I read The Irresistible Revolution late in the game, only a few years ago. But I was already smitten with the ideas and gentle humor and radical hope that Shane Claiborne and his friends possessed. In recent years I have been fascinated by our culture’s reactions to authors who ask us to look at issues of poverty, in-equality, and privilege. In interviews with Claiborne, the most common question I hear being asked is this: “yes, but what about us–the people living normal American lives–is there any hope for us?” There are no easy answers, and–as I think this essay makes clear–there is no way to tell when a book stops changing your life–or what it changes it toward.
The Irresistible Revolution
By Stina KC
What was it about that book?
It was the gee whiz let’s do something. It was the stories of hope. It was the promise of a glittery but gritty revolution where the kingdom breaks through cracked concrete, mustard plant by mustard plant.
It was the acknowledgment that not all is well with the world, stop pretending. Instead, let’s move into the neighborhood and tithe our money relationally; let’s reject the investment in sprawling suburban church campuses when so many are scrounging for grocery money. Be a new kind of believer, a prophetic witness who takes Jesus at his word.
Shane Claiborne came to speak in chapel at my evangelical college in 2004, two years before The Irresistible Revolution was published. It was the week before finals and I skipped his talk to write a paper; I had never heard of him. But I saw the impact he had on my friends, how they came back from chapel pumped up by his words about authentic faith, by his dreadlocks and patched jeans. Some of my crowd looked a lot like Shane that way, and I have a faint recollection of a drum circle that he performed with students on campus.
Shane, it was decided, was very cool. The New Monasticism movement that he headlined buzzed with words like “intentional community” and “downward mobility,” setting my idealist heart ringing. It dovetailed with the “you can change the world” message I had long heard growing up. And I believed in my heart of hearts that I, too, would never settle for a stale and materialistic Christianity.
But, if you’re like me, the sounding gong of radicalism eventually faded into disillusionment. Your life never looked like the dramatic stories in Shane’s book. You forgot to have grace for yourself when your experiments with countercultural living in the city fell flat. You flamed out, young radical. Maybe you never invited your neighbors over for that BBQ you were meaning to throw. Maybe you volunteered at the neighborhood community center until your schedule changed and you had to drop it. Or maybe you got depressed or broke up with your boyfriend or spent a year listening to indie rock in coffee shops while you hung onto cynicism like a scar.
I’m here to tell you – I see you. I am you.
Let’s walk together and sit down here, at the feet of Jesus. Put down the radical rule books and “shoulds” about how we must live or relate to the poor. Instead, look upon your disappointment with kindness. Perhaps you needed a few years to grow up, to be jaded and confused and cynical. Sit here beside me, see his robe hems? Maybe those years were leading you right here, onto the ground like a child at library story time. Lean forward and listen. He is looking at you in love, dear child of God; he is speaking words of grace.
While you sit, remember what Mother Teresa said about great things. Not all of us can spark a movement like Claiborne, not everyone can start a community house in a struggling neighborhood. But we can all rest here awhile and listen. And when you finally stand up to go about your day, be amazed at how God interrupts your mundane life like the wiliest of mustard plants. Watch dirty things become clean with every dish you wash. Witness tears turning to laughter when you comfort your child. Observe prisoners going free as you extend a meal to a lonely friend. All of them are such small things, such un-sexy things. But, as Mother Teresa would remind us, they are great when done with love.
Actually, this was Claiborne’s message all along – his book tagline is, after all, “living as an ordinary radical.” He even cites Mother Teresa’s words about small things with great love at the end of the book, striving hard to make the revolution legalism-proof. Yet somehow I walked away from that book and the radical Christian sub-culture with a different message, one that elevated inner-city ministry and intentional poverty above all else. It made anything less feel like failure.
Still, The Irresistible Revolution changed my life; it stirred me to reimagine my faith in a terrible, beautiful world. It led me to volunteer with refugees and torture survivors, to live below the poverty level in an intentional community for a season. And, though my life looks different now, I continue to struggle with the questions that Claiborne raised about poverty, about injustice, about taking Jesus at his word. I keep returning to the humble floor, laying the discord and tensions I feel at his feet. I keep reminding myself: the smallest of things, the greatest of love.
Maybe God isn’t done with us yet, my fellow failed radicals. As for the “what now” – well, maybe our lives of doing dishes, childcare and cooking will never inspire quite like Claiborne’s. Let’s content ourselves by watching mustard sprouts wherever we can find them. And, when you start paying attention, you just might realize they are springing up everywhere.
Stina KC is a fledgling writer who blogs occasionally at
http://stinakc.wordpress.com/. After turning 30, she decided it was
finally okay to write for strangers on the internet. She is an angsty
Anabaptist/Anglican hybrid who likes to write about faith, motherhood,
and being all grown up. Stina lives in Minneapolis with her husband
Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series: