Thursday, May 15, 2008

Claiborne: Final chapter: Get crazy to make sense

In the final chapter of The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne quotes Catholic Worker movement cofounder Peter Maurin: "If we are crazy, then it is because we refuse to be crazy in the same way that the world has gone crazy." Then Claiborne tells Nietzsche's story of the madman who is mocked by his fellow townsmen for seeking God. The madman decides God is dead and says "'We have killed him, you and I.'" The madman sees a world growing colder and darker without God and likens churches to tombs.

Claiborne remembers a sermon he once preached, "a clever little talk about how the world is filled with the walking dead, people who breathe air but who are not truly alive. I compared the deadness to vampires and said that vampires can't stand light. They can not stand the cross." He sees the sermon as a little silly now, but still with a hint of truth ...

Claiborne finds hope everywhere that "ordinary radicals" all around him are quietly building a new world. He also makes a plea for these radicals to stay part of the traditional Christian church or at least traditional Christianity: "So we mustn't allow ourselves to detach from the church in self-righteous cynicism. That's too easy and too empty. To those communities who have severed themselves from the established church, please build a bridge, for the church needs your prophetic voice. We can do more together than we can do alone." He also quotes Augustine: "'The church is a whore, but she's my mother.'"

Claiborne makes several good points. I would agree that the kingdom is being built all about us, under our noses, in ways that are invisible unless you have eyes to see. One of the joys of a transformed heart is the ability to discern the work. It reminds me of Harry Potter: suddenly you can perceive a hidden world right next to the prosaic muggles world you've been living in: you see platform 9 3/4s and Diagonal Alley, hidden, to use the cliche, in plain sight. And it becomes less about you as an individual saving the world or doing something grand and more about becoming part of something bigger than yourself. I'm reminded of an interview with N.T. Wright that I recently read. Wright says it's a mistake to think of God as "out there" in outer space, somewhere so far away that you'd need to take a spaceship to reach it. That makes God remote, he said, and not part of our reality. Instead, we need to recognize that God is all around us, in the air we breath, but separated from us by invisible (and yet penetrable) walls.

I think liberal Quakers could take heed of Claiborne's warning that it can be self-destructive to remove one's group from the Christian world, flawed as the church might be. I also agree with Claiborne that, perhaps unwittingly, the secular world will do everything it can to paint participation in this alternative world as crazy. And I wonder what it takes to "tip" us into taking the small steps that get us into that other world. I know the pat answer is "grace," but what, concretely, gets us where we need to be?

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