Interview With Shane Claiborne (May-Jun 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Sara Barton
May – June, 2007

Shane Claiborne is author of The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical. He helped start a counter-cultural Christian community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way.

More: http://www.thesimpleway.org/shane/index.html

As I read Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, I was uncomfortable the whole time, and I wanted my community at Rochester College to feel equally uncomfortable, so I invited the author to speak in chapel.

You can see just a sliver of Shane’s face on the cover of the book, so when I went to pick him up from the airport, I wondered if I would recognize him from that little picture hint. As I wandered through the baggage claim at Detroit’s airport, though, I quickly found this interesting character with dredlocks, a Shaggy-esque beard (yeah, as in Shaggy and Scooby), simple clothes he made himself. He didn’t look like one of the usual Detroit automobile factory workers, and certainly not like a CEO. We quickly found each other and headed back to my house. One thing I found while hosting Shane is that he requests not to be housed in a hotel. He wants to stay with a host family, have dinner with them, get to know their kids and even the cute little dachshund. He values hospitality, and the way he shows up with a few basic items is reminiscent of the disciples’ journey out to preach the Kingdom in Luke 9.

Shane’s message during our chapel program at Rochester College left students, faculty and staff with a variety of reactions. One long-time employee at the college called me to say that he arrived for the program with boxing gloves on, ready to disagree with this young hippy’s stance on nonviolence and his radical call to serve the poor (this employee wanted to point out that rich people need Jesus too). But, by the time the thirty-minute program was over, this employee and many others were touched and responded with a desire to follow the footsteps of Jesus toward the lonely, the oppressed, the sick, the abused, the sinners, and the enemies. Shane ate in our cafeteria and talked to students for several hours. His themes in person are the same as the themes of his book: community, social justice, nonviolence, peace, discipleship.

Shane ClaiborneOur community has been in dialogue with Shane’s book all semester during a weekly chapel program, titled Following Jesus. Some have said that Shane’s book takes church history lightly or that he takes some Scripture out of context. But, overall, our community has responded by opening our imaginations to how God calls us to radically follow in the steps of his Son. We have students who are praying about moving to needy areas of the Detroit area so that they can minister there. We have students who have decided to buy only sweatshop free clothing. It’s been interesting to see how this book has touched us.

One morning while he was with us, I sat down at my kitchen table with Shane over a cup of cappuccino. My husband John sat with us and ate his Cheerios but promised not to talk during the interview. You’ll notice below that he couldn’t contain himself a couple of times.

Sara: Hey, thanks for agreeing to do this interview for our online magazine. It’s called New Wineskins. We’re honored to feature some of your thoughts. Your book has created quite a stir. How do you explain reactions to The Irresistible Revolution? Did you expect this kind of reaction when you were writing it?

Shane: I’m not surprised that people are responding to the message of the book, not because there is anything special about me, but because people can identify with the journey toward justice. I try to invite people to think about justice, not force people into the truth. One review said I don’t argue people into truth, but story people into truth. People respond well to stories, and I think people, and especially younger generations are aware that the world we’ve been handed is fragile and are already asking, that is God’s dream for the world and is it different from what we see? Extreme poverty and conflict are hard to deny. The fact that the Scripture has a lot to speak into the every day realities we see is refreshing to people I talk to. I get letters from soldiers, people who have been sexually abused, those who are in prison. Those are great signs that people are tired of a religion that just promises life after death while they are living in life before death.

Sara: The audience of this magazine includes Christians interested in broadening their understanding of contemporary culture as impacted by the Judeo/Christian perspective. What do you have to say to our audience?

Shane: One of the hopes that I see with the dwindling monologue of the religious right is an entire spectrum of new voices and of healthy conversation, like the one this magazine is trying to stir up. Christians that are engaged in the world. I think the hope I have too is that we can once again be a distinct and peculiar group of people that are about the things that Jesus spoke about, and that some of those things will look counter cultural and peculiar. When we live in a culture that is so triumphal with Christianity, we lose the peculiar part of Christianity as what it means to be set apart. I’m hopeful that we can reclaim some of that. There are groups all over the place that are doing that. Jubilee debt relief. Counter capital businesses as Christians. I hope readers like yours will think creatively as they engage in the world.

Sara: It’s hard not to notice your unique style. Why do you make your own clothes?

Shane: Early on in college I became disturbed with the people who were abused in sweat shops and worked in companies that made products for our way of life, many of whom were invisible people. I began to protest some of that. Like I said in the book, we didn’t know what we were for, only what we were against.

Then, while I was thinking through that, I went to a leper colony in India—I saw a group of people who were creating a new society in the shell of the old one. They were making their own clothes. And, they made bandages. They were raising their own food. This all had integrity. To them, it was survival. They were outcasts. The name of the colony was Gandhi’s New Life, so I started reading a lot of Gandhi, and I loved the idea of trying to create our own local economies and make as much of our own stuff as we can. I have a really good sewing teacher. My mom teaches sewing. We make clothes together every Christmas. It’s a way to simply cover myself and to feel like I can wake up and not worry about what I’m wearing. I wear the same thing if I’m with rich or poor folks. It’s fun to make things. And it’s also exciting to know I’m in some ways resisting the economy that’s built on unfair labor practices. We believe in the small. To me, it’s about more than me making clothes. It’s about us figuring out ways to resist or reform – to not conform to the abuse of sisters and brothers overseas. I had a youth group that recently told me they are making their own clothes together. We need creative ideas like that in the church, and to allow those ideas to snowball and take a life of their own. I just got an email from a British guy that said they were making clothes but they decided to make a fair trade clothing business. They started a clothing business in Palestine, and they hired ninety workers and guarantee that they are treated fairly and make a living wage for their families. That’s as radical as sewing clothes with your mom every Christmas. They wanted to know Palestinians, help people there. I think it’s called Freedom Clothing.

Sara: I notice as I’m listening to you and typing your responses to my questions, that you say We instead of I in answering my questions, is that intentional?

Shane: I don’t notice. That’s indicative. I think it’s healthy because one of the communities we are connected with has a button with me crossed out. It’s this idea that we need to honor others and think beyond ourselves. So, hopefully, my community is getting me to a place where I can do that and Jesus is getting me to a place where I can do that. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches all about we—Our father. Forgive us. As we forgive each other. Give us our daily bread. Just to pray for ourselves is a contradiction of that prayer. My own daily bread. My own forgiveness. Which is why I am critical of the prayer of Jabez: me and my all the way through it. God is forming a people. That is so when we think of ourselves, we think of ourselves as part of a body and family.

Sara: A lot of everyday people are reading this book. What do you have to say to the average suburban Christians as they struggle with the message of this book? Should they all move to Philly?

Shane: First thing, the Christian journey is about taking small steps toward truth and toward the heart of Jesus. We can’t get paralyzed by how far we have to go. I think that’s something people can identify with. My own journey is this journey from East Tennessee, a die hard Republican, a very narrow-minded isolated person. And this journey has taken me to having this world opened up. So, it’s only been ten years of a journey for me. So people might find it refreshing to see themselves on a path toward more radicalized faith. Not to feel like I’m saying that everyone has to live exactly like I do because I have a hard enough time figuring it out for myself much less for everyone else. But the idea is that we would be conformed into the image of Jesus.

My spiritual mentor says we need to surround ourselves by people who make us shine brighter. So you can’t figure it out in a vacuum. So, it’s good to surround ourselves with a community that dares us to live more and provoke our imaginations about how we can live lives of nonconformity to those patterns. Yeah, so, I think we have a lot set against us, so people should realize that. It’s important in the suburbs. There’s so much that’s seductive and pushes us into individualism. We need each other’s encouragement and that sort of thing. A lot of people say, don’t you think people in the suburbs are poor in spirit and need God, and I say absolutely. We come to God not in a vacuum, but being with people who are struggling and different from us. Isaiah says that when we spend ourselves on behalf of the poor, our healing comes. We are bound up in each other. So, I’m saying that to say that we can’t just have this bubble that we end up healing ourselves from spiritual poverty without living near the poor and getting our hands dirty with the work of Jesus.

A radio guy asked me, “Are you saying that every rich person has to be with poor people?” What a horrible thing to say! We get to be with poor people. It’s an incredible privilege.

John: There’s something about literal dislocation out of the centers of power.

Shane: That’s true. Give me some more.

John: There’s tension there. Is it literally true? What that means is hard to determine. But, that is the call, so figuring out what it means is important. Right?

Shane: Right. Literally being with the poor is the life of Jesus.

Sara: You mentioned two books to me about suburban Christianity, and you said that you endorse them; what books are those?

Shane: The Suburban Christian by Al Hsu and Justice in the Burbs by Will and Lisa Samson, not out yet, but it’s coming

There’s probably other good ones too. I tend not to read that a lot except when they ask me to endorse it.

Sara: Tell me about your new book project, Jesus For President.

Shane: Jesus For President? is a fun project. I am collaborating with two friends to create it. We say it’s a book to provoke the Christian political imagination. In the buzz of the election and television debates, it’s an invitation to turn off the TV and pick up the Bible and re-imagine the world together, for us to be a church that is aware that the things Jesus said and lived and died are loaded politically. But, they transcend the political debates of our culture and of partisan politics.

Sara: Who are these two friends you’re working with?

Shane: Chris Haw and Chico Fajardo. Both are in sister communities to The Simple Way.

Sara: Anything else you want to say about Jesus For President?

Shane: It’s fun. It’s full color all the way through. It’s different. It will have art all through. It’s poetic.

It will be released Spring 2008; the timing of that is planned, with the election coming up next year. The bulkiest section is called A new kind of Commander in Chief.
Another section is, When the Empire got baptized about Constantinism and the triumphal Christianity of our country. Another section is called A Peculiar People. It’s about being set apart from the nations. It’s gonna get us in trouble (laughs).

*****

Being around Claiborne and reading his book reminded me that being a Christian is supposed to get us all in some trouble. It’s not supposed to be a safe and sterile and domesticated life. Our community at Rochester College has benefited from the dialogue with the book. I heard that Abilene Christian University requires the book in some of their classes. So, it’s my suggestion for New Wineskins readers to pick it up and feel uncomfortable with the rest of us!New Wineskins

Order the Irresistible Revolution book or MP3

Sara BartonSara Barton currently serves as Campus Minister for Rochester College in Rochester Hills, Michigan. She and her husband, John, have two children, Nate and Brynn. The Barton family lived and worked as part of a church planting mission team in Uganda, East Africa before moving to Michigan.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1579 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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