Interview: Shane Claiborne

Published on October 28, 2011

Shane Claiborne is the best-selling author of The Irresistible Revolution and a well-known speaker on issues of social justice and living a radical Christian life. He is also one of the founders of The Simple Way, a faith community in inner-city Philadelphia with many similarities to Eden.

How would you describe The Simple Way?

Locally, we’re building community that is trying to embody God’s love in some of the broken neighbourhoods in our city. We have half a dozen houses which we welcome people into, we do gardens, we help kids with homework, we’re part of local life.

It all flows out of love for Jesus and our neighbours

But out of the neighbourhoods bubbles a real heart for justice – around big issues like housing and healthcare, the war in Iraq… It all flows out of love for Jesus and our neighbours.

Our Eden teams are strategically placed in some of the toughest neighbourhoods in the UK. Is that why you chose Philadelphia?

Actually it feels like the neighbourhood chose me. I was a student in the suburbs but got involved with a crisis of housing where people were living in an abandoned cathedral and being evicted. That was the catalyst – we felt compelled to get involved.

How do you approach living among the poor?

We talk about ‘exegeting our neighbourhood’: reading it in light of scripture and trying to figure out what are the beautiful things that are there and what things are broken.

We’re not doing it to win awards; we’re doing it because it feels like what we’re made for. It’s not always easy but it’s a beautiful way of living. In some ways the only reason it looks radical is because of the kind of Christianity we’re become used to.

Do you think western expressions of the church tend to overlook the poor?

Without a doubt the incarnation of Jesus is about entering into the suffering of the world. The God of the universe leaves all the comforts of heaven to move into a neighbourhood where they said ‘nothing good can come’.

every Christian’s story should be to enter into the suffering around us

Everything in our culture compels us to move away from suffering but every Christian’s story should be to enter into the suffering around us.

I see people in my community coming alive because they are reorienting around the needs of the suffering.

But don’t the well-off need God too?

I think that’s true – and God is rescuing some from the ghettoes of poverty and some from the ghettoes of wealth.

In much of our culture wealthy individualism breeds real suffering. Why is it that the richest people also have the highest rates of loneliness, suicide and depression? There’s something healing for all of us when we bear each other’s burdens – that’s what we’re made for.

We all want to see big change in our society – but how does it happen?

The most powerful change starts very small. It comes out of the integrity of people’s lives – whether it was the 12 disciples or small monastic movements, these are very small minorities that have a large ripple.

It shouldn’t be our concern to change the world, but to change ourselves first. Saving society starts with us.

Who are some of your role models?

Mother Teresa, definitely; John Perkins, who I’ve recently written a book with; Tony Campolo has been a teacher and a close friend. Many people that no one’s ever heard of – Sister Margaret, an 80 year-old nun who really inspired me; Miss Sunshine, my neighbour… my mom!

Find out more about Shane’s work at www.thesimpleway.org.