Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Claiborne: to activism, add love, mustard seeds

In chapter 11 of The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne urges political activists to temper their actions with a sense of humor and add a strong dose of love. It's not enough to help other people through supporting causes: you need to love the people you are helping. Ideally, you get to know the people you are helping. Likewise, don't feel superior to those who are less active; instead, laugh at yourself and try to spread some joy.

He writes on an old theme: fair wages for college campus employees, such as janitors. In his case, he and his friends got to know a janitor and his family trying to live on $6 a hour. They were able to introduce this man to the president of Eastern University, part of a process that led to the university paying a living wage and benefits to its workers.

In chapter 12, Shane expands on the argument that small is better and small is kingdom. We find God in the little people, express God's love through small actions and see God in the everyday. It's not growing church numbers and budgets that builds the kingdom of God, it's growing strong relationships.

"We have a God who values the little offering of a couple of coins from a widow over the megacharity of millionaires."

"The pervasive myth is that as we grow larger, we can do more good. But there is little evidence that this is ever realized."

He condemns churches that build big complexes while people are hungry and homeless, saying God prefers a tent. Small is beautiful.

"And the contagion of God's love is spreading across the land like a little mustard plant, growing smaller and smaller until it takes over the world."

It's hard to argue with putting people ahead of programs and infusing our social and political actions with love and joy. None of these are new ideas; all of them are good ideas.

However, is all diminution good? We see a move toward a smaller, but more pure and orthodox Roman Catholic church: Is this a way of sweeping issues under the carpet? Often I have heard people in shrinking mainline denominations speak of getting rid of the dead wood or not regretting when the people who don't think like them leave. I do believe that God works and exists in the crevices, under the radar and among the humblest people. But sometimes I fear that groups use the rhetoric of smallness to justify an unwillingness to make needed changes or to exclude people that Jesus would gladly invite to his table. When does embracing the small become an excuse for exclusion or unresponsiveness and when is it evidence of God's kingdom at work? How do we discern?

1 comment:

Bill Samuel said...

Well, faith isn't a matter of just logically following a neat set of rules and principles. If we try to figure it out for ourselves, we're pretty sure to go wrong.

It's about staying connected with the Living Christ, and letting Him guide us. This isn't in isolation but in community with others, even including those at a distance through such things as writing.

We can do being small well or poorly. It can be a faithful living out of our calling, or an excuse to avoid our calling. Same for being big. I think there's a place for different scales of operation.

I've heard Charles Schmidt preach on Acts 5:42 - Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. - indicating that it shows mega-churches and house fellowships not as contradictions but as different aspects of the body of Christ.