I MET SHANE CLAIBORNE last December in New Orleans. I was there for a conference on stewardship, and it was the first in a string of events I've attended in the past year.
Hosted by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, the New Orleans conference was one of the best I've been to, small yet meaty, and interviewing Claiborne was the gravy on top.
If you followed my Ordinary Radical column in 2015, you'll know that I'm quite taken with Claiborne and his book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. In it he talks about his vision for living in community and a reordering of society that more closely reflects what God intended for creation.
Hearing him speak for the first time in New Orleans, I was struck by his Tennessee drawl and his goofy, hearty laugh--some-thing that followed his one-liners and numerous funny stories. A loose bandana tied over messy hair, baggy brown pants that he sewed himself, and a black hoodie helped him look the part of his Simple Way persona. Claiborne, of course, founded and lives at The Simple Way, an intentional, interdependent community in inner-city Philadelphia.
"I'm always careful not to prescribe how to live, but I can identify trends or threads of the gospel that call us to different things," Claiborne told me. "There is the sense that family is bigger than biology. A lot of our neighbourhood families [in our community in Philadelphia] are blended--dad is locked up; mother suffers with an addiction, whatever. And we become family."
The central theme in Claiborne's message of justice is relationship; that our world's many ills can be solved if people--particularly people from different social strata--simply take the time to get to know each other.
"I think we overthink a lot of the opportunities that are available," he said. "I met a suburban couple once who were really putting into practice Jesus' words to love your neighbour as yourself, and for them that meant they would create a scholarship fund for a kid [in need] for every one of their biological kids they sent to college. And it was done in the context of relationship; they got to know the family and the kid. It was a symbiotic relationship."
Of course not everyone has the means to give other people's kids a post-secondary education, but this sort of creative thinking--of doing what you can with what you've been given--is central to Claiborne's community work.
"I think a lot of times, the obstacle is not generosity, it's relationship. And people don't...