I'm an extremist by nature: a big-wave surfer and habitual entrepreneur who wrote a book a couple of years ago about adventurous faith. I started writing about radicalism because I thought I was part of the movement. But then I started looking for radicals.

I wanted to connect with and learn from others on the extreme. On business trips, I would take extra time to explore the cities' countercultural corners. I posted queries on edgy Christian websites like TheOoze.com and emergent blogs. Some said the Amish were the best example. Some mentioned Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, and Bono. Some mentioned their pastor or youth leader.

I began randomly interviewing strangers. Pity those like the woman in her mid-50s who sat on an airplane next to me between Portland and Denver. "What do you think about Christian radicals?" I asked her.

She was not a fan. Modern radical Christians, she complained, have hijacked their faith traditions and changed the original intents. She mentioned people who picket abortion clinics as the perfect example. "They don't seem very smart to me, because they don't understand the teaching of their own faith. They shove it down people's throats."

"Those people," she concluded, "are on the fringe to me." And she had no respect for anyone who was on the fringe.

Before returning to her Sudoku game, she paused thoughtfully, removed her glasses, and leaned over to say, "Actually, the anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era were a good kind of radical."

So for this random sample of one, carrying signs and marching can make you a radical. But it depends on where you are marching and what's on your sign. Radicalism is somewhat of a moving target, it seems.

Among the Pamphleteers

So maybe seat 24C wasn't the place to look. I ...

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February 2009

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