Shane Claiborne is an author, activist, and founder of the intentional community The Simple Way. Shane is the trailblazer of the movement called New Monasticism, which supersedes a plain definition, but rises, like the phoenix in the garden mural surrounding The Simple Way community, as a radical rebirth of rich traditions in Christian practices.
Disgruntled and disenchanted with the Southern Baptist church of his youth, he enrolled in Eastern University outside of Philadelphia and experienced his first great awakening. At the start of our conversation, Shane talks about this part of his youth, when his world first widened as he began to spend time, and ultimately befriend, homeless folks.
In his evangelical upbringing, the church focused on the rules that would earn him a ticket to heaven. For a boy gifted with passion and creativity, he hungered for a vision of how to create the kingdom of God by engaging in THIS world.
Our conversation took place at The Simple Way. Its neighborhood, called Kensington, is usually described with words like impoverished, bleak, drug-infested, forgotten. But I realized after spending time there that such language only scratches the surface. It’s far from the whole story. And more importantly, those words keep us separate—afraid to get too close.
What I witnessed, in one afternoon in one of America’s “toughest neighborhoods,” is love in action:
Katie tutoring a middle-school girl all summer to get her up to reading level in time for the school year. Maria providing emergency service counseling in Spanish to a young lady who knocked on the door. Miguel on the phone organizing the bags of food being dropped off from the food bank. Shane returning from picking up homemade bed rolls from a supporter to be given to those with no place to sleep.
This kind of transformation can only result from courageous dreaming and muscular, grounded imagining. Protesting the systems of injustice that keep their neighbors oppressed is only half the equation. These new monastics dare to imagine what it really means to love our neighbor, and that led Shane’s community to the second half of the equation: co-creating heaven on earth out of abandoned row homes in North Philly.
Shane shows us how to befriend and move next door to addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless. How to be brave enough to let their suffering break your heart. How God’s grace finds you in those cracks. How to, as Shane’s friend Mother Teresa says, “do small things with great love,” and become, what he calls, an “ordinary radical.”
Listen to him, read his books, check out Shane’s work with Red Letter Christians, hell, go visit The Simple Way during their monthly open house tours. Be warned: it’ll change you. With racism, violence and inequality in America today at a boiling point, witnessing this love reimagined might just be our last, best hope.
Last week’s story was not easy for a lot of people who watched it. RIM BAKIR’s impassioned plea for the people of her homeland of Aleppo, Syria caused many people to write us about their reactions—most were beautiful messages of support and offers to help.
A few we received were less kind.
One piece of hate mail came in the middle of the night. It was pretty standard fare, I suppose, but I’m not used to it. “We need to take care of OUR OWN first . . . ” it read in part.
I felt a pit in my stomach. And I rolled over in bed and thought about how slowly, painfully, our country’s version of “our own” has shifted, how that “slow train coming” our newest Nobel Prize Laureate sang about so long ago has labored to come into the station.
But I also considered how for some, that slow shift may seem like a bullet train, ripping through the fabric of a society they knew and grew up in and loved. And how to these people, all the shifts that have happened in our country in the last generation seem like the end of something sacred and known and comfortable, instead of the beginning of something promising and inclusive and open-ended.
So I deleted the message, and tried not to tell Shannon when she woke up, because I knew how deeply it would hurt her. Sorry: I guess I’m telling you now . . .
Those thoughts about differing perceptions of change also made me think back to our conversation with Shane Claiborne, whose most recent book is called EXECUTING GRACE.
Claiborne begins our talk by revealing his own shift from supporting capital punishment to his slow change of heart and mind as he looked deeper into the stories of the death penalty. And in telling those stories in his book, he illuminates the critical difference in punitive versus restorative justice.
As Shane says, we often reduce it to numbers, but it is important to note that in 2016, we will execute fewer than 20 people in the US, the lowest in 25 years. And though there is still a great deal of work to be done, the ending of the death penalty seems now to be almost a foregone conclusion—perhaps even within my lifetime.
Here in our home, we have a lot of conversations about whether the world is ending or blooming. I worry a lot, but I’m squarely on the side of the latter. As messed up as we are—and we are—I look at the past and want no part of it. The violence, the hatred, the war, the sickness: the good old days weren’t always good.
My wife would likely not agree with me. Her heart bleeds for what we could be and what we still aren’t.
I’ve learned over time that we’re a good yin and yang; that our disagreements are in hopes that we’ll change the other’s heart a little. I try to ease her worry, she tries to shake me up.
And who knows, maybe after another more couple of decades together, we’ll come out on the same side eventually.
Change comes slow to some people.