For years, I have been somewhat obsessed with trying to understand social change. I was born in 1963 and in the 4 and a half decades since then, I have seen lots of changes, good and bad. Sometimes it seems more bad than good.
I’m a radical by nature. In kindergarten I remember some teacher scolding me for something I thought was dumb. I looked around the room, realized that there were more of us (students) than her, and fantasized briefly about trying to get the class to push her out of the room, so we could play the way we wanted to play.
Yes, that’s pretty silly, or cute depending on how you look at it. Staging a rebellion of 5-year olds is quite a different matter than bringing about social revolution. Just how different is what has fueled this decades long obsession.
I started out on a more serious radical path in 1986, when I moved from Texas to Illinois, just to join a Christian commune. Who does that anymore? I gather it was quite popular in the 70s, but I was over a decade behind the times. That decision was the culmination of my disenchantment with our society and the churches I’d grown up with. I believed that Jesus was not just a sacrificial lamb who let the evil world kill him, but also a rebel who set in motion a radical impulse for freedom, justice, peace, and love that could make this world into heaven, if we just followed him.
This radical Christology began way back, maybe before the kindergarten incident. I remember a vivid conversation with my Pentecostal preacher father about war and wanting to become president to end all of them. This might have been 1968, when I was 5 or 1872, when I was 9. I’m pretty sure it was an election year. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, so that meant war was wrong, right?
In my teens, I learned that some Christians were so radical for Jesus that they had moved into communes, like in the book of Acts. This sounded exactly like what Jesus wanted me to do. It took a few years, but I did eventually act on this leading.
While living with this commune (for the record, I never actually gave all my money to them, they tended to require a long waiting period), I went back to college (after dropping out when I was 19, discontent with education, as much as church and society). This time, I took classes that explored radical ideas. Marxism, feminism, anarchism, anti-racism, environmentalism – just to name a few. My world expanded, and in a few years time, I was no longer confining my radical impulses to Christian pacifist communal values. I had begun to engage the problem of social change in wider terms, as a global problem.
I think a lot about how truly radical progressive change might happen, what it would look like, how to encourage it, and whether it is possible at all. As I’ve said, I’ve seen some changes in my short life that I consider good ones, but have probably seen many more that are pretty dark. Especially, the continuing scourge of war and poverty around the world. One reason I have resumed blogging seriously is to try yet again to envision and understand how the world might be changed for the better, more radically.
I hope some of you will care enough to read long.