What does a longtime radical theologian and justice-seeker like Ched Myers do for his 60th birthday? Weep with the salmon over dammed riverbeds. Dance with Miriam to tambourine and djembe. Gather 180 friends to connect prophetic Biblical texts with ongoing experiences of solidarity and struggle in communities across the US!
This February, I attended Ched’s Festival of Radical Discipleship in Oakview, CA, a gathering that was part celebration, part reunion, and part serious huddle about Christian nonviolent resistance to destructive forces of empire. The ecumenical, intergenerational gathering included folks ranging from priest to labor organizer to addictions counselor to folksinger. The common denominators were a commitment to following Jesus through radical discipleship and deep solidarity with our fellow creatures, believing:
"that followers of Jesus should stand for compassion and equity, and against all forms of oppression and violence. To do this we must face our personal and political blindness to the realities of human suffering, as well as to God’s horizons of justice."
Jesus seems to have spent most of his ministry and prayer life in the wild—places that both set our inner demons buzzing and call us into Holy Spirit-led transformation and wholeness.For an overflowing week, we camped in the desert chaparral and discussed experiences of seeking to live out Biblical themes of wilderness, economic jubilee, and resistance. We hiked and learned from the Ojai Valley’s teetering desert ecosystem inhabited by water-hungry humans. We connected with folks around the country called by faith to resist oppressive structures of racism, economic injustice, and war.
This is the kind of thinking that got Dr. King into deep trouble, and participants shared each other’s experiences of struggle, doubt and pushback. I met people with hearts constantly broken and renewed by love, like the Detroit clergy who face arrest for resisting the ongoing privatization of water, or the female Catholic priests who share the gospel of good news for the poor despite excommunication. Others were innovating alternative models for theological education and could speak to my search for wisdom and community-rootedness.
What if the call from the wilderness, challenging and dangerous as it seems, is also a joyful, irresistibly life-giving one? I’ve been reminded to listen, and to move deeper into that wild call.We heard many voices calling for prophetic humor and playful artistic resistance, from a laugh-out-loud sermon by Minneapolis pastor Jin Kim to the colorful “Carnival de Resistance” of Tevyn East and Jay Beck. Their powerful “Water Show” brought spectacle, song and prophetic spoken word to the watershed in the dancing figures of John the Baptist and Miriam (and Ched Myers in a giant squid hat). Full to the brim with new friends and mentors, I enjoyed quiet time painting and reflecting on vocation with artists Dmitri Kadiev and John August Swanson.
One of my favorite moments of the Festival was during poet/theologian Jim Perkinson’s talk on Biblical nomads, wilderness ecology and his beloved Detroit. I was reminded of how a spiritual mentor once framed my seminary discernment journey as a wilderness time. At the time, I connected that desert image with suffering, failure and scarcity. But Ched and many others at the Festival pointed out that Jesus seems to have spent most of his ministry and prayer life in the wild—places that both set our inner demons buzzing and call us into Holy Spirit-led transformation and wholeness.
As Jim spoke, I climbed into the embrace of the live oak above us. A little child on the other side of the circle climbed into his own tree. We sat listening, swinging our legs and smiling at each other. What if the call from the wilderness, challenging and dangerous as it seems, is also a joyful, irresistibly life-giving one? I’ve been reminded to listen, and to move deeper into that wild call.
(You can learn more about Ched and the Festival of Radical Discipleship at the Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries website, http://www.bcm-net.org.)