoners. Questioned authority.

A radical stance always came natural. Very young, I developed an addiction to anger. I raged for every righteous cause.

I still do. Fury and righteous indignation are so easy. Just look around. There’s injustice everywhere.

Yet something has changed along the way. The rage still courses in my veins, but there’s something else at work, too: The power of love, creeping up on me when I least expect it.

It could be that I’m just getting old. Maybe I don’t have the energy to sustain all of this upset and moral outrage anymore. Maybe.

What seems more likely is that love is catching up with me. I’m seeing the human cost of my prophetic edge. I’m developing a preference for relationship over being right, for genuine questions over cocky answers.

My right to rage ends where your innate dignity as a human person begins.

Is this what happens when radicals fall in love?

Here’s my question: Is it possible to be a radical without raging against the machine? How do you take a hammer to the edifice of injustice while dwelling in love and compassion? Is it possible to see the system for what it is – human beings and all our false motives – without becoming bitter and cynical?

What happens when radicals fall in love with our enemies?

Related Posts:

Holy Anger

The Occupy Movement Needs A Prophetic Church

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    IMO there is real temptation for one to fall for a default mode of Victimhood Rather than take responcibility for one’s own emotional crap. Being a victim
    Is attractive bc one always has someone or something to blame so one lives in reactivity, triggered out of bordom into an adrenalin high. It’s addictive. It relieves one of having to grow up and have real relationships. One’s contacts are w ppl w similar emotional disfuct.
    Those relationships tend to be about something; an oranization or program
    Rather than sharing anything real abt oneself. The late stages victim has no self only a grumble. Ppl become objects to be manipulated, controlled or avoided. I know this so well bc I have thot of myself as a victim 60+ years. It’s a hard habit to break! W/out the holy spirit helping me every day to get my mind right I easily get negative & have flashbacks.

    • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

      On the other hand, blaming victims for recognizing that they are such does nothing to change the situation and only encourages abusers to continue abusing. A no win situation, actually: if I point out that I did a more than adequate job of parenting despite being abused as a child I get accused of blowing my own horn and dissing my mother (who was paranoid-schizophrenic but not diagnosed until after I left for college). Finding the balance between loving people and pointing out faults in the systems in which we are enmeshed would seem to be the key.

      • louismoreaugottschalk

        my heart goes out to you Barbara. both my parents were severely mentally ill. they did the best they could by me. in so many ways in so many layers we are all victims of victims IMO. my way I was in and through. I became an alcohol/ drug addict/criminal. the 12-step program of AA introduced me to Jesus via higher power. I’m a grateful alcoholic because I have found sobriety and serenity any other way. I continue to grow, to find ways to be self caring without being compulsive obsessive about it. the best work I ever did to heal, I think, was on ways that I have self stigmatized and self abused as per my comment about being in victimhood default mode. I actively talk back to the introjects, which is a fancy word for self talking bad abt oneself tapes running in ones head: ‘i’m not good enough and I’m to blame or I need to blame other people & god for giving me a hard time in a hard life. this grief work has led to a transformation into acceptance and has turned my life completely around.

        • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

          Good for you. But please remember not all of us have gotten there yet and your post can feel like it is blaming the victim (which does nothing to help said victim to get past feeling victimized to recognizing the good in him/herself and starting to heal).

          • louismoreaugottschalk

            one of the wake up and smell the coffee things that help me back in the seventies before I even thought of following Jesus, or knew how damaged I was from my childhood was a couple of lines from the songs of the prophets Crosby Stills Nash and young;
            don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now

          • I don’t feel like I have much to add to this, but I do want to thank both of you for sharing, and having a real civil back-and-forth about tender subjects and feelings!

          • Well, Micah, I think both of us have issues from our childhood, and that partly (probably only partly) explains our tendency to rage.

          • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

            Just remember that children are NEVER responsible for the sinful actions of adults (although said children are blamed all too often), sometimes those underlying injuries have been deeply buried in self-defense by the child, and when the injuries surface decades later the emotional turmoil is difficult enough to handle without having someone infer that it is all the sufferer’s fault.

          • louismoreaugottschalk

            yes Barbara the numbness, bitterness and resentment I held on to for so many years, because of severe abuse in childhood, was defensive and reactive. it worked to protected me from some of the consciousness that my caretakers were disabled emotionally, mentally, behaviorally. They were in fact toxic & dangerous to me.
            because of my youth, inexperience, naivety I interpreted the situation as my fault. most abused children are set for life to be in that victim mode. children of parents who have severe mental &emotional problems have much in common with children of alcoholics IMO. generally, being raised by such, produces a co dependent personality disorder in one. I agree one should not be blamed for being the victim of abuse nevertheless when one grows up one has difficulty going through one’s developmental stages without the support of parents who were emotionally available and had no empathy. in such a situation one generally grows up to becomes an abuser, becomes self abusive &/or alternates bt the two for the rest of one’s life. one is in fact trapped in a behavioral cyclical pattern that has no escape. I know of no other way to change my ‘fate’ other than to ask for & submit myself to the grace of God who in his infinitude can break into my finite life & and time to finally give me the emotional support to heal from my original trauma and repair my character flaws of obsessive compulsive perfectionism, self-sabotage, judgmentalism & creating drama.
            only now serve to be barriers to true intimacy with others.

      • Kevin Osborne

        Perhaps what is meant is don’t be a victim, meaning don’t blame others willy-nilly for one’s feelings or fate. It is an unhappy place to be, perhaps the worst place to be, so any nudge out of it is useful, even if it seems to be impersonal. Once abandoned, one can more easily be in that wonderful place called “now”, where there is no blame or regret and anyone else’s blame becomes a cottonball in the wind.

        • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

          Depends upon what age one was when abandoned: children who are not properly nurtured need to have a secure base on which to stand before they can make any progress toward abandoning their only survival tools. Be careful of rushing to judgement: one really has no idea what battles another may be fighting just to endure for one more day.

          • Kevin Osborne

            Fair enough. but I am not judging, just stating facts as I see them. Perhaps a presentation can be made such that one realizes being in the now is a superior solution rather than battling to endure. Each to his/her own.

  • elliogr

    I love this post, Micah, and I think it shines a great light on Jesus’ ministry. There was no such thing as a nonviolent social movement at the time of Jesus, which has always made me wonder what he would think about them. One could argue that he started a nonviolent social movement, and in a sense, he certainly did. There are so many nonviolent social movements inspired by the words and actions of Jesus, including Black Lives Matter. But was Jesus creating a social movement for political/social change or was Jesus creating a spiritual movement for global/cosmic change?

    While I definitely support movements like Black Lives Matter and am humbled by the commitment, courage, and willingness to take risks within that movement and wish to be more involved, I find myself haunted by a question that I often feel I have no right to ask in the first place: Will this type of movement lead to the type of justice that we seek? What does justice look like? Is this system, this country even capable of such a thing?

    Cornel West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” and I think that is a profound truth. I think doing whatever we can to prevent racist murders, violence, and injustice is a most noble cause.

    But what will give us the balm we seek? What does love really look like in public?

    I can definitely relate to the two poles you speak of – righteous anger and agapic love – and given Jesus’ response to the violent zealots of his day, I wonder what he would say to the nonviolent zealots of today. Is the Kindom of God really all around us? Or is it something that we have to fight for? Is it both? Or are these two approaches somehow at odds with each other?

    Is there really an all-encompassing love that can actually hold all this mess?

    This is something I’m still working out, but the notion of Jesus as the “first fruits” of God’s redemption is like a beautiful, loving thorn in my side whenever I find myself turning towards righteous anger or despair.

    Will God really redeem us all? Even history itself?

    I’m starting to believe YES, and I want to live in that YES, and I want to be one of God’s children who helps bring others to that YES which is here, which is now, which is not yet.

    • Wow, thanks Greg. I really appreciate all these questions, and the engagement you bring to this.

      I share your uncertainty about a lot of what passes for “love in public” these days. A lot of “hating the sin but loving the sinner” ends up looking mostly like hate, to me. And this happens on all sides of the political spectrum.

      While I do believe Jesus’ message is deeply spiritual, I don’t believe he (or his contemporaries) ever separated the “spiritual” from the “political.” Jesus’ message, mission, and reign has profound, real-world implications that topple empires and re-shape cultures.

      I want to live in that radical, political gospel of Jesus. I think most people reading this blog do. The big question is how, and in what spirit, do we get there?

      We’re going to be exploring this question, in some ways, at the Friends of Jesus Fall Gathering this weekend in New Jersey. Our theme is “Fully Human”, and we’ll be thinking about the abundant life that Jesus promises us. I feel sure that this abundant life is something we can live out together in the public, “political” sphere.

      I want us to get there, together. Thanks for walking with me in these questions.

      • elliogr

        Thank you for your response, Micah. It’s great to dialogue about this. I definitely agree that “Jesus’ message, mission, and reign has profound, real-world implications that topple empires and re-shape cultures” (great sentence). For sure. I don’t see the “political” and the “spiritual” as separate. Really what I was asking was the “How” that you mentioned later and also the “What.”

        Jesus didn’t try to change Roman policy. He didn’t organize Jews for a strike or a protest. So what was so dangerous about him that he was crucified after only three years of preaching his gospel? Did Rome mistakenly believe that he was planning an insurrection of some kind? I think that’s likely. They certainly didn’t understand him.

        But I think what they really feared was that he and his followers were no longer under the control or authority of Rome. Rome still jailed them, persecuted them, tortured them, and killed them, but in an absolute paradox, they were at the same time free from Roman power and free from death itself.

        That creates a real dilemma for me, because it makes me wonder, “Why did Jesus preached his Gospel if he knew that it was going to lead to more physical suffering and killing of his people? Shouldn’t he have at least tried to change Roman policy? Was it just inconceivable at the time to do so? Might it be equally as impossible to change this empire in any way that would actually produce justice?”

        I’m reminded of my favorite Malcolm X quote, “A chicken can’t produce a duck egg. It has not the means nor the system
        within to produce a duck egg. In the same way the Capitalist system
        cannot produce freedom for a black man. It has not the means within to
        produce freedom, it has not the educational means, the political means,
        the legislative means. And if a chicken was to produce a duck egg, it
        would be considered a revolutionary chicken.”

        Is the same true of the United States, the champion of capitalism?

        Was there another type of “spiritual/political” change that he was trying to usher in? A lot of people have a lot of different perspectives and theology around this, and I don’t even know if I agree with myself on this one, but I guess the claim I’m trying to make is that I think Jesus had a particular kind of “political/spiritual/social” change in mind that Rome could not have granted or allowed. No amount of protesting or petitioning would have created it. It could only be lived into and experienced through living it out.

        I know I’m treading in dangerous waters here, but these questions keep me up at night, so thank you for creating a forum where I can share them and wrestle with them. Blessings.

        • louismoreaugottschalk

          yes I think you have begun the good work of penetrating the mystery of what it is to have rivers of living water & what Jesus means when he says the kingdom of God is within you. we aren’t chickens anymore!

  • Smfrmrinfrisco

    Or as Bob Dylan so nicely said, “…ah, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”

    • I must not be old enough to get the reference.

      • It’s familiar to those of us in your father’s generation (I think we’re a year apart). My Back Pages

        Crimson flames tied through my ears, rollin’ high and mighty traps
        Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps
        “We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I, proud ‘neath heated brow
        Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

        Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “rip down all hate,” I screamed
        Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed
        Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow
        Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

        Girls’ faces formed the forward path from phony jealousy
        To memorizing politics of ancient history
        Flung down by corpse evangelists, unthought of, though somehow
        Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now

        A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool
        Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
        “Equality,” I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
        Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

        In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
        Fearing not that I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach
        My existence led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow
        Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

        Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
        Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
        Good and bad, I define these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow
        Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now

  • broschultz

    That’s the secret. You have to love your enemies because your rage is the fuel that keeps the injustice burning. That’s the point of turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. You never affirm the enemy’s actions but you never give them any additional fuel for their sense of duty. Eventually the fire that drives them in their belief will consume all the available fuel and it will die out as embers. However, don’t forget that James writes that it’s patience that will make us perfect.

    • Hey, Jim. I don’t think I agree that rage is the problem. Rage can be a good first step. But I think we’d both agree that dwelling in rage long-term is unhealthy. We’ve got to find a way to reconciliation and love, but it’s not always easy!

      • broschultz

        Maybe it’s about how you direct the rage that has to be looked at?

      • Val Liveoak

        Perhaps the energy of rage can be an effective motivation for action in the short term, but I agree that it cannot be sustained healthily for long.
        Perhaps, outrage, that is a longer term response to injustice.

  • robynjosephs

    we should chat sometime.

  • “Passion for injustice has taken many forms throughout history. Only recently have we begun to mistake non-angry responses for indifference. In fact, other emotional responses may be better suited to positive action. (Quiet steely resolve comes to mind.)” http://www.oneforjesus.net/all-the-delicious-anger/