Leaving a large footprint: Shane Claiborne brings message of love, responsibility back home
By Melanie Tucker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shane Claiborne will arrive back in his hometown of Maryville next weekend a newlywed, older and wiser than when he left, but still resolved not to step quietly when he can stomp loudly.
This soon-to-be 36-year-old, who graduated from Maryville High School in 1993 and whose mother and stepfather still reside here, now calls Philadelphia home.
He left Blount County after high school graduation to attend Eastern University where he earned his degree. At the age of 22, Claiborne founded his own ministry, called The Simple Way and vowed it wouldn’t be about accepting the status quo. He became a voice for people who had a hard time being heard — the poor, the hungry, the lonely and misplaced.
Who has the resolve, the insight, the guts to start his own ministry at the age of 22?
People who don’t know any better, Claiborne said.
The sky’s the limit
“That is part of the gift of youth,” he explained by telephone this week after a trip to Canada. “You are still innocent enough to believe you can do anything.”
So Claiborne bought a row house in Philadelphia and started spreading the message of love thy neighbor. His nonprofit bought another house and then another. Today there are 10 of these row houses that were originally built to house factory workers in this City of Brotherly Love. It’s become a village of people who believe in sharing all they have to raise someone else up.
Claiborne said it’s all about following the example of Christ and not our own path. Grace, not greed. Selflessness over self absorption. “Love thy neighbor as thyself is going to require us to discover another dream than Wall Street’s dream,” this passionate Christian activist said.
He does see signs of encouragement that this simpler existence is gaining momentum. The younger generation, thanks to the Internet and other tools, sees beyond its own front door.
“They understand that the world that has been handed to them by their parents is a fragile one,” Claiborne said. “There are a lot of things that are not healthy about the patterns we are living. This generation is globally aware that people shouldn’t die because they don’t have a mosquito net that would prevent malaria and it only costs $3. People are aware that people are dying because they don’t have clean water.”
Some Christians are also taking a hard look at the price of war and deciding there is a better way, Claiborne said. A growing movement believes the cross calls us to grace and nonviolence. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, Claiborne pointed out. “Love our enemies, not kill them,” he said.
Sometimes in a society where success and wealth are measured by the size of your wallet and not the size of your heart, people need to rediscover Jesus, this peace activist and evangelist said. The Christianity of the day has become less like Christ. He coins what’s happened Christianity Lite — a version that fits in our back pocket but really doesn’t advance God’s message of compassion for one another.
“So often I think we ask God to bless what we are doing,” he said. “God bless America and God bless the church rather than coming alongside the things God promises to bless in the Sermon on the Mount, the poor, the peacemaker, the merciful ...”
Claiborne will share his message of biblical responsibility during his visit at Monte Vista Baptist Church in Maryville on July 10. He says he is able to come back to this area about three times a year during a schedule that oftentimes has him visiting 30 states and a dozen countries in a year. His mom is retired William Blount High School teacher Pat Lafon and his stepdad is Steve Lafon, also a Blount County educator. Claiborne married Katie Jo Brotherton back in May. They have known each other for about eight years. She will accompany him on his visit here.
He is called a radical across the world for his call to action on behalf of a world in brokeness and pain. While some might question that description, it is one that Claiborne accepts.
“I often point out to people that radical means root, like a radish,” Claiborne said. “In the truest sense of the word, we are trying to get at the root of what it means to be a Christian. What is causing poverty and wars? We are trying to imagine a world that is more like God intended for us to be. In that sense, radical is a word we can embrace.”
But the fact that Claiborne’s mission is called radical speaks to the direction taken by the mainstream. This message of treating others better than ourselves only seems radical, Claiborne said, because we have strayed so far from God’s original intentions.
The right voices
He has his critics like everyone else who puts himself or herself out there for a cause. He takes to heart the words of people like Mother Teresa, who once said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
“The greatest achievement is for us to get out of bed in the morning and try it again,” he said, “it is never our goal to be controversial, but it is our goal to be faithful.”
To affect change in the world, we have to read the Bible in one hand while reading the newspaper in the other, meaning we can’t help those we know nothing about and we can’t be effective without God’s road map.
Claiborne looks forward to seeing old friends in Blount County. He has strong ties to Fairview United Methodist Church and several others here. He was a member of Young Life as a teenager and said people like David Talley and Tim Teague helped him in his spiritual growth. Teachers at Fort Craig also hold a special place in his heart.
A lot of what he experienced as a young person here is part of who Shane Claiborne is today.
Building on a foundation
“I learned Southern hospitality,” he said. “Over the last 20 years I have been working on extending that hospitality to a different neighborhood and other places. Part of the reason of why I have so much passion is because I grew up in a place where I felt so deeply loved. And I saw how unloved much of the world feels.”
As he continues his walk of faith and active mission to promote compassion over complacency, Claiborne takes famous quotes and important sayings with him. A friend once described how a lot of people just tiptoe through life and coast into death. That’s not the way Claiborne will do it.
“All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don’t tiptoe,” one of those sayings has instructed.
That’s how you do it, Claiborne said.