on how to be a theology student in an unjust world

As I am entering this new season as a full-time student, I am burdened.

Internal dialogue (from frantic notes in class today):

[…] I cannot speak for the marginalized without being with them, spending my life on their behalf, and learning from them. I can’t remain confined in this classroom [of wealthy people] without being with people [in poverty], and learning what problems exist on the ground. My heart is not for the middle-class white people; my heart is to be among the least of these, just BE with them. Sure, the world and the classroom might need a voice for the marginalized among them, but I cannot offer that voice from where I currently stand. […] I want to learn in an environment that challenges me. This environment does not challenge my pre-suppositions in any way. I’m not running up against anything that is making me come alive. [..] I cannot ignore urgent needs [providing presence, meals, housing, community, accountability, mentoring]; I just can’t. Like, I just feel like I’ve already been presented with so many things [feed the hungry; clothe the naked; give water to the thirsty; deny yourself; take up your cross; go the extra mile] that I’m not yet obedient to. Why do I need to fill my head with knowledge when I already have things to do?

See, if you know me, you’ll know that a lot of my thinking was turned on its head a little while ago when I read The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (and thought he was the best thing since sliced bread). Shane advocates for a “true” Christian life which involves moving into the neighbourhood, suffering, etc. And he also says things like this:

Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close.


And so, while I was trying to quell these voices today, I google-searched “what is wrong with Shane Claiborne” … and actually came up with quite a lot. It hadn’t really occurred to me before that what he writes isn’t exactly… the Word of God according to which I believe I should live my life… that (according to one article) his thoughts could easily be characterized as “popularized Christian anarchism for young, disaffected, middle-class Americans.”

So yeah, using relying on Shane, and ignoring the need to put him through a Biblical lens (or even seek for the voice of Jesus in this area of my life) … kind of problematic.

And then, coming across these beautiful words by (my fave) Henri Nouwen (posted by someone as a comment on this blog post by Rachel Held Evans, titled ‘How to follow Jesus … without being Shane Claiborne’):

There are few things as radical as genuinely knowing your neighbours, loving those you encounter every day, living your life with the simplicity that not only frees up money, but also is free of the disease of over-activity so that you can actually have the time to do all of the above.  As Henri Nouwen wrote:

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.  My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets.  It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.  But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own and to let them know with words, handshakes and hugs that you do not simply like them- but truly love them.”

Because radical love is what it’s about, isn’t it? Just maybe.

One thought on “on how to be a theology student in an unjust world

  1. you’ve made me curious about Shane Claiborne….and also reflect on how his words stirred your spirit and captivated you. Perhaps his words resonated with you and had truth in them, which is threatening to a particular theology but not necessarily to Jesus! Which “biblical lens” should we hold before our eyes…How do we KNOW that what he writes isn’t exactly the Word of God and what someone else writes is? Seems to me that Claiborne and Rob Bell challenge theology but follow Jesus. By their fruit you shall know them.
    Thanks, Bethany, I love what you have shared. So meaningful in many ways.

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