There is a scene in the original Karate Kid movie in which Mr. Miyagi asks young Daniel if he is ready to begin his training. The boy responds by saying, “Yeah, I guess so.” Mr. Miyagi responds with a story.
“Walk on road. Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, squish just like grape. Here karate same thing. Either you karate do yes, or karate do no. You karate do ‘guess so,’ squish just like grape. Understand?”
On Tuesday, December 21, 2010 outgoing Senator Arlen Specter gave a farewell speech in which he lamented the slowly shrinking number of moderates serving in the Senate. He indicated that the parties (especially the Republican Party) are moving too far to the extremes and concluded “This polarization will make civility in the next Congress more difficult…” His call was for more centrality, more moderation, from those who would create laws in our land.
The Senator is articulating a thought that has become prevalent of late: it is better to avoid ideological extremes. People on the extremes are radical and do crazy things. The fringes are no place for sensible minded people. People should move their views to the center where dialog and compromise can take place in reasonable fashion.
And this same thinking has been applied to faith. Avoid the extremes. Stay in the center. Be sensible and reasonable. Remain in a position to compromise. This is why news coverage of some religious groups uses terms like “extreme” or “radical” or “fringe.” It is the mainstream’s way of labeling these groups negatively in order to drive people toward the center.
There is one problem with this for Christians: Jesus isn’t a moderate! There is absolutely nothing about Jesus that is moderate in any way. His attitude toward women isn’t moderate. His treatment of the poor isn’t moderate. His allegiance to the Father isn’t moderate. His call to discipleship isn’t moderate. His expectation of humility isn’t moderate. His definition of faith isn’t moderate. Jesus is in no sense of the word a moderate and neither are those of us who call ourselves his followers.
Do not be lulled by the zeitgeist dancing in the square playing the pipes of moderation. The church has for too long accepted a position of radical-less faith and preached a watered down version of the gospel bearing no resemblance to Jesus. We do not need less extremism in the church—we need more!! We need more extreme holiness; more extreme grace; more extreme faithfulness; more extreme compassion; more extreme service; more extreme love. Extremism is the very thing Jesus is calling us to: radical, fringe, extreme faith.
Do not listen to Arlen Specter, my friends. Rather, listen to the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi. And when it comes to your faith remember, “Walk middle, sooner or later, squish just like grape.”