“The hardest steps are the first ones. As we begin to move, we find community.” – Shane Claiborne
Last week, The SOLD Project was honored to host an event with activist, peacemaker, and writer Shane Claiborne. With his 2006 publication, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, Shane introduced some of the countercultural heroes of Christianity’s radical legacy to many young American Christians for the first time. He presented an inspirational vision of human life where justice, sustainability, community, and spiritually were prioritized over the pursuit of wealth, consumption, and materialism.
Yes, he spent time in India working at Home of the Pure Heart with Mother Teressa, but he continued to live out his vision in the US: making his home in a marginalized community in Philadelphia, practicing various forms of creative activism, and continually growing in his thinking, writing, and speaking.
Whether motivated to combat injustice and suffering in this world, tackle global climate change, or simply reorient their religious proclivities and experiences around something more meaningful than the culture wars of American civil religion, for many millennials Shane’s message is good news. In important ways, his voice has helped shape a new monastic movement alongside the countercultural movements of the early 2000s—OWS, ecological and human rights activists, and the early beginnings of America’s contemporary movement for civil rights.
While not a Christian organization, SOLD finds inspiration from much of the Judeo-Christian tradition, as we do from much of the Buddhist tradition and the other religious and spiritual heritages we moderns have inherited. We see Shane as standing firmly within the prophetic thread of the Judeo-Christian tapestry—a thread that includes such characters as Jonah, Nathan, Daniel, Jeremiah, Hosea, Jesus, John of Patmos, the desert fathers and mothers, Francis of Assisi, Dorthy Day and MLK Jr., Mother Theresa and Desmond Tutu, Daniel Berrigan and Cornel West, and many more. While always controversial and sometimes even a little crazy, prophets hold spotlights to their culture’s hypocrisy, violence, and inequity. Using rhetoric and reason, public discussion and dialogue, and sometimes even performance art (one OT prophet took a dump in a public square), prophets call us back to our humanity, while reminding us that it can be fully realized only when equitably shared.
In a small setting and surrounded by a group of SOLD’s supporters, SOLD’s President Rachel Goble curated a lively group discussion with Shane, ranging from Black Lives Matter and the contemporary movement for racial justice in America to Biblical theology around wealth to what it’s like to be married to an activist.
You can read some of our favorite Shane quotes from the discussion below. After these, you can read a brief review of Shane’s latest book.
“We always have people who want to tell the story, but they want to tell it a particular way.”
“If you’re not careful, your clout comes at the cost of someone else’s dignity. (The story you tell) could make you look like a hero, and your neighbors look like crap.”
“The great thing about being 19 or 20 years old is that nobody’s convinced you that things are impossible.”
“Gun conversions in the streets, where we melt guns into plows. There’s something that you can’t argue against when an AK-47 is being pounded into a shovel by a parent who’s lost her child to gun violence.”
“The Spirit’s on the side of this imagination.”
“I have come to see that this whole conversion thing is not about a moment, but about the movement of the Spirit within us that is constantly changing who we are.”
“The hardest steps are the first ones. As we begin to move, we find community. If you want to be courageous, you hang out with courageous people… We need to do something concrete. We need to take a step that gets us out of that.”
“Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.”
On Communal and Sustainable Living
“There’s a lot of things to do to live sustainably.”
“Instead of asking how do I increase my income, we can ask how do I decrease my expenses.”
“We can share.”
“We can create safety nets in community… We’ve only come to know abundance by living in community. We live a very abundant life. It’s been very liberating.”
“I had air conditioning before I got married. When I got married, I became Amish.”
On Politics and Race
“Our politics are shaped by what we see out the window.”
“In high school, the Confederate flag was on everything.”
“When I moved to Philly, I came to see through a different window. I saw racism. I had different eyes to see, as Jesus said.”
“Racism, systemic oppression, bigotry—I can recognize some of those demons because I’ve looked in the mirror.”
“We’ll continue to see through tunnel vision until we see through the different lenses that we each have.”
“We’ve got to listen to each other right now.”
“Part of our role as the church is not necessarily to give voice to the voiceless but to amplify the voices of those who are not being listened to.”
“The Church is not about the monoculture of value.”
“Jesus wants us to see the world in color.”
Executing Grace: Review
Just as the new monasticism has grown and changed, so has Shane. He still wears his DIY monk’s attire, but he’s cut his dreads. Similarly, in his latest book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, he still holds Biblical theology and the Christian tradition central while developing his argument with the power of true stories that he’s lived, heard, or read, but his central thesis challenges a contentious US public policy: the death penalty.
Shane argues that the death penalty removes the possibility of restoration for perpetrators, robs innocent people of their lives, further victimizes the families of victims, and is connected, both historically and in the present, to racism, lynching, and injustice in the justice system. It’s Biblically unwarranted and morally unjustified. It should be abandoned, and along with it criminal justice, in general, should too.
According to Shane, we can replace criminal justice by developing practices of restorative justice. While criminal justice sees crime as the violation of the law and the state, restorative justice sees crime as a violation of people and relationships. In criminal justice, violations create guilt. In restorative justice, violations create obligations. Criminal justice requires the state to determine guilt and impose punishment, the central focus being criminals getting what they deserve. Restorative justice, on the other hand, involves victims, offenders, and the community in an effort to make things right, its central focus being the needs of the victims and the responsibilities of the offenders to repair the damage they’ve done.
Shane reminds us that we can and must abolish the death penalty. I agree. While I agreed before reading the book, I now have more nuanced reasons as to why.
Along this line, my favorite chapter is the one in which he makes clear the connection between lynching and the death penalty:
Eight in ten lynchings that occurred in the United States from 1889 to 1918 occurred in the South. Now (since 1976) eight in ten executions are in the south… By 1915, court ordered executions outnumbered lynchings in the former slave states for the first time. But those executions looked a lot like the old lynchings. For example, two-thirds of those executed in the 1930s were black. As African Americans fell to 22 percent of the South’s population (by 1950), they still made up 75 percent of the executions. To this day, even though African Americans make up only 13 percent of the nation’s population, 42 percent of those on death row are black, and 34 percent of those executed since 1976 have been black. (170, 177)
Thanks to the work of brave activists, we as a nation are again exploring and attempting to deal with our racist past and its continuing legacy. During this moment in our history, all efforts to reveal how our justice system perpetuates injustice, especially in racially skewed ways, are central to the endeavor to root out the demonic legacies of our past so that we can find healing together.
Dan Olson is The SOLD Project’s in-house writer and researcher.