Saturday, December 11, 2010

Words of Wisdom from Shane Claiborne

What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff?

This radical Christian's ministry for the poor, The Simple Way, has gotten him in some trouble with his fellow Evangelicals. We asked him to address those who don't believe.

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By Shane Claiborne

[more from this author]

Shane Claiborne

The Simple Way

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn's Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn't quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don't know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, "God is not a monster." Maybe next time I will.

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, "I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ." A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That's the ugly stuff. And that's why I begin by saying that I'm sorry.

Now for the good news.

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it's that you can have great answers and still be mean... and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it... it was because "God so loved the world." That is the God I know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven... but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name. At the core of our "Gospel" is the message that Jesus came "not [for] the healthy... but the sick." And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.

Don't get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God's Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven." On earth.

One of Jesus' most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan... you can almost imagine a snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I'm sure some of the listeners were ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right rules, and they did not have sound doctrine... but Jesus shows that true faith has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken person lying in the ditch.

It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David... at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: "The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you." And we wonder what got him killed?

I have a friend in the UK who talks about "dirty theology" — that we have a God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a blind man's eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were not happy that day.)

In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay "out there" but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, "Nothing good could come." It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society's rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors... a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, "I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you." If those of us who believe in God do not believe God's grace is big enough to save the whole world... well, we should at least pray that it is.

Your brother,


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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Child Like Faith

I am preaching on Luke 18: 9-17 tomorrow. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector followed by Jesus blessing the little children. So I have been thinking about child like faith, and how much children have to teach me about life.

My son six year old son has been showing me a lot about joy (now that I am paying close attention!) He is licking the chocolate off of his crepe with abandon as I am writing this. I don't have the heart to correct him. It looks like too much fun.
When I asked him if he wanted to go out back and pick raspberries, he immediately replied with an enthusiastic "yes!" Then he wanted to be sure his sister knew that he would have raspberries for her when he returned. God has given him such a generous heart.
As I stood at my kitchen window, I got to watch him leap from place to place around the bushes as he hunted for raspberries. The leaping was my favorite part- such joy! Then he came back in with twelve raspberries. Since they are new plants, we only get a handful at a time. Shannon raced upstairs from the basement to enjoy them with him. As she walked back down the steps she announced "raspberries are my new favorite fruit!"
I have been contemplating planting raspberry bushes for 7 years now. This summer I finally did it. I am so glad I did. Children and raspberry bushes have plenty to teach me about God. I can't wait to see their reaction next summer when we get a full crop.

Friday, July 16, 2010

We just published several blog entries about our mission trip in Kingfield Maine. Check them out at

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kingfield Maine 2010

Our week in Kingfield Maine is beautiful. God is all around us, even if the internet is not! Andrew discovered yesterday that the library has open wifi. (I didn't even realize there was a library.) I am now sitting on the front steps of the library. Although it has open wifi, the hours are Wednesday and Saturday. There are two lovely trees providing me with shade, and front porch steps that remind me of my grandmother's house.

We have been making it a priority to focus upon relationship building- with God, with the people here, and with each other. The tasks are taking care of themselves.

We are working with Miss Thelma here in town. She is an elderly widow who has also buried a son and survived breast cancer. As we work on painting the exterior of her home, she sits outside with us and chats, directs, and generally makes us smile. Our team also did work for her last year, and she says that she prayed that we would be the team to work with her again this yea

We also have a site in Strong, Maine. Dakota is 11, and he lives in a trailer with his mother Leslie and his grandmother Simone. They are really lovely folks. Simone was laid off last year and is still looking for work. Dakota is home schooled. He is already like a little brother to the folks on that site. The first day they got out there, Dakota arrived home near the end of the work day. He immediately went in and strapped on a tool belt, and returned ready to work. Dan says that he can hardly swing a hammer without Dakota offering to do it for him. They are building a new front stoop. The old one was so unstable Simone had fallen on it; a piece of plywood was covering a hole.

Mikki put brought her artistic talent to good use by painting the apex of Thelma's back door entry way with a lovely floral design as well as a table on her back porch to match. In addition, Mikki, Barb Kelly, and Ashley have been working on sewing curtains. They made some for Thelma, and now they are working on the church curtains to partition the fellowship hall from a storage area. It currently has a king sized sheet tacked up. Their curtains will look amazing. It's really wonderful to see God using each person's talents, and how Barb, Mikki and Ashley are bonding over the sewing machine as much as Andrew and Rick bond over the high ladder painting.

At evening devotions, we have been sharing God moments every night. God has been present with us in wonderful ways. I am going to ask the team members to share some of these in their own words.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Answered Prayer

I received this from Tracy Shives, who is a part of our church family. What a wonderful story of faith:

I wanted to share this amazing story with you....It gave me chills to hear it myself.
Todd's cousin Jenny has a rare kidney disease and she has been on dialysis every night for the past 3 1/2 years and she has been on the kidney donor list for the same amount of time. Last week the dialysis stopped working and they thought that she was not going to make it much longer without getting a kidney. Her mom Tease (which is Todd's aunt) became very worried and called Becky (Todd's mom) to tell her about everything that was going on w/ Jenny. Becky told Tease that they should call each other every night at 10pm to pray for Jenny together before they go to bed at night. So they did this for 3 nights last week and on the 4th day Jenny got a call that they found a kidney that was a match & she had to get to the hospital for her surgery. It was amazing she had been on the donor list for 3 1/2 years and it truly shows that God was listening to their prayers for Jenny.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

JJ the Fish

I am allergic to anything on four legs; this includes hamsters. I have passed this along to my poor children. They are therefore pet deprived. I have to admit that I am quite happy to be pet free, though, as it has seldom felt like I am missing anything other than more responsibility. (At least, this is what I tell myself.)

Of course,one of the few pets left open to us are fish. So it happened at Christmas: we became the proud owners of three goldfish and one algae eater. This was due the generosity of a sister in Christ who gave us everything from tank to contents.

My kids named each fish. I am not convinced they can tell the three goldfish apart, but they definitely remember their names (alas, I do not). The little black algae eater was named JJ. JJ could be found hugging the walls of the tank, and always required effort to locate. This fish quickly became my sons favorite.

Last night my saint of a husband finally got to the task of cleaning the tank with the kids. It was about a month overdue (ugh...responsibility). When they went hunting for JJ, you guessed it, he was nowhere to be found.

Ray said Jacob sobbed his little heart out. Ray promised him we would get a replacement fish. And I was tucking my daughter into bed last night, she too was telling the story. She shared how she did not cry, but she felt bad for her brother. Then she told me how she prayed with Jacob and for JJ.

I was absolutely touched....and so grateful that this was her response to her hurting brother.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Telling Stories

I have recently become keenly aware of the fact that my kids, ages 5 and 7, are in full story telling mode. They drink up stories. They ask for them to be told in the car when we are riding. I have also realized that its now or never in terms of being intentional about family devotions and Bible stories if I want them to be a part of their lives. My 7 year old, Shannon, can handle them well. Jacob. at 5, is hit or miss.

So I have taken to telling Bible stories in the car. When we drove an hour to my sister's, I told them the story of Joseph, Moses, and the Exodus. When we drove home last night and Jacob asked for a story, I told the story of the Exile. At the end he said "that was a sad story Mommy." I agreed that it is. I also pointed out that it ends with hope.

We also found a family devotion guide that we like. It is "365 Little Visits: Building Faith for a Lifetime" Vol. 4, published by Concordia. Two weeks ago, we read one about a child who found a $100 bill and imagined what she could buy. Then imaged how sad the person who lost it would be. So she turned it in to the school office. That evening, my kids found a $5 "gift card" (I think it was a coupon) on the street outside church. So they turned it in (to me!). It is in my office. I am unsure what to do with it, but each time I see it, I smile. It feels like God's sense of humor.

Our devotional life as a family waxes and wanes. I hope that we are turning over a new leaf. I hope that my kids memories are full of bible stories and faith conversations. I want them to have a sense of identity and groundedness in God's stories and in faith experiences that keeps them centered for a life time. That part is not all up to me, I know... but here's hoping!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Soul of Christ

I have been praying this prayer as part of my prayer practice. It comes from the Roman Catholic tradition. As I pray to become a more faithful disciple, I find it gives voice to this desire. It reminds me of the Covenant Prayer of my own Wesleyan tradition.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.

Body of Christ, save me.

Blood of Christ, inebriate me.

Water from the side of Christ, wash me.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

O good Jesus, hear me;

Within thy wounds hide me;

Suffer me not to be separated from thee;

From the malignant enemy defend me;

In the hour of my death, call me,

And bid me come to thee,

That with thy saints I may praise thee

Forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Home again, home again...

Well, our mission trip to El Ayundante in Nicaragua has been postponed. I spent a lovely weekend in the Sheraton Reston, near Dulles Airport. We had a lovely time as a mission team bonding; many of us did not previously know one another. Alas, we could not get a flight out. So we will be going in November instead.

Thanks for all of your prayer support and financial support. The major expenses of things like tickets and such will simply transfer to the week in November.