Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Irresistible Revolution

About a week after I moved to Nashville a woman at my church brought me a book she thought I'd like (based on our one hour conversation earlier in the week). I'm just now nearing the end of the book, and she's sort of right. I like it, but I also don't. The book, which is The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, makes me very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in the same vein as a liberal arts education or sermon can make you uneasy with the way you're living your life. And the blurb on the back of the book promises no less, stating "This book will comfort the disturbed, disturb the comfortable, and invite believers to change the world with Christ's radical love."

I realize a lot of you may not believe in Christ or have much thought about Him at all--but long before I did, I believed that I had an obligation to other humans as I'm sure many of you feel. And this book challenges me to think through that obligation (albeit in the context of my faith), forcing me to think about whether adopting a child at Christmas, serving as a Big Sister in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and a few little things like that is simply missing the mark (even if those acts did allow me to "check off" community service on my list of things I want to do/should do).

After reading this book, I'm inclined to think that I've been missing at least half the point if not the point completely. Of course, after I watch Silence of the Lambs, I want to join the FBI. Anyway, I've thought of giving and serving in the context of what "they" need from me, realizing that there is great joy in giving and that I'd learn a little along the way (like awareness and understanding). And perhaps I'm doing just enough to satisfy my feeling that I have some obligation to others.

Claiborne writes:

"Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, can also function as outlets that allow us to appease our consciences and still remain a safe distance from the poor."

Later he writes that "Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No new radical community is formed."

And I think community is what I've been missing out on in my desire to fit my obligation to others into an appointment after work one evening per week--confining them to a neat little compartment of my life so as to not disturb the rest of it. Claiborne lives in community with a diverse group of people in Philadelphia who "wrestle to free ourselves from macrocharity and distant acts of charity that serve to legitimize apathetic lifestyles of good intentions but rob us of the gift of community." And it reminds me a little of my great-aunt. While she never lived in the ghetto, she often got collect calls from prisoners who she'd met in her prison ministry work. I remember thinking that those calls must be incredibly annoying and wondering why she gave them her number--and accepted their calls. But perhaps she was experiencing community, recognizing that the prisoners had something to offer her as well and that God could use them to transform her. She realized that community cannot be created in two isolated hours a week.

So where does all of this thinking leave me? I'm not sure. Part of me just wants to shove the book and the way it makes me feel to a far away place lest it make my life any more uncomfortable. But another part of me can't seem to stop thinking about how Christ lived His life and how very different our world would be if we lived in community with one another (and not just the people just like us who are pretty easy to love) rather than escaping to our homes with our cell phones, televisions, and computers and our neat little lives. And then I think, "nah, I'll just take a McDreamy and white picket fence please." And then I remember that every single time I've trusted the Lord and sought His plan, things have turned out so much better than my (uncreative) mind ever imagined. Alright, off to bed...if this post makes little sense, I apologize:)

p.s. I'm thankful for being challenged and the luxury of considering questions like these.


Ys said...

Although that book sounds as though it does raise some good points, I think that sometimes that way of living just isn't possible. In an ideal world, yes, we'd all be a big community of people helping one another. But this isn't an ideal world. And ultimately you have to help those who want help and not patronise those who don't by pushing your own need to help and create an "ideal world".

I think what you're doing is amazing and I don't think you should let the book discourage you. You're helping people and I'm sure those people are very grateful, whether you're a part of their every day life or just pop in once a week.

AaroN said...

It's about sharing the love of God with the world, right? How little we really accomplish of that and how much we think of that. Volunteering at the homeless shelter in Atlanta was one of the most profound things I did this year. It was amazing to see people living in that situation, many of them by their own choice.

Ally said...

Ys: I actually do think it's possible to live in community; I just don't think we want to do it. Community can look different for different people; the author doesn't suggest a one-size-fits-all approach, and really he's just sharing his story, not preaching at the reader. I really did an awful job describing this book; I was just sort of reacting to the parts that resonated the most with me. And yes, some of the people I work with are very grateful, and I'm grateful for them too.

Aaron: Yes. And Claiborne notes that we often ignore the scripture (there is a lot of it) that talks about serving the poor. I'm not sure I've ever heard a sermon specifically about it, which seems sort of crazy when you think about how many times the poor are mentioned in the Bible. There's a LOT more to this book, and I'd love for you to read it. While it may not all ring true with you, it challenges us to examine our faith and what living it out means--in a way that the church has NEVER even hinted at challenging me.

ella said...

I believe that ones faith should always challenge you, even if if becomes uncomfortable. I think that's the only way your faith will grow. Everyday I feel that God challenges me, to make changes in my life, etc....I've been up for the challenge, but taking little baby steps.

Ally said...

Ella: Excellent, excellent point.

allbilly said...

I think God wants you to be a criminal defense attorney.


icadle said...

I would have to say that you clearly ventured forth via your trip to Nashville and leaving your job for what is more-or-less volunteer work. In light of your recent readings, this is statement reaks of complacancy, but sometimes the best thing to do with a thought like that is put it on a shelf and let it come out naturally, when you are ready to deal with it... Because it seems I am always struck with inspiration when it is least expected.

Ally said...

Billy Jo Jesus: Thanks for the suggestion; I imagine God will let me know directly though.

Ivy: Good idea--so long as I continue to let the ideas ruminate and don't forget that they're on the shelf. But I think that's what I'll do for now. p.s. I'm thinking about you today:)

Princess Extraordinaire said...

I find that in serving my higher purpose I am serving my higher power (God) - I try to maintain a relationship with my community and do what I need to do to enrich myself from within and what better way for you to do that then to spread your heart via one of the organizations you listed. I know that reading a book or watching a movie can start pivital changes and perhaps in this way this book has ben a really good thing for you.

Clearlykels said...

Ok- I'm apologizing ahead of time for this pop culture reference. However, it is like the time on Friends where Joey(?) was giving Phoebe a hard time because when she did things for other people she felt good about herself, so how could that be 100% altruistic when she was getting something from it? So, Phoebe goes out and she lets a bee sting her. Her rationale was that being stung hurt her and she did not enjoy it-- so it must be just a good thing, until she learned that the bee died.

Sometimes we can't win-- but we should just keep doing what we are doing and being good people and following God's will and it will work out.

Ally said...

PE: Yes, I think this book has definitely been good for me--I like to be challenged and evaluate a different perspective.

Kels: I can see where my post would make you think of that scene, but it's really not what the book was getting at--but perhaps more of how I felt after reading it. The book is really more about being in community and in relationship with others.