Saturday, May 10, 2008
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
"The world has seen Christian extremists who will blow up abortion clinics and dance on doctors' graves. We have seen Christian extremists who hold signs that say, 'God hates fags.' The world has seen Christian extremists who declare war in the name of the Lamb. But where are the Christian extremists for love and grace?"
I often become frustrated with books about God because they are either written in a way that seems inaccessible to me or too watered down. I'm no academic theologian but I need the knowledge and the motivation as much as everyone else, so I keep looking for that book that will clarify the gray areas and make things click, some kind of Biblical Answers for Dummies. The Irresistible Revolution did not answer any of my burning questions, but it did offer a fresh and exciting perspective. It also put me in my place page after page as a young believer who has become complacent in a secular world where that's maybe the worst wrong of all.
The author is Shane Claiborne, who describes his job to people as being a "vocational lover" of Jesus when they ask him. He lived in Calcutta and worked with the lepers, with Mother Theresa, and people who were on their death beds, helping them to pass their last hours or days in comfort and dignity. When he was a college student, he fought for the homeless. Now, he's living in Philly in a kind of Christian commune, working with the poor, inner city kids, and the prostitutes. He uses his interesting (and unorthodox) experiences to help explain the points that he is trying to make. He quotes everyone from Mother Theresa to the writers of the Bible to Bono to get his point across and manages to shed light on some fairly heavy subjects without confusing the reader or simply reiterating everything they've probably heard before in Sunday school 23908253 times over. I thought the things that he had to say about being an ordinary radical in your faith, how discipleship is often compromised because of political correctness and seeker sensitivity, divine multiplication, Jesus' "holy mischief" and knack for using imagination to problem solve and glorify God were just too right on for words. There were also things I had never even thought about before, like remaining single for a life of work and love for Christ that made me get out my Bible and start doing some researching.
This book was about social justice and living an informed and intentional lifestyle of love and activism as much as it was about God, because as we know, we must love our neighbors. When talking to students at Princeton about taking up a cause, he told them, "Don't choose issues; choose people. Come play in the fire hydrants in North Philly. Fall in love with a group of people who are marginalized and suffering, and then you won't have to worry about which cause you need to protest. Then the issues will choose you" (293). Whoa! On campus, there have been so many protests lately-- abortion, sweatshops, you name it, I've seen it, and there are about a thousand other things I can think of that we should be engaging in productive dialogue about, but it's easy to become overwhelmed in all of the negative things going on around us... All one has to do to become discouraged is just turn on the news. To think that just actively loving people is the first step seems too easy but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me. If God is love, why aren't we doing more loving?
My favorite part was what he had to say about how dysfunctional the family of God can be and how anyone can be a part of God's army. "There is something scandalous about grace. It's almost embarrassing that God loves losers so much. It flies in the face of the world's myth of redemptive violence. No wonder the early Christians had such bad reputations and questionable credibility. No wonder they were called 'the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world,' as one of the leaders, a former murderer himself, wrote (1 Cor. 4:13)" (263). I grew up hearing about God's redeeming love all of the time, but after several years of disbelief and more sin than I'd ever imagined I'd be bogged down by, it's comforting to be reminded. Especially when the church is as full of gossip as it is full of God. How easy is it to tell a little child who has yet to do terrible things about the power of grace and how hard is it to tell a teenage girl that who has done everything you've ever told her not to? Now, what about people like Saddam Hussein and Timothy McVeigh?
Another quote, to close with:
"When we have new eyes, we can look into the eyes of those we don't even like and see the One we love. We can see God's image in everyone we encounter. As Henri Nouwen puts it, 'In the face of the oppressed I recognize my own face, and in the hands of the oppressor I recognize my own hands. Their flesh is my flesh, their blood is my blood, their pain is my pain, their smile is my smile.' We are made of the same dust. We cry the same tears. No one is beyond redemption. And we are free to imagine a revolution that sets both the oppressed and the oppressors free."