Review of “IRRESISTIBLE REVOLUTION: Living as an Ordinary Radical” by Shane Claiborne, Westheights Library Call No. 261.1. Challenging book on literally living among the poor and homeless. Are they people, or are they statistics?
Amazon.ca—If there is such a thing as a disarming radical, 30-year-old Claiborne is it. A former Tennessee Methodist and born-again, high school prom king, Claiborne is now a founding member of one of a growing number of radical faith communities. His is called the Simple Way, located in a destitute neighborhood of Philadelphia. It is a house of young believers, some single, some married, who live among the poor and homeless. They call themselves “ordinary radicals” because they attempt to live like Christ and the earliest converts to Christianity, ignoring social status and unencumbered by material comforts. Claiborne somehow skewers the insulation of suburban living and the hypocrisy of wealthy churches without any self-righteous finger pointing. “The world,” he says, “cannot afford the American dream.” Claiborne’s conviction, personal experience and description of others like him are a clarion call to rethink the meaning of church, conversion and Christianity; no reader will go away unshaken.
From dressing the wounds of lepers in Calcutta to living among the homeless in Philadelphia to visiting families in Iraq, social activist Claiborne strives to live an authentic Christian life. In his view, he is a radical in the truest sense of the word, returning to the roots of Christianity by living as Jesus did and doing “small things with great love.” A partner-founder of the Philadelphia-based faith community Simple Way, he presents an evangelical Christianity gentler and more inclusive than is usually seen, especially in the mass media. He describes Simple Way as a new culture that relies on radical interdependence and consists of grassroots organizations, intentional communities, and hospitality houses. Although the book isn’t an autobiography, in it Claiborne reports much about his life: growing up in the Bible Belt, becoming a Jesus freak, moving to Philadelphia despite his family’s misgivings, and helping the homeless there. Then he boldly requested an internship with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. She simply responded, “Come.” Besides illuminating his own faith journey, Claiborne is insightful on the huge American cultural and economic divide: the problem isn’t that wealthy Christians don’t care about the poor, he says, it’s that they simply don’t know the poor. A moving, often humorous account of a life of faith lived to the fullest.