By Rev. Joanna Harader (right)
*This is part of a series of pieces 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.
I was struck by Rev. Dr. Victoria Marie’s statement that, in thinking of “radical discipleship,” “there is only discipleship.” The adjective is unnecessary, because to follow Jesus is radical. Period.
I get the temptation to add “radical,” though. Because we want to differentiate actually following Jesus from what too often passes as being Christian in our society. We add “radical” to remind ourselves that discipleship is not about just believing the right theology or showing up in the right place every Sunday or voting for the right political party or hanging the right calligraphied Bible verse poster above our couch.
Radical discipleship takes us beyond belief, to action. It moves us beyond worship to solidarity. It forces us to engage systems of power beyond the voting booth. And, well, I don’t think it cares much one way or the other about our home décor.
So I see how adding “radical” to “discipleship” can remind us that following Jesus of Nazareth is not something we should take lightly.
We have to be careful, though, because the word “radical” can also make it feel like this discipleship business is always a big production. That if we’re not miserable and/or in jail—or at least in some kind of trouble–we must not be doing it right.
I once had my ministerial credentials reviewed because I officiated a same sex wedding. Going through that process felt like radical discipleship.
Awhile back, I became something of a spokesperson against the expansion of my county jail. I got to sit on panels and even speak on the radio. Those public events felt somewhat terrifying and quite radical.
But usually? Usually I’m grocery shopping or picking my daughter up from school or talking my son through a problem on the phone or making a worship volunteer schedule . . . or writing a blog post for a friend. And none of those things feel very radical.
The biblical image that comes to my mind when I think of “radical discipleship” is Jesus hanging on the cross. In reality, though, it is not the act of being on the cross that was radical. It’s everything that came before. It’s everything Jesus did that led to the crucifixion. The extraordinary aspect of Jesus’ faithfulness to God is not a violent death that was forced upon him; rather, what is extraordinary is that Jesus lived his entire life in faithfulness to God’s kin-dom even though he knew it could very well lead to the cross.
Jesus’ radical faithfulness is not exemplified in his death. It is exemplified in his life. We see it with every healing, every invitation to outcasts, every challenge to power, every word of love and solidarity. His death was the outcome of his faithfulness, but not, in itself, an act of faithfulness.
Likewise, it was not my credential review or radio appearances that exemplified my own discipleship. The discipleship was my attempts to be faithful to the way of Christ that got me into those positions in the first place. And so my discipleship is no less radical today just because my church conference no longer requires a full credential review every time I officiate a same-sex wedding. (Thanks be to God!) Or because the jail expansion got voted down and I haven’t been invited to speak on the local NPR station lately.
My discipleship is no less radical when I am sitting with someone their grief than when I am sitting with the District Attorney talking about addiction treatment programs. My discipleship is no less radical on Monday when I (try to) take a Sabbath rest than it is on Sunday when I lead a congregation in worship.
Truly trying to follow Jesus—in big ways and small ways—is always a radical act.
Rev. Joanna Harader serves as pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS. [https://peacemennonite.org/] A lot of her discipleship seems to involve writing, and you can find her work on her own blog, Spacious Faith [https://spaciousfaith.com/] as well as Rev Gal Blog Pals [https://revgalblogpals.org/], and various and assorted other places. She also hosts an on-line morning prayer group [https://spaciousprayer.wordpress.com/] every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:00 a.m. (Central Time).