Maybe you’re a bit tense right now. We’re in a tense season–the pandemic, the coming of Fall, the election in the U.S. likely have us a little more on edge than normal.
But there’s a lot to hope for in this season, too.
Shane Claiborne is a prominent speaker, activist, and best-selling author. Prior to writing books, Shane worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and founded The Simple Way in Philadelphia. He now heads up Red Letter Christians, a movement of folks who are committed to living “as if Jesus meant the things he said.” Shane is a champion for grace which has led him to jail advocating for the homeless, and to places like Iraq and Afghanistan to stand against war. Now grace fuels his passion to end the death penalty and help stop gun violence.
Shane talked about hope during this tense season, about how faith informs our politics, about how we get involved in justice work, and how we can maintain some spiritual momentum when things feel like they’re going backwards. Such good stuff…
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[Ryan]This is the Compass Podcast where we seek the divine in the everyday. I’m Ryan Dunn saying hello on behalf of Pierce Drake. I’m wondering, how are you feeling? It’s a little bit of a tense time right now with the pandemic, with the coming of fall, with the end of the election season in the U.S. Many of us are feeling just a little bit more on edge than how we’d normally might be. So what if I told you there’s a lot of hope in this season, too? What if our glimpse of the divine in this time was a glimpsing the realization of hope that we’re actually witnessing every day?
Our guest in this podcast episode gives us some glimpses to a lot of hope, but it’s not an easy message. Some of the things he says might grate or prod you a little bit because hope isn’t always easy. And I’ll tell you what, you may find yourself disagreeing with a few of his statements. But it’s pretty tough to deny that what he’s saying is motivated by love.
Pierce and I had to cut the conversation for the sake of time, but we could have listened all day. So, who are we talking to? Well, Shane Claiborne is a prominent speaker, activist, best-selling author including books that have had a huge ??? on my own spiritual journey, like Irresistible Revolution, Jesus for President. Prior to writing books Shane worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. He founded The Simple Way in Philadelphia. He now heads up Red Letter Christians which is a movement of folks who are committed to living as if Jesus meant the things that he said. Shane is a champion for grace, which has led him to jail advocating for the homeless and to places like Iraq and Afghanistan to stand against war. And now grace fuels his passion to end the death penalty and to help stop gun violence.
Shane talked with Pierce and me about hope during this tense season, about how faith informs our politics, about how we get involved in justice work, and how we can maintain some spiritual momentum when things feel like they’re going backwards. Such good stuff. So let’s get to it. Shane Claiborne on the Compass Podcast.
[Ryan] Shane Claiborne, thank you so much for joining us. Shane, how goes it with your soul?
[Shane] My soul is well. I have a professor at Wheaton. I went to Wheaton University one year out in the Chicago area. And Jerry Root, Dr. Root, he used to always ask me, ‘How is your soul?’ And that’s one of those things that’s like, how are you? How’s it going, you know… That goes deep. But I’m feeling pretty good, man. I mean, the things that are heavy on my heart are probably heavy on your heart. I mean, it’s a wild time to be alive. But I also think that if we believe light shines in darkness, it’s a great time to try to be light right now.
[Pierce] Right. So, speak to that, Shane, really quick. Speak to that, like, so many people, Christians, non-Christians, atheists, everywhere between. It’s one of those times where we’re all carrying a lot of the same stuff around, the same pressures, the same realities, and it’s affecting all of us the same, but yet you say your soul is hopeful while you carry it. How are you finding hope in the midst of all of this?
[Shane] A lot of people have pointed out that hope is different than optimism.
That’s a good one.
And I do think that my hope rests in the story we come from. Right? God is the same as God’s always been. And God delivers us from our pharaohs and our Caesars, and that God is on the side of the oppressed. God’s with those who are hurting. So I have some friends that try to look at how far we’ve come to point out why we have reason to hope. And I have other friends that talk about what we’ve survived, [laughs] what we’ve been through. It’s not necessarily the progress as much as God is still the God that liberated the Hebrew people from their enslavement…God that says when you care for the widow and orphan that’s true religion. And so I hang out with people who you would think have every reason to be hopeless, but they’re the most hopeful people I know. And there’s other people that you’d think, man, what do they have to complain about? And apparently a whole lot. [Laughs] The same way with courage, right? Like, there’s a lot of people that you would think would be full of fear, but they are courageous right now. And there’s other people that, man, you’d think like what do they have to fear? And they really…there is a lot of fear and fragility in communities that actually hold the power. And there’s other communities that have been very dis-empowered that are fearless right now.
[Pierce] I talk to a friend the other day. She moved here from England. And because of…she moved here, she got married. And because the way her Visa worked out, she couldn’t work. She couldn’t do any ministry for like 7 months. And so one of those months she read through the whole Bible in one month, which is just like a crazy amount of Bible reading. And so I asked her, I said, “What’s the theme that came to light that came to fruition that maybe you forgot about or…what did it talk to your faith?” And she just said, “The amount of Scripture that shows that God is on the side of the oppressed and is for his justice.” And I thought that was just a theme that people miss about the story of God so often.
Yeah. I’ve learned that from my neighbors, too, people who…they’ve been through a lot and suffered a lot of the brunt of injustice and inequity in our world. And I can remember when the stocks were in free fall, this has been a housing crisis, and one of my older and wiser neighbors said, “Oh, no matter what happens on Wall Street, God is still good.” And then he said, “My people have been in a recession for about 300 years, and never left God.” And so I think that’s the interesting thing, especially for those of us that would have the audacity to call ourselves Christians, that we hope differently. You know. Our hope is in a brown-skinned Palestinian refugee, who died executed by the state on a cross…and rose from the dead. I mean, that’s where our hope is. And so it changes our posture, even during election season. I just wrote an article about this. The challenge in an election year is…the temptation is always to misplace our hope—in this person or this party, they’re gonna change everything. A more faithful posture for Christians is that we’re just trying to do a little harm reduction and damage control when we, you know, do the electing thing. And I think that’s a better perspective, you know. But there is a lot of harm reduction we need to be doing right now.
[Ryan] Yeah. That’s a rosy outlook to say that you’re full of hope right now. But that is not in denial of all the work that there is left to do, right? And so sometimes…actually a lot of times when you Google Shane Claiborne it comes up that you’re an activist—activist Shane Claiborne. Is that how you describe yourself?
[Shane] I’ve been called worse things. I guess the funny thing is, I’m not sure a Christian can be passive. You know, I’m not sure that there’s anything but an activist Christian. Faith without works is dead, thing. But I think that…. I’ll never forget. I got a letter years ago from someone who eventually became a real good friend of mine. But that initial letter I got from him said, “I feel very lonely in the world right now, stuck between inactive believers and unbelieving activists.” You know, it’s kind of naming something that maybe a lot of people felt. There are a lot of Christians who…. We talk about being believers, you know, but we don’t necessarily act on those beliefs all the time when it comes to justice. And there’s other people that are activists…. And incidentally, I don’t think the world is painted in these dualisms of this is Christian, this is not. I think ??work a lot of places in revealing God’s self in a lot of different ways. I don’t look at the world through this secular and sacred kind of lens. But I do think that we need more active Christians. In my first book I talked about…you know, I was kind of faced with this question when I went to my high school reunion ‘cause they were filling out this sort of directory of what we’re all doing. And it had on there ‘occupation.’ And I said that honest to goodness just really innocently trying to think, okay, what is my occupation. ‘Cause I write books. But I…. At the time especially I didn’t really consider myself an author, you know. I preach, but I’m not, you know, ordained. So I don’t want to be too pretentious on that, you know. But anyways…. I think of love your neighbor, love God. That sounds good. I wrote down ‘lover.’ And now I’m list in my alumni book as a professional lover. I think that’s really what I’m after. And I hope we all of us are after. The love that compels me. I like how Dostoyevsky spoke of it. He said, the love we’re talking about is not just this sentimental, you know, fairy book love of fairy tales and children’s book or something. The love that we’re talking about is a harsh and dreadful love that keeps you up at night, you know, the love that comes with responsibility when we’re sleeping in a warm house and our neighbor’s in a cardboard box and we’ve got children that are separated from their families in cages ‘cause they’re trying flee things I could only imagine them find a safe life here. You know. It’s both a love that’s hopeful and a love that’s…keeps you up at night.
[Ryan] And that can pull us into some polarizing places, too. So you’ve been an outspoken voice on some issues that some people would consider somewhat controversial. You’re anti-gun and you speak against the death penalty. And of course, anti-racist. So fill in your back story a little bit. Like, how did a kid from east Tennessee end up being like a leading voice in areas that may be stereotypically what people in East Tennessee follow, a lot of the times.
[Shane] Well, it’s interesting, ‘cause you know, you mention anti-gun, anti-death penalty, anti-racism. And I suppose that’s true. But I like to call myself pro-life. It is my belief that every person is made in the image of God that fuels so much of what I do. And you know, I think for some folks pro-life might have a bad taste in their mouth because what I’ve found growing up is that I talked about being pro-life, but I really only thought about one issue—abortion. And we would be more accurate to say that we’re pro-birth or anti-abortion than pro-life ‘cause, I mean, that’s the wild thing in, you know, American Christian sub-culture is that you can be pro-guns, pro-death penalty, pro-war, anti-environment and still call yourself pro-life as long as you’ve got the issue of abortion right. So I think there’s a lot of folks, me included that wanted a more robust topic of life. You know, to me the Black Lives Matter Movement has everything in the world to do with whose lives matter. The issue of immigration. You know, I mentioned the environment. I took on 2 issues in particular—gun violence and the death penalty—because I saw specifically on those issues Christians have actually been the problem rather than the solution. We’ve actually been the obstacles to life, I believe, on that. The highest gun-owning demographic in America is Christians—white evangelical Christians in particular. And yet I think that the cross and the gun give us two really different versions of power. It’s hard to like try to reconcile those with each other—the Jesus who said ‘love your enemy’ and the NRA saying ‘stand your ground.’ You know. And then on the death penalty, it’s like 86% of executions happen in the Bible Belt, states like Tennessee where you are, where I grew up. The Bible Belt is the death belt. And so that became very troubling to me, that the death penalty wouldn’t stand a chance in America if it weren’t for Christians. And so I really wanted to challenge not just the political issues, but I think there is a whole theology that kind of creates the foundation or the sort of backbone of that. So I really wanted to name that and wrestle with that. I mean, there’s other pieces of this that intersects with our history around race and things like that. The same states in the Bible belt that held onto slavery the longest are the same ones that have held onto the death penalty. You know, really at the heart of many of these issues is not just a political thing, but it’s a spiritual crisis. For instance, with the death penalty one of the most fundamental questions raised by the death penalty is do we believe that anybody is beyond redemption. And interestingly enough, you know, the United Methodist Church is one of the best statements on the death penalty that’s essentially saying that it undermines the possibilities of redemption and the redemptive work that Jesus did on the cross. So a lot of these issues, they do intersect. So you know they are controversial. Sometimes. But I mean, Jeez, we follow Jesus. You don’t get nailed on a cross for like speaking some kind of self-help fluffy theology likes in the airport…. I’m just kidding. I won’t name them. I mean, you get crucified for disrupting the status quo, you know, for challenging the world that we live in. So like Jesus talked about real stuff. You know, when he was…when you hear what he said, he’s talking about unjust judges and day laborers and widows and orphans. And so I came to really see that the kingdom of God that Jesus talked about almost every time he opened his mouth, was not just something we hope for when we die, but something we’re to help usher in. We’re to bring on earth as it is in heaven. So I’m excited about life after death. I believe in life before death, too. You know, and I believe we’re not just in a holding pattern here waiting to die, but God’s got a mission for us. And it’s to transform the world.
[Pierce] Yeah. Dr. Petty Belee who is up at United Seminary…. I was talking to him the other day. And he made a comment. He said, Yeah, we’ve gotta realize that God is bringing his kingdom here on earth today, right now, but he does it through his people. He says, God built his people and the people built his kingdom. I loved your Tweet the other day, going back to kind of the abortion issue versus the life issue. And you said, I wish one party cared more about life before birth; I wish the other cared more about life after birth. That gave me language for looking at political parties. We’re getting emails as pastors… I think most pastors are getting these emails from parishioners saying, it’s time you take a stand in the pulpit and tell your congregation where to vote and what to do. And in that just reality of going…unless the ballot has Jesus of Nazareth on the box, that’s the only one I’m promoting. That is the only one I’m gonna lift up a voice for. And we can still take that stand and agree with …more with a political party than we do another one, that’s not ???? Where we’re looking for our salvation from, and when Jesus came 2000 years ago and people knew a Messiah was coming, they looked for him to ride in on a white horse with a sword by his side. And he came in as a servant. And I would consider myself a Methodist, but also an evangelical (as illogical terms go) and I think we so often miss the posture in which our king came. Our king didn’t come like other kings did.
[Shane] Yeah. So we did this project a few years ago called ‘Jesus for President’ pointing out exactly some of the things that you’re saying, is that literally what happened to the early Christians is that they had a new political imagination. And their ultimate hope wasn’t in the emperor or in the Caesars, but it was in Christ. And literally so many of the words that are in the gospel, we miss the political charge that they had. Words, like Lord and Savior. I mean, those pre-existed. And there was already a savior in town and his name was not Jesus. And so every time that the early Christians said, ‘Jesus is Lord’ they were also declaring Caesar is not. You look at Acts 17 and it says literally the accusation of the early Christians is that they’re creating trouble all over the empire. They’re defying Caesar’s decrees. And they are saying (get this) that there’s another king, one named Jesus. Right? So I think that when we have our ultimate allegiance declared in Jesus. What happens sometimes, though, is that when we do that people disengage politically. Right?
Say, our citizenship is in heaven.
Or they’ll say, like, I’m so focused on heaven I’m no earthly good.
But isn’t it interesting how much Jesus talked about this stuff in this world and actually gave us a very clear indication of God’s final judgment in Matthew 25. It’s not just a doctrinal text. According to Jesus we’re actually gonna be asked, When I was a stranger, an immigrant, a refugee. Like, how did you welcome me? When I was in prison did you visit me? When I was in need of healthcare, did you help a brother out? You know, when I was homeless…. And so like the real indication there is that the health of our society is not in the stock exchange and how the Dow is doing. It’s how the poor are doing, how the least of these are doing. So I think one of the things that we’ve gotta think about is can we one tool in how we vote, that I don’t think of it so much as casting a vote. I’m not looking for a political savior. I’m looking to harness the principalities and powers. So in one sense I would say I’m voting for the people that people that Jesus blessed in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes. Right? So what does it look like to vote for the poor? What does it look like to vote for the children in cages? What does it look like to vote that black lives matter? What does it look like to vote for Breonna Taylor? Right? So what does it look like to put my voice in that one particular way alongside those who are carrying the brunt of the injustices that we see in our country? We’re never gonna have a candidate that’s gonna have as robust and ethic of life as I would want. I mean, even this current election. There’s no one talking about…I mean, one of the elephants in the room, which is our military spending. Right? The Pentagon spends more money in 3 seconds than the average American makes in an entire year. So it’s like we’re funding militarism. And suddenly, you know, we can pull money out of the sky when there’s a war, but we don’t have healthcare for families that need it. So I think all of those things. Like, we need to think about, not just left and right, but right and wrong. Like, what does it look like for my allegiance to be in Jesus and for that to influence, you know, how I engage this election?
[Pierce] I mean, you just give so many listeners a new frame of voting—that idea of I’m not voting for necessarily my interest in how this will affect me and my day-to-day income and my neighborhood and my life, but how does it affect those people in the Sermon on the Mount?
[Shane] You know, I’ve been working with a whole bunch of different folks during this season. But one of those groups is my buddy Doug Pagitt and others who have been a part of a project called Vote Common Good. That’s exactly what they’re inviting us to do, is to think beyond ourselves, even our ideologies and to realize what does it look like to vote for love over hate? To vote for faith over fear and hope over despair? So I’ve really been glad to be a part of that. We need to have a good conversation about how to effectively reduce abortions in our country. And I think that’s a really important thing, and providing healthcare is a part of that. You know. But I also think there’s a whole host of these issues that matter to God and they should matter to us. And I’ll just say one more thing about…. I’m writing a book on this right now, on the consistent life ethic. But when you look at the early church, these followers of Jesus, in the first few hundred years, one of the things that’s striking is how consistently they spoke against violence in every form. And they did speak about abortion. But they also spoke about the gladiatorial games, and our kind of cultural admiration with violence. They talked about militarism. They talked about the death penalty. So that ethic that’s pro-life from womb to tomb, you know, is really what compels me. And that’s not so tricky, you know, especially in a two-party system, to find a candidate that embodies it, that’s speaking against militarism and the war economy that’s advocating the reduce abortions and at the same time advocating for black lives and for healthcare for people that need it. So we should be politically engaged and also politically peculiar because, you know, we have a bigger framework for that. But, yeah, I would really encourage folks not to disengage and opt out because I think we need to use every tool in our toolbox right now. And I’ll certainly be going into this election season doing everything I can to stand up for love over hatred. And I think that sometimes we give Donald Trump too much power. And I heard someone say years ago that Donald Trump didn’t change America, he revealed America. And what we see is deeply, deeply troubling. So, you know, this is more than just a person. But I do think that he surfaced some really, really dark principalities and powers in our country that have really been unleashed and emboldened in new ways. Like I’ve said, I’m not partisan, but I certainly am concerned about the plight of our brothers and sisters with the policies and the rhetoric of Trump and all those who’ve enabled him have been really hurtful.
[Ryan] You said a few riling things there. And I don’t want to take away the momentum from that. But you also talk about peace making. And so as Christians we are sometimes called to say hard things or things that stir at people’s souls in a conflictual kind of way. And we just heard a little bit of that. You know, somebody is listening to that and thinking it …re-thinking some of their previous assumptions. At least I hope that they are. Shane, as somebody who talks a lot about peace making, how do you reconcile being somebody who stirs up, like, good trouble with a person who is called to be a peacemaker.
[Shane] Yeah, so it’s interesting… If you read Dr. King really closely he sort of talks about these different versions of peace. Right? And one of them is sort of devil’s peace, the counterfeit peace. Right? And that’s just the absence of conflict. But he says true peace is much deeper than that. True peace is the presence of justice. So we’re not talking about the counterfeit peace. And think what’s happening throughout our country and in many ways all over the world right now is that there are people in the streets crying out ‘we can’t breathe.’ Black Lives Matter. Right? And that movement, I think, is causing people to respond. And that’s a good thing. For way too long I think people, especially African Americans and other marginalized communities have really been crushed by white supremacy and a narrative that we’ve continued to use to justify our own history and mythologize it, America, you know, with the doctrine of discovery and the manifest destiny and this idea that our forefathers were saints instead of slave owners. And so we end up in this place where we’ve been better at protecting buildings than the temples of God and the people. We’ve been better …. Many of our politicians are more concerned about protecting Confederate statues than black bodies. And that’s a problem, you know. So I’m not one who believes in property damage. I mean, I believe that nonviolence is our most powerful…. I’m not gonna call it a weapon. It’s our most powerful force. It’s our love of nonviolence. But what nonviolence does that John Lewis talks about, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and ??? I mean, so many other people demonstrated is that nonviolence exposes injustice so that they become so uncomfortable that people have to respond. And that’s what’s happening, right? Folks are kind of holding a mirror up. And we’re seeing the forces of violence in our policing, in our militarized police. You know, on nonviolence ??? I’ve been out there in the streets and seen that. You know, I’ve been arrested for the good trouble that John Lewis talks about, you know, where challenging some of the unjust laws that we see, as St. Augustine said, “An unjust law is no law at all.” so it’s our duty to challenge the unjust laws just as it’s our duty to obey the good ones. And that’s why John Lewis said, we can smile in our mug shot because we know that we’re on the right side of history. So I’ve smiled in quite a few mug shots over the years. But you know, like, Dr. King, when he first went to jail he said, I was a little troubled at first. But then I looked at history and saw what good company I have. We’ve got this whole cloud of witnesses all through the Scripture and all through the centuries of holy troublemakers and folks that have stirred up that divine mischief, prophets and the saints that many times find themselves not conforming, as Romans says, to the patterns of this world. So, you know, when they accused Dr. King of being maladjusted he embraced the word. And he said, you’re right; we’ve become way too adjusted to injustice. We’ve become way too adjusted to racism and inequity. And so we need some holy maladjusted people in the world. And I think that’s what we need right now.
[Ryan] So, for our friend who’s listening to this on the earbuds on his way home from work or her way home from work, and is feeling that hand of conviction pushes them to do something, what kind of trouble do you recommend they start stirring up right now? In what ways? You have a great talent for whimsically approaching serious issues of change. How might they engage in that kind of work, too?
[Shane] Well, our starting point has to be…and part of our problem is a proximity problem, for a lot of people. It’s not that they don’t have compassion for people; they just don’t know them very well. You know, these issues have to have names and faces for them to become a fire in our bones. And for many people that’s not a choice. You know, gun violence chose them. Police misconduct chose them. Right? But for a number of us, I think especially that come from a background of so-called privilege is that we have a choice to ignore things that we don’t think matter because they don’t concern us. You know, one of my friends, Alexia Salvatierra, she’s a wonderful organizer. And she says, privilege is being able to choose which issues you care about, and which issues you ignore. Privilege is being able to not care about an issue because it doesn’t affect me personally. And I mean that’s been the case for many white folks on racial injustice. So I think the starting point for me would be to lean in, to get proximate, and as much as we can to move from issues that we care about to people that we know, and the things that are squashing them are hurting all of us. So, I mean, when I think about gun violence I can name the names of people who put this fire in my bones. I mean, I can name the street corners in my own neighborhood where I know the names of who died there. Right? Same with the death penalty. I can name my friends who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, some of them 3 hours from their execution before they were proved their innocence. Folks that are to this day facing execution and I know what Jesus has done in their life, and I know that they’re a different person now than they were 20 years ago. That’s why we can’t make injustice history until we make injustice personal. And that’s what’s happening with Black Lives Matter, is we know the names now, right? So like, racism has names. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Freddie Grey, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Trevon Martin, Tommia Rice. I think that’s what we’ve got to do with each of these, whether it’s immigration or gun violence or the death penalty. I don’t know too many people that have been argued into thinking differently. But I know a lot of people that have been storied in, or they’ve been moved because of a relationship that makes this issue personal. Right? So that’s what I would say right now. And I think what the invitation that’s happening around our country is to realize that these issues have names and faces, in groups like the Poor People’s Campaign and so many others are putting the faces and the stories behind these inequities and injustices.
[Ryan] How did you start that process back when you were a younger adult, coming out of college, or whatever phase of life you were at, were you kind of having this spiritual and motivational awakening, how did you begin to open up those relationships with the marginalized, with other people?
[Shane] When I became a Christian I was a cool kid making straight As. I was prom king, you know. I always say that just shows you what a small town I come from. But when I met Jesus…. And I can remember hearing a preacher say, when we find ourselves, if we find ourselves, climbing the ladder of upward mobility then we’d better be careful or else as we climb our way up we might pass Jesus on his way down. The story of Jesus is about a God who left the comfort of heaven and joins the struggle here on earth. And so that invitation to, like, lean into the suffering of the world that I saw in Jesus I began to be very curious about that. And so I ended up going to college in Philadelphia at Eastern University. And it was while I was in college that a group of homeless families, mothers and children… (This is exactly 25 years ago. I’m going up this weekend to remember this.) …but these families moved into an abandoned Catholic Church building and started living there. And they hung a banner on the front door that said: how can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday? So, you know, that was kind of the moment that I mark as sort of my second baptism, you know, where I began to connect issues of justice to my faith. But I can name those sort of moments over and over where gun violence got on my radar, because a 19-year-old was killed on my front steps, where war became so real to me because I was in Iraq during the bombing of Bagdad when 900 bombs a day were being dropped on Bagdad. And, you know, this was the response to September 11th. And now we all look back scratching our heads going like, now we know that folks from Saudi Arabia were responsible for the 9/11 killing. And yet we will kill tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghan people. So I was there. You know, I saw the bombs. And I became convinced like never before that violence is not gonna solve our problems, that everything that Jesus taught us as the Prince of Peace is that we don’t return evil with evil, but we repay evil with good. We try to love our enemies. We try to heal their wounds of violence without mirroring that violence. But all of that to me was about becoming proximate, you know, was about getting closer to those injustices and to the people who were directly impacted by it. Some of us are too quick to be a voice for the voiceless. And that’s language that we often hear. Sometimes I think we need to…rather than be a voice for the voiceless we need to stand with those whose voices are not being heard. Right? Rather than grabbing a microphone we need to hold the microphone and we need to stand behind someone rather than in front of them. And so I think, you know, that’s all been a part of my own journey to kind of figure that out, what it means to be…you know, to stand in solidarity, to stand as an ally or as a friend to folks who are being really hurt by some of these systemic problems.
[Ryan] Yeah. So, did that involve you picking up and moving into a new space? To leave your home in some way? Or how did you find the intersectional space? Especially at that time. You can get set into a bubble at the college campus. What brought you out of that?
[Shane] Yeah. I always like how Karl Barth, you know one of the great thinkers in the church, he said, We need to read the Bible in one hand, but we need to hold the newspaper in the other so that our faith doesn’t just become a ticket into heaven and a license to ignore the world we live in. And interestingly enough there was one of my college friends who threw down a newspaper that had the whole story of these families living in this cathedral with their children. I mean, this is almost a hundred people---moms and kids that had nowhere else to go. And we had a prayer meeting. That was our knee-jerk response, was let’s have a prayer meeting. And literally as we’re praying that night…. And we did pray that night. We felt very…profoundly moved that we were sort of throwing our hands up at God going, God, why don’t you do something? And we felt God say, I did do something. I made you. You know? And sometimes I feel like there are many things that we are waiting on God for, and God may be waiting on us to respond. Sometimes when you ask God to move a mountain God might hand you a shovel. Like, you’re my hands; you’re my feet. Get out there. You know. So, yeah, it transformed everything. Our responsiveness, that night we had a prayer meeting and then we got in our cars and we went down and we asked those families what can we do. And they told us. And it started a, you know, students solidarity movement that eventually gave birth to the community that I’ve been a part of for the last 20 years or so in north Philadelphia called The Simple Way. So we’ve been sort of building this village with community gardens and murals, you know, and affordable housing and we’re during that, you know, in the middle of the pandemic. A lot of my neighbors are just heroes of mine. They’re sharing thousands of pounds of food with neighbors, delivering bags to seniors, taking care of kids that can’t rely on school lunches right now ‘cause they’re doing education from home. Things like that. So we’re doing our best, man. And literally our vision for the church started in the ruins of this old, abandoned church building. And that’s been transformative for the last 20 or so years.
[Ryan] I would imagine that in that kind of work there’s something that probably uplifts your heart on a daily basis and something that breaks your heart on a daily basis. In those times when you are feeling the struggle of it, how do you spiritually refresh? Like, what are some of the practices that you personally utilize that help you to reconnect or help you to re-energize for the next day’s work?
[Shane] Yeah. So there was a period where we became pretty convicted that we were good at the activist part but we weren’t as good in the prayer part. And a bunch of our communities got together and we created this prayer book called Common Prayer. And it’s on a phone app, the mobile devices, and all that stuff. But it’s also like a really helpful tool, to literally wake up and remember history. We remember, you know, this is a day that we bombed Hiroshima or Nagasaki. This is the day that Rosa Parks was arrested, Mandela was released from prison, or Oscar Romero was killed. So we remembering history, but we’re also praying together. And it’s got like 50 songs that we’ve learned to sing from different traditions. It’s got a lot of the saints with a big S and the little s. you know, you’ll be happy to know we remember folks like John Wesley and Wilberforce and Dorothy Day and all those that may not be official saints yet. But, yeah, so that prayer life has been really clutch. I also think that community is so important, that we’re not carrying all these burdens on our own. And if you sit around, look at Twitter all day, like, you get pretty depressed. So I think like in some ways, you know, when you’re a teenager you hear about peer pressure, you know, as if all negative thing, and it can be. But I think community…there’s a different version of peer pressure that is sort of like this beautiful thing. It’s a gravity towards Jesus. So, you know, if we surround ourselves with people who look like the kind of person that we want to be, then they rub off on us. And I think if you want to be more hopeful hang out with hopeful people. If you hang out with narcissists you’ll become one of the narcissists. You’ll become more cynical if you hang out with cynical people. You’ll become more generous if you hang out with generous people. So if we’re all try to surround ourselves with people that remind us of Jesus, then community is really clutch to that. And then the final thing I’ll say is for people who do feel a heaviness, I think that’s okay. You know. Jesus felt that. My goodness, I mean, on the cross Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So literally Jesus, God, felt the absence of God. So when we’re walking with Jesus we may feel that long loneliness sometimes. But Jesus also shows us the triumph of hope over defeat. I mean, talk about the ultimate protest of history, I think what Jesus did on the cross and through the resurrection was absorb all of the violence and hatred that we’re capable of. He absorbed that and exposed it, put death on display in order to subvert it with love and forgiveness and an empty tomb. So that’s the end of the story. We know that. You know. And it makes us more hopeful people. So I also…. The last thing I’ll say…. I think I’ve said ‘the last thing’ a couple of times. But this is really the last. My friend Brian McLaren…I think he was the first person I heard say this, is that we’r 7not just protesting; we’re pro-testifying. Right? We’re proclaiming how things can be made right. And so part of what we’ve been doing with guns is that we’ve got more guns than people in the U.S. So we’ve been inviting people to donate guns. And we’ve gotten hundreds of donated guns from all over the country. And we’ve been transforming them into garden tools, inspired by the prophets Micah and Isaiah that talk about beating swords into plows. So we’re literally…I’m an apprentice blacksmith and so is my wife Katy. Your listeners will appreciate this. But, you know, people that are watching might like to see it. We’ve got all these tools that we’ve made out of guns that we’ve melted down. It’s powerful because it’s so concrete. And I don’t use the word lightly, but it’s sacramental. This word that we use in the church, this holy mystery, because all over the country we’ve seen victims of gun violence who have taken the hammer, and as they beat on this piece of metal and transform it you see something happen in them. I know Sharon Rischer, her mom and her loved ones were killed in the Emanuel Church shooting in South Carolina. She said, As I was beating on that gun I did what I once wanted to do to Dylann Roof. But I took all of that rage out on that gun. And she said, Something inside of me began to heal in a way that you can’t hardly put words to. You know. I saw another guy who, as he beat on this gun, he started weep…he got really emotional and we talked to him afterwards. And he said, I beat on that gun 18 times because I killed someone that was 18 years old. So, you know, I think when we’re doing these acts of…. I guess some might call it protests. I mean, what we’re trying to do is heal the wounds of that, you know, to honor the pain in this particular case of gun violence. But also I think there’s so many ways that what we do in the streets is honoring the grief and the pain of years and years of injustice, and proclaiming it doesn’t have to be this way. You know, the great Sikh activist Valarie Kaur, she’s also a lawyer, she gives this vision that America is groaning. And she says, there’s this vision of the darkness that we’re in right now. And she said, Is it the darkness of the tomb, or is it the darkness of the womb? Might it be that America isn’t dying right now, but America is just being born? And the cries that we hear in the streets are the labor pains of a new world. So, you know, I look at that wonderful version of Romans that says the whole creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. And maybe the indication is right now that we get to be the midwives of a better America, of a better world. And I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that Jesus is inviting us into.
[Ryan] I don’t think we could end in more of an altruistic note than that. Shane, for folks who want to like catch up with what you’re doing and share a little bit more of your thoughts and your writings, where’s a good place to, like, look you up, get a hold of you?
[Shane] Folks can find me on Twitter and Facebook, just my name, Shane Claiborne. And in a lot of my stuff’s on our website: Shaneclaiborne.com. But I’m really a collaborator more than a lone ranger. So the organization I help lead these days is called Red Letter Christians. And you can go to RedLetterChristians.org and see a whole movement of people who love Jesus and care about justice. So you can follow us on all that stuff. And if you’ve got a gun you want to donate, or … you can go to Raw Tools, which is war flipped backwards: rawtools.org. That’s all of our guns to plows work. So I’m…. Even in the pandemic we’re loving getting donated guns and turning ‘em into garden tools. That feels like a very good anti-death activity in a pandemic. So…
[Ryan] Yeah, for sure.
[Shane] It’s great to be with you, man. And I was latent Methodist. So I’ve still got that Wesleyan fire in my bones.
[Ryan] Thank you so much, Shane.
[Shane] Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
[Ryan] We couldn’t stay in that space, too. But at some point we have to admit that we’ve got work to do. If you’re looking for more practical ways to get busy, get involved in the work of justice, peruse rethinkchurch.org. We have lots of practical ways to get involved on our website, especially if you go to the Changing the World section.
If this episode was meaningful for you, please pass the word through leaving a rating and review on your podcast listening platform. My name is Ryan Dunn. You can contact me at [email protected]. Pierce Drake is on social media, all of them at jpdii. We’ll be back in 2 weeks with another episode. In the meantime, grace and peace to you.