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Archives for 123 – Life and Love on the Margins

Love. For the past six months we have been drinking deeply from the Epistles of 1-2 John in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains. The apostle wastes not an iota on trivia. The teaching that John stresses, in the starkest terms possible, is often barely acknowledged in Christian circles. The eternality of the Incarnation of Christ. The Cross. Love as the litmus test for all things Christian.

Love. People use the language of “love” for nearly everything in our world. Yet it is my observation that the genuine article, unfiltered, unvarnished, unconditioned love is unsettling even for Christians. It is “safe” to love ice cream, movies, cars, and Harleys. It is safe because it costs nothing whatsoever to “love” them. Yet we want to quantify, regulate, and restrict the flow of love precisely because we live in fear.

Love makes things unpredictable. Love makes things uncontrollable. Love makes things vulnerable. Love makes us not in charge. Love surrenders the power of domination. But in the real, genuine, unfiltered and unvarnished love … we are unconcerned with the unpredictability of love.

Listen to John. We know the text but it is the center of our “doctrine” as the apostle John’s?

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4.16b-21)

Many stunning things are in this potent paragraph.  But perhaps most radical is that the apostle John makes obedience to the Greatest Commandment, the exercise of the Second! How often do we find brothers and sisters under the pretense of love and loyalty for God avoiding, withdrawing from, their brothers and sisters. John, not me, says it is a “lie!”

See we turn love for God into the same thing as loving our Harley or ice cream. Such love costs nothing. But John will have none of it (and the rest of the Bible says ‘Amen’). Such love is bogus, fake news, a lie. We meet the image of God in our sister and our brother, our reaction to the icon, the photograph, the holograph of God is how we react to God.

The truth is we do not “abide with our brothers and sisters” because we do not love them. First John addresses this from the first verse to the last. The heretics in 1 John are not just anti-Christs, they are heretics because they disfellowshipped and left their sisters and brothers (1 Jn 2.18-20).

Love does not fear our sisters. Love does not fear our brothers. Love does not fear aliens. Love does not fear socialists. Love does not fear capitalists. Love does not fear Mexicans. Love does not fear African Americans, Donald Trump nor Barack Obama. Love does not fear poor people. Love does not fear someone with a different opinion than me.

We love because he loves us. If you and I are “in” him then the love that is in him will be in us. This is why John points to the Cross when he speaks of loving one another, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another … We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 Jn 3.14-16). Loving those with whom we differ is, perhaps, the most Godlike action a human being can ever do. Since we know love looks like a bloodstained cross given for our sister and our brother we ought to be able to tolerate each other.

Love. It is the deepest, it is the hardest, Christian doctrine to practice. Unfiltered, unvarnished, sacrificial Love, is the imitation of God. If we loved each other enough to die for one another, John says, we would have far less division. Indeed the apostle says that rejecting part of the family of God is tantamount to rejecting the Father (1 Jn 3.11-12; 4.11-12; 5.1-2). John calls us to stop pretending we love God when we so freely walk away from the gathering of icons of God (1 Jn 2.19). To love one another means we do what our Father does, we suffer for the sake of unity. To practice love we just might get bloodied.

Stop living in fear of each other. Live in love. But we continue to live in fear … Love casts out fear.

RatCritic1I found this statement at the end of the animated film Ratatouille profound. These are the words of the food critic Anton Ego in his review of the restaurant in the movie.

“In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

But, the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things... the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are
times when a critic truly risks something… and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.

Last night I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from an singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement– they have rocked me to my core.

In the past I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: “Anyone Can Cook”. But I realize only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.

It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the
genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest Chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.”

I think this quote nails a few things about playing the part of the critic. Critics are a dime a dozen online. Doers are fewer and further between. People will always find it easier to tear down than to build up…to deconstruct rather than reconstruct. It is harder to pick up a brick, put down the mortar and set it in place than to take a hammer or a bulldozer and knock a building down. Bricks left in a field do not organize themselves into a building and buildings left in a field will ultimately turn into a pile of bricks. Entropy is the normal direction of things…things tend to fall apart. Building takes vision, energy and risk. Criticism puts the risk on someone else. To deconstruct without being willing to do the heavy lifting of reconstructing is reckless laziness. It is always far easier to criticize people or even churches or ministries or Christianity as a whole than it is to do something meaningful that shapes a better tomorrow.

Let us all be working to make a difference. Let us use words that build up rather than tear down. Let us speak the truth in love. Let us be patient with each other and realize that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they are dishonest or your enemy. May God have mercy on us all!

marginIf you really want to understand the birth of Jesus you have to look back to the Old Testament. One reason I can say that with confidence is that all four Gospels start by pointing backward. Matthew starts with a genealogy going back to David and Abraham. The NIV uses the word “genealogy” to translate the Greek word “Genesis” which means “beginning.” Mark skips Jesus birth but does just the word beginning (arche, not genesis) to start wit the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Luke starts with the birth of John the Baptist and also, like Matthew, also gives us a genealogy going back to Adam. John starts with a phrase taken from Genesis 1, “In the beginning” (like Mark, the word arche). All four Gospels start with the idea of beginning and three of the four (the three that have anything to say about the Incarnation) have a beginning that is not the birth of Jesus. The all point backward to the Old Testament. Even Mark starts by pointing back to the Old Testament as he quotes Isaiah only 2 verses into his gospel and then has John the Baptist reference Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”

The birth of Jesus is not the start of the Gospel. The Gospel writers knew that if you want to know the full story of Jesus you have to look back to the Old Testament. So let’s do that for a minute. Let’s start with Matthew 1:1,

You know more Greek than you thought…“Biblos geneseos Isou Christou”

Literally – [This is the] book of [the] Genesis of Jesus Anointed.

Matthew tells us exactly who Jesus is. He is the Messiah (Hebrew word for Anointed. This is Christ in Greek). He then backs up that assertion with his evidence, the family tree of Jesus. This family tree gives us both the expected and the unexpected origins of Jesus. First the expected – his lineage through Abraham shows he is Jewish and a member of the covenant and recipient of the covenant promises and blessings of Abraham. Then comes his connection with David, making him in line for the divine promise of a ruler to come from the lineage of David. This means Jesus is eligible to be the Messiah. He doesn’t violate the family tree criteria.

But there is more…the unexpected people in the family tree:

  • Tamar (1:3) – She was a Canaanite who had a child through her father-in-law Judah. The levirate marriage laws required the brother of her deceased husband to bear children for his brother in his deceased brother’s name. Her deceased husband’s brother refused and so she was determined to have a child out of her husband’s blood line. So she tricked/seduced her father-in-law Judah into impregnating her. This child is in the lineage of Jesus.
  • Rahab (1:5) – Another Canaanite who didn’t play the part of a prostitute to be impregnated by her father-in-law. She was a prostitute. She was spared in Jericho and ended up in the family tree of Jesus.
  • Ruth (1:5) – A Moabite who married Boaz. It is possible that was also another questionable sexual exploit like Tamar and Rahab but that is in dispute. She was, like Tamar and Rahab, a foreigner to Israel.
  • Bathsheba (1:6) – She was married to Uriah the Hittite (a foreigner) and had an affair with David.
  • Mary (1:16) – poor, teenage pregnant mom who had baby Jesus out of wedlock in a backroom stable at an out of town house. Obviously, that wasn’t anything scandalous when the truth is told and understood as she was with child via the Holy Spirit and not by her own sinful behavior.

Then come the shepherds. We read that as a quaint detail. Shepherds were typically at the bottom of the social scale. They were typically pretty poor. It says a lot about a God who would first reveal the unfolding mystery of the Gospel that the angels and prophets longed to know to shepherds. Joel Green, in his fantastic commentary on Luke, points out that this is a direct connection with Mary’s song in Luke 1, particularly 1:52, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” We see the unexpected come out on top over the expected.

These are the unexpected ones. It is no wonder that Jesus had a heart for the tax collectors and “sinners” and that he allowed table fellowship with people of questionable character and sexual history. Jesus was without sin and yet he could relate to these people because these were his people…sheep without a shepherd. So we start with the family tree of Jesus because it helps make sense out of not even just the birth of Jesus but also the life and ministry of Jesus. We are reminded that even though we sin, Jesus still has a place for us.

In Luke 14:15-24 he tells a parable about a wedding banquet. The first people invited were those one would expect to attend a celebration of this magnitude but they refuse to come. One just bought a field. Another just bought some oxen he wants to test drive. Still another just got married. Many commentators have noticed that these three things were in the Torah regarding those excluded from having to go to war in this exact order (property, work and marriage – Deut 20:5-9). Many have also noticed that those who were invited in the remaining verses of the parable were the “unclean” ones of society (see below). Jesus is reversing the expectation in his new way of doing things…in his own “holy war” so to speak (see Swartley’s Israel’s Scripture Traditions in the Synoptic Gospels, 136-137). Jesus is fighting a different kind of fight and he invites us to a table of the unexpecteds. This was nothing new…the baby in the manger warned us this was coming!

Here is how the parable ends,

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

The margins are exactly where Jesus finds those willing to accept his invitation. It is entirely possible to think you are on the guest list but not even know that you received an invitation. The invitation might come from the mentally challenged person who “interrupts” your Bible class, the child who wants your attention so badly that they misbehave to get it or the person you hesitate to make eye contact with because you know they will ask you for money. These are the daily invitations we receive…invitations from the margins…invitations from the least of these to participate in something that we might not choose otherwise but are at the very heart and soul of what the Gospel is all about.

marginIt is easy to think the “margins” are over there somewhere but the truth of the matter is this…not only are the margins closer than you think, the margins are actually within you. What kind of margins am I talking about? When we use phrases like the “margins of society” we are usually talking about the down and out, those who have difficulty belonging, the disenfranchised and “marginalized” of the world. So when we say “margins” it is usually used in the sense of people “other” than us. It is used of people who we think are mostly not like ourselves.

This comes from a belief that the margins and the marginalized are “out there” somewhere. It doesn’t seem very close to home. The truth of the matter is the margins are not just without…the margins are also within. This is true in two ways, two sides of the same coin. In one sense, the margins are within the heart of every Christian as we are called to be aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are called to a new belonging that excludes belonging to the old order of things. That is the bright side of the margins being within us. However, that is only one side of the coin.

The dark side of the margins living within us is that each and every one of us has the propensity to sin. Each and every one of us has the ability to inflict pain on others. You and me and every other adult within 10,000 miles of you has the ability to indulge in things that are unhealthy which reminds us that the things we typically associate with people who are broken on the margins can also be present in our lives. Maybe we hide it better. Maybe we manage it better. Or maybe we just haven’t had the circumstance where it cost us everything but the roots or even the full grown tree of those same things is present within us as a reminder that the margins aren’t just close…they are within.

The margins are within you. That should help us relate to those who we see who are in serious need of help because they are less “other” than we once thought they were as we begin to be more honest about what is inside our own hearts.

shaneclaiborneA big thank you to Shane Claiborne for taking a few moments to talk about everything from the new monastic movement to how we see and treat those who are different than ourselves. I am convinced these are words we need to hear more and more in a world that is pushing people to the margins. As the margins grow so does the need for communities of faith in those areas. Shane doesn’t just teach this. He embodies it.

Matt: What does that mean for you when you talk about the new monastic movement?

Shane: Monasticism begins with mono which is like when Kierkegaard said, “to will one thing” which is to seek God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It fuses together orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Right thinking and right living. Those are things we have often separated. When I think of some of the great renewals in the church I think of folks like St. Francis and Clare of Assisi who, through their lifestyle, were challenging the patterns of materialism and militarism and it affected the Christianity of their age. Those movements of renewing the church have happened throughout history. I think of the Catholic worker movement and Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and others.

The monastic folks have the spirit of being in the world but not of the world, sort of peculiar people who have gone to the desert to live on the margins of the empire. Sister Margaret, who is a mentor of mine, says the inner city is our contemporary desert. This is where we go to find God on the margins of the empire. This is where we go to build a new society in the shell of the old one. So we have been mentored from the very beginning by Catholic folks who are invigorating the best of the monastic spirit.

A few years ago we put together the twelve marks, twelve distinctive characteristics of the new monastic movement. These are things like: racial justice, environmental care, nonviolence.

Matt: There isn’t a cookie cutter that fits all of the early desert fathers but it seems to me one of the common themes you hear from them is that their withdrawal from urban centers that was in part due to a recognition of their own fleshliness and temptations. I hear them saying that they live in the wilderness because they knew that if they lived in the city they would probably not be living the kind of life God intended for them to live. What is it for you that draws you into urban life instead of away from it?

Shane: First, in response to your thoughts on leaving society. There is one big misunderstanding of the monastics leaving society. I don’t think that is it at all. I think they were going to the desert to build a new society and in a sense to build a new world, a new culture together where it was easier to be good and holy. Sister Margaret and others said the desert was filled with the most beautiful saints and the worst of sinners. So there were a lot of people there who were outlaws and outcasts. So it wasn’t like some Utopian world. It was a hard place but it was also where they found God. In some of the places our communities are like in Canton, New Jersey or in Kensington North Philadelphia where we have abandoned houses there is this struggle in a very real way of the light and darkness or the good and bad. The principalities and powers are here. You read the monastics and they talk about wrestling with demons. You see that in a way that I didn’t growing up in the hills of Tennessee or in the suburbs and cul de sacs.

We see God all the time here. People only hear bad things about our neighborhood. Kensington is known as the badlands. I always say you have to be careful when you call a place the badlands because that is exactly what they said about Nazareth. Nothing good can come from there. I think we see God in the margins. Jesus was born as a refuge in a manger and spent much of his life on the margins. He was crucified in the center of Jerusalem. We see that in Jesus and the early Christian movement.

The city chose me. I moved to Philadelphia to go to school at Eastern partly because I wanted to study the Bible and I also went to study sociology. I like how Karl Barth said we have to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other so that our faith doesn’t just become a ticket into heaven and a license to ignore the world around us.

Philadelphia caught my attention in 1995 when a group of homeless families were living in an abandoned cathedral. Even from the beginning they connected theology with what they were doing. They put a banner on the front of the cathedral that said, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday.” Those families really opened my eyes to the city and that neighborhood has been my home ever since. We have been here twenty years building a little village that’s inspired by the monastic renewal and by the spirit of the early church where they shared everything in common. No one claimed their positions as their own.

Matt: You mentioned that being in east Tennessee or in places of more affluence, that you didn’t see these things there even though they were present. What is it that makes it so hard for us to see those things in the context of affluence?

Shane: We can ignore suffering no matter where we live. There are people who live a few miles from here who never see much poverty or the injustices that live on our doorstep. There is extreme poverty in Appalachia, where I was, and increasingly poverty is not just an urban thing. There are a lot of suburbs where there is great poverty.

When you look at Matthew 25 where Jesus is talking about the least of these, people asked when did we see you hungry or in prison. What I take away from that is that we can live and die and not choose to see people who are in prison or a stranger in need of a house or refugees…the choice to see is a choice. There are scriptures that point to that like in 1 John when he says how can I pass by my neighbor who is in need and not have compassion and say the love of God is in me. I like how someone once said being a Christian is not about having new ideas but having new eyes. This is the ability to have our hearts broken with the things that break the heart of God. That is part of what it means to be a Christian.

Matt: In Richard Beck’s book The Slavery of Death he talks about how we have professionalized and clinicalized suffering with the example of how we used to tend to our sick and home and when they died we buried them in the backyard. It was all very personal. Now people take them to hospitals away from where you can see the hurt and pain. We insulate ourselves from suffering. What advice would you give to churches that are in places where the suffering is present but maybe not something we see or choose to see? How can Christians and churches engage more in those areas?

Shane: We have a relational problem with those who are suffering or who are different from us. All of us are most comfortable around people who are like us culturally and economically. Jesus is challenging that when addressing “who is your neighbor” and he has a lot of hard things to say about family, “unless you hate your own family you are not going to be a disciple.” He is challenging the limits of our compassion and our love as if someone’s kid suffers it should be as devastating to us as if it were our own kid. That is what the early church said. If you have two coats you have stolen one. We have no right to have more than we need when someone else has less than they need.

This is something we see racially in the church as well. As Dr. King said, one of the most segregated hours in the world is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. We end up reinforcing segregation. We reinforce the walls rather than tear them down. That doesn’t change until our relationships change, until our dinner tables and living rooms change. Mother Theresa said it is very fashionable to talk about the poor but it is not as fashionable to talk to the poor. The question is, Do we know poor people? Matthew 25 says, if I was a stranger you welcomed me in. I was in prison and you visited me. These are very personal, relational acts of compassion. For a lot of wealthy folks, it is not that they don’t care about poor folks it is that they don’t know poor folks.

It is similar with race too. Sometimes our tunnel vision is limited to what we see outside our window. Until racial injustice becomes personal then I don’t think it moves us in our gut. What the Black lives matter movement is doing is they are making it personal. They are making it hash tagged, exposing the racial injustice that continues to haunt our country in a way that you can’t ignore. There is power in injustice becoming personal.

Matt: There seems to be a tendency in ministry of thinking that if we have a ministry for that then we are that kind of people or we are that kind of church. A church solution is not ultimately a personal solution. I think it starts around a table. There was the Corinthian church who had the socioeconomic divisions around the Lord’s table in 1 Corinthians 11 where the rich are going first and getting full and the poor are going last and it is so bad that Paul says they aren’t even taking the Lord’s supper any more. One thing I gathered from what you are saying is that if we started out around our own dinner table, not just thinking the church needs to take care of it on Sunday morning during that “most segregated hour” that even if we addressed it in the assembly or as a ministry that we still don’t have to take it or make it personal.

Shane: That is part of our critique of some of the charity and service work is that we can still keep relationships at a distance by creating programs that offer services but we don’t really create a reconciled community. That is the most radical thing the church is called to do. It is not just that Jesus ran programs for the poor but Jesus actually ate dinner with people. There is a difference between feeding someone and eating dinner with them. If every Christian at home just made room for the stranger we would end homelessness overnight. If every Christian family brought in a child who needed a family we would put the foster care system out of business.

When it comes to the big issues like immigration, everyone has a role. The government has a role. The church has a role. Every Christian has a role. We can run programs and still not have that kind of community. So Mother Theresa said it is not how much we give that is important but how much love you put into doing it. So it is not just how many units of housing we create or how good our health care system is, it is that people have someone to eat dinner with and that people have someone to hold their hand when they die. That is what we are called to do and it is the love of Christ. It is relationships. When we have those relationships we cannot help but to develop a heart for justice to care about why people are hungry. When one in three Black men are in prison, those larger systemic injustices become a part of what it means to love our neighbor as ourself. We care about dismantling institutional racism. That begins in relationships when you see injustice happen.

That is the power of the Eucharist. At the communion table you have rich and poor together in the early church and they were being challenged. We don’t actually have rich and poor together instead we have a family. What does it mean? If you have resources, you hold them with open hands. The mark of the early church was that they began sharing and it said there were no needy persons among them. They ended poverty as they created this new loving community. The Eucharist is a symbol of that as you have bread, the staple food of the poor, and wine, a luxury of the rich, which are brought together at the table. They both have in them things that are crushed: grain and grapes to become a new substance. Some people were getting to worship while others hadn’t gotten there yet so they were well fed at the love feast while other people had jobs and couldn’t come early. There was a class thing that was happening during the love feast that Paul is getting at that they weren’t waiting on everyone to get to the table and that is a disgrace.

Ghandi said in a world with so many hungry people it just makes sense that God would come as food. God sent the living bread and the living water in a world where there is so much thirst and so much hunger. We can super-spiritualize those but for many it made a lot of sense that God is bread and God is water as those are things that are killing people who don’t have them.

Matt: We are in an identity crisis in many of our churches trying to figure out who we are and what we are really all about. Christianity has lost some of its position, power and influence in the Western world and we had put so many eggs in that basket that as that is removed we are confused as to who we are. Jesus said that nothing grows unless a seed falls to the ground and dies. Only then will something else grow that is more what it should be. It seems to me we have fantastic opportunity to re-envision things. How do you see Christianity re-pointing things into the future?

Shane: The future of the church is also about looking back and looking at where we see these wonderful renewals and what we can learn from the early church. I think it is a really exciting time where Phyllis Tickle said every few hundred years the church needs a rummage sale where we can get rid of some of the clutter. We can also cling to the treasures of our faith and get rid of the things that are cluttering that. It is a time we are seeing some trending away from the things that were cluttering our faith. There is an innocence or purity that we see in renewals and in the Mennonite church and a new an invigorated civil rights movement. We see it in things like Moral Monday’s in North Carolina and in people like Traci Blackmon in Ferguson. It is a really exciting time to be alive.

So I have this certain reluctance when it comes to this idea that we are spiritual but not religious and we want Jesus but not the church. Why can’t we have both? With the early Christians you couldn’t have God as your father unless you have the church as your mother. This isn’t accepting the church as a perfect thing. It is as my friend said that when people say the church is full of hypocrites, he says we always have room for more. The world is looking, not for Christians who are perfect, but for Christians who are honest and who are willing to be honest with some of our contradictions and hypocrisy. The church is a place where broken people can fall in love with a beautiful God.

_______________

If you want to get to know Shane better check out the bio below. I have been blessed by reading his books and one of his best, Irresistable Revolution is being updated and expanded. He also has a new book on the death penalty coming out next year called Executing Grace.

Shane Claiborne graduated from Eastern University and did graduate work at Princeton Seminary. In 2010, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Eastern. His adventures have taken him from the streets of Calcutta where he worked with Mother Teresa to the wealthy suburbs of Chicago where he served at the influential mega-church Willow Creek. As a peacemaker, his journeys have taken him to some of the most troubled regions of the world – from Rwanda to the West Bank – and he’s been on peace delegations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Together with his friend Tony Campolo, Shane heads up Red Letter Christians, a movement of Christians committed to living out the lifestyle prescribed in the Gospels. Shane is also the visionary leader of The Simple Way, an organization in inner city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. He is married to Katie Jo, a North Carolina girl who also fell in love with the city (and with Shane). They were wed in St. Edwards church, the formerly abandoned cathedral into which homeless families relocated in 1995, launching the beginning of the Simple Way community and a new phase of faith-based justice making.

Shane writes and travels extensively speaking about peacemaking, social justice, and Jesus. Shane’s books include Jesus for President, Red Letter Revolution, Common Prayer, Follow me to Freedom, Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers – and his classic The Irresistible Revolution. Shane’s newest book is Executing Grace (February 2016).

Shane has been featured in a number of films, including Another World Is Possible and The Ordinary Radicals. His books are translated into more than a dozen languages. Shane speaks over 100 times a year, nationally and internationally. His work has been published in Esquire Magazine, SPIN, Christianity Today, and The Wall Street Journal. He has appeared on Fox News, Al Jazeera, CNN, and NPR.  You can follow Shane on Twitter (@shaneclaiborne), Facebook (Shane Claiborne), and www.redletterchristians.org.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we tremble before this cup,
give us the strength to drink it,
this: our prayer for our enemies.

And we confess
that we are but dust,
we do not have the strength to carry this burden.
So fill us with your Holy Spirit.
May your Spirit intercede for us in this moment.

For nothing draws us to this prayer.
And we confess
that we kneel before you
more out of obedience than grace.
Obedience to the one who commanded us to love our enemies
and pray for those who persecute us.
We pray for our enemies
because the love of Christ compels us.

Father, we pray for our enemies. We pray for ISIS.
And in doing so we face in this moment
the terrible mystery of our faith.
The stumbling block.
The scandal of the cross.
Give us your Spirit, Father,
so that we will not falter in this, our great test, to carry the cross.
Give us the strength to carry the burden of this love.

We pray for our enemies. We pray for ISIS.

We pray for their repentance, their conversion and their salvation.

We pray, dear Father, that you carry these words, through your Spirit, to our enemies.
We pray that these words pierce their hearts and trouble their souls.
Father, may your Spirit move in the hearts of our enemies
to hear these words:

Dear brothers, hear the Word of the Lord.

No more. No more.

Dear brothers, repent. Repent and believe the Good News that the Kingdom of God is in your midst.

Dear brothers, the Kingdom of God is there in the faces of those you kill and rape.

Dear brothers, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom you seek, is there weeping, pleading in front of you.

Dear brothers, can you see it?

Can you see through the lies of the Evil One?

Dear brothers, my God, your God, the God of Abraham, is a God of peace and love.

So no more, dear brothers, no more. Do not do this terrible thing.

Repent, and believe the Good News.

We are all children of God.

We are all brothers and sisters.

Repent.

For God is a God of love.

Father in Heaven, carry these words,
by your Spirit
carry these words to our enemies.

Wound them with our love and yours.

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This originally appeared on 9/14/2015 on Richard’s blog.

If you would like to pray for the leaders of ISIS by name, here is a list. Add them to your prayer journal and see what God does with this.

Three prayer requests.

1. Pray for comfort and peace in Paris, but also in Beirut which was bombed the day before, families on the Russian airliner, and for Syria and Iraq where people suffer on a daily basis from the violence of ISIS.

I wonder why we painted our Facebook pages with French colors but not Lebanese or Russian. Perhaps I have some sense–we have a historic alliance with France….and because they are European…or perhaps the events in Paris are closer to home–they certainly are in terms of media coverage.

Whatever may be the case, we pray for France, but we also pray for everyone affected by ISIS’s violence. Perhaps this is a moment to deconstruct our Western centrism and embrace a desire for all human beings to live in peace. Consequently, we pray for all–including Syrians, Russians, and Iraqis–who have, in recent days, experienced the horror of ISIS violence.

Let us serve them as we are able.

2. Pray God will “break their teeth” (Psalm 58:6) and defang their power; pray God will put things right and reveal a sense of divine justice amidst this violence.

Imprecatory prayers are part of the Hebrew Bible, and they are also part of the New Testament, including Revelation 6:10. This is a legitimate way to express our anger, even our desire for revenge, and especially our desire for justice. We have these feelings, and the presence of these prayers are a divine invitation to express those feelings and desires to God.

At the same time, we leave them with God. We express them, give them to God, and plead with God to do something about it. We trust God will one day put everything to right, and God’s justice will reign upon the earth. Prayer places it in God’s hands, and we divest our hearts of any such feelings by pouring them into God’s heart. And God will do what is right, though perhaps not in our timing.

Let us give our anger to God.

3. Pray for a heart to love refugees, immigrants, and others who come to the West as they escape the violence of Syria and Iraq; pray God will give us a love for our neighbors rather than anger.

I pray my brothers and sisters will not visit the sins of ISIS on their Muslim, Middle Eastern, or immigrant neighbors here in the United States.

I pray we will not permit a few terrorists or ISIS fighters to subvert the merciful intent to receive refugees who seek safety and peace.

I pray we will seek every opportunity to share the love of Jesus with people who come to live among us as the world comes to us and we have a grand opportunity (which we have not had previously with many Muslims) to love them as Christ has loved us.

Let us treat our neighbors with goodness and mercy.

May God have mercy!

How do established ministries and churches practice love and life beyond its traditional margins? It’s a great question with a multitude of possibilities.

From my point of view there is no better way than to give as much time to the culture you find yourself planted in as you give to the people you live in community with. Twenty years ago someone convinced me of the importance and value of giving one day a week to those who live in the world outside my church office. So with books and papers in tote I would visit a local Starbucks every Tuesday. There I would spend time preparing my sermon, but more importantly it was a place where I established a handful of friendships with non-Christians. With time and trust I was able to listen to the myriad ways non-churched people viewed church and Christianity.

With time I became enamored with the idea of creating safe places for the culture I lived in. Every week I would approach the elders with new ideas. More often than not I felt I scared them with what I thought were good ideas on ways to love people and nudge the church, little by little, beyond its traditional understandings.

  1. Have a Credit Card Debit Revival every two months and pay off someone’s credit card.
  2. Spend every other Saturday on campus offering $25 a head to have a few college students come and share their perceptions, experiences, and understanding of church and Christians. The investment to learn from someone outside our four walls about perceptions and impressions of us — and, at the same time, afford us opportunities with them—is not a costly one.
  3. Connect with the host culture by taking ministries out of the church building and placing them in different buildings throughout the community. For this to become a reality a clear vision narrative is essential. And that vision must become the consensus of the leadership and have the passion and energy to be  mobile, determined and willing to move beyond the confines of a “one building” or “one campus” for the sake of the people God misses the most.

Yea, my ideas were considered weird and crazy two decades ago. But I’m still convinced that whatever we do as outreach must have sufficient momentum to resist the centripetal attraction of exclusive, self-obsessed Christian fellowship and must be sustained by more than just a commitment to mission—it will require a whole way of being Christian, a culture, a lifestyle that is comfortable functioning without the regular weekly church structure, that is able to draw on a diffuse set of spiritual resources, that is innovative and creative in generating community and in providing mutual support. At the very heart of it all must be an instinctive enthusiasm for developing a “cross-border” spirituality. For too long evangelical spirituality has been driven by Bible study. In my humble opinion faith communities need to shift in the direction of a less confident, exploratory mode of relating to God where we explore our way out of the narrow confines of traditional evangelicalism into a missional space where theological reflection becomes more meaningful.

There is no particular template for cross-border communities. They could be small or large, short-term or long-term, personal or impersonal, organized or disorganized. Cross-border communities will be dependent on the development of an outlook, a way of life, and a sense of personal empowerment for the apprentice of Jesus in this complex and crazy world that we live in.

Perhaps one key criterion would be the need to get ourselves to a point where in relating to the non-christian we can say that we are on common ground. To find a common point where our journeys converge so that we can build relationships on the basis of spiritual commonality.

Talk about love and life beyond the margins. Just think about the possibilities.

marginMy wife Missy is one of the most compassionate people I have ever met. She has taught me a lot over the last eleven years about how to view people with the love and value of Christ. One of the most valuable ways she has taught me that is when we have shared meals with people. We have eaten with people in so many different places and around so many different tables that it is hard to keep up with it all. However, there is one thing that I know and have learned from her example. We are not just going to serve food to you. We are going to do our best to eat with you.

That statement doesn’t make any sense if you think I am talking about our dining room table at home or a table at a restaurant with friends. You always eat with people in those situations. I am also talking about times of ministry when we are helping provide food to those who struggle to even have daily bread. We don’t just want them to have more food. We want to connect with them because we care about them. Often that means eating with them.

When you serve and minister to people, the attitude is get in the kitchen, get the food prepared and get it out to the people so they can eat. Once the food is served, you clean up and go home. Missy has taught me by her example that there is a better way. I first noticed this in the times I was busy in the kitchen making food at a soup kitchen or at the Ronald McDonald House or Saint Francis and I would see her with the people. It is the gift of presence and community along with the gift of food. The two mesh perfectly. It has always been that way even back to Jesus’ day. Sometimes that means we eat food along with them if there is enough and it is appropriate. Other times it means we sit with people while they eat and get to know them. On other occasions we get to talk with people and connect with them while we hand out food. The goal is not just to get food to people but to connect with real people in real ways so they know they are loved and that they are invited over the line from the margin to the center. The best way to do that is around a table.

Margin, by its very definition is a line. Margins exist because people draw lines. These lines communicate a lot about our values and who is in and who is out. We need to learn to cross them in both directions. Ministry to people on the margins should be line crossing ministries. Jesus had this way of taking the people that prided their centrality and pushing them toward the margins and taking those on the margins and including them in the center of community life and identity. Life and love on the margins is not just about one more ministry at your church. Life and love on the margins is Jesus’ way of ministry. It is impossible to programize it and put it on the church calendar because much of it will happen in private on a day to day basis. There is no way to measure how much of it is happening but it is the right way for Christians to live and and love and and be present with people on the margins.

Last, I believe one of the biggest challenges this posture of ministry faces is the paradigm of centralized ministry. Being outside the margin means you are not in the center. The contemporary church paradigm gravitates toward centralized ministry. This is a facility focus rather than a people focus. This is the idea that ministry happens at a location that we draw people to (part of the attractional model) rather than a part of who we are that goes with us when we walk out the door on Sunday. The paradigm of centralized ministry is reflected to a degree in the announcement that we served 400 people lunch on Sunday at the church building rather than 400 Christians inviting 400 people to eat at their own dinner table. It is possible to do the first and it not be personal but not so much with the second. This is personal. This is communal. This is about identity, value and belonging. Church has too often become a place where religious goods and services are doled out to typically affluent consumers rather than a place where people are transformed into ambassadors of reconciliation in the name of Jesus. Remember, Jesus didn’t have a home office, church building or place to hang a shingle and have people come to him. He was the very essence of decentralized ministry on the margins. We would do well to follow His example.

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A few of these thoughts were sparked by a conversation I had earlier in the week that will be posted in a few days. More on that later!