BY ELIZABETH TREXLER
As the young adult conference known as Divine Rhythm was held Jan. 25-27 in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the youth gathering, Resurrection, was held in nearby Gatlinburg. Still, the two conferences were likely worlds apart in their approach.
Shane Claiborne’s message at Divine Rhythm was not drilled into the audience’s head with repeated chants of the weekend’s catch-phrase. In fact, there was little or no mention of the weekend’s theme: “What Does the Lord Require,” based upon Micah 6:8. The message was presented by example, which could be said of Claiborne’s own Christian journey.
Claiborne’s message to the crowd of 791 was to “do small things with great love." He used real-life examples from his work on the streets of Philadelphia and in India as well as the experiences of others.
Those who were familiar with his book, “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical,” or had heard him as Resurrection speaker in 2002, recognized many of the stories.
Claiborne lives as “ordinary radical” with his monastic community called The Simple Way, located in Philadelphia. He worked side-by-side with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, journeyed on a peace mission to Iraq, and worshipped with Iraqi Christians while there. (Yes, there are Christians in Iraq, Claiborne said. As one Iraqi Christian told him, the region is “where it all began.”)
Claiborne emphasized that when seeking to serve others, it is better to do one thing right, than 50 things not right.
He told of a childless couple who befriended a pregnant homeless woman. They had an extra room and invited her to live in their home, where she remained after giving birth. One day, the couple told her that she helped a dream come true by bringing a child into their lives. They asked about her own dreams. She said she always wanted to be a nurse, so the couple put her through nursing school. Today, she is a registered nurse, and the childless woman is dying of multiple sclerosis. The once-homeless mother is now her live-in nurse, and the child who enhanced this relationship is now 10 years old.
"I’m convinced if we lose a generation, it won’t be because we didn’t entertain them. It will be because we didn’t trust them with the truth,” Claiborne said, referring to the truth that people are homeless, and dying.
Claiborne presented his listeners with an understanding that to be Christian is to love one another and not believe it’s enough to say, “I go to church every Sunday and tithe 15 percent of my yearly salary.”
Claiborne is the type of Christian who, when his mom gave him homemade chocolate truffles, tossed them out into the gathering of 18- to 35-year-olds. “The best thing to do with the best things is to give them away," he said — and he did
“This idea that we should love each other as ourselves kind of messes with us,” said Claiborne, a 32-year-old native of Maryville, Tenn.
Claiborne talked about the extremes of poverty and wealth in the world. After his time in Calcutta he worked at Willow Creek Community Church, a megachurch outside of Chicago. At Willow Creek he did a survey and found that 90 percent said that Jesus spent time with the poor, but less than two percent of those people actually spent time with poor people.
"We’ve created poverty because we don’t share with the poor,” Claiborne said, while acknowledging that the focus is on giving love rather than giving material resources.
Following the Saturday evening worship, Claiborne led a question-and-answer-session attended by about 75 people. Asked about how he deals with those who are angry at church for not doing enough for the poor, Claiborne said there is a place for “holy discontent." He encouraged those who were tempted to disengage from the church to “be the changes that you want in the church.”
"The church has been kept alive by discontent,” he said.
Elizabeth Trexler is a member at Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Maryville District, and a student at East Tennessee State University, majoring in mass communications.