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Center for Action and Contemplation

Both: Praying and Doing

Friday, May 20, 2016

Action and Contemplation: Week 2

Both: Praying and Doing
Friday, May 20, 2016

I think one major reason why only a minority of people work for peace and justice is that most of us have tragically ingested the postmodern Apocalypse Now, Armageddon, “Late Great Planet Earth” view of history. This focus has taken away all cosmic hope from what was supposed to be our Omega Point and final goal, the Risen Christ. When the whole thing is hopeless, it is almost impossible to think that anything we do really matters anyway. It is very hard to make individuals happy and hopeful people. Such recent thinking might end up being the greatest heresy of our age. It has largely created cynical, aimless, and futile lifestyles, even among people who are otherwise good, nice, and sincere.

Today, I’d like you to hear from Shane Claiborne, a hopeful young man who has put action and contemplation together in ways that have borne lasting fruit. Shane is a founding partner of The Simple Way, a faith community in inner-city Philadelphia that has helped to birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. These “new monastic” communities seek to follow Jesus, to rediscover the spirit of the early Church, and to incarnate the “Kingdom of God.” When you’re with mature social activists like Shane, you can feel this grounded belief in the truth of the Gospel—it’s not his truth, but God’s truth; it’s not his kingdom that he is trying to promote, but God’s kingdom.

At a CAC conference on Emerging Christianity a few years ago, Shane read the story of Lazarus and the rich man (see Luke 16:19-31). Then he said:

I think this parable shows us we have a pattern in our culture that teaches us to insulate ourselves from suffering, to build up gates and walls and border fences that separate us from those who are suffering right outside of our comfort. But we come to find out that not only are we locking the suffering out, but we’re locking ourselves in—to a life that’s incredibly lonely. Those patterns rob us of life and community.

St. John Chrysostom pointed out that Lazarus is the only person named in the parables of Jesus. His name means “the one that God heard and rescued.” The rich man is not given a name. He cries out to Father Abraham, so it sounds like he was a religious man, but he had locked the poor out of his life. I think the invitation is to rewrite the end of the story. We have an invitation to tear down the walls, to bust through the fences, and to get to know the names and the faces of those who are suffering outside of our comfort.

That happened for me in Philadelphia in 1995. I was going to college in the suburbs. We heard the story of a group of homeless families who were waiting for housing. They moved into a cathedral that had been closed in a poor neighborhood. The Catholic archdiocese gave them an eviction notice that said, “If you’re not out within 48 hours, you could be arrested for trespassing on church property.”

When we read that in the newspaper, my friends and I began praying, “God, why don’t you do something?” We felt God saying, “I did do something. I made you! Now get out there!”

We began to see that we’ve got to pray for this situation but we’ve also got to do something. . . . We got involved in that struggle, and fifteen years later that struggle is still changing and transforming us. Many of those families got housing, and a group of us from the college ended up moving into the neighborhood. That made all the difference, because as we began to live there, it wasn’t like we were choosing activism, but activism was choosing us. [1]

Gateway to Silence:

[1] Shane Claiborne, When Action Meets Contemplation (CAC: 2010), MP3 download.

Image Credit: Soup Kitchen (detail) photograph by GeoffS.
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