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Chapter 16 - Who wants to change?

Since radicalism is about change, it is natural to ask why anyone would want to change. We all are driven at some level like animals to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The Greeks observed this in what was described as a 'philosophy' of Hedonism. This was somewhat modified into Epicureanism by the observation that limiting pleasures could help a person live longer to enjoy even more pleasures.

For those who desired 'virtue', the path of Stoicism required enduring discomfort and even pain so that a person, by his strength, could demonstrate his superior character. In a way, the TV characters on the show 'Star Trek' of Spock and McCoy, representing logic and emotion, demonstrated these two approaches to life.

In reality these are not two distinct paths nor are they even specifically chosen. The person who endures discomfort does so because there is a greater or overriding sensation derived from the satisfaction that one has accomplished or maintains a chosen condition. We make changes in life to get what we want and avoid that which we donít.

If we were to consider a young girl with anorexia we might be puzzled to understand how someone could slowly starve herself. It can help to consider two aspects of the girlís life. The first is that she has anxieties she has come to associate with her weight. The second, is that these anxieties are alleviated through the satisfaction she gets from the control she can exert over her eating. Like the Stoic or even Mr. Spock, she endures and can even savor her physical discomfort as it has come to be interpreted by her as proof that she is in control. This sense of control can be so important to her that she may not be persuaded to change her actions even when her life is at risk.

Consider the father who is a strict even excessive disciplinarian. He has come to see that controlling his children is his responsibility (as opposed to teaching his children to control themselves). He may see his children fear, resent, and even come to distance themselves from him. Yet he is unable to consider any change because to do so would risk the assurance he derives from being certain he is doing the right thing.

A more common example to consider is a person who was raised in a church and sits in a pew every Sunday. He may have no particular anxieties and in fact may actually feel pretty comfortable with the direction and momentum of his life. It would be difficult to convince such a person to undertake the experience of anxiety associated with change as he cannot imagine a destination of greater comfort than he presently enjoys.

Most people achieve an equilibrium in life that balances things that motivate change like pain, discomfort, and anxiety with habits we aquire to control ourselves and environment. As the years pass, we are less and less likely to consider anything that might disturb this point of balance for our life. We may even come to accept what has been called 'lives of quiet desperation" rather than risk 'upsetting the apple cart".

There are a variety of circumstances and environments that a Christian can come to. He can be drawn to the emotional stimulation of rock bands or Charismatic expression. He can find smugness and self-righteousness in legalism or social justice. Even the low-key traditional approach can keep him comfortable and isolated. In a way, Christianity has brought to the marketplace a variety of brands that can satisfy almost any inclination.

Since there are so many denominations offering almost every possible way to express oneís faith, it would seem that nothing else would be needed. Some move through the available denominations looking for the best day care, coffee bar, or convenient parking like savvy Christian consumers. Some are seek the denomination that 'got it right'. If the primary motive force in the life of a Christian is comfort, satisfaction, being 'right', or even sensation, there is little need for 'radicalism'. However, among the dissatisfied are a small group of Christians stirred to seek that which touches the soul, truth and love.

This is where radical Christianity is needed. Most denominations declare that they have the 'right' way to live the Christian life. They usually have a doctrinal statement listing declarations they say are true. The problem is that truth is not something that can be reduced to a static two-dimensional declaration with which we are supposed to agree. Truth is the living vital power of God that works in us to make us like Jesus and draw us to himself. Even 'love' can be twisted into attempts to make those lost in sin feel good about it or for a person to have an almost drug-like experience of 'worship'. It is the growing dissatisfaction with a sort of substitute Christianity that drives the radical Christian to seek authenticity even at the risk of discomfort.


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