“This is a fun time to be alive!”


That’s how Shane Claiborne began as he addressed an overflow crowd of 1,100 people January 4 at the Lancaster Church of the Brethren.  


Claiborne, a Philadelphia neighborhood activist with a national reputation as a speaker and author, referred repeatedly to the core problems:  poverty, militarism, violence, bigotry. 


But through it all, he brought a message of good news:  “In Jesus, God has moved into the neighborhood and joined our struggle.  And God wants us to be part of the miracle.”  Those who respond to that invitation often will find themselves on a collision course with the way things are, said Claiborne.  Judging from his many entertaining stories, it’s a fun ride. 


“Fascination,” “prophetic imagination” and “community” popped up frequently in his remarks.


“The Gospel spreads not through force but through fascination,” Claiborne emphasized.  “We are called to be people who are fascinating to the world.” 


“Prophetic imagination” is what enables those with few resources to resist and overcome oppression.  It’s that creative, almost playful grace that enables common people to confront the powers, “not shaking our fists at Caesar, but winking at him.”  1040 for Peace, the witness against militarism that withholds $10.40 from the annual payment of income tax, is one example Claiborne cited.   


“Community” is what sustains us, according to Claiborne.  “Surround yourself with people who remind you of the kind of person you want to be,” he said.  “In the struggle we’re in, there are no lone-rangers.  We need each other. We need community.” 


Claiborne is part of The Simple Way, a group that lives and works in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.  A flag football league for youth, housing reclamation, and conflict resolution are a few of their activities there.   Claiborne also talked about the importance of his community’s internal practices:  morning prayers, common meals, and Sabbath observance.


During the Q & A portion of the evening, several asked about the congruence of military service with the Jesus way.  “Does Jesus expect all of us to be pacifists?” asked one questioner.  “‘Just war’ is just war,” Claiborne replied.  “When Jesus disarmed Peter, he disarmed us all.” While not insisting on pacifism, Claiborne didn’t fudge the question.  “Violence is evil.  It’s never noble and worthy of praise.  Let’s acknowledge that and then have our debates about whether or not it is necessary.”


Though voicing strong opinions, Claiborne never seemed to be preaching, only telling stories.  “We need to be careful not to prescribe our journey to others,” he said.  He asked us to consider Matthew and Zacchaeus:  both tax collectors, both part of the corrupt tax system, both fascinated by Jesus. One left everything and became one of Jesus’ disciples, the other sold half of what he owned, repaid four times over those he had cheated, and continued on as a very different kind of tax collector.


“How will we know we are staying close to the Jesus way?” asked a member of the audience.  “God is close to the poor and the suffering,” said Claiborne.  “We’ll be there too.”


Claiborne’s appearance was sponsored by the Taxes for Peace Interest Group of the Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness, by 1040 for Peace, and by the Lancaster Coalition for Peace and Justice.


Berry Friesen, January 5, 2011