The author, Shane Claibourne, is a founding member of a Christian community called The Simple Way, in Philadelphia. It is an experimental community in the most impoverished area of town. They serve food, give clothes, send out newsletters, and get arrested; but they mostly love people and try to follow Jesus.
In this book, Shane shares his journey from America to India to Iraq and back again in an attempt to live as (what he calls) an ordinary radical. He defines an ordinary radical as someone who gets “down to the roots of what it means to be Christian disciples.”
The book is extremely accessible, and Shane’s obvious passion for God’s Kingdom coupled with the fact that he really walks the walk make for compelling reading. It is one thing to hear how one’s life can or ought to be lived, it’s something else again to read about someone making such an all-or-nothing commitment to his faith in Jesus that he would follow Him to India, to war-torn Baghdad and into the lives of the poor in downtown Philadelphia.
Reading of Shane’s identification with the poor and oppressed added to my understanding of Christ’s incarnation, and what it means to follow a Saviour who didn’t send help from afar, but became like one of us, lived among us, that he might identify with us and we might be in relationship with Him. It is easy for us to send money to this or that cause via internet banking from the comfort of our living rooms, it is quite another thing to move into the world of the poor and needy and identify with them. But this is exactly what Christ did for us, and as freely as we have received, so freely we give. In this way, the existing barriers between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots are broken through, and communities are transformed. This is the ground-up revolution that Shane invites us to.
There are a couple of things about the book I was a little less sure about. While Shane talks a lot about caring for the poor and needy (an important part of the gospel, and one the Church as a whole deserves critique on), I didn’t hear anything about personal conversion. Also, while big is not always better, and while we need to be careful that we are all about people rather than programs and buildings, I thought Shane’s sweeping critique of large churches was unfair.
However, I certainly don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I found this book both engaging and compelling, and I will be taking some time to reflect on how serious I am in my commitment to being a disciple of Jesus, and how much I even understand what “being a disciple” really means!