I am a radical extremist. I was radicalized at an early age, by living in the deep woods. I became accustomed to the presence of the Living World and found the company of tall, quiet, mature trees and the living soil congenial from a young age. By the time I was a young adult, I was a dedicated evangelist with the Church of the Living Soil. I use the word radical because the experiences I had shaped the core of me – to the root.
I believe that there is something radical about everyone. If we are fortunate, we are surrounded with enough love, kindness, and meaningful connection that the qualities infusing the core of our being are basically good. When you look deep inside, to your core, to your root, what to do find? What is radical in you?
What is truly radical inside us, eventually works its way to our extremities. And so, because I am radical and I strive to live according to my values, my faith, my allegiance to life, health, and family, I am also an extremist. It’s not hard to be extreme these days. Our culture seems to want to drive everything to the extreme. Extreme sports. Extreme make-overs. Extreme wealth, with extreme poverty on the other hand. As for me, it’s fine to live off the grid and without a television. It’s also a part of my personal extremism that I choose to spend as much time in engagement with my family as possible, even at the expense of making more money. The nature of our extremism, as I see it, correlates to our radical nature.
It’s also worth mentioning that “extreme” is all relative. It is now considered unusual, in our world, to not have air conditioning in the home. Was that the case fifty years ago? One hundred years ago, most people were either hiring out their laundry, or boiling it out in the yard and putting it through a wringer, if they were so fortunate. Not so now. Once upon a time, most Europeans looked a little like Mennonites. They didn’t stand out then, but they do now. These are just a few examples.
The activity that happens at the root, at our core, is subtle, but highly influential. The activity in the extremities is more noticeable. Notice how much greater the range of motion in your arms and legs than your spine, for example. Does the trunk of the tree sway? Not so much. The outer branches? Certainly.
I am explaining all because I want to neutralize the electrical charge that has come to accompany the words “radical extremist”. I think it is nonsense. I am a radical extremist, and many of you, upon reflection, might find radicalized and extreme elements in yourselves.
What I am not, and I hope you aren’t either, is a terrorist.
When I look into my roots, and also at my extremities, I do not find the fear, the hatred, the violence necessary to inflict terror upon my fellow beings. (I hope you don’t find those things in your heart either.)
And it seems to be that there is a deep seeded problem at the core of those who would create horror and chaos among innocent people. It is not native to any religion or culture. It is not capitalist or socialist. Not Eastern or Western. Terror is a continual possibility within humanity. The roots of terror are ignorance, fear, greed, and hatred. THOSE are what we must watch for. And the first place to watch for them is in ourselves.
Yes, there are terrifying things happening all over this world. It is easy, and natural, to be afraid. But courage is not the lack of fear. It is more like the strength to do the right thing in the midst of fear. If we all run from the scary events around us, we are moving with fear, and soon there will be no place to run to. It is also easy, and natural, to become angry. Anger can be useful when we need to move, but it must be used with caution. Meeting violent anger with more violent anger is useless and destructive. Walking that road could easily leave us with no world to live in, if the fighting should ever end. That’s not the kind of world any of us want to make for those to come.
I hope you will join me in being radically awake these days. Watch out for ignorance, fear, and hatred. Call it out, in yourself and those you love, with kindness. Whatever you do, don’t vote for it. Investigate what scares you. As understanding grows, watch the walls that held you in fear and anger fall down. Let’s be radically awake to the realities of the world, and still extreme in our compassion, curiosity, and joy at being alive.
Peace be with us all.