My sermon last week, 8/10, was inspired by Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. When this book was published in 2006, I was in college. People that I didn’t get along with were reading the book, so I decided not to read it. Now I see that was complete foolishness.
For a while now, I have been thinking that the charity work of the church is not enough. Jesus calls us to work for justice and social change. Even so, I have been afraid to take action because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Shane Claiborne in his book has shown me that, yes, people may not agree with such simply radical action. Yet, a few sour opinions should never be reason enough to refrain from striving for the least among us.
Claiborne writes powerfully about his conviction to take the Bible seriously. While in college in Philly, he spent time among the homeless there. He did this not as a service project but because he genuinely cared for them. Then he went to Calcutta and spent a few months serving the young, homeless, and sick with Mother Teresa. Then he discovered culture shock when he served an internship at Willow Creek, a large, affluent congregation in Chicagoland.
While at Willow Creek, Claiborne did a brief survey of the congregation. Although 80% of the lay members knew that Jesus spent time with the poor, only 2% of them did so. He writes:
“I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” (p. 113)
After graduating from college, Claiborne began the Simple Way, a fellowship of people who live among the poor and serve them. They not only feed these people - they know them personally. By taking the time to truly love their neighbors, they can help them care for each other. Shane Claiborne, throughout his life, follows Jesus’ example by spending time among the rich and the poor.
In his book, Claiborne shows me how complacent we Christians have become. We see tragedies happen all around us, but what do we do? Nothing. Even when we can make a great difference, we often just watch the opportunity pass by. Sure, we are good at charity. We feed the poor. Sometimes we clothe them too. We donate to Good Will. But with each of these activities, we separate ourselves from the poor. We help the poor to satiate our own guilt, not to fulfill their needs. Claiborne writes:
“Writing a check makes us feel good and can fool us into thinking that we have loved the poor. But seeing the squat houses and tent cities and hungry children will transform our lives. Then we will be stirred to imagine the economics of rebirth and to hunger for the end of poverty.” (p. 160)
Shane Claiborne is living his life as an “ordinary radical” because his faith is so deeply centered on Jesus’ teaching, preaching, and miracles. Using Jesus’ life as a guide, he cannot help but to care deeply for everyone he meets, whether rich or poor. Claiborne describes Jesus with these words:
“Jesus was not simply a missionary to the poor. He was poor - born a baby refugee from the badlands of Nazareth, wandered the world a homeless rabbi, died the rotten death of insurrectionists and bandits on the cross, executed by an oppressive empire, buried in a borrowed tomb. Jesus was crucified not for helping poor people but for joining them.” (p. 144)
So let us all take Shane Claiborne as an example and consider how we too can become ordinary radicals.