Steve and I had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. The music was bumping, the crowd was excited. We were about 4 rows back from the stage. Unbeknownst to us our world was about to be rattled. We were at a Youth Leader’s event, the auditorium filled with fellow Youth workers, all getting away for a weekend to get our souls filled up. We had just heard a great band, and then this strange-looking guy gets introduced on stage. He was our main speaker for the afternoon, and his presence commanded attention.
He had dreads and his clothing looked like it was made from a gunny sack. He talked for about 45 minutes, telling about growing up in the Church and how, as a teen, he would go to different youth events such as retreats, summer camp, youth rallies, or youth group and be entertained and there would always be the altar call from whoever the speaker was. And they would call up anyone who wanted to give their life to God, and so he would get saved, again, again. And he wondered as he got older, “is this all there is to this faith/church thing?” Is church a place where we get reminded over and over again that we’re saved and God loves us, and then we return to “normal life?” As I heard this guy speak, I was hooked.
Shane Claiborne continued his testimony of how, in college, he and some friends were reading about a story in the local paper where some homeless people who had been staying in an abandoned church were getting evicted by the city. So he and his friends decided to get involved. They made flyers that read “Jesus is getting kicked out of church…” and put them up around campus. He and his friends decided to go there and be with “Jesus” (as He is in the poor and the needy). As Shane puts it, “if they (the homeless) weren’t out, they could face arrest for trespassing on church property. So that really stirred all kinds of deep questions in us. And a group of us from the college got involved and, basically, put our lives alongside theirs and said to the city, ‘If you come to evict them, then you got to take us, too.’ …the media got involved and made it look like the church was kicking homeless people out, cuz they were kicking homeless people out.” So what should have only been 48 hours turned into weeks and weeks. And during this time, Shane and his classmates became family with these homeless folks. After the media coverage, the result was amazing! The community saw it on the news and responded, providing housing, shelter, food, clothing, etc.
Shane tells about a defining moment when they were all in the church, eating with the homeless families – these families who had now become a family to them. Shane and some others were going through boxes of donations from different organizations, and as they opened one box from a wealthy church, they found it full of microwave popcorn – the only problem being that there was no microwave to make the popcorn! Around this same time the mafia had shown up, donating brand new bikes for all the kids as well as thousands of dollars for the people to survive off or use for future housing. Shane talks about how he and a friend were inside the abandoned church, near the altar, and they were discouraged by this huge difference. He says, “it’s nice the mafia donated all this, but you’re kinda hoping that during a time of need the church would step up.” He then shared what has become one of my favorite quotes, which was birthed from this experience. He started by saying “We had all kinds of baggage from the church. You know, recovering evangelicals and disenchanted Catholics…” And then Shane shared that in that moment, at the altar of the abandoned church, …”we just said, ‘We’re going to stop complaining about the church that we’ve experienced and try to become the church that we dream of.‘”
He continued on his testimony, talking about how he went to work with Mother Teresa, and how he and some friends started an organization called “The Simple Way”, which is where he lives and works today. (You can find out more about it here: http://www.thesimpleway.org/ .) He talked about how he went to Iraq during the war with some other people from the Iraq Peace Team, and was there on the ground when the “shock and awe” bombs fell, and how he and his friends saw innocent civilians die. One Iraqi man, with tears in his eyes, said “This violence is for people who have lost their imagination.” (to read more about Shane Claiborne in Iraq and how his experience is still helping him to change the world, check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shane-claiborne/jesus-bombs-and-ice-cream_b_922149.html). Shane had began to experience that maybe what Jesus said He really meant. That another world is possible, and that His kingdom, a kingdom of love to all, could indeed be realized here and now. That church is about living the reality that Jesus showed us, and not just about sitting in a building talking about it.
As Shane’s sermon concluded, he gave his own altar call. He talked about how it’s ironic that he gets called to speak about hunger and homelessness at a huge charity dinner. Or how he’ll get asked to speak to a bunch of youth workers about being the hands and feet of Jesus to the poor and suffering of the world, but he’ll get paid thousands of dollars to do it. So he took the money that they were going to pay him, and cashed it out into 1 dollar bills, and wrote “LOVE” on each bill and scattered them all over the stage. Shane talked about how a lot of people get overwhelmed with the needs in the world, and begin to question: what can I really do? I’m only one person. And then we end up doing nothing. Instead, he reminded us of what Mother Teresa says: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” He then challenged us to do something, anything, and as long as we have great love behind it, it doesn’t matter how big it is, it can and it WILL change the world.
So Steve and I made our way forward, picked up our dollar, walked out of the auditorium, and our world began to turn upside down… (To be continued in Part 2)
To see Shane Claiborne’s full testimony, watch here:
To read about Shane’s experience more in-depth, check out his book about his experiences, The Irresistable Revolution: