Jan Term Speaker Preaches Radical Christianity

Shane Claiborne Addresses Issues of Economic Injustice With a Dose of Imagination

Shane Claiborne is a preacher, but not the kind you remember as a child. When he gets excited, his voice takes on the rolling revival-hall delivery of the born-again Christian he was as a boy in East Tennessee, but his message is miles away from the Bible Belt.

Claiborne, who addressed a crowd of hundreds Tuesday at Saint Mary's College, preaches a radical Christianity that challenges people to live the lessons of Jesus every day and throughout their lives. And he does it with a huge dose of imagination and a disarming blend of fervor and humor.

"We live in a world that's so broken," he says. "We live in a world that's desperately in need of imagination and joy and surprise."

To prove his point, he kicked off his presentation by inviting a juggler onstage to lighten the mood. The act ended with Claiborne lying down on the stage while the entertainer walked over him juggling a hatchet, a bowling ball and a machete.
Clearly, Claiborne doesn't mind living on the edge. He is a founding director of The Simple Way, which helps create and connect radical faith communities around the world, and the author of "The Irresistible Revolution," "Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers," the satirical "Jesus for President" and "Follow Me to Freedom."

His talk, "Another World Is Possible," focused on economic injustice in the United States, and the title echoed the slogan of the World Social Forum, which was created several years ago as an alternative to the World Economic Forum.

Claiborne, who calls himself an "ordinary radical," says he first recognized his mission when he was still a teenager in Tennessee, watching people be "born again" in ritual baptisms year after year. He realized then that "God didn't come just to prepare us to die but to live" and to create a world "on earth, as it is in heaven."

That might strike some as utopian, but Claiborne insists that "how we live in this world is how we work out our faith." He has worked out his faith by serving with the Iraq Peace Team in Baghdad and alongside Mother Teresa in India and by lecturing and writing extensively about the need for Christians to actively work to help the poor and feed the hungry.

After returning from India, Claiborne became involved in the struggle for economic justice when he and a few others decided to go to bat against a Catholic archdiocese in Philadelphia that had evicted homeless families as squatters. Soon afterward, he joined about a hundred other people who defied a city law that made it illegal to feed people in the street. To challenge the law, they staged a religious service in the street and served communion. "Then we continued breaking bread by serving pizza," he said.

The activists were hauled into court, but the judge ruled in their favor and declared the law unconstitutional, telling the court, "These guys aren't criminals, they're freedom fighters."

Claiborne sees his activism as firmly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. "Christians have always been troublemakers," he says. "The question is: Will we be extremists for hate or for love?"

Claiborne is a member of a movement known as New Monasticism and practices what he preaches in an intentional community in a tough part of Philadelphia. The community members forsake most worldly goods and live on about $150 a month while working to improve the area through financial donations, housing assistance and religious observances.

As a model for living, he played a video about a college student named Mark Weaver who won more than $50,000 on "The Price Is Right" just after he finished reading Claiborne's book, "The Irresistible Revolution." He ended up giving all the money to an AIDS orphanage in Uganda, and said, "Nothing ever felt as good as giving all the money away."

Claiborne didn't insist that his audience at Saint Mary's follow his austere life choices, but he did urge his listeners to open their hearts to less fortunate people, embrace community and "bring your gifts to the world."

"One of the things I learned from going to Calcutta and working with Mother Teresa is that you don't have to go to Calcutta," he said. "There are Calcuttas all around us."

Teresa Castle
College Communications

Photos by Gabrielle Diaz '11

(Claiborne's appearance was co-sponsored by January Term, CILSA, the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Social Justice Coordinating Committee, Theology & Religious Studies Department, Mission & Ministry Center and the Campus Activities Board.)