A few weeks ago I did an interview for the Justice and Compassion blog with one of my favorite author/activists Shane Claiborne. Here is the write-up from my conversation with Shane.
Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Shane Claiborne. Shane is a founding member of the New Monastic community the Simple Way and author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. While in college, Shane spent a summer in Calcutta working with Mother Teresa and in 2003, he traveled to Baghdad as part of the Iraq Peace Team.
In preparation for our telephone conversation, I had asked our blog participants to contribute questions. I read the questions to Shane and asked him to share his thoughts.
The first question was from Joe, “Ask him about making his own clothes. Yes, you heard me correctly. The guy. Makes. His own. Clothing.” Laughing, Shane explained, “I love making my clothes! My mom taught me; we sew together almost liturgically every Christmas the clothes for the next year.”
He shared that he caught the vision while living in Calcutta in a village of people with leprosy. Since they were completely cut off from the rest of society, they had to make their own clothes and shoes, grow their own food and be a fully self-sustaining community. Shane found himself mesmerized with the way of life that they had created, “a new society in the shell of the old.”
Shane explained that in Gandhi’s movement making one’s own clothing was a sign of resistance against British rule. The central symbol of the independence movement was the spinning wheel and one could recognize those who were part of it by their homespun clothing, whether poor or in Parliament.
Shane also looked at the dark side of the global economy, such as the use of sweatshop labor. When he was younger, he would protest by being part of the counterculture, but he realized that the counterculture can be marketed too (“like getting ripped jeans from Hot Topic”). Shane said, “More powerful than a counterculture is to create a new culture.”
Aubrie had asked, “Does he think going to Iraq with his group has helped stop terrorism in any way?” Shane responded, “Great question. My decision was less driven by being effective than by being faithful.” He observed that “when there is a powerful surge of resistance within the church, like there is right now with the emerging movement, there is this idea that we have to relevant and cause change.” But Shane believes that it is more important to be faithful. He quoted Mother Teresa, “We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.”
Shane pointed out that Jesus was tempted by the devil to “make people believe in you, be more effective.” We feel that we must be effective because we don’t want evil to win. “But we follow a slaughtered lamb who didn’t end all suffering but instead joined all suffering. Jesus transcended political paradigms and created genuine subversive friendships from which all change rippled.” Shane observed that Jesus’ answer to the oppression of women, for example, was to treat women with dignity. “Our means must reflect our ends.”
Shane explained that by going to Iraq, he was seeking to follow after Jesus in an age when Jesus was being tragically misrepresented by the world. “If we represent Christ in this moment, we may get killed. The central message of the cross is that there is something worth dying for, but there is nothing worth killing for.” Shane said that there will be times when it doesn’t look like or feel like we will win, but “we trust in resurrection and believe in a world where people beat their swords into plowshares.”
John had posted this question: “Shane, The desire for worldly comfort seems override many of the teachings of Jesus who asked us to be willing forsake all to follow Him. Do you believe the less we have as far as material goods makes it easier to follow Him?”
After a pause, Shane answered, “That is a tricky question. It isn’t easier, but it brings us into the life Jesus has for us. Jesus wouldn’t call us into a way that wasn’t better or more life-giving than the culture.” Shane believes that by asking us to give away our possessions, Jesus is teaching us what we were truly made for is loving other people. Once we start to practice sacrificial giving, we learn that it comes naturally. And our giving should come out of joy, not guilt. Shane pointed out that “guilt can be a good indicator that something isn’t right, but guilt is a horrible motivator.”
But Shane also emphasized that love is even more important than giving things away. He said, “Redistribution is what happens when people fall in love across class lines.” Shane observed that we are finally beginning to recognize the emptiness of the American dream. People are starved for community. And we are starting to ask why we are the richest and also the most depressed and most medicated country.
Shane believes that the problem is not just about the poor needing resources, it’s about us all needing community. “Isaiah 58 says that our healing comes as we spend ourselves on behalf of the poor.”
The next question came from Karlene: “I’m interested in what Shane has to say about reconciliation between classes in the church. Most churches are divided along class lines, and most seem to like it that way. How does reconciliation happen and what does it look like?”
Shane quoted Martin Luther King who said that 11 o’clock on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America and pointed out that this is still true today. Shane said, “The burden for reconciliation is on the church to find people outside our own class. Jesus told us to find the poor, not for the poor to come find us.”
Shane believes that we need to deliberately locate ourselves near the poor. He acknowledged that this is the opposite of what our culture teaches us; we are taught to avoid the places where the poor are and seek to live in a “good neighborhood.” But Shane pointed out that God showed up in Nazareth, in the hub of revolution, in the “bad neighborhood.”
Shane also emphasized that those who decide to “take on some of the burdens of our society” will need community and support. “Don’t just up and move into the inner city all alone. I’m not in favor of the Lone Ranger Christian.”
Shane pointed out that reconciliation also has a financial component. “It is easy to talk about about reconciliation relationally but reconciliation is a money word.” There are some creative models for financial reconciliation, developed groups who are asking the question “what does the early church economy look like?”
One example is the community network Relational Tithe; Shane serves on their board of directors. Relational Tithe puts 10% of each participant’s income into a common fund and 100% of the money is used to meet the needs of their neighbors. Shane explained that the group radically crosses class because everyone has an equal voice, regardless of their income. He described the group as “an incredible embodiment of hope and jubilee.” “It means that the gospel is good news for the poor.”
In summary, Shane said that class reconciliation is not just about the money, it is also about the relationship. “Class reconciliation will never really happen until it begins at our dinner tables and our living rooms.”
Benjamin pointed out that in many parts of the world, “American” and “Christian” are synonymous and asked this question, “What would you have to say to someone like myself who chooses not to identify with Christ partially because I find American actions in the world so repugnant?”
Shane responded, “What I lament most is what Chesterton said: that the largest barrier to Christ has been Christians.” He explained that he has a deep empathy with people who have reacted against what they are ashamed of and embarrassed by in Christianity. “But I refuse to allow that to have the last word because I know that Jesus wants more.”
Shane pointed out that all faiths have distorted the best of what the faith has to offer. “My discontent with Christianity is the very reason I cling to Jesus.” Shane sees so much hope within the church in those who truly learned from Christ, like Martin Luther King, Jr. He noted that the Bible says that the wheat and the weeds are growing together; both are vibrant and the weeds look like the wheat. “But there are people making Christ visible with integrity and imagination.”
Shane said that what Jesus was did was to “live mystery in a magnetic and compelling way.” When people got it and said, “you are the son of God,” Jesus’ response was “shhh, don’t tell anybody.” Shane believes that the best Christianity invites people into the truth.
One of Shane’s favorite moments in Scripture was when John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus’ response was, “Go and tell John what you SEE.” Shane believes that if someone asks “Are you a Christian?” the answer is “ask the poor, ask my enemies, ask those around me.” “That is the really, really important question.”
Shane pointed out that when Jesus told stories, he did scandalous things like making Samaritans the heroes for how they loved their neighbors. He also talked about the time when Jesus and his disciples encountered a person performing miracles and the disciples said to Jesus, “He’s not one of us, should we tell him to stop?” And Jesus replied, “If he’s not against us, he’s for us.” Shane believes that “we have many exciting opportunities to collaborate with others who don’t share our faith.”
The last question came from my 11-year old daughter Anna who has been reading Shane’s book: “What were the pranks you did at Wheaton College that you wouldn’t tell us about in the book?”
Shane laughed and replied, “This is liable to get me in a little trouble in case people are still trying to find the pranksters.” He explained that Wheaton College is famous for its student pranks, including releasing a greased pig in chapel!
After thinking for a moment, Shane said, “Here is one I am at peace with getting in trouble for.” He explained that one year at Christmas time, the college put a huge neon lighted sign that said “JOY” on top of one of the dorms. “We, I mean some people, rather, created a sign that said ‘POOP’ and we decided to put it up and see if anyone noticed.” Shane said that it didn’t quite cover up the JOY sign; it just covered JO, so the sign said “POOPY.” They locked the door to the roof so no one could get up there and the sign stayed for quite a while.
Shane concluded by saying, “Tell Anna I’m honored she’s reading the book and send love to everybody.”