Shane Claiborne was in Winnipeg in late May and talked about the emerging mode of Christianity he’s helped publicise under the rubric of New Monasticism. His The Irresistible Revolution played a formative role in my own journey into intentional community at Flatlanders Inn.
I’d heard most of his stories before, since most were in things I’ve read by him in the past. So I greeted the Q&A time with some anticipation. Although I didn’t have questions I wanted to ask, other people’s questions for someone like him are always interesting, as they reveal the perception of people who aren’t already trying to lead lives similar to Shane’s.
For me, the most interesting question asked was something like: “This social justice activism stuff sounds great, but I’m wondering why you need Jesus to do it?” There was so much potential in the question, but I must admit that Shane’s answer reminded me of a politician’s: he said a lot of things, but never really answered the question. He did say something to the effect of Jesus helping you to be a nicer/more loving activist, but that was about it.[ref]It’s probable that I’m forgetting something. I’m also not even slightly condemning Shane – there’s no way for anyone to be “on” all the time.[/ref]
This got me to thinking how would I answer his question? Here’s how I might have answered if asked the same question:
That’s a very good question. I don’t know if you’re a Christian or not, but I’m sure that we’re both frustrated with Christians who seem apathetic at best about justice issues. In fact, they’re sometimes on the sides of injustice, both today and historically, which makes me really sad and sometimes mad. But the answer to their twisted Christianity isn’t no Christianity, but better Christianity.
Now, your question assumed that social justice activism is the main thing to be concerned about, and that Jesus is some type of footnote that seems a bit unnecessary. That’s how the world may look to you and others, but I see it differently.
Now, Jesus is at the heart of what you call activism when you hear what my community gets up to. His teachings and life, and the lives of many saints throughout history have convinced me that God is on the side of the poor, outcast, and oppressed. The Sermon on the Mount, the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself, and the teaching in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the “least of these,” we do to Jesus himself has made living a life that sometimes looks like activism inescapable in my community’s life.
So, you might say that it’s Jesus who got us into this mess. We were doing just fine as citizens of the empire when Jesus got a hold of us and compelled us into loving people nobody else does. We couldn’t imagine starting to do this without Jesus, or keeping on doing this without Jesus. We might sound crazy with all of this Jesus-talk, but anyone who’s on the side of the poor sounds crazy, so we’re in good company.