Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Shane Claiborne and Mother Teresa

Now that he's helped the women living in the abandoned church of St. Edwards, Shane calls Mother Teresa. He's amazed when she herself answers the phone in Calcutta. She invites him to 'come and see" her work. Shane and a friend head for India, where they help at her Home for the Destitute and Dying, bathing, massaging, bandaging and comforting the people brought in from the streets. Later, Shane visits a leper colony in India.

Shane describes these encounters as transformative but what they seem to be doing is reinforcing a transformation that has already begun. Shane would not have sought out Mother Teresa had his view of Christianity not already changed in radical ways, from consumerism and personal salvation to service and the "upside-down" notion that we find God most alive in the outcast places.

Shane learns from Mother Teresa that we are called "not to be successful but to be faithful." This, he writes, "was the beginning of my years of struggling with the tension between efficiency and faithfulness. I remembered Ghandi's saying that what we do may seem insignificant but it is most important that we do it. So we did."

Some quibbles: I know Shane is the coolest dude in the world, but do we have to call Mother Teresa "Momma T?" Should we be calling Shane "Brother S?"

On a much less trivial note, I looked at the Simple Way website, the site for Shane's intentional Christian community in Philadelphia. There I found a disconnect between Shane's fervent approval of Mother Teresa's radical hospitality, which welcomed him, a stranger, with open arms to join her in her work, and the Web site's warning: Don't hitchhike across the country and drop in us, because we may not welcome you. I can understand the community wanting to have boundaries and wanting to keep from being overwhelmed, but I also believe they need to find ways to embrace physical visitors with same kind of hospitality Mother Teresa showed Shane. This is particularly important in this culture, where, as Mother Teresa said (and Shane alludes to somewhere in his book I believe), the great poverty is loneliness. But more importantly, if you are staking your claim on living the faith, it's important to live the faith, even when it's inconvenient. If it is important to do insignificant things, such as welcoming a hitchhiker or a hundred hitchhikers, shouldn't the community find a way to do them? Not only would this be a practice of integrity, it would show others how hospitality can be enacted. Does not doing so --being standoffish as a community -- throws up a red flag that says the community may be more talk than walk?

I also wondered if Shane, like Mother Teresa, would pick up a ringing phone at his home or if he shields himself from the public. The experiment would be to call and see who answers ... if anyone answers, but I'm not there yet.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Brother S?


Anonymous said...

It is a very thoughtful question...do we literally follow the gospel exortations to provide limitless hospitality, to turn the other cheek, etc.? I try (stumbling and failing, but trying) to follow the spirit of the Sermon the Mount, but not literally. I have to live in the world, take care of my family, work. I don't blame Br. S. for telling hitchhikers to not just "show up" I imagine he has been the focus of many needy people who would be better served elsewhere. If a stranger showed up on my door needing a place to stay the night, I *might* drive them to a motel and pay for a night there, but I sure would not put them in my children's rooms to sleep. Perhaps that does indicate a lack of faith.

Diane said...

I am holding Shane to a high standard as his book is an argument for Christianity as living the faith.

Anonymous said...

I understand.

Did you read the new book out that contains Mother Teresa's letters, in which she mentions the times she lacked faith...her own "dark night of the soul"? I was so touched by these letters, and felt so much more (if possible) admiration and respect for her and her work. To remain faithful in the absence of a steady faith is incredibly moving to me.

Diane said...

Yes, I did read that book, and like you, found it quite moving and found my admiration for Mother Teresa rising. I think she truly is a saint.