Tag Archives: Shane Claiborne

Have an Epiphany: God enters your weakness in Jesus

An armor-plated fig-leaf is still a fig leaf. And most of us just wish our fig leaves were armor plated, so we continue to hide behind tough-talking people who make vain promises of protection.

If you don’t get what “fig leaf” means, it refers to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 after they have eaten the forbidden fruit and feel ashamed of their broken relationship with God. They begin to vainly hide their naked shame by making clothes out of fig leaves.

Americans hide in a garden of power

Image result for adam fig leafIf you are a Jesus-follower who lives in the United States, you need to admit some things about your fig leaves. I think one of the main things we need to admit, just to get to square one of faith, is we think America is square one of the world. That sense of reality comes with some godless assumptions about power.

For instance, your reaction to Trump’s assassination of General Soleimani probably begins with power: 1) You’re glad God took out the evil general through his agents so lives would be saved and your children would be safe from Iranians. 2) You’re furious and are trying to find the lever that ejects Trump so lives will be saved and your children will be safe. Getting and exercising power is the go-to solution for Americans. We’re always declaring our independence in one way or another. We accept the violence that protects us. We crave power to protect our chosen lifestyle. The power to choose is super important to us.

I think democratic government is better than variations on totalitarianism. But I have no illusion that democracy equals godliness. And I know arguing about that all day is sewing fig leaves. The arguing is the illusion that someone knows like God knows. The arguing  reveals the assumption it is really important to get things right, since we run the world. Twitter and other social media is a daily example of this preoccupation.

As far as I can tell, the general Christian dream in America is power: miracle, organizing, argument, all loving and truthing done expertly and effectively. So we despise our weakness: no miracles, divided, voiceless. We look at our leaders and ourselves with unabashed criticism or resolute lack of criticism. We despise ourselves or we despise useless despising.

I think we should admit we are armor-plating our fig leaves. We live in an environment in which a deranged president has enablers who defend his right to order an assassination with a drone. We may argue or refuse to argue. But ultimately we generally swallow the reality and conform to it, fashioning our own defense system and thinking it makes similar sense to the giant defense system in which we live.

magi bowing in weakness
My pastor used this Rembrandt painting last night to help us see the powerful bending low to connect with truth and love.

Epiphany invites us back into weakness

Epiphany gives us a chance to get naked with God again. If you read the Genesis passage, it says, “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” If you are listening today, you can hear God in the garden again by looking through the Jesus lens. See God born in Jesus and see Jesus launched into His mission of redemption as he is revealed in his baptism. [More explanation of Epiphany, here].

In reaction to the most recent atrocity in Iraq we are tempted to swallow and emulate, people are coming out of the woodwork to try to say something else. For instance, one of Shane’s buddies, also a grad of Eastern, says on Twitter: “Having seen through Herod’s scheme to cling to power through lies, violence & false piety, the magi went home by another way. Like them we pray in this season for a better way home to wholeness, to justice, to peace.”Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

There is a better way home. God keeps trying to show us. We need to keep looking.

Here is the un-American way the teachers in the Bible keep trying to get on our screens with this better way: Our weakness is our strength. Epiphany is the celebration of this reality. The “manifestation” or “epiphany’ of God with us is a baby in the stable behind the inn on a side street in a village. The manifestation of God is the Messiah coming up from his baptism in a muddy, desert river in a territory on the outskirts of the Empire. The body of Christ being manifested in the world is our  struggling, underfunded congregations with their fragile idealism and sometimes inept leaders; it is the compilation of all our cells which have meetings their members struggle to attend; it is this  pathetic blog and many other wonderful things people have little time to read.

I think all that is wonderful. The epiphany of God is a wonder, again and again.

Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John by David Zelenka (2005)


We have another way home

The apostle Paul tried to teach the power-hungry Corinthians what he had learned about the wonder of God being a human and being manifest in Jesus-followers:

“[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Pretending we are not weak or pretentiously defending ourselves as if we can save ourselves or others from being weak is a human problem, and it is certainly an American one. Many American Christians have even fashioned a Christianity devoted to power in the image of the Declaration of Independence!

But, as Paul Tournier says in The Strong and the Weak,

“All people are, in fact, weak. All are weak because all are afraid. They are afraid of being trampled underfoot. They are all afraid of their inner weakness being discovered. They all have secret faults; they all have a bad conscience on account of certain acts which they would like to keep covered up. They are all afraid of other people and of God, of themselves, of life and of death.”

Into that weakness God came in Jesus. Not only was God born as a baby, Jesus entered into our sin and death, the main fears that keep us frantically reaching for the forbidden fruit and endlessly inventing ways to keep ourselves defended.

Epiphany celebrates the other way home Jesus has provided. It reminds us that the weak attempts at faith we criticize are actually wonders. I hope this holiday encourages you to look at your weakness (and ours) and see it as the canvas on which God is painting truth and love that is way beyond what our naked eye might see. I hope Epiphany allows you some space to admit that, contrary to most of what America teaches you, you are just like the rest of us: afraid and so weak, and so in need of the Savior who makes us strong like God is strong, not weak like assassins are strong in their armor-plated fig leaves.

Iraq Aftermath: Six things Christian peacemakers can practice right now.

Gulf War — began on August 2, 1990 and ended on February 28, 1991. “The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated the cost of the Gulf War at $61 billion. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States covered $36 billion.” (CNN)

Iraq War — began on March 20, 2003 and officially ended in December 2011 (troops were recently added to fight ISIS). ”The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades. “ (Reuters).


I start with a few facts (although true financial facts are hard to get from the U.S. government) because many people who attended our event: Iraq Aftermath, did not have too many facts at hand for themselves. We were blessed with four people who had been to Iraq personally, spanning the 25 years of U.S. warmaking: Gwen White before the first Gulf War, Joshua Grace at the beginning of the Iraq War, Shane Claiborne during the Iraq War and Scott Krueger once during the Iraq War and twice after. They were full of facts and memories that astounded many of us who listened.



Continue reading Iraq Aftermath: Six things Christian peacemakers can practice right now.

Christian Media Discovers Hipsters

A friend of mine sent out a test on “How Millenial” are you?” in March. People pegged in various age categories were supposed to score like this:

  • “4″ for Silent Generation
  • “11″ for Baby Boomer
  • “33″ for Gen X-er
  • “73″ for Millenial

I got a 52, which is near my age, even though so-called millenials are teens and twentysomethings. Tags are better when they are a game.

He sent out the “Are you a Hipster Christian?” test in July that has been going around on Facebook lately. I got a 92 out of 120. I authenticated myself. That is until I say “balderdash!” or my usual “poppycock!” (Although I did just write that ironically).

I think these kinds of sociological games are fun but they mostly fall over the edge into poppycock. Unfortunately, they are also the rugby of intellectual games – people get hurt. The Pew people have a ton of money to keep people in their marketing niches. Brett McCracken had a cool idea and marketed it to his niche: the children of evangelicals – I think he is making it through the recession OK. But he is also getting a lot of airplay to cast aspersions.

The problem is, insecure Christians keep using these pseudo-scientific research projects to define reality. Call me a hipster, but I rebel against their rationalistic, term-paper approach to truth. I was a “hipster” Christian before there were hipsters. Francis of Assisi has been a hipster Christian since about 1202. I think one could make a very good case for Jesus calling a bunch of hipsters to be apostles. Actually living in one’s culture and having a mission to one’s generation should not be made to look suspicious in the eyes of some supposedly objective truth.

In the recent Christianity Today issue, McCracken had the lead article, complete with a shout out to our own, bonafide evangelical rebel-hipster, Shane Claiborne.  (How did he miss you, Joshua Grace?) McCracken says, “In order to be a hipster, one must be a rebel. Despite the fact that (ironically) hipster culture usually operates within and is sustained by the very structures it opposes, hipsterdom’s raison d’être is countercultural, boundary-pushing rebellion. As such, hipster existence is frequently rife with vices. If hipsters cannot completely overthrow the structures that bind them, they can at least destabilize them by engaging in hedonistic behavior: smoking, drinking, cursing, sexual experimentation, and so on. It’s about freedom, partying, and transgression—not in the Jersey Shore, frat-party sense (unless ironically), but in the “bourbon cask ales taste good and I don’t care if I get drunk” sense. Hipsters ridicule bourgeois concerns such as “cigarettes cause cancer” and “drinking should be done in moderation,” opting instead to recklessly embrace such vices with “why not?” abandon. If you aren’t willing to engage in at least some of this “subversive hedonism,” you will have a hard time maintaining any hipster credibility.”

This is generally true, especially if you are Pew people parsing statistics or millenial writers looking to make a name for themselves visiting notorious churches for an evening. I suppose Circle of Hope qualifies as a hipster church, if anyone does. But I meet most of the qualifications, too: I love Thrift Stores, I have a tattoo, I’ve been known to drink (but I won’t touch a cigarette and you should stop that!), I bike, I disdain big-box Christianity, I misappropriate primitive culture at times, I like Sufjan. But I don’t have little glasses and I am not 25. Reading McCraken’s article made me feel like I might be stepping in poppycock.

It is hard to be part of a movement of God’s Spirit in your generation when the sociologists want to trace the history of your “fad” and level you out into just another interesting, predictable development of their theory. Honestly, I think Gamaliel thought Christianity was a fad, but he had the sense to wait and see: “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Act 5:38-9).

We’ve been waiting and seeing for about 15 years, here. So far, we have definitely seen some people pass through faith like it was just another bit of fashion for them. Once they got into it, they needed to rebel against it, especially when uncool acquaintances adopted it. There are true former-Christian hipsters out there. Even more likely, they lost faith when they stopped being hipsters – like they bought a house and had children. Faith-as-rebellion is actually a lot easier to maintain than faith as something-I-am-building-a-life-with. But this is hardly a new phenomenon in Christianity. Jesus was weeding out wannabes long before his resurrection made it plain he was not just rebelling against the status quo. “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” …From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:62-9) People who are rebels against the domination system are often just smart people who end up meeting the One who gives them the truth behind what they were rebelling about.

As you can see, I resent people who tag my property with their intellectual signatures. International foundations, national magazines who are just “reporting” are playing a rough game with real people of faith. We’re having our local struggle to be an authentic representation of Jesus in our here and now. I am a living example of how your tags don’t fit. I hope you are having your own life. I liked it better before you discovered how to investigate and make a buck off mine.

Well-centered hope: The alternative to a new oppressive holiness

Circle of Hope is among the co-conspirators behind Conspire magazine, brought alongside by our covenant-pal, Shane Claiborne. I like the passion. An article in the first issue by Nate Buchanan gives me an opportunity to talk about something I have been meaning to work on for quite a while.

While I like the direction Nate is taking when he is working on participating with God’s liberation of the oppressed, I am wondering about the theology of one of his statements. I am not rebutting his article, as much as he is allowing me to think out loud about something that has been troubling me. He says:

“Sadly, our communities often mirror ‘the powers that be’ in the dominant culture. While we profess to be counter-cultural, we are most often represented, spoken for, and led by white, heterosexual, educated males – despite the large numbers of intelligent and capable women, persons of color, and GLBT members of our communities. If we seek to follow a Messiah who, by Luke’s account, silenced a male priest and had a pregnant teenage girl proclaim the greatness of his coming, this is a crucial issue.”

Democracy does not equal righteousness

I think our communities (Nate’s and Circle of Hope’s) do often mirror “the powers that be” in the way Nate describes and that needs to keep changing. But I also think there is an even deeper change that needs to happen. We need to give up thinking that democratic rights = righteousness.

In the U.S. the dominant culture (and I am talking about the culture at its semi-God-fearing best) fully believes that when everyone is given their rights, when the marginalized are given their share of the power and wealth, when everyone is free to be their self-actualized self, then the kingdom will have arrived — or, at least, that must be what God is working on. Whether Bush is “liberating” Iraq or Obama is easing the situation of the oppressed, political “freedom” is the goal.

While I think having whatever passes for “democracy” or “human rights” in our day is better than being subject to some other philosophy — like the Taliban destroying schools, I still don’t think Jesus came merely to give teenage girls the aspiration to be president one day, as if getting one’s share of the power will save you. And I think people who believe in such aspirations so fervently should admit that they generally think it is a good thing to deprive the Taliban of their religious duty to oppress.

One Nation Under God
One Nation Under God by Jon McNaughton

Does Jesus rule or the founding fathers?

I doubt that anyone is interested in being that consistent. But I do think people unwittingly assume Jesus would have written the Declaration of Independence, if he’d had a chance. Among the Circle of Hope we have a cadre of people who spend an inordinate amount of time judging themselves and others for how well they or we meet the criteria the insubordinate-to-Jesus-world places on society for what is right these days.

The genuinely oppressed and the so-called white males, alike, (the latter who are still generally clueless about their privilege, in my opinion) end up seeing themselves through the eyes of some bureaucratized sociological definition, not the eyes of Jesus. Even in the church, somehow, Jesus does not have a right to rule the community, but the last guilt-ridden professor who assessed someone’s status, does — “If my household or church is not balanced properly, I am living in sin!” It is a strange new holiness. I don’t think it was great when the Christians were a bit like the Taliban and they thought it was holy for men to avoid women, to segregate people of color and to invisibilize GLBT folks, but I’m not sure it is that much better to live out a reaction to that and be damned if you don’t. Better to err on the side of the latter, I think, but can we skip the damning?

Our former lenses need to pass away

If we are really going to live in the kingdom, the definitions we had for ourselves when we lived in league with the passing-away world need to pass away, so we can be named and empowered by Jesus, not by our cultural status or by our rejection of cultural status. I keep thinking of these verses from Colossians as I mull over what I am being taught by the new holiness teachers:

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Col. 2:6-8)

Obviously, that is just what Nate is talking about, since the church has been the lapdog of the system for centuries and it should be appropriately countercultural! My problem is that I keep getting taught a new “hollow and deceptive philosophy” to replace the previous one. I need to test out what I am hearing to see whether I am depending on Christ and not becoming dependent on the most attractive “basic principle of this world” I can find.

I fully respect people who are on the front lines of liberation, undermining the powers that be. I see myself as among their number. I was working on it last night when we were talking together about how to make a covenant of love with one another as the body of Christ, a circle of hope. In our group of thirty or so there were people of color, women and men, younger and older, professional and not so much, wealthier and poorer. I did not have all the sociological elements I prize in full bloom, although I thought we were getting closer. But I did have my hope well-centered, I think. The new humanity I long for won’t arrive merely as a result of my tireless attempts to bring it in — even through my power to give up my power! Jesus needs to reign.