This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Claiborne: Make holy mischief

HESSTON, Kan. — For today’s Good Samaritans, lifting the wounded traveler out of the ditch is not enough, Shane Claiborne believes. They also need to fix the road.

Shane Claiborne and Nes Espinosa speak at the Hesston College Anabaptist Vision and Discipleship conference.
Shane Claiborne and Nes Espinosa speak at the Hesston College Anabaptist Vision and Discipleship conference. — Larry Bartel/Hesston College

“We’re all called to be the Good Samaritan, but even as we do the work of compassion, this also leads us to justice — to go down the road and try to find how to make the way a little safer,” Claiborne said Feb. 21 at Hesston Mennonite Church.

The speaker, writer and Phil­adelphia Christian community founder led Hesston College’s annual Anabaptist Vision and Discipleship Series Feb. 19-21.

More than 300 people from 17 states came to hear Claiborne — author of Jesus for President and The Irresistible Revolution and founder of The Simple Way community — speak on “Not Just on Sunday.”

He shared the stage with Nes Espinosa, a member of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia who directs Timoteo Football, a program that mentors youth through athletics and spiritual formation.

“The field is the new sanctuary,” Espinosa said. “We make that place a holy place in our neighborhood.”

Espinosa’s urging for Christians to get out of their church huddles matched Claiborne’s call for a faith that’s active seven days a week, built on individual relationships and immersed in a local community.

“We don’t love a place because it is great; a place is great because people love it,” Claiborne said. “We are invited to be part of the resurrection story in a particular place, a particular neighborhood.”

Claiborne told stories of working with Mother Teresa in India, Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq and The Simple Way in Philadelphia. He spoke about racial injustice, poverty, mass incarceration, opposing the death penalty, living in proximity to the pain and always imitating Jesus.

“The gospel is about reproducing the character of Jesus, but what too often happens in the church is we reproduce who we are,” he said.

He spoke about extending grace, living with joy and making holy mischief.

“If we can’t laugh, the devil’s already won,” he said.

For Claiborne, relationships and stories matter most.

“Rarely do I know someone who’s been argued into a new reality,” he said.

He fielded questions on a wide range of issues, including relations with Muslims, reaching millennials and dealing with conflicts over sexuality.

“The Christian faith spreads not by force but by fascination,” Claiborne said. “But our faith has become less and less fascinating to the world. The things we have become known for — being judgmental or hypocritical or antigay — are not the things people thought of when they saw Jesus.”

Honesty, not perfection

He said the world is not looking for perfect Christians but honest ones: “When people say the church is full of hypocrites, I say, ‘No we’re not; we have room for more.’ ”

He said all major faiths have had their best principles distorted: “No one kills with more passion than when they are convinced that God is on their side. We have that in common with Muslims and Jews.”

He believes the church is losing young people because it is not engaging the issues that are important to them.

“If we’re just promising life after death and they’re wondering if there’s life before death, they’re going to go elsewhere,” he said. “We’re losing people not because we’ve made the gospel too hard but because we’ve made it too easy.”

Claiborne said he learned about fearless love in a fearful world on a trip to Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams in 2003 when Iraqis cared for CPT members Weldon Nisly and Cliff Kindy, who were injured in a car accident.

“Sometimes we don’t experience miracles because we don’t really need them,” he said. “We don’t get into a space where we are totally dependent on God. . . .

“Fear is when we let being scared stop us from doing what love requires.”

Determined to join up with the work God is already doing, Claiborne won’t be a church planter.

“North Philadelphia doesn’t need more churches; it needs a church that is moving toward the unity Jesus prayed for,” he said. “We are community planters.”

Talk with, not about

Responding to questions on diverse topics like how to address problems of poverty and conflicts over sexuality, Claiborne offered a common theme: Start with relationships.

“Mother Teresa says it’s fashionable to talk about the poor, but it’s not fashionable to talk with them,” he said.

He cited a survey in which less than 5 percent of people who said they were strong followers of Jesus also said they spent much time with the poor.

We think it’s our job to convict but forget that the church needs to be a place that listens and makes people feel safe, Claiborne said. It’s God’s job to judge, the Spirit’s to convict and ours to love.

“If we make anybody frustrated, it should be the people that Jesus made frustrated” — those with religious power and privilege, Claiborne said. “Jesus said the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom ahead of you. . . . What I’m saying is, Jesus was affirming the folks who know they are in need of the love of the community of God. . . .

“We earn the right to speak into others’ lives. The problem for a lot of us is we haven’t earned that trust.”

For Claiborne, the answers to big problems start small and start with Jesus.

“One of the most troubling things about evangelicalism right now is that it’s lost touch with Jesus,” he said. “I believe in making Jesus the lens through which we understand Scripture and the world we live in. . . . We believe in the infallible Word of God. His name is Jesus.”

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. He lives in Newton, Kan., attends First Mennonite Church of Newton and is Read More

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