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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Spending time with Shane Claiborne: Part 1 of 2

The day before Palm Sunday last year, I curled onto a couch in a small room full of young adults. I knew no one, except a guy I’d met at my church a few times before. During the day-long retreat, on a whim while we talked about life, I spilled my guts. I shared with the group all I couldn’t grasp about our culture. Everything that bothered me. Everything that seemed so normal to most other adults. I said something that – ‘til then – I’d avoid saying to anyone I didn’t know.

“I think I might be crazy.”

First impression ruined, I thought. But something happened that caught me by surprise. A guy with whom I shared the couch passed me a note.

“The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne,” it said.

My new friend recommended it, a book about living as an “ordinary radical”, and on my way home, I bought it.

I read it in five of the days that led to Easter. Best. Holy Week. Ever (not counting, of course, the original)! Others existed, I learned, who thought something seemed sketchy about “suburban Christianity”. Others believed there is more we can do. And we aren’t crazy, I realized, but in the words of Claiborne, we are “sane in a crazy world.”

I caught up with Claiborne, who has also co-written the books Jesus for President and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, over the phone awhile ago to chat about following Christ in a culture like ours.

AS: When I first saw that the narrow road is way narrower than expected, I got a little scared. And so far, surrounded by a culture that begs to differ with everything I believe, I still sometimes find myself feeling cynical. Do you ever experience the stuck-ness of cynicism?

SC: Without a doubt, there is so much momentum that works against the things that are so close to the heart of God. So much of our culture is teaching us to live for our selves and to choose things that really fall short of God’s dream. When the scriptures say that we’re not to conform to the patterns of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, it really is about having an imagination; having a renewing of our mind about how we live in the world so that we begin to think differently from that patterns that are so compelling. We do have to be really deliberate. The inertia just runs so deeply … move to the suburbs and get a house for you and your family and just think about yourself.

I think part of what kept me from getting stuck is, from the onset of my journey into kind of radical discipleship, I’ve been surrounded by people who challenged me to risk more, you know? They dared me to love more recklessly. Christian community is about surrounding ourselves with people who look like the person that we want to become, people who remind us of Jesus and then we rub off on each other. Sometimes it’s easy to think I’m this lone ranger. (But) I went to India with a group of people, I went to Iraq with a group of people, I’ve lived with people for the last 10 years. I think that is part of what creates sort of a critical mass, you know, that can actually move against the grain of a culture. And certainly Jesus had that, too. (He) sent the disciples out in pairs. He knew how vulnerable we are and how easy it is to get seduced, and to get infected by the patterns and the values of our culture.

And the people that I look to, like the monastics and the desert fathers and mothers of the church: these are people who left the centers of society to build a new society on the borders of it, or on the margins. It wasn’t that they were fleeing the world. They were going to the desert to save the world from itself. But they knew that they needed to have some distance from the world that you’re living in. The idea that you’re going to conquer the beast from the belly of the beast I think is a little contrary to what a lot of us are trying to do. You do need to create some distance and distinctiveness. This is the culture we’re trying to create, and it’s a different one.

AS: In Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, page 45 says that as the Israelites were led out of Egypt, they got hungry for the food they had while they were there. It would have been more comfy, in other words, for them to stay where they'd been called to leave. This is a great parallel, sometimes, for how I’ve felt, being clearly called out of what this culture values so much. Why is it so easy to be tempted to stay where we don’t belong? And why is it better that we don’t stay?

SC: We are learning to trust that God is good, you know? When you’re in the middle of the desert and you’re hungry, and the other “saviors” of this world – the pharaohs and the kings and the presidents – have let you down, there’s a sense of “God led us into the desert to starve us.” The incredible thing that a lot of people are discovering is that what we’re talking about is actually God showing us the way that leads to life. We’re talking about what it means to begin to wrap our hands around the good life, and what we’re made for, and what brings us to life. We’re not talking about a God that wants us to suffer on the streets, or to suffer from poverty, because God called us out of this culture, rather across the planet, people are discovering that as you make these choices to hold your possessions with loose hands, you know, to live outside of the nuclear family and do hospitality with the homeless and things like that, it’s just a deeper way of living. You cry harder, you laugh harder. It’s a choice to live deeper.

The secret to it all is that people think we’re very sacrificial, but once they come here they see that we’re actually alive. We’re actually doing things that we’re designed for, which is to love the poor and to live for something bigger than just their selves. I think I see that story all through Scriptures. People end up locking themselves into a very empty existence, like in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man had a gated community, a gated life. He locks himself in. And he thinks he’s locking his neighbor out. Lazarus is locked outside of the gates, but (the rich man) really finds out he’s locked himself into a tremendous life of loneliness.

AS: Easier though it is to put up “gates,” why is it worth it to go gateless?

SC: The gates that (the rich man) built between himself and poor Lazarus are actually gates between him and God, and he’s robbed himself of love and grace and forgiveness and community. A lot of people are discovering that our gates today are picket fences in the suburbs or the wall between the US and Mexico. The more gates we have, the more fearful and lonely an existence it is.
Not that everybody has to live in a little house in north Philly with seven other people and one bathroom, you know, but in some way, we’re created for community. Whatever form that takes for us is a way that we can really come to life.

As Mother Teresa used to say, the more we have, the less we become. We see our possessions begin to possess us. We kind of find ourselves locked in a mode of maintenance and just trying to maintain the cost of living, fixing all of the toys that we have, running kids to every extracurricular thing that they have and we lose the beauty of a real simple life of love and hospitality and community. There’s a real freedom in that. There’s a freedom in seeing the blessings of God go to people who haven’t experienced them. It’s very counterintuitive – you know, you think, 'I want to experience the goodness of God’s gifts by keeping them for myself', but in Jesus, we see that the best thing to do with the best things in life is to give them away, to share them with the poor, to share them with our neighbors.

AS: So a Christian, like you said, doesn't necessarily have to live in a house with seven people and one bathroom, like you do. What are other ways to embrace Christian community?

SC: The call to community is consistent throughout scripture. We see that within the story of the Hebrew people and the Israelites, in the story of Jesus, and even in the character of God. We have a God that is community, a plurality of oneness. As we live, we are communal people. There’s so many different forms community can take. I think one beautiful one is family: nuclear family, a husband and wife and children. We can see the divine fingerprint on that. For a lot of us, especially in this culture, that’s our only paradigm for living.

In scripture and in much of the rest of the world, there’s a sense of community in a village: people that are living not just with their nuclear family. That call, though, is to be hospitable to the stranger. One of my closest friends, his wife and his child live with an older woman who has Alzheimer’s. It’s thinking outside the box (like that). As we look at it, we’re not born of the flesh. We’re born of the spirit of God. And you can see that when people are living with folks who have different colors of skin and are from different walks of life. It’s a reflection of the kingdom of God.


In part 2 of Spending time with Shane Claiborne, Shane talks about the blessings in simplicity and the beauty of being an ordinary radical in a culture like ours at a time like this. Coming soon!

1 comment:

Linda said...

It is great to learn about people like Shane who genuinely embrace the call to discipleship. He was driven to question and challenge what culture tells us about “success.” Certainly many families are grateful that he decided to courageously speak up about the apathy and injustices in society. May God continue to bless him with strength and perseverance in the work he is doing.

In reading this interview the following quotes come to mind:

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems."

-Mahatma Gandhi

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Franciscan Benediction
"May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
so that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creations
so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children
and all our neighbors who are poor.