- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shane Claiborne, 31, the author of the new book “The Irresistible Revolution,” is a symbol of a movement toward living out one’s faith radically. He lives in the Simple Way — two households in downtown Philadelphia that are part of a larger circle of Christian communities that pool their funds, give to the poor and are environmentally aware.

Christianity Today magazine termed this lifestyle a “new monasticism” because of the simple lifestyle led by these idealistic, mostly single Christians. Mr. Claiborne helped organize a large demonstration in Philadelphia’s Love Park in 1998 on behalf of the homeless, was one of several demonstrators who dumped $10,000 in coins outside the New York Stock Exchange in 2002 to publicize sharing one’s wealth with the poor and traveled to Iraq in 2003 to protest the war.

Following are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Claiborne:

Question: Aren’t you copying what the newly converted hippies did in the 1970s when they formed Christian communes across the country?

Answer: What’s unique about our communities today is we don’t see ourselves as an underground church or detaching ourselves from the larger congregations. Actually, we’re really integrated in [the churches of] our neighborhood. Folks identify us as a monastic movement because they see us as a renewal connected to the larger body, not in schism from it. The church is like Noah’s ark: It stinks sometimes, but if you get out you’ll drown. Our embarrassment and frustration with the church is the very reason we engage, not disengage. I think the church needs some healthy discontent, or else things never get better. So we are trying to be the change we want in the church.

Q: What’s been the response?

A: We have a ton of visitors who are interested in the community aspect or social justice and they may not be Christians at all. On Christian college campuses, there are tons of kids who are thinking outside the box on this idea of the detached nuclear family model. They want intimacy, they want community. House church, micro-church: All those things are expressions of a longing for community. As people experiment with house churches, they want to move a little deeper, so they start sharing lawn mowers, they start doing cooperative child care and move toward modified common pools of money.

Q: Why did a large evangelical publisher like Zondervan take a chance on you?

A: Zondervan recognized there’s a conversation going on in the church that’s outside their traditional reach. There’s not really a paradigm in evangelicalism for what we’re doing, so evangelicals think we’re super Christians living like this. But the Catholics totally get what we’re doing. We’re giving visibility to Christianity as a way of living rather than as just a way of believing. I think that is attractive to people. Most people who’ve been suffocated by doctrine know there’s more to Christianity than just believing. When people see there are ways of living that don’t conform to the patterns of the world, that is very attractive.

Q: Sociologist Tony Campolo has said that if St. Francis lived today, he’d be Shane Claiborne. What are you doing to merit that sort of comparison other than refusing to own a cell phone?

A: I always like to say with Dorothy Day, “Don’t call us saints; we don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” The fact that what we are doing looks radical may only be an indictment on the sort of cultural Christianity we’ve become accustomed to. I live on $150 a month, although it helps that the house is paid for through the ministry. We are beginning to run our cars on veggie oil; we try to live in a way that is magnetic and let it speak for itself. We try to stay true to answering the door and meeting our neighbors. We are very relational. Kids are always in the house and we have block parties.

And we’re bursting at the seams. We get a dozen calls a day from people who want to visit, and about six letters a day. So once a month, one of our communities hosts a school on “new monasticism.” One of things we’re really committed to is good theology and good Bible study. Young people in particular are aware the world we’ve been handed is very fragile and the Scriptures have as much to say about this world as they do the next.

Q: So living with the poor is central to what you do?

A: We’re living in a struggling neighborhood and people see we are at least trying in our broken way to live out the things we believe and have some imagination with how we do that. Simple living is not ugly living. We paint, we make beauty everywhere. We have a ton of artists who come and help us. We do gardening, we are making murals, so people find they can [contribute to the community] with the [skills] they had been using to make money.

Q: You said in the book that it was not so much what Jesus and his disciples said, but how they lived, is what people found so compelling.

A: Where the rubber meets the road is how many Christians live. We’ve not been presented with a whole lot of alternatives. There’s been a paralysis of imagination. People haven’t seen something they can wrap their hands around.

Q: How have you been received by other evangelicals?

A: When I returned from Iraq, it wasn’t the Christian press but Spin magazine, a leading mainstream pop culture magazine, that came knocking at our door. The journalist said in frustration, “I just want people to see another face of Christianity.” He and the photographer came down to Philly and hung out and we talked for hours. They fell in love with our community and life, and we them.

And out of the whole experience came an article that spoke of my Christian faith and vision for God’s peace, sandwiched between Radiohead and the Fugees, smothered by ads for beer, [sport utility vehicles] and the Navy. While it was hard to find the language that transcended culture — the article called me the “bulletproof monk” and a “Christian punk activist” — it made me recognize how thirsty the world is for another way of life. Our culture is starving for answers, as the old ones have gone bankrupt.

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