April 11, 2008

A working definition: Radical love

A Friend and I had been exchanging emails a short time ago around the concept of radical love and how one might define it. Such a task had been brought up on certain Quaker listserves and probably other places in the Quaker and non-Quaker blogosphere.

In light of the blogpost I wrote recently, coupled with the recent email exchange, I pressed myself for a definition of my own.

Radical love: The transformational element in my spiritual life that allows me to open my heart in a way that embraces, welcomes, and cherishes those who I had intentionally or unintentionally excluded from my life (or social group) in the past, those who I had somehow seen as "other" instead of seeing them as my brothers and sisters given to me by God.

Radical love goes beyond tolerance and beyond acceptance. And it often requires some sort of deep conversion experience or "a-ha!" moment within myself.
I feel as though there should be more, but this is where the understanding currently ends. I toyed with changing from first person singular to third person singular or even first person plurual (from "I, my, me" to "one, one's, oneself" or "we, our, us"), but I found it less powerful and less concrete.

By all means, play with what I've offered here and take a crack at putting your own thoughts into words. Sometimes we understand and can better articulate what we believe when we have something to push against or disagree with.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this!! I had almost decided not to participate in the blogs because in another place, I (a non-Christian) was told that I was going to have to wrestle with a dominant definition of what Quakerism should be in the future in sopite of the fact that as a Friend, I have a different take on thing--and I felt very much shunted over to the fringe.

I posted a forthright response, and now will set my mind in the direction of trying to love the mindset that diminishes me.

Something guided my hand to click on your blog right away. I give thanks for that. :)


Anonymous said...

I very much like this. It seems related to the ability to forgive: one way that I can tell if I have forgiven somebody who has deeply wounded me is if I can see that of God in the other person.

Thank you!


Fresca said...

Hi, Liz!
Fresca (Francesca) here.
Nice to meet you Friday evening at the Bp. Tutu reception--and now to meet your thoughtful blog. Your definition of radical love is much like the point of Tutu's talk: we are all family, all brothers and sisters. And I love how he emphasized, "all. All. All. All. All. All."
As with the Dalai Lama's teaching, "practice compassion," I recognize that the trick isn't in assenting to this in an easy sentimental way but in figuring out how to live a life based on it. That's some trick!
I wrote a tiny bit about seeing Tutu, here:

Anonymous said...

I like your definition a lot, Liz.

One time Pam said something about "the kind of love Jesus talked about" which is Christocentric enough for the Christians and open enough for the nons.

If radical inclusivity is "the intentional inclusion of all persons; especially people who have traditionally lived at the margins of society" perhaps radical love could be the intentional loving of all persons especially those who have lived at the margins of society.

Johan Maurer said...

I agree that radical love goes beyond tolerance and beyond acceptance, if by "beyond" I can sort of mischievously say "around." Thanks to love not being trapped in lines and hierarchies, I can love people I'm nowhere near ready to agree with or who might not experience me as providing the kind of acceptance they might want.

What has happened to me several times is just this: I've been granted an awesome immediacy of love for someone I have little outwardly in common with--someone whose politics and theology I will continue to dispute with.

Radical love doesn't require me to suspend or marginalize those disagreements, but to recognize, sometimes with tears of relief and joy, that we have another sort of connection that simply doesn't require all these puzzles to be solved before we love.

Sometimes radical love is for those who are not on the margins. There was (is) a Friends meeting in the Midwest whose members include a lot of people who've had rough lives--addictions, prostitution, homelessness, and so on. It also had someone who was an educator and community leader. It was that educator who wondered out loud to the pastor whether his relatively tame history meant that he wasn't really at home in the meeting. The pastor had to assure him that he, too, was welcome and was cherished. Radical love doesn't replace one false standard with another; all social calibrations are null and void.

Liz Opp said...

My apologies for taking some time to respond to you. It seems just as I believe my life is beginning to settle down after a rough start to 2008, something else emerges that needs most or all of my attention.

Cath -

Having read a little bit from the post and comments to which you refer, I wonder if what you have been going through has been a sort of "exercise of the spirit." That is, you have a sense of the Inner Light calling you out, calling you into your Measure and now you have encountered a message that seemingly throws you off balance or makes you reconsider what you have come to know inwardly.

At least, that is my interpretation.

I don't know where things have gone since you read this post, but I hope you are finding enough compassion and enough companions in this journey that you can walk this path, let the Light search you, stay faithful and obedient to what it is that God has given you, while also listening for any kernel of Truth from what God has given others, without expectations of any outcome.

No easy task!

I also wish to make myself available to you by phone and/or email. Sometimes changing the mode of communication can make a world of difference. You can email me privately at lizopp AT gmail DOT com.

Anonymous Sue -

I'm so glad you stopped by and added this insight. I agree very much: I know that it is near impossibly for me to forgive someone until I first have deep compassion for the person.

When I think about it, when I am furious with someone because I have been hurt, violated in some way, or otherwise diminished, of course it requires a sort of Radical Love to transform my fury into something else so that I might forgive.

I hope you'll comment further, as you are led.

Hi, Fresca!

Thanks so much for taking the time to visit The Good Raised Up. I'm so glad you were able to write about Desmond Tutu at a time when I could not. (Right after the event, I headed to Iowa that night for the weekend. Whew!)

I also appreciated your reminder about Desmond Tutu's twist on the metaphor of the elephant, in relation to how to address the tremendous challenges of the world today, from global climate change to economic hardship:

How does one eat an elephant . . . ?

. . . One piece at a time!

I hope to take more time to look through your own blog in the near future, too.

Allison -

Good to see you here again. Here are some other thoughts that your comment brings to mind for me:

If Jesus was a practicing Jew (radical as he was), then it seems to me that the kind of Love he spoke about wasn't in fact "Christocentric" but "God-centric"... and yet the message that Jesus carried was "open enough" for those who lived on well beyond Jesus' own time.

Also, in the definition of radical inclusivity that you offer here, I find it important to avoid the word "inclusion" in the definition. What does "inclusion" mean? What things are marginalized people excluded from, and how does that exclusion happen? What systems and attitudes and unspoken norms need to be addressed so we can move towards radical inclusion...?

Johan -

I appreciate the mischievous reframe you offer, about what "beyond" really means, especially when we are talking about radical love! Yes, I agree that familiar dimensions like "up, down, forward, behind" are meaningless when it comes to how the Spirit might break through. Even the word "around" makes little sense, since God be all-pervasive and non-dimensional... as well as uber-dimensional all at the same time. smile

I also unite with the simple truth that "Sometimes radical love is for those who are not on the margins." Sometimes it is the hardest thing, to love those who are in fact closest to us. Sometimes that's the very best starting point...


Anonymous said...

My definition love is
that it must be unselfish
and sacrificial.

Any other form is a
poor imitation.

cubbie said...

thank you for visiting my blog when you have time. i rarely make it over here myself, generally sticking just to folk from my meeting right now when deciding how to use my brief internet time. but i'm glad i had some time today to come over here. thank you for all your words.

what was missing from the definition for me was, i think, what allison added. that it's intentional love for all especially those on the margins. instead of just love of those on the margins...

though when i read it again now, maybe i like it how it is. it's about the transformational element, which i like. thank you.

how's that for confusing?

Liz Opp said...

Struggle for Justice -

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll look at my reply to cubbie for additional thoughts...

cubbie -

I know what you mean about having to choose just how to use the time I have to look over blogs! Thanks for coming by whenever you can.

As to my "working definition," and after re-reading the comments, what I am stuck on is the definition of radical love. Plain ol' generic love is what I can readily give to folks in my life who I get along with or have grown up with or who look and sound an awful lot like me: my family, my close friends, other Spirit-minded, caring (white) people.

(I struggle with my own racism.)

But where the radical part comes in, that's when I need capital-H Help. That's when I need to be prodded and pushed by a Divine Principle to help me step outside my comfort zone and connect with the eternal Essence of the person(s).



Whaddya think....?


cubbie said...

i think that's good (i think. i don't have a lot of time or energy or thought right now... so maybe there's more i could add), and i was actually thinking about this whole thing a little bit after my other comment, and realized that my nervousness about the especially part is that it seems possible to go toward idealizing the "other." i think that can be just as... inaccurate?... as acceptance or tolerance.

... it's really clear in my head, but writing during my last shift of a six-day workweek is somehow difficult. maybe you can grasp some of it.