The Common Good
January 2006

Extremists for Love

by Shane Claiborne | January 2006

Christian activist (and former high school prom king) Shane Claiborne spent his college years in the company of like-minded travelers.

Christian activist (and former high school prom king) Shane Claiborne spent his college years in the company of like-minded travelers. But then he decided following Jesus required a different path, one that values relationships with God and others above all else. Others joined him. Claiborne talks about their lives together in The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, a portion of which appears below.

About 30 of us from Eastern College continued dreaming together about another way of doing life. We stayed up night after night laughing and arguing, and eventually we came to a point where we knew we would never agree on exactly what causes homosexuality or whether Adam had a bellybutton (some things are best left unresolved), so we decided to go ahead and give our vision a shot. Besides, most of us were getting tired of talking and were ready to live. And I was living in a van (yes, down by the river), so we started looking for houses.…

Poet Henry David Thoreau went to the woods because he wanted to live deliberately, to breathe deeply, and to suck out the marrow of life. We went to the ghetto. We narrowed our vision to this: love God, love people, and follow Jesus. And we began calling our little experiment the Simple Way. In January 1997, six of us moved into a little row house in Kensington, one of Pennsylvania’s poorest neighborhoods, just minutes from old St. Edward’s Cathedral. It felt like we were reinventing the early church for the first time in 2,000 years. (We were quite ignorant.)

We had no idea what we were getting into. We had no big vision for programs or community development. We wanted only to be passionate lovers of God and people and to take the gospel way of life seriously.

Some of us dropped out of school; some finished. Some of us were pursuing careers; others left them. People sometimes ask us what we do all day on an “average day” at the Simple Way, and my answer has always been real short—either “Nothing spectacular” or “What is an average day?” It gets a little crazy since our lives are full of surprises and interruptions. I’ll do my best to describe it to you.

WE HANG OUT with kids and help them with homework in our living room, and jump in open fire hydrants on hot summer days. We share food with folks who need it, and eat the beans and rice our neighbor Ms. Sunshine makes for us. Folks drop in all day to say hi, have a safe place to cry, or get some water or a blanket. Sometimes we turn people away, or play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who answers the door on tired days. We run a community store out of our house. We call it the Gathering, and neighbors can come in and fill a grocery bag with clothes for a dollar or find a couch, a bed, or a refrigerator. Sometimes people donate beautiful things for us to share with our neighbors; other times they donate their used toothbrushes.

We reclaim abandoned lots and make gardens amid the concrete wreckage around us. We plant flowers inside old TV screens and computer monitors on our roof. We see our friends waste away from drug addiction, and on a good day, someone is set free. We see police scare people, and on a good day, we find an officer who will play whiffleball with his billy club. We rehab abandoned houses. And we mourn the two people who died in this property (where I am now writing). We try to make ugly things beautiful and to make murals. Instead of violence, we learn imagination and sharing. We share life with our neighbors and try to take care of each other. We hang out on the streets. We get fined for distributing food. We go to jail for sleeping under the stars. We win in court. We have friends in prison and on death row. We stand in the way of state-sanctioned execution and of the prison industrial complex.…

We fight terrorism—the terrorism within each of us, the terrorism of corporate greed, of American consumerism, of war. We are not pacifist hippies but passionate lovers who abhor passivity and violence. We spend our lives actively resisting everything that destroys life, whether that be terrorism or the war on terrorism. We try to make the world safe, knowing that the world will never be safe as long as millions live in poverty so the few can live as they wish. We believe in another way of life—the kingdom of God—which stands in opposition to the principalities, powers, and rulers of this dark world (Ephesians 6:12).

So that’s an average day.

Taken from The Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne. Used by permission of Zondervan. Copyright 2006 by The Simple Way.

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