WHAT IF JESUS MEANT ALL THAT STUFF? by Shane Claiborne

I am a big Shane Claiborne fan. I heard him speak a few years ago, but it was his book Irresistible Revolution, that really rocked my spiritual world. If you haven’t read the book, you should. The book will challenge you in every aspect of your faith.

The following is a recent article he wrote for Esquire magazine. Enjoy …

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.

Now for the good news.

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it… it was because “God so loved the world.” That is the God I know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven… but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name. At the core of our “Gospel” is the message that Jesus came “not [for] the healthy… but the sick.” And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God’s Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth.

One of Jesus’ most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan… you can almost imagine a snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I’m sure some of the listeners were ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right rules, and they did not have sound doctrine… but Jesus shows that true faith has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken person lying in the ditch.

It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David… at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: “The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you.” And we wonder what got him killed?

I have a friend in the UK who talks about “dirty theology” — that we have a God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a blind man’s eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were not happy that day.)

In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay “out there” but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, “Nothing good could come.” It is this Jesus who was accused of being a glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society’s rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that love wins.

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors… a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

Shane

Find this article at: http://www.esquire.com/features/best-and-brightest-2009/shane-claiborne-1209

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Article by Trey Morgan

I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast. Read 1182 articles by
11 Comments Post a Comment
  1. e3 says:

    i need to read that about twice a week. thanks for posting trey.

    todd s

  2. Angie says:

    The man we claim we follow gave two commands and a not: Love the Lord, love your neighbor, fear not. The opposite of love is fear, not hate. For centuries, fear has been used by religious leaders to control people. Where fear exists, love cannot. It's an either-or thing. Either we have a God to be loved or a God to be feared. It can't exist both ways. Younger generations are bold and fearless. That fearlessness may well explain the rejection of organized religion by so many. We are a generation willing to love, therefore we are unwilling to subject ourselves to that which promotes fear.

  3. Karin says:

    THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!! and you'll notice I'm shouting it! So much appreciated this post today! I'm passing this on!

  4. Baptist Man says:

    I think he has the same problem the street preacher does. He has good motives, but he's just as out of balance. The street preacher preaches a God of "hate." Your hippie friend preaches a God of "love." The fact is He is both. His Holiness balances those two attributes. If you really want to impact people you have to preach the whole counsel of God. When people see how much God hates sin (and how He will judge it very harshly) and yet how much He loves us (enough to send His Son to die for us), they'll truly turn to Him.

    See Jude 1:22-23 (KJV) <–Sorry Trey, had to throw that in there. :)

  5. Alana says:

    I don't know where to even start. I am amazed by his words…so many things that have been on my heart for so long were in his article. WOW!

  6. TREY MORGAN says:

    Baptist Man … I agree that it's healthy to communicate to people both sides of God. I just want to make sure I convert people to Jesus, not convert people out of fear of hell. Loved the KJV verse in there :)

  7. Dante says:

    Well now, that puts it into a whole new perspective. I understand what Baptist man says and agree. The thing that I think both the preacher on the box and Shane may not realize is that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and Savior of the World. It is not for us to judge, but for us to be the hands and feet (the body) of Jesus. If we can do that, less of us and more of Him, then the World would see the Church as God has intended it always to be. Great Post! Keep em coming!

  8. fraizerbaz says:

    "A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical."

    Will somebody please shake me vigorously by the shoulders if I EVER come across this way?

  9. Doug Young says:

    For some reason, Shane Claiborne reminds me of David Crowder.

  10. TREY MORGAN says:

    fraizerbaz – Shake me too.

  11. Joyce says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us Trey.

    I have had many issues with "organised religion" as such, mostly being becuase my mother is an evangelist, and I dont believe what she has to say.

    I love going to our church ( catholic), i love going to liturgy, I love giving and sharing, I pray ( but must start praying with my children again) Most of all I love seeing how you and your parish? Im not sure what to call it, go out and actually do good, rather than just talk about God. It's amazing how much you inspire people to do rather than just say, and Im so thankful for that :)

About Me

Trey Morgan Here are my thoughts about marriage, family, raising children, humor, faith and the life God intended for us all. I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast.

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Husband, father and cancer survivor & Senior Minister for the Childress Church of Christ. Tweets about life, marriage, Texas Rangers and randomness.
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