Exotic Christianity

A fourth and final excerpt from Robert Barron’s The Strangest Way, which I started when I was in Quebec City last week. This concerns the difference between a beige versus vibrant Christian tradition:

When I was coming of age as a postconciliar Catholic, great stress was placed on Christianity’s outreach to the modern world and to other religions. In accordance with this emphasis, Christianity’s distinctive qualities and bright colors tended to be muted and its rough edges smoothed, while points of contact and continuity with the non-Christian and secular realms were consistently brought into the light and celebrated. As a result, the Christianity into which I was initiated was relatively bland and domesticated, easy to grasp and unthreatening.

Then, in the course of my formal theological education, I began to reach the mystics, saints, and scholars of the classical Christian tradition. What I encountered there took my breath away. Whatever this Christian phenomenon was, it was certainly not the beige system of thought that had been presented to me. Rather it seemed to me the strangest, most exotic, surprising, and uncanny of all of the religious paths I had encountered. For at the very center of it is what the Buddhist scholar at Gethsemani and Matthias Grunewald saw with such clarity: a God who comes after us with a reckless abandon, breaking open his own heart in love in order include us in the rhythm of disown life. Christianity, I saw, was not our disciplined quest for God, but God’s relentless quest for us—even to the point of death. God died in order that we might be his friends. Whatever you think of that last statement, whether you deem it true, false, or nonsensical, the one thing it is not is bland; the one thing it is not saying is what everyone else is saying.

And friendship with God—not simply worship, discipleship, seeking, or ethical uprightness—but real intimacy with God entailed, I discovered, a giving of self that mirrored the radically of God’s own gift of self in Christ. The point of the Christian life is to be holy with the very holiness of God, and this means conformity with a love unto death. On both the human and divine side, therefore, there is a radical, even disquieting extremism about Christianity, and the best spirits in the Christian tradition do nothing to soften it; on the contrary, they intensify it.