Ordinary Radicals

AAM192In his book on Christian ethics entitled Vision and Virtue, Stanley Hauerwas notes that modern Christians find the everyday morally uninteresting. “The Christian life is a constant struggle to wrestle the truth out of the everyday” Hauerwas writes. “Recent Christian ethics has concentrated its attention on the crisis situation or the ‘big event.’ The Christian life is defined in relation not to the humdrum but to revolution and conflict; the everyday is morally uninteresting.”

I think the same could be said of our notion of what it means to follow Jesus. We are preoccupied with radical Christianity. We are waiting for an opportunity to do something epic–something extreme. The everyday is spiritually uninteresting to us.

In reality, when we follow Jesus, what we do is liable to be so common, so knit together with the fabric of our ordinary lives, that our actions will be virtually invisible. So invisible, in fact, that we often do not recognize it as following Jesus. “Lord,” we will say when the true significance of our actions are finally pointed out to us, “when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” And Jesus will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Perhaps this is why I do not find talk about “radical” Christianity especially motivating or particularly helpful. I suspect that if we were to really examine the lives of “radical” saints from the past, we would find that the extreme obedience we so admire in them was really an extension of their day-to-day devotion to Christ in the small things of life.

3 thoughts on “Ordinary Radicals

  1. What factors do you think might be related to this? Your words draw me reflect on my high school youth group days, how I was searching and searching for tangible experiences with Jesus. Perhaps we think he is more present in the “radical” than the “mundane.” I know I tend to think that when I compare “ministry” work with “secular” work.

    1. To be honest, Aaron, I think it is because “radical” seems more interesting than “ordinary.” Who wants to be ordinary? We would rather be special. This has been reinforced by the church’s tendency to dismiss the ordinary. It is true that there are notable examples of Jesus’ followers walking away from ordinary life. Peter, James and John are called away from their nets, for example. Yet (as far as we know) Jesus spent most of His earthly experience living an ordinary life. His contemporaries knew Him as “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3).

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