I have long been a fan of Shane Claiborne. I thought the two books of his that I have read were terrific and I have watched various videos of him that have increased my admiration of him.
Last night, for the first time, I heard him speak in person. Through a Facebook announcement, I learned that he would be speaking at a high school in the area. So I attended with my friends Doug and Marcia. Happily so: I haven’t been as deeply arrested by a speaker since the first time I heard Helen Prejean speak.
Shane is even more powerful in person than in writing or on a video. His faith, his integrity and his love are palpable with every word. And he challenges those who listen to him. Really, really challenges, which is, after all, what prophets do. Speaking of the Old Testament prophets, Shane characterized them as crazy people who call us back to who we are meant to be. And that is exactly what he does.
His claim is, at one level, a very simple one, the claim that we are invited as Christians to challenge the patterns of the world in which we live – to interrupt the patterns of the world with prophetic imagination. And that means having a different approach to suffering, a different approach to money and and a different approach to violence than that of the secular world. It is an approach that requires us to recognize that, as he put it, maybe God has a different dream than the American dream.
As to suffering: The world teaches us to run away from suffering as fast as we can, while the core of our Gospel is a God who moves into suffering – who is born into a place from which nothing good is said to come and who suffers what we suffer until he is killed. That raises for us the question: how do I take who I am and connect with the suffering of the world.
Money is a hard one for us; many of us who have no difficulty citing scripture to justify various things step back from things like the command to sell all we have and give it to the poor or the instruction not to store up treasures but to depend on our heavenly father. While the world teaches us to accumulate more, our challenge is to learn how to live with less and to “hold lightly” those things we have.
And in a world riddled in violence, our invitation is to find ways to disarm and interrupt that violence, something Jesus was so good at. I was almost in tears listening to Shane talk about his two visits to Iraq and his meetings with the people there and to his reports of discussions with returning servicemen about the horrors they experienced. Simply put, he said that it is impossible to reconcile the sword and the cross and that when Jesus disarmed Peter in the Garden, he disarmed every Christian. The challenge for us is to find imaginative ways to stop violence without ourselves committing violence, in our local communities (and he told some great stories about diffusing violent situations in his Philly neighborhood) and in our world.
Let me end with two lines of his that I copied down (with the broken pen Marcia gave me) that I think are good lines to reflect on for all of us who seek to follow Jesus’ command in the world:
Our faith is spread best not by force, but by fascination.
We are called to makes disciples, not believers.