Resisting the Irresistible Shane ClaiborneFeatured, Social Justice — By Pam Hogeweide on September 30, 2009 at 12:00 am
In the summer of 2006 I took a copy of Shane Claiborne’s debut book, The Irresistible Revolution, on a family camping trip to the Nehalem River in northwest Oregon. As we tented under a canopy of firs and cedars, my husband and I traded the book back and forth as we enjoyed our time in the forest.
Claiborne is an activist/writer/speaker who stumbled into the spotlight as one of the faces for what has been termed the New Monasticism. Claiborne, who lives in a community in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, has become a provocative voice calling for a return to countercultural living as Christ followers.
My husband and I, who have more than 50 years of ministry and missionary experience combined between us, sliced and diced Claiborne’s book with all the gusto of elders in the know who see trouble brewing with the foolishness of youth
One of our criticisms with his book is what seemed to us the romanticizing of community life. We have both lived communally in our younger years. Jerry, my husband, became a Christ follower on the tail-end of the Jesus People movement. He lived in communes for the first five years of his faith. He shared his paychecks with his community. He acknowledged the leadership as trusted servants and willingly lived a simple lifestyle for the greater good.
And then, one unsuspecting day, it all blew up. The leaders had been quietly helping themselves to the coffers and living a much more extravagant life than the hippie Christians in their network of communes.
Reading The Irresistible Revolution opened up my husband’s memory vault about his heyday with communal living. Either Claiborne lived in some kind of utopian community or he simply left out the hard parts of the difficulties – and even risks – of living in commonality.
Another issue we had with the book was the glare of Claiborne’s privileged lifestyle to choose where and how to live. Claiborne, who grew up a middle-class suburban kid and earned a college degree, seemed determine in his book to challenge his readers to live as he does. The problem we had with that is that he does not live as most Americans or world citizens have to live, and that is, to devote many waking hours to work so as to provide for one’s family. It seemed ludicrous for a white educated guy to write a book about how to live among the poor and advocate for justice when his lifestyle and advantaged upbringing alienates him from the ordinary person’s reality.
What kind of book would he have written had he been working 40+ hours at a factory to provide for his family of six, one of whom is chronically ill, and oh, the car broke down last week and the roof is leaking. Again.
Where is this irresistible revolution for the common working man, we wondered?
I reviewed the book on Amazon and wrote this:
The idealism coupled with the glaring inconsistency of living the life Claiborne describes and challenges readers to consider has the potential of breeding deep frustration, or worse, condemnation, in undiscerning readers. Not everyone can afford the privilege of housing choices like communalism or a lifestyle of social activism.
Not everything in Claiborne’s book irritated us. We agreed with his overall message about love, and how love is the revolution in how we live out our lives and treat one another. Totally. I totally get that and strive to be that. But his book seemed to infer that a life of love and countercultural living for Jesus ought to look like his. And that’s just messed up.
Fast forward two and half years later:
I saw on Facebook that Shane Claiborne was coming to my city for a speaking gig at a church not too far from my neighborhood. A little networking on my part and it wasn’t hard to book him for an interview. I’m a writer, always on the prowl for interesting stories about issues of faith and Christian spirituality. I considered it a good lead to interview Claiborne.
As I began to prepare ahead of time I realized that I didn’t know that much about him. Lots of people had read his book in the circles I travel in, but one book does not reveal who a man is. I decided to call my friend Jesse.
Jesse is a total hippie. Raised on an Oregon mountain, Jesse read The Irresistible Revolution while he was a student at an affluent bible school. The contrast of his campus with the ideas of simplicity and a life devoted to serving others who are lesser than, rocked Jessie’s evangelical world. He told me, “That book changed my life.”
Jessie schooled me on all-things-Shane Claiborne. He had followed Claiborne’s ministry and was particularly influenced by his ideas of living and working intentionally in such a way so as to be able to help others. Like the idea of living simply and working part-time in order to conserve energy to serve others with your spare time. Jesse was inspired to live that out.
As I spent time talking with my friend it seemed right to invite him to the interview. I asked him to think about what he would like to ask Claiborne. “Come up with three questions and call me by 4,” I told him.
The journalist inside of me was a bit nervous. What was I doing sharing a professional interview slot with Jesse? This is an important writing gig, not a coffee klatch.
But it seemed right to have Jesse there, and so together we went to interview Shane Claiborne before his speaking engagement that night.
I prayed it up, prayed over my notes and quotes and questions I wanted to ask this author of The Irresistible Revolution. I did not want to go into the interview with a preconceived impression of who Shane Claiborne is or what he is like. I especially did not want to pre-judge this person (based on one book) who kindly agreed to be interviewed an hour before his platform time. I was mindful of how generous this was.
Fast Forward Two Hours Later:
Our interview went well. I found Claiborne to be personable and relatable, much more so than my impression of him from reading The Irresistible Revolution. I maintained a detached-writerly-I’m-working kind of posture with him, asking questions and furiously scribbling down my notes. He thoughtfully answered my questions, and Jesse’s too, with forthrightness and at times, humor.
But he won me over when I asked him, “Who are the Pharisees of our time?” I wasn’t asking for names (God, no!), but rather I was expecting him to point the finger at the prosperity preachers or megachurch leaders or denominational CEO fat cats. Instead, without hesitating, he replied, “Me. The Pharisees of today are people like me. White, educated males. We are the Pharisees.”
The atmosphere around our little interview huddle seemed to vaporize. Every trace of distrust and guardedness vanishing as confession and humility became center stage. It completely disarmed me.
That was the moment I found Shane, as I now like to call him, totally irresistible.
Shane went on to unpack what he meant. He talked about power and people who have it and who need to share it and give it away. He fully acknowledged the power he possessed as a white guy with a college degree. He doesn’t live in a poor neighborhood in Philly to be a hero, he said. He lives there so he’ll learn from those who are powerless. He lives there so they will rescue him.
The rest of the interview became more like a conversation between brothers and sister. I asked more questions, Jesse did, too. Shane answered and we’d respond. There we sat, listening to one another as Christ followers in how to find our way in the world we find ourselves in.
Shane is the real deal. Unscripted. He’s not the idealist I imagined from reading his book. His eyes are wide open to the disparity of power that swirls all around him, including his own white, educated life. The difference with him is that he’s devoted to laying down that power for the sake of others. For the sake of Jesus. And that, my friends, is what makes him and his message so effin’ irresistible.