Youth ministry in the summer is the best of times and the worst of times. It is great because I get to spend more time with the kids. But it is tough because we stay so busy. This is intended to be a week of recovery. June 10 began our third annual Central Ohio Work Camp. We painted six houses this year and worked on a store building that houses a great Free Store ministry. We continue to grow both in the work that we’re able to do, and the extent of churches involved (we were all pleased to move forward ecumenically with the inclusions of support from two Methodist churches this year.) It was a great week and I was proud to be part of it. That was over on Friday, and we went to Cleveland Saturday to see the Indians play (and lose to) the Braves. Sunday was my last sermon in awhile as the new minister begins this week. We then left for Nashville on Monday, June 18 for Impact at Lipscomb with four of our high schoolers. We had a great time, though I was a little disappointed in the keynote sessions in the evenings . . . our youth programmers need to take a theological look at what we’re doing . . . but that’s for another post. We had to stay an extra day because on Sunday, Mary Beth’s grandmother celebrated her 80th birthday (and their 60th anniversary). We got back at 1:30 Monday morning and used Monday to get some rest. However, it was short lived because our new minister and his family are moving to town today (actually, they should be here at any time), and so I’ve been working hard today and yesterday to get his office cleaned and everything ready for them. We’ll be getting them settled in over the next few weeks. While we were at Impact, I had a little bit of a chance to get some reading done. I have the teens reading this together (the high schoolers) and I have wanted to get this read since it came out.
This is one of those books that has seemed to be everywhere lately. Several ministers and pastors I’ve talked with have been reading it. I’ve seen numerous references to Shane Claiborne in magazines, on television, just about everywhere. It’s just one of those things that makes you believe it’s worth checking out. So, I got copies for all my high school students and we’re reading this together. Mary Beth and I read it together last week and we both were so impressed, moved, convicted, challenged, and much more. It is a story about a guy, Shane Claiborne, who finally got passed all the talk of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with church and modern Christianity and actually did something about it. The very beginning of the forward from Jim Wallis says it best, “Shane Claiborne is a good example of the old adage, ‘Be careful what you pray for.’ Evangelicals like to pray that Christian young people will learn to love Jesus and follow his steps. Well, that’s exactly what this young Christian activist is talking about in his remarkable new book.”
“What if Jesus meant what he said?” That question continues to ring in my ears from the pages of Shane’s book. (After reading his book, you just feel as though you have to call him by his first name.) Anyone who grew up in a conservative church setting should have no problem relating to where he came from. Anyone who looks around at church and just feels something is not right can learn form him. And anyone who is searching in their own life for direction and intention are welcomed into a world that Shane is attempting to live on his own.
Whether it is the stories from his life changing months spent in Calcutta with Mother Teresa or the short but unforgettable time he spent in Iraq Shane sheds the academic cloak that so often numbingly suggests change, and he lives as, what he calls, an ordinary radical. The stories are endless . . . a man who has dedicated his life to the least of these (hmm . . . haven’t we a good model for doing that?) shares story after story of being with the least of these, and treating them for what they are – the greatest.
Perhaps what is most encouraging is Shane’s humble spirit. You can’t help but feel uncomfortable with some of the politically hot topics he addresses (war, consumerism, ecology, you know, the regular liberal agenda-ed issues), and yet the pages are filled with a meekness and a desire to love for Christ that even the most conservative among us would be challenged not to be impressed, and dare I say, persuaded?
To me, that is the most challenging argument and side of Shane (and guys like him). They want to live their lives to be more like Jesus and to make a better and different world. “Another world is possible” is Shane’s motto. He addresses that Christians living in the in-between times should live as though the new world has already ripped into the current state of things.
As Mary Beth and I read this together, we couldn’t help but stir up conversations of ways to seek Shane’s way of life in our own context. Without forsaking it all and moving to the city’s poorest sections (and I haven’t thrown it all out), what does an ordinary radical look like in suburban America? Where better to spread the message of the irresistible revolution? That is the task we have taken upon ourselves . . . and one we are just beginning, and probably just beginning to begin. So much lies ahead of us. So much is in our way. So many idols have to come down.
The final chapter was one I was especially glad to see. As you spend this journey with Shane going through the ghettos of Philly, holding the hands of lepers in Calcutta, seeing the tragedy and toll of war caused by our own country can all leave you feeling like forgetting it all and ditching the oft-right leaning church and the system that has become so terrifying. But, in the end, the church is the redeeming Bride of Christ. Here are some quotes I found to bring this story to such a great and inspiring close:
“We are about spreading a way of life that exists organically and relationally and it marked by such a brilliant love and grace that no one could resist it.” p. 348
“If the world does not hate us, we must wonder whether we are really imagining an alternative.” p. 349
“We can crawl up into the hands of God and fall asleep in the sweet aroma and cozy warmth, asleep by the fire. And so much of the world lies in the cold, clammy darkness of human suffering, oppression, and inequality.” p. 349
And a couple of final quips about the necessary evil the church can be:
From St. Augustine: “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” p. 354
“The church is like Noah’s ark. It stinks, but if you get out of it, you’ll drown.” p. 354
Overall, this is a great and challenging book. It’s challenging not in the way we usually say books are challenging. No, this challenges all that we know church to be. It challenges everything we’ve been taught. But, the funny thing is, it all makes sense, because it is based on the very texts we spend our whole lives reading. Shane has just decided that Jesus really does mean what he says. Do we think that he does?