Radical Love

I've always thought I was good at radical love, the Jesus brand of love for the "least of these". After all, I've always been close with those on the outskirts, the losers and nerds, the stoners and goths.

It's only recently that I've realized how hypocritical this is. It's no more radical to love my fellow outcasts than it is for the "normal" person to love their fellow everyman. For me, embracing the titles of freak, weirdo, outcast, stranger, Jesus-like love means opening my heart to those least like me. Conservative men in suits. Anti-abortion protesters. Christians preaching messages condemning my fellow queers.

That kind of love isn't easy for me, and that's what makes it radical. I look at people like that, and I don't think about how much we have in common. I look and hope that my visage makes them uncomfortable. I pray that my makeup repels them from ever talking to me, so I never have to learn whether there's anything I want to like about them after all. I decide they couldn't love me, because I'm too nerdy, too interested in bugs, too apathetic about sports. Before either of us has said a word to each other, I've judged them as being unworthy of my concern.

You know, just like I assumed they were going to do to me.

I'm reminded of a trip I took once, my (now spouse) then close friend and I drove to Tennessee to see Amanda Palmer live. Our hair was dyed, I had plenty of piercings, and neither of us had brought any clothes other than "dark cabaret" appropriate attire. But we found ourselves awake and about town on Sunday morning, and decided, why not go to church? So we wandered into the first church we found that hadn't started their early service yet - First Baptist Church of Knoxville. "Brace yourselves," we told each other. "Get ready to get stared at and shunned! Let's see if it even gets to the sermon before we get chased out with fire and pitchforks!" Suffice to say, we were forced to check our prejudices when they invited us to a fantastic dinner after service, sat with us and talked openly and joyously with us throughout the meal.

By a circuitous route, that story has played a role in finding our current church home. Our previous church, now defunct, had connections with a few people at this church, who happened to be on the planning team for the contemporary experiential service. For one such service, they were discussing judgment and wanted to invite strangers to join them, people who might take the regulars out of their comfort zone, and well, our church had a few good candidates for that. We volunteered, and beforehand met with the pastor to discuss our role. Apparently, they had anticipated getting some "actors" in, but when he learned that we happily embraced the label of freaks, he was relieved that they could achieve their plan without duplicity. We attended the service, looking like our normal selves - for me, wearing a skirt, tights, and a t-shirt. I'm not sure we had the desired effect, as we felt fully welcomed there after all, but we all stayed after for coffee and we shared our story from Knoxville about the perils of prejudice. When the church we were a part of at the time shut down, we thought back to the welcome embrace we had received, and soon became members, then planners and leaders.

Now, brought to a head by the politics du jour, I am facing the same struggles again. My ire for my conservative christian brethren has all but erased in my mind the significant common ground we share in our connection to Christ. In fact, I even struggle to identify myself as a christian, leaning instead to my own term "X-ian". Radical love means always seeking that common ground. It can hurt, it can open us up to being hurt. But it's also what Jesus himself declared as the greatest of the commandments, and it's a shame it's so radical, even to radical people like me.

When I walk into a traditional church wearing a dress and makeup, it's entirely possible I will be judged. If I am, I know now that the struggle they are dealing with is not something to divide us, but instead another way we are united, another common ground where we label some group as "other" and assume we already know how things are going to go before giving God a chance to prove us wrong.

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