Forgive us

Rutba General Hospital

What If Jesus Meant All That Stuff?

By Shane Claiborne, November 18, 2009, 9:05 AM


To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing  friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often  the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much  to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so  often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name  of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends  from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there  are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did  some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was  a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box,  yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body  inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t  know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of  teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think  to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my  lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have  become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through  fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in  the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the  atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us  have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said,  essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their  Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in  the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2)  judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image  crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And  that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.

Now for the good news.

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street  preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the  Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love,  goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or  politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals  and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and  that just as important as being right is being nice.)

The Bible that I read says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world  but to save it… it was because “God so loved the world.” That is the God I  know, and I long for others to know. I did not choose to devote my life to Jesus  because I was scared to death of hell or because I wanted crowns in heaven…  but because he is good. For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey,  I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been  a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in  His name. At the core of our “Gospel” is the message that Jesus came “not [for]  the healthy… but the sick.” And if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply  because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the  church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it  as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian  Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of  that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God’s  Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God’s will be done “on  earth as it is in heaven.” On earth.

One of Jesus’ most scandalous stories is the story of the Good Samaritan. As  sentimental as we may have made it, the original story was about a man who gets  beat up and left on the side of the road. A priest passes by. A Levite, the  quintessential religious guy, also passes by on the other side (perhaps late for  a meeting at church). And then comes the Samaritan… you can almost imagine a  snicker in the Jewish crowd. Jews did not talk to Samaritans, or even walk  through Samaria. But the Samaritan stops and takes care of the guy in the ditch  and is lifted up as the hero of the story. I’m sure some of the listeners were  ticked. According to the religious elite, Samaritans did not keep the right  rules, and they did not have sound doctrine… but Jesus shows that true faith  has to work itself out in a way that is Good News to the most bruised and broken  person lying in the ditch.

It is so simple, but the pious forget this lesson constantly. God may indeed  be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a  Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks  like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David… at one  point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God  spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since.  So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too  highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use,  we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody  else: “The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of  you.” And we wonder what got him killed?

I have a friend in the UK who talks about “dirty theology” — that we have a  God who is always using dirt to bring life and healing and redemption, a God who  shows up in the most unlikely and scandalous ways. After all, the whole story  begins with God reaching down from heaven, picking up some dirt, and breathing  life into it. At one point, Jesus takes some mud, spits in it, and wipes it on a  blind man’s eyes to heal him. (The priests and producers of anointing oil were  not happy that day.)

In fact, the entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to  stay “out there” but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks  said, “Nothing good could come.” It is this Jesus who was accused of being a  glutton and drunkard and rabble-rouser for hanging out with all of society’s  rejects, and who died on the imperial cross of Rome reserved for bandits and  failed messiahs. This is why the triumph over the cross was a triumph over  everything ugly we do to ourselves and to others. It is the final promise that  love wins.

It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide.  That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the  sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and  the oppressors… a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty,  and some of us from the ghettos of wealth.

shane-claiborne-1209-lgIn closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently  asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I  hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who  believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole  world… well, we should at least pray that it is.


Your brother,

Shane or

Top photograph (modified) taken at the rebuilt Rutba General Hospital in January, 2010. Back row, left to right, nurse Tarik Ali Marzouq and physician’s assistant Jassim Muhammad Jamil, Rutba local, Muslim Peacemaker Teams founder Sami Rasouli, and the rest are Rutba locals. Front row, kneeling left to right, Rev. Weldon Nisly, Cliff Kindy, and Shane Claiborne:

Bottom photograph is from the Esquire article.

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