White “liberal” guilt? Yes, please…

U2 lyric of the day: “I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in; I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in….’cause I need it now….”


I read the first 100 pages of Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution last night, and I’m “all in a twitter” (in the “trembling with agitation” sense of the word) about it. Several seemingly disparate things stand out about what I’ve read (and my process of reading it) so far:


  • I have to confess I was somewhat resistant to the idea of reading it, though I had picked it up some time ago. I think much of it has to do with simple jealousy on my part. I think I have some pretty radical ideas, and I’ve even made an attempt to live some of them out. Without being arrogant about it, I know I’m a good writer, and I’ve found power in the telling of my story. Some day, I hope to “get it together” enough to get published. Moreover, I actually know Shane (though not well), as I’ve mentioned previously on this blog; so I suppose there’s a degree to which I’ve permitted my jealousy thus far to obstruct my ability to rejoice at Shane’s “success.” Ironically, having been connected to Shane and his community just a bit, and now having read the first part of his book, I know that such commercial “success” is likely the last thing he’s after in putting out his book; so I guess I find solace in knowing that it may be a bit of an obstacle for both of us.


  • I expected, and was not disappointed, to find reference made to people and places with which I’m familiar. So it was with some delight that I found (when reading ahead a bit) Shane spending time talking about Atom (Adam) Heinze, for instance. Atom is a covenant member with Circle of Hope, and he and I were part of the formation team for Circle of Hope East. He truly is a brilliant (to the point of being quirky), interesting, unforgettable guy. Speaking of Circle of Hope, I saw that Shane makes at least passing mention that many Simple Way folks are also Circle of Hope covenant members, and in my view this is no accident.


  • Now to some of the “meat” of what Shane has to say, and how I’m responding to it:


    • I agree with my friends who have praised the “down-to-earth,” humble style with which Shane writes. He does, in fact, make his “radical” choices seem almost matter-of-fact. I like this because I think there is truth in it. I agree that there is an “if…then” straightforwardness that should characterize much of our (my) response to the gospel. And speaking for myself at least, I think things get “complicated” only to the degree that we permit ourselves to be wrapped up in the “world”- by which I mean that system which has been set up in opposition to the power and authority of God and his kingdom.
    • I really appreciated hearing about his experience with Mother Teresa- (well, not just his. He and his friend Brooke went, and I know Brooke too! In fact, in an interesting “small world/full circle” kind of moment, Brooke went out to an “emergent” event at one point several years ago while we still lived in Philly and were a part of Circle. While at that event she shared a “cigarette break” with Debbie Blue, one of our (beloved) pastors from House of Mercy. They each made the connection to Kirsten and I, and Brooke mentioned it to us when she got back). Anyway, I love that Shane and Brooke went out there. Anecdotally at least, I know India to be a nexus of deep spiritual import, and so it is not surprising to me that, following the lead of Mother Teresa, Shane and Brooke met Jesus there among the poorest of the poor. (Speaking of India, I absolutely love the book Deep River by Shusaku Endo, which is set in India and chronicles a story of profound spiritual transformation. Also, at House of Mercy I was tasked with arranging a benefit for the band Fitzgerald, a young couple who had also spent time in India serving "the least of these." Their stories and songs still resonate with me today.)
    • I’m glad to hear allusions at least, so far, of the deep impact of a Campolo on Shane- in his case, the more “famous” Tony. Tony’s son Bart started Kingdomworks, now known as Mission Year, and my summer spent in West Philly doing Kingdomworks- and the enduring impact of my (admittedly marginal) relationship with Bart- remains one of the (trans)formative periods in my life. In short, much of what I do now, much even of who I am now, can be traced directly back to that experience. Bart is now working at starting an intentional community in Cincinnati, and I think Kirsten and I hope to make it out there this summer to check it out.
    • Speaking of intentional community, Shane’s use of this phrase lead to an “aha” moment for me last night. To paraphrase, Shane seems to be saying basically that rich Christians (like me) have to be “intentional” about community because their wealth isolates them from the need for it, whereas “the least of these” could not survive without community. For them, it’s not a choice, it’s an imperative of survival. I think there’s more than a few lessons to be learned here, most especially for me.
    • I also appreciate Shane’s experience at Eastern with Rich Mullins. While I’m not into "Christian" music as much as I used to be, I still appreciate Rich (and his predecessor, Keith Green) and consider his voice to be a prophetic one. His "truth-telling" still needs to be heard. I even attended one of his concerts when I was a student at Gordon. Aside from the worship-ful atmosphere, I love that the concert ended by the whole crowd joining him in worship with one of his signature songs. For my part, my eyes were closed as we finished the last verse. When I opened them, Rich was gone. The message, I think, was that this (the concert, the experience) wasn’t about him. It was about us worshipping God together, and Rich was wise and humble enough to- literally- get out of the way.


Well, these are just a few impressions based on what I’ve read so far. As to how I’m dealing with what for me are the obvious implications of what Shane has to say, I must confess that I’m struggling mightily with it- which I suppose is what Shane hoped for, and so I thank him for that. For me, anyway (ooh…do you hear the apologetic individualism?- interesting…), the “obvious implications” are that I should simply “go and do likewise.” I’ve been preaching the “gospel” of community as the only viable antidote to the atomizing individualism of our culture for a while now, and I even made a (brief, well-documented, and failed) attempt to “try it on” for a little while. Meanwhile, if community is the “clothing” of the Kingdom in this metaphor I just came up with, Shane and his friends- and now Bart and his- have long since left the dressing room and abandoned all other attire, while I sit idly by, seemingly unwilling to join them. Is my situation a bit more “complex” than Shane’s was when he started The Simple Way? To be sure, that is the case, as I come into any hoped for “intentional community” with my wife, son, mother-in-law, and massive consumer debt in tow. Still, I don’t think this excuses me from the imperative to follow Jesus, and I will yet try.

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