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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thoughts on Revolution


Recently I finished reading The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus. It was as I starterd the chapter entitled The Barbarian Revolt that I realized that 3 of the last 4 books I read had a common underlying theme of revolution. The other two books were The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claibourne and Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisises and a Revolution of Hope by Brian Mclaren. I appreciated each of the books and was challenged by each in one way or another.

Brian's book, Everything must Change, challenged me to rethink the message of the kingdom of God in terms of how does the person and message of Jesus offer an alternative in addressing the pervasive issues of our day. Brian takes a macro-view of the world system and envisions how the revolutionary message of Jesus provides a framing structure for a different kind of world. In many ways this book challenged me to think outside the traditional confines of religion and consider how the revolutionary message of Jesus can be aplicable today. It was pretty heady, but very readable.



I was first encouraged to read Shane's book, The Irresistible Revolution, as I was complaining on a message board how much of the evangelical church seems to be ineffective at engaging the dominant culture. I was grousing about how with one major issue the Republican Party seems to have bought and paid for the blind support of much of the evangelical church for policies that to me seem to be counter to the heart and message of Jesus. With the Party seeming only giving lip service to moral issues like abortion, it seems like they have paid very little for such political support. One of the respondents on the board wondered if I had read this book by a young mean who with several others have moved into an economically desolate part of Philadelphia to live out the message of Jesus. Last December I finally picked up the book.

Besides chronicling Shane and his friends work it presented many challenging discussions about how to put feet on the teachings of Jesus. Shane's experiences range from working on the Bush Quail campaign as a Young Republican to later infiltrating the Philadelphia Republican Convention and speaking out for the poor. He shares about his experiences at Willow Creek Church (one of the largest evangelical churches in America) to camping out at an abandoned Catholic Cathedral with hundreds of homeless women and children. I found just the range of his expericenes for such a young man to be almost unbelievable - working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, standing in solidarity with Iraqi Christians in Bagdad as bombs began to fall, reclaiming empty lots in the urban wasteland of Philadelphia planting gardens, and proclaiming Jubilee on Wall street and giving away thousands of dollars to the poor, just to name a few.

The way he sees Christian action motivated by the love of God and the teachings of Jesus is in actually following the sermon on the mount, not teaching about it. It is in seeing Christ in the poor and serving them that we actually learn from them what it means to follow Christ. One of my favorite chapters expressed the vision of the kingdom of God overcoming the world as "growing smaller and smaller until we take over the world. Humility and loving people is transformative in the culture as a whole, as well as in ndividuals lives. This is so different from the power paradigm of the world that spawned the religious right. This book spured my heart to join him in this irresistible revolution, by taking up the life of an ordinary radical.

In the "economy" of God Brian's book would be considered "macro-economics" looking at the big picture. Shane's book I would consider "micro-economics" geting down to fine details of the day to day ordinary revolutionary. I needed the third book, The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus,to clearly show me why I do not live the radical teachings of Jesus. Erwin helps define for me the the invisible barrier I approached as I considered how to put these thoughts and the ramblings of my heart together and produce action for the kingdom of God. Is my faith civilized, or do I have a barbarian faith that is willing to risk everything to follow the heart of my King?!

This barbarian faith that holds its alegiance to Jesus alone, has gotten me into trouble on occasion. One time not to long ago I was teaching and I made the statement "I am not a citizen of the United States, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I have one allegiance." During the week I had some civilizing done to my statement by my friends and mentors, so that at the next meeting appologized and soften my outrageous, barbarian statement. But the truth is Jesus taught us to have one alegiance, the kingdom of God. All others either pale in comparison or are outreight idolatry. Both Brian and Shane talk about this in their books. Brian actually does an excellent job at analysing the various responses to imperial power based on the responses of accomdation, revolt and withdrawl seen in Jewish society in the days of Christ. The way of Jesus is to live in this world as part of a kingdom not of this world.

All anyone has to do is look at me and you will know that I am not your typical revolutionary, but I follow a revolutionary, visionary, king and his seemingly barbarian way. It is a way that calls us into danger, seeking to loose our life rather than keep it. It calls us to a way of humility and love. It calls us to take up our cross - the death instrument of the empire for all revolutionaries - and follow the one who prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners. For me the challenge is to bring alive this barbarian, revolutioary faith in my daily life. God calls me to love and serve people not as a ministry, but as a life. Civilizing influences all around tell me to stop, think twice, don't risk it all to live for Jesus in his kingdom.

I loved all of these books. If I was going to recomend one that you should read today, it would be The Barbarian Way. After that it's a toss up. To me Everything Must Change was an easier read. Although his thoughts were heady his narative style was inviting. The Irresitible Revolution was a longer read but was full of many stories that encouraged me to re-think how to repsond to many of today's issues, especially in the realm of social justice.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Thanks for your blog post about The Irresistible Revolution! I just wanted to let you know there are 2 videos of Shane speaking about his newest book Jesus for President, plus audio clips, visuals, and a blog tour at this link:

http://zondervan.typepad.com/zondervan/2008/03/jesus-for-pre-1.html

Please feel free to join the blog tour.

Blessings,

Amy