349: What shall we do now? Conversation With Shane Clainborne

“STARTING TODAY, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

    President Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address, which you can read here.

“IN TODAY’S SHARP SPARKLE, this winter air, anything can be made — any sentence begun.
    On the brink,
    On the brim,
    On the cusp …”

    Elizabeth Alexander in her Inaugural Poem, which you can read here.

This week, Americans are reorienting their vision and hopefully their minds and hearts as well. We’re seeing things we never expected to see! TODAY, we are proud to welcome into our weekly Conversation, another person whose appearance may surprise some readers.
    Just as many of us shed tears of joy in seeing the first man of color become the leader of the United States, you may find yourself blinking once or twice at Shane Claiborne.
    But, hear this loudly and clearly: Millions of young men and women in the next wave of ministry coast to coast look to Shane Claiborne as a living prophet. No, not as some cult divinity! But, truly he’s a preacher who is brave enough to live out his own sermons — and to speak hard truths to well-established powers.
    That kind of prophet.
    Visit his Wikipedia page if you want to learn more about his background. In a nutshell, he’s an enormously popular author with younger Christian readers and with activists of all ages who are working toward nonviolence and an end to destructive forms of poverty. His latest book is “Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers” (click the Amazon link below to get a copy).
    He lives in a new style of urban monastic community in Philadelphia. He answers to a “clearness committee,” borrowed from traditional Quaker practice. Like many ancient prophets, he never travels alone and he lives in voluntary poverty himself.


    DAVID: Shane, everyone right now is asking: How shall we live? What shall we do now? So, how about you? How are you living?
    SHANE: Our big mantra and prayer is: Dream big and live small! I try to integrate that in my own life.
In our neighborhood, we have a weekly rhythm of things like morning prayer and times that we share food with folks. About an hour from now about 50 families will come here to get food and then we help kids with homework. We do urban gardens and renovate houses.
    We share meals that we schedule together — some are open to the public and some aren’t. That’s sort of what life looks like in our neighborhood. I’ve been living in this community for 10 years. I live with about six or so other people and we share our lives together. And we end up spending a lot of time with neighbors.
    This week one of my closest neighbors — an elder here and our block captain — she died and that was a big loss. I was a pallbearer in her funeral.

    DAVID: As I travel around the country, I hear your name everywhere I go. You’re extremely popular these days. How do you balance that prophetic role with this everyday life in your little community there?
    SHANE: For me, it’s very important that I submit all these things to my community — our elders and partners — and we discern together. I have a clearness committee. One decision I make with them is how much I travel and things like that. We accept less than 25 percent of the speaking requests that I get. We discern that together.
    Traveling too much would be a problem. I don’t want to be traveling around and telling people stories that are 10 yeas old about things that I no longer really do. Last night, for instance, I went out and we were giving out sandwiches on the street.
    A community can be pretty good at keeping you grounded.
    I travel everywhere in pairs, too. So there’s always someone there who can say: Hold on. That’s not really the way that should happen.
    DAVID: You follow some wise rules that actually are very similar to long-standing practices in other communities. Quakers have clearness committees. Billy Graham’s longstanding rules include a rule that Graham never allowed himself to be alone in a room with a woman who wasn’t a member of his family.
    SHANE: Right. These are good things. There’s just a ton of wisdom in the biblical call to community. Jesus sent people out in pairs both for accountability and for truth and even for dismantling some of the power structures. There’s so much wisdom in these biblical lessons about community. Here’s one reason I travel with someone from the community: When someone then comes to visit us here, they already know someone here more than just me. It builds community.
    When I travel, I stay in people’s homes as much as is humanly possible. It’s in my contract as a speaker that we request homes and not hotels. People think that’s sacrificial, but I think it’s actually very smart. You actually get spoiled in people’s homes anyway – they make you homemade cookies and things like that. This also protects you in areas that you might be vulnerable and it builds community.

    DAVID: In your new book, you point out that we are surrounded by urgent needs — to such an extent that we may be tempted to separate ourselves from prayer. Here’s a line from your book: “Amos tells the people of God to shut up with their songs and worship and feasts and festivals and take care of the poor.”
But your new book actually is about the importance of prayer mingled with daily living.
    SHANE: We cite the old adage: Pray as if everything depended on God and live as if everything depends on you.
    What we’re getting at is that prayer and action have to go together. As we pray we’re not just trying to convince God to do what we want God to do. We’re also trying to convince ourselves that we can do what God wants us to do. We’re joining with God in working in the world.
    It’s beautiful that communities get together and share prayer requests. But here’s the problem: You know what happens if somebody comes up to you and says, “Hey, I’ll pray for you!”
    It means you’d better start figuring out a Plan B because they’re not going to do anything to help you substantially.
    If somebody really needs a wheelchair ramp — then we really are the answers to those prayers. God hurts with those who hurt. And God needs us. If someone is hurting because they really need that wheelchair ramp — then we need to get together and get that wheelchair ramp built!
    We do need to be praying and seeking God’s heart. Then, we need to get up from our knees and pursue justice for the poor.
    The book of James says true religion that god honors is care for the widow and the orphan and keeping ourselves from being polluted by this world.

    DAVID: Yeah, but right now with so many problems in our lives, I know people who are having a tough time just crawling out of bed in the morning.
    SHANE: It’s tough right now. Absolutely.
    I was on an airplane the other day with a guy who asked me, “What do you do?”
    I said, “I’m a preacher.”
    He said, “Wow! I wouldn’t have guessed that.”
    Then, he said, “I bet you have no shortage of material today. This is the apocalypse.” I think maybe he read too many of Tim LaHaye’s books — that “Left Behind” stuff.
    These are incredible times in which we’re living. But this isn’t the end of the world. An apocalypse is a revelation — a ripping away of the veil so we can see underneath what’s really going on in our world. It’s like the “Wizard of Oz” when they finally pull back the curtain and — Wowee! — there’s a little guy in there pulling the levers! We can see what’s really going on in the world.
    This is an incredible opportunity for the church to shine, for people of faith to shine. Here is a time when people finally can see the answers to questions like: Does God’s dream for the world really look like Wall Street’s dream? Let’s pull back that curtain.
    This is an unbelievable opportunity to re-imagine the world and to look at scripture with clearer eyes. Maybe we really are supposed to consider the lilies and the sparrows who live in such simplicity that they shame Solomon — or Wall Street.
    Lilies and sparrows don’t trust in 401Ks. Jesus talked about the foolish people who build these huge barns for all their stuff — then they get more stuff and build even bigger barns to hold all that new stuff. Then — well, you know the story. Earthy security doesn’t lie in the stuff of this earth that moths destroy and thieves steal — and markets can collapse upon. No.
    We need a radical dependence on God. That’s what we can experience in these incredible times. As a community of faith, we have the opportunity actually to embody good news. This is when we really can shine.
    The gospel we proclaim is good news to the poor — and right now? There’s going to be a lot more poor people.

    DAVID: So, back to our question: What shall we do now? The curtain is pulled back. We realize we’ve actually got to — we’ve got to, well, to practice what we preach. But tell us a little bit about what that practice looks like. What do we do?
    SHANE: A lot of the things we’ve been talking about for years — like growing your own food and living more simply — a lot more folks are beginning to do these things.
    We need to look at scriptures. There’s an idea in the Hebrew Scriptures of Jubilee, where land is redistributed and slaves are freed. It’s a systematic dismantling of inequality. If these times aren’t teaching us the value of this ancient wisdom, then we’ve got to start schooling ourselves in Jubilee.
    We’ve got to think through the patterns of the kingdom of God. I’m excited because in one sense I’ve learned a lot about these things that from my own neighborhood.
    DAVID: Give me an example.
    SHANE: A year and a half ago, we had a big fire in the neighborhood that burned down most of our block. The Red Cross came and set up a shelter. They waited. Then, they came and told us: “This is crazy. Nobody’s staying in our shelter.”
    Why? They said, “Your community is the shelter.” People in our neighborhood opened up their homes to each other. No one needed the Red Cross shelter.
    Jesus calls us to groan with those who groan and ache with those who ache.
    Remember the feeding miracle in the Bible, where there are all these hungry people and Jesus looks at his followers and says: “You feed them.”
    The disciples don’t want to hear this. They’re still thinking with the mind of Wall Street, the mind of the market. What? How can we feed these people? Where’s the Wal-Mart?
    Jesus asks: What do you have?
    They’ve got a few loaves and fishes and a kid shares his lunch. And more people start sharing and there’s this multiplication that happens. This isn’t Jesus calling down manna from Heaven. He actually takes the meager offerings of the people, adds a little God stuff — and he uses that to feed the masses with whole baskets of food left over.
    There’s a promise in scripture that God will take care of us. There will be enough for everyone’s need — but not for our greed. We are coming to realize that we have been living in a false splendor that has been bad for so many. There are many things to celebrate in this country, but our greed is not one of them. We have developed so many unhealthy patterns of living that this world ends up possessing us. We wind up the wealthiest country in the world, but also the most in debt, depressed and over medicated.

    DAVID: You’re an enormous hero to young clergy and community activists across the religious spectrum. But a lot of these young men and women who look to you are struggling to run churches and non-profit agencies that are struggling. You’re talking about radical rethinking from the ground up — and thousands of young leaders are being assigned to manage the local McDonald’s franchises of faith and community activism. They’re struggling to keep the lights on and the Drive-Thru windows open and may not have time for what you’re talking about.
    Your new book talks about this challenge. So, finally, say a word to those who would love to follow your pathway — but the tasks they’re handed are so tough, right now.
    SHANE: It’s apparent in church history that every few hundred years, Christianity has an identity crisis where it gets muddled and infected by the culture and by militarism and by other temptations.
    In those times, people start going back to the margins — the deserts, the inner cities and other places where they can rethink what it means to be Christian. Right now, we need young people to go into ministry to help us all call the church back to what the church was created to be.
    Gandhi said it: Be the change you want to see in the world.
    Stop complaining about the church we’ve inherited and work on becoming the church we dream of. That does mean we’ve got to rethink some things. The fact is that our tithes and offerings are 90 percent staying within our buildings and paying for staffing and internal parts of the church. In the New Testament especially the offerings were given to people in the community as they needed them and this was all part of God’s redistributive economy.
    We have to step back and work on re-imagining those things. It means we are looking way back to things like Jubilee.
    This isn’t a disengagement. I’m not telling people to pull out of the church. This is a time of renewal. The church needs to hear our dissent. Half the word of Protestant is “protest,” but how much real “protest” do you hear in the church?

    DAVID: This is hard stuff you’re describing — daring stuff.
    SHANE: Well, faith is the substance of things hoped for but not yet seen. In that prophetic expectation, we believe in what’s coming so much that we can’t help ourselves — we start to live as though it’s here already.
    We say poverty is ending – and yet the truth is that poverty is all around us. So, what do we do about it? We start living as if the poor are our family.
    My good friend Jim Wallis says faith is believing despite the evidence — and watching the evidence change.
    War is for people who have lost their imagination. Our whole economy right now has lost its imagination.
    Part of what we must do is just what we’re doing here: Keep telling the stories that can break up our paralysis and renew our imagination.

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