By Joshua Grace, a pastor, pitcher, parent and DJ in North Philly
*This is the second installation of a year-long series of posts from contributors all over North America each answering the question, “How would you define radical discipleship?” We will be posting responses regularly on Mondays during 2019.
Radical discipleship doesn’t lend itself to the typical rat race towards better answers. We’re trying asking better questions. What does it mean to be a human being in our past, present, and future social and natural locations? How can our practices toward bioregional health shape our approach to faith and how do our spiritualties contribute to the health of the communities we root into? How can we contribute to the mission of God with eyes open to systemic oppressions, levels and layers of privilege, and hearts open to healing?
How can one describe radical discipleship? Cultivating spaces that form to re-form. Curating times that invite us into deep time together. It is like learning to husband goats. I recently hung out for a chilly Washington morning with my friends’ goats. As they eat their breakfasts, some loving guidance from the shepherd adds to the biodiversity of the land as well balance of diet for goats and mindful exercise for the shepherd. A common assumption by newbies (like me) would be to find the most dominant male goat and boss them into going the way you want to go. To move together with the goats, the shepherd befriends the matriarch. When she will walk on the shepherd’s hip because of friendship, the drove will follow along.
We draw on lived and written work from resisters found on the margins of dominant culture – practitioners, animators, cultivators, and Movement people whose legacy is living for the health of earth, the soul, and bodies. How do we rely on the Spirit to put us in touch with a vision of the common good life and give us what we need each day to open ourselves to healing presence and practice? Who and which kind of voices do we surround ourselves with (music, art, literature, comedy)?
I recently visited a bundle of radical discipleship communities across North America. I didn’t see much of any codified code of conduct although I enjoyed much discerning dialogue around sexual ethics and radical hospitality. I didn’t find rigid acquiescence to propositional truth as much as artists believing in a coming reality where these big ideas actually pan out. I didn’t sense much great branding, so much as a whole lot of people in love with learning their place. I didn’t see a lot of material wealth, although I witnessed experiments in economic theory and wealth redistribution. Radical discipleship people value and express humility and vulnerability in relationships, learning and teaching through practice in an intersecting, brackish dynamism. Radical discipleship spaces offer water to my weary soul and stimulate my mind into high gear.
Radical discipleship describes a convergence of ways of knowing, ways of healing, and with the same hunger and thirst for justice. We’re building into the mission of God which heals and reconnects – mending and tending beyond hearts and minds. We’re experimenting with embodied practice drawing us into deep love of place, being formed by and forming resilient communities, radical discipleship resources the soul of our Beloved Movement.
Growing deeper into your roots means a unique journey for each of us, together. For some settlers like me on Turtle Island, radical discipleship means deconstructing our own whiteness while respectfully living by the hospitality of our host peoples. Learning more about and visiting Poland (where half my ancestors came from 100 years ago) doesn’t make me look less white to a cop, judge, or retail clerk. It does swipe back at settler colonialism and white supremacy, challenging their validity and hold on me. If I understand myself as Polish living on stolen land (rather than a white guy), how do the roots of relatedness become clearer? Can I modulate to a position to authentically ask what it looks like to be a good guest, rhetorically and to Indigenous friends?
Radical discipleship isn’t new. We look to the saints, ancestors, and faithful creatives who wouldn’t follow the mainstream oppressive systems du jour into personal gain, but who waged peace. We hope to add holy nutrients to the beautiful spiritual food forests of the Movement as well as ward off hostile invasives. Let’s make more art, gardens, writing projects, liturgical protests, subversive friendships, mentoring relationships, and of course harmonious music together. May these not only fortify those who consider themselves contributors in these networks, but may they offer nutritional value to those in our communities who have never heard of radical discipleship.