Interview With a Christian Hipster Icon: Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne is someone I’ve been following for quite some time—someone who I greatly admire and who I believe is an important, prophetic voice for the church today. If you’ve read his books or heard him speak, you know how provocative and compelling and fascinating he is. In my book on Christian hipster culture, Shane gets more than a few paragraphs mention.

I recently had the chance to interview Shane as an online feature to go along with the cover story for the latest Biola Magazine. You can read the interview by clicking here, but here is a little excerpt:

BM: One of the things you often talk about is how we should live simpler lives and consume less. As Christians, what are some ways that we can live more simply?

SC: There are really concrete things we can do. For example, we can fast in some way – in a way that allows us to identify with poverty and the groaning in the world. We can fast from the things that clutter and complicate our lives, things that we think are necessities but for the rest of the world are really luxuries.

I don’t really believe it’s a call to ascetism out of guilt but rather the call to live life to the fullest, as John 10:10 says. It’s a call that not only brings life to the poor and is a sensible way of living, but it also brings us to life. We’ve chosen patterns of living so that even though we are the wealthiest country in the world, we have some of the highest rates of loneliness and depression and medication. We’ve really lost community and the things that are the deepest hungers of our heart. And in order to remember those things, I think we need to cut away the chaff. We can learn to carpool, or grow our own food, or share our possessions like the early church did. We may be rediscovering this by necessity these days. I’m excited because I see folks saying, “Hey, not everyone needs a washer and dryer. Why don’t we share it with a few families? Why don’t we share a car together? Why don’t we have one lawnmower that our cul-de-sac uses?” I think all those are great steps, and ultimately what you discover is that it’s fantastic to free yourself from this compartmentalized existence where you don’t know your neighbors and think you don’t need anybody else. (read more)

Shane is a super earnest, likeable guy, and though his dreadlocked, homemade-tunic appearance can be off-putting, he’s one of the nicest and most respectable voices of his generation. His passion and commitment to living an unorthodox, counter-cultural life seems to be genuine, and he is the first to say that he is neither cool nor a hipster. He writes in The Irresistible Revolution that his coolness was ruined by “a God who has everything backward,” and that “you don’t get crucified for being cool; you get crucified for living radically different from the norms of all that is cool in the world.”

But this statement is a little paradoxical, because the types of things Claiborne does—serving the poor, fighting consumerism, being green and opposing the Iraq war, etc.—are in fact very cool these days. The “norms of all that is cool” from which he rebels are actually totally uncool commodities of the establishment. So though he is acting very earnestly in his desire to appear uncool, Claiborne is nevertheless inescapably hip. But it’s all good.

That he actively shuns the label only makes him cooler.

22 responses to “Interview With a Christian Hipster Icon: Shane Claiborne

  1. In all earnestness, did your publisher pick the term Christian Hipster? It’s deflating, and I honestly think that if you lost it you could uncover a truth that’s not paraphrased, pre-packaged and is worth hearing.

  2. I can’t help but love Shane for what he says…but it IS true, what he’s preaching right now is definately hot and of the moment. I’d like to think he’s been on that bandwagon longer than most though, and will stick with it longer than the rest of us…

  3. Great interview by the way.

  4. Matthew,

    Say wha?

  5. There is no way Shane Claiborne would qualify as a hipster, unless there’s some alternate definition of hipster that comes from the burbs, or people who don’t actually know hipsters.

  6. Just a quotation from Goudzwaard & Lange’s book, “Beyond Poverty & Affluence: Toward an Economy of Care”, that seems to touch on what Shane is talking about.

    “…the appeal to alter our lifestyle does not consist of urging us to make painful sacrifices for the sake of others. On the contrary, our appeal is fundamentally different in principle. It involves the realization that because of our collective drive for more and more, we directly damage our own well-being. We require another vision of life, a vision in which the word enough plays a positive role. The implementation of such a vision will create new possibilities for neighborliness, for demonstrating care for our surroundings, and for having more time available in our harried lives. Such a vision will help us liberate not only the poor but also the rich.”

  7. It’s tragic that one’s motives become suspect when what one does is thought popular.

  8. Tim, who said anything about anyone’s motives being “suspect”? I’m not questioning Shane’s motives at all.

  9. I was mostly responding to a combination of your penultimate paragraph and Meghan’s first comment.

  10. Good interview, Brett. He is certainly an interesting guy and is doing great things for that community in Philly.

    I do wonder about one of his comments from your interview though. It was when he was quoting Dorothy Day and he said, “Dorothy Day used to say, ‘If every Christian home had a room for a stranger, it would end poverty.’ We would end homelessness.” As the Lord himself said, the poor will always be with us. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to help them, but I don’t believe we should be consumed with the belief that we can conquer poverty either. It won’t happen and isn’t meant to.

  11. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said ‘The poor you will always have with you.’ It was less fortune telling or statement of permanence, but more along the lines of I’m about to die, you should stop contradicting me whenever I speak.

  12. Then why didn’t he just say, “I’m about to die, you should stop contradicting me whenever I speak” Tim? He said similar things to his apostles on many occasions (sans the “about to die” bit).

    I prefer to fix on what Jesus did say instead of what I don’t think he meant.

    The truth is that we will always have the poor with us because sadly some people choose homelessness. It’s one of the more tragic aspects of this issue.

  13. Luke, that is exactly what Jesus says: The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. He’s rebuking the disciples, who are griping. He isn’t making a general statement about the poor (or that ‘some people choose homelessness,’ whatever that means), he’s telling the disciples to stop complaining and pay attention because he’s about to die. I know that that’s what he’s doing in this passage because that’s what he says.

  14. Tim, we’re quibbling over words here, which seems par for the course with most of the interactions that I have had with you in the past here (heh).

    Jesus is absolutely rebuking the disciples for griping, and before that he states that you will always have the poor with you. There are no grounds to assume that Jesus didn’t actually mean what he said how he said it, especially since you are taking the rest of his statement at face value. You are forcing your own interpretation on his statement, I assume because you do not like/believe what the statement concludes.

    Tim, have you ever worked with homeless or impoverished people? I’m only asking because in the small amount that I have volunteered my time, one thing stood out very clearly for me. Some people choose the street. Many homeless people have families and homes that they have left behind for a myriad of reasons (mental illness, choosing an addiction over a family, stress, etc). The amount of people who are forced into homelessness is actually a smaller fraction of the larger problem than most people think. At least this has been my limited experience with the situation.

    I believe this bears out the truth of Jesus’ statement. We will always have the poor among us because there will always be people who choose poverty, either through their actions or inaction.

  15. Luke, my quibble is that you took Christ’s statement that amounts to ‘honestly folks, deal with the poor later, believe me, they’ll still be there, but I won’t be for much longer’ to mean that conquering poverty isn’t ‘meant’ to happen– you use Christ’s statement which has nothing to do with permanence and everything to do with the temporary and use it as an argument against Claiborne’s suggestion that Christians live more akin to Christ. You are taking Claiborne’s words incredibly literally, and you are refusing to acknowledge the context in which Jesus is speaking. Jesus did not say, ‘The poor you will always have with you.’ He said, ‘The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

  16. This is going nowhere. Just because there is a comma in a sentence, doesn’t mean that you are not supposed to pay attention to the segment that preceeds the comma.

    You didn’t answer my question about working with the poor and disenfranchised. Do you volunteer your time to help? If yes, then you’re doing your part and there’s no need to worry about all this. If no, then you have no stake in this conversation, so why spend time quibbling?

    After following this blog for the past year, it’s my honest assessment that more often than not, you like to argue for the simple sake of arguing, Tim. Obviously it’s a free country (and not my blog), but it does get tiresome.

  17. No one is suggesting that we ignore the independent clause. I am suggesting that we pay attention to what Jesus is saying, rather than taking half of a sentence entirely out of context. The first part of the sentence is a reference to Deuteronomy 15.11, wherein God is laying out to Moses what will become known as the Year of Jubilee– every seven years, all debts are to be forgiven. God goes on to instruct,

    ‘If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, “The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,” and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it becomes sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”‘

    This is the tradition that Jesus is citing– the requirement from God that we give without hesitation, without ceasing, without forethought. There is an obligation to give: it’s a commandment. Jesus’ point is similar to one he makes time and again during his ministry, though: Obedience to this commandment must not be slavish, or by rote, but out of genuine love for our neighbor and obedience to God. Jesus says, ‘The poor you will always have with you’– that’s true, we are obligated to give and to serve– ‘but you will not always have me.’ This is the part that’s a rebuke: our service to others proceeds from our service to God; we must not loose sight of why we bear this obligation. The disciples are not trying to serve, but merely to play holier-than-thou with the woman who bought the expensive perfume, and Jesus is calling them out on it.

    In light of this, I remain utterly flabbergasted that anyone can read this passage and think that Jesus is talking at all about how poverty can’t be solved. I’m not attempting to argue that poverty can be solved, but that has absolutely nothing to do with what Jesus said.

  18. Tim, people will use any argument they can find to excuse themselves from the task of systemic analysis of class.

  19. Just as, no doubt, many people engage in endless systematic analysis of class to excuse themselves from the task of actually going to the streets, getting their hands dirty and helping homeless people.

  20. Yep, both extremes are to be avoided. The main question is: am I doing something to help? Lots of ways to do so and lots of needs to be filled.

  21. Whoah, this seems irrelevant in light of the pretty intense debates above, but I was wondering if you had seen this article Brett
    They call them the poorgeoisie for their purposes, but I think hipster can also apply, and that you might be interested….

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