In his classic book, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, Shane Claiborne, reflecting on the vast difference between visions of community and social change, and the actual work and practices that these things entail, shares a quote that he came across in a community he once visited:
“Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.”
In the ten years since he wrote The Irresistible Revolution about life in the neighborhood with The Simple Way community he co-founded and his experiences with a diversity of Christians from Mother Teresa to the folks of Willow Creek Church, Shane has inspired countless “ordinary radicals” around the world who are simply following Jesus in their neighborhoods and cities by loving the marginalized, seeking justice for the oppressed, and peacemaking in the hotbeds of conflict.
The “irresistible revolution” that Shane has wanted, it seems, is happening and growing. And Shane’s books, articles and speaking have played no small part in fueling this revolution.
Shane’s story has certainly shaped my story, so I was thrilled when I recently had the opportunity to visit Shane in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia he has called “home” for twenty years, and have a conversation with him on the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast.
And I was so inspired — but not surprised — by what I discovered in Kensington:
Shane Claiborne still does the dishes.
I mean this quite literally. When he left a dinner in The Simple Way space that was hosted by a common friend of ours, Shane took his plate, utensils and cup to the kitchen to wash before he went home for the evening.
But, of course, I also mean more than this. Shane Claiborne still does the dishes — the ordinary, everyday, simple stuff on the city blocks and street corners and row house front porches of his neighborhood.
He says “Hello” to his neighbors (or maybe it was “Howdy”?), calls them by name, and asks them how they’re doing.
He kindly, but firmly tells the young man subtly (to outside eyes!) dealing drugs on the corner, “We’re keeping this corner clean.”
He helps organize a prayer vigil to mourn the victims of recent shootings in the neighborhood, and is actively involved in the development of the neighborhood park.
He walks an out-of-towner to the El train stop a few blocks away.
Shane still wants a revolution — and towards that end, he writes and speaks widely about war, poverty, gun violence and, currently, the death penalty — but he hasn’t stopped doing the dishes. In fact, as he told me in our RePLACING CHURCH Podcast conversation, it is precisely the doing the dishes, the daily life and community in the neighborhood, that informs and guides his work around issues like gun control and justice. His neighborhood is at once his anchor, his reality check, his muse.
The words of Mother Teresa grace a sign above Shane’s front door, “Today… small things with great love.” Shane and his community added another thought to that line, “Or don’t open the door.”
I’m grateful that Shane Claiborne still has the courage to do small things with great love in his neighborhood. Because those of us who are interested in joining God’s renewal of all things need Shane to keep opening the door and stepping outside, to inspire, challenge and remind us to be faithfully present and to love greatly in the places we live, work and play.
And, of course, to not forget to do the dishes!
Check out Episode 18 of the RePLACING CHURCH Podcast as Shane shares about influences like Mother Teresa and Rich Mullins; the inception and evolution of his neighborhood faith community, The Simple Way; and how Jesus and Shane’s neighbors have helped him stay connected to God and fueled his passion to eliminate gun violence and the violence of the death penalty.
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