It was quite the sight to see Shane Claiborne speak at my church Tuesday night. Here’s a guy wearing a homemade monk’s robe, bandana and dreadlocks (his everywhere outfit), standing on the stage of Bel Air Presbyterian Church. That’s Bel Air… as in Fresh Prince. We are a wealthy, comfortable church, looking majestically over the Valley from our pristine perch atop the Hollywood Hills. It’s not a church Shane Claiborne probably feels that comfortable in… but that’s exactly why he needed to be there—to ruffle our feathers.
As Claiborne likes to say, his message (i.e. the message of Jesus) is meant to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. And it certainly did that Tuesday night.
Speaking to a crowd of about five or six hundred young people (the combined junior high, high school, college, and young adult ministries at the church), Claiborne recounted his conversion from the Christianity of his youth (alter calls, chubby bunny youth group games, televangelists) to the “simple way” that he now follows. He’s been written up in Christianity Today under the headline “The New Monasticism,” portrayed as the leading edge of a new movement of younger evangelicals committed to re-visioning the gospel through the eyes of the poor. Another one of his quips falls along these lines: “Christianity is not about gaining better vision” (i.e. faith healers/prosperity gospel), “but seeing with new eyes.”
Claiborne is a radical guy, and if he wasn’t so earnest and joyful and rhetorically sincere, his radical ideas might be easily written off. Obviously not everyone can (or should) sell everything and start a commune on the north side of Philadelphia (as Claiborne did). Not everyone can take off ten weeks to work alongside Mother Theresa in Calcutta (as Claiborne did). And few have the guts to live and work with maimed children in Baghdad while a war is going on outside (as Claiborne did). But as unthinkable as it all sounds on paper for us practical-minded suburbanites, Claiborne makes it sound not only doable, but desirable.
Claiborne is fashioning a new kind of Christian—in the lineage of Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa—that is radically different than the sort of deep-pockets, high-powered political machine that gets all the headlines these days. This is a Christianity uninterested in all forms of power except that of love… and community in Christ. Though it’s maybe not perfect as an all-encompassing rhetoric of new-school Christianity, it’s definitely provocative, inspiring, and quietly revolutionary.