By Rev. Solveig Nilsen-Goodin (right), a pastor, parent, author and organizer in Portland, OR
*This is the third 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.
As is often quoted within Radical Discipleship circles, ‘Radical’ comes from the Latin: radix, meaning root — getting to the root causes, the root pressures, the roots of our faith. Yes! Let’s get to the roots!
But today as I reflect on what Radical Discipleship means to me, and why it is necessary in the first place, I want to talk about seeds.
Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:11)
Radical Discipleship exists in the first place because the anti-imperial, creation-and-liberation-centered resistance movement that Jesus re-animated within his own Jewish lineage, has been genetically modified — manipulated by Western, colonial empires for about 1700 years. Surprising? No. The prophetic Hebrew tradition that shaped Jesus’ radical vision sprouted and grew up precisely in response to such genetic mutation by earlier empires.
Yet here we are in the early days of the twenty-first century, and these genetically-modified seeds of faith and practice have mutated into a form of Christianity that, absurdly and tragically, can be equated with imperialism and colonialism, patriarchy and white-supremacy, Christian supersessionism and a disconnection from the natural world so severe that its logical outcome is the eco-cide unveiling before our very eyes.
Radical Discipleship exists because this GMO-laden imperial lab experiment that many call, simply, “Christianity,” has been engineered to be an invasive species; a pernicious species; a noxious (and often obnoxious) species. This genetically-modified monocrop of monotheism has been and remains intent on wiping out all indigenous species, all “other” species in its path, appearing to be nutritious but instead making many of those who eat of its fruit insatiable and addicted, sick and silent, timid and tame.
But from the very moment empire began manipulating the seeds of the radical Jesus movement and started its genetic modification process, there have been those who resisted, who remembered, who rewilded. So even while this monotheistic monocrop of empire-modified Christianity continues its centuries-long disruption and destruction, the radical disciples and the defectors, the savers of the ancient seeds of faith and the practitioners of prophetic permaculture, in humble partnership with cross-pollinators and mycelial mentors within Judaism and other indigenous and wisdom traditions, are fearlessly and steadfastly preserving, planting, and passing down the ancient heirloom seeds of prophetic movements on the margins of empire — seeds of old growth forests of faith, seeds of trees whose leaves “are for the healing of the nations,” seeds of dandelions pushing up through the cracks in the roads leading to our own demise.
This, to me, is Radical Discipleship.
Radical Disciples preserve, plant and pass down the non-GMO, ancient seeds of the Jesus movement, rooting down into their place within the sacred ecosystem of God, and rising up to bear fruit as a living offering to the beautiful struggle for life abundant for all.
We call ourselves by many names, affiliate (or not) with many denominations, speak many languages, claim many identities, and articulate our visions for what God intended for life in many ways, because the sacred ecosystem of God is not a monoculture. Some call this vision the ancient name of Shalom. Some call it the kingdom of God as Jesus did. Others call it the beloved community; still others the discipleship of equals, the manna society, the community of creation. Different names, but their source the same: the heirloom seeds of an ancient and profoundly relevant faith — seeds that spring up in wild diversity on the margins of empire, undermining empire’s power and logic by their outrageously joyful existence, their tenacious persistence, and their inexplicable resilience.