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North Philly activist challenges Grand Rapids to be extreme

Festival of Faith and Writing speaker Shane Claiborne encourages audience to get out and do something.
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The Simple Way

The Simple Way is an intentional community house in the North East side of Philadelphia. Visit their website to learn more.

Shane Claiborne has become a radical leader for young Christians in America

Shane Claiborne has become a radical leader for young Christians in America /The Simple Way

“You didn’t invent Christianity in North America, you just domesticated it,” Shane Claiborne quoted an Iraqi pastor during his lecture at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing last weekend. Claiborne was a speaker and provided a public interview for the Festival's events.

Claiborne calls himself a “pop theologian at best,” as he is not an ordained pastor, yet has become a revolutionary leader for young Christians in America. He is the author of several books including "The Irresistible Revolution" and most recently "Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals." He is the co-founder of a community in Philadelphia called "The Simple Way" that works to live and love creatively and (sometimes) radically in an effort to love the people in their community.

As a social activist first and author second, Claiborne's message emphasizes love, creativity and action. It is easy to blame God and the Church when evil erupts in the world. Instead of complaining about it, Claiborne calls Christians to take responsibility and action, “We’re going to stop complaining about the church we’ve experienced and start working on the church we want…[God] did do something. He made you. Get out [and do something]!”

Claiborne resonates with a generation of Christians that are frustrated with a religion that calls followers to “love your neighbor as yourself,” at all costs but instead consists of youth group games and pizza parties. “What do games have to do with God?" asks Claiborne. "If young people leave the church it isn’t because we’ve made it too hard, it’s because we’ve made it too easy.”

Grand Rapids is sometimes referred to as the Bible Belt of the Midwest. Christian schools, churches and organizations are abundant in this city. Being a Christian in Grand Rapids is average and expected. It is so easy to be a Christian here. Initially, this may seem like a blessing, but does easiness cause a watered down and domesticated version of Christianity? In an effort to echo Christ, Claiborne calls Christians to be “extremists for love and grace.” As the Bible Belt of the Midwest, can Grand Rapids also claim to be a city of extreme love?  

Either Claiborne was preaching to the choir by speaking at a Christian Reformed college in a predominately Christian city, or he was speaking to exactly the right demographic. If Christians are indeed domesticated in Grand Rapids, then Claiborne came to cut the leash and set a fire under this Christian city.

“Find your own Calcutta,” said Claiborne in reference to Mother Teresa’s famous mission in India. For Christians in Grand Rapids, that mission may be right here.


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