Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shane Claiborne and St. Edwards

I think I understand why churches as institutions evict homeless people who have set up housekeeping in their abandoned buildings. The churches run along the same principles as secular institutions, as businesses, so to speak, and the people in charge adhere to business principles, albeit in some cases reluctantly. So churches want to protect their material assets. They don't want a property hurt and moreover, they don't want to be liable for a person being injured on their property and then suing the denomination for a lot of money, They also don't want to be associated with scandal.

All the same, there's something supremely ironic about a church evicting the homeless, when one of the church's main missions is to care for the poor.

When Shane and his friends discovered that the Catholic church was about to evict a group of homeless women and children from St. Edwards, an abandoned church in a poor area of Philadelphia, they jumped into action, alongside the women. They visited daily with the women, stood in unity with the women to prevent their eviction and drew attention to their plight. The irony of a church evicting the homeless was not lost on them.

In the end, the group of women and helpers developed a sense of community that transcended a building, and the women and children eventually all found housing. Shane felt reinvigorated and reborn. He felt that God was on the side of these women.

"The body of Christ was alive, no longer trapped in stained glass windows or books of systemic theology. The body of Christ was literal, living, hungry, thirsting, bleeding."

One thing that interests me -- and Shane is not the first to bring this up -- is the concept that churches are not meant to be buildings. Certainly, the early Quakers believed that the church is the body of believers. Further, God's first home among the early Jews was in a tent. Some scholars contend that Solomon was never meant to build a physical temple in Jerusalem. When David--and later Solomon--received the message from God to build his house, God was talking not about a physical home but a spiritual community devoted to him with all its heart, mind and soul. Centuries and centuries later, Francis of Assisi got a similar call from God, so clear and powerful that he couldn't ignore it: Repair my church. Francis initially thought God meant a particular church at San Damiano. He took money from his wealthy father and restored the church. Only gradually did he realize that God's command was much larger, more difficult and more metaphysical: God wanted him not to repair a physical building but the repair the broken spirit of a body of believers.

What do you think? Should the church build churches? Or are they a diversion?


Anonymous said...

Di, this Shane guy reminds me of a couple of other countercultural dudes:

Chris McCandless, and anarchist Brad Will, who was killed by Mexican police in Oaxaca in 2006.

McCandless, subject of the recent film "Into the Wild", yearned for a retreat from civilization into the wilderness. His attempt to live off the land in northern Alaska ended tragically.

Will, perhaps not so well known, also craved being engaged in workers' struggles, where ever that lead him. He yearned to be on the barricades "all the time," feeling that it was only when in direct confrontation with oppressive powers that one was truly alive. He was living this conviction out when he was shot and killed.

Shane seems to share a number of traits with these two. First, they're all white, upper middle class males. Second, with the Beats, they all share a belief that there is some sort of authentic experience that middle class life perverts or interferes with. Third, they all came to radically reject that middle class life in an effort to embrace their (widely different) conceptions of the authentic. Fourth, and maybe most essentially, they all appear to be completely fearless in their pursuit of their ideas.

I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from this. The comparisons are striking. Can you elucidate any differences?

Diane said...

Well, I think a key difference is that Shane is Christ-centered. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.