If anyone pays any attention to my reading list, they must think I am a slow reader. It takes me a long time to get through the books I list here. I read fiction now and then and actually manage to return books to the library in a reasonable amount of time, but the "morning books" are a slow go. Too many of my mornings allow no time to make progress in anything beyond the Bible.
This morning I finished a book I have been working on for several months -- The Irresistible Revolution: Living As an Ordinary Radical by Shaine Claiborne. The author is a self-described radical. He does ministry in the inner city of Philadelphia. When the U.S. declared war on Iraq, he went to Iraq to minister to the people there. He has sneaked into an event where the President of the United States was speaking, passing himself off as a journalist and then removing his outer business attire to expose a t-shirt with words of protest. He has been arrested multiple times for civil disobedience.
This book was not a waste of my time. It is readable and thought-provoking. It gave me a nudge to nurture my natural pacifism. It challenged me to find ways to minister to people living in poverty. It encouraged me by presenting a snapshot of one person's take on what it looks like to take the teachings of Jesus Christ seriously.
This is a book that makes me feel like I've been listening to the author speak of his personal experience rather than reading about it. Every word is written in the voice of the author. I can imagine myself in a crowd of people listening to him speak. And in my imagined picture, I imagine myself interacting with him. Only, that part doesn't work. When I approach him, he doesn't see me. He looks past me for someone more interesting. Ordinary, law-abiding citizens bore him. He's looking for people living more obviously radical lifestyles than mine.
Now, I may be very wrong about Mr. Claiborne. He may actually enjoy exploring ministry possibilities with ordinary people trying to invest their lives in ways that bless those around them, particularly in the needy people in their world. But his book is written in a tone that leaves me feeling hopelessly dull and lacking in spiritual fervor. I'm not ready to give up my current community to seek out a more exotic setting in the inner city. If everyone who cares about needy people went to the inner city, who would care about those trapped in destructive lifestyles in less populated areas? I'm also not quite willing to accept his underlying message that says real Christians live in ways that stir up the government to oppose them. I suppose that if I looked hard enough I could find some form of local injustice that requires fighting the government to correct. But I don't have to look nearly so hard to find ways to minister to people in ways that please governing authorities by addressing community needs that aren't easily addressed by government -- e.g., literacy, adult education, and spiritual needs.
I think I may be too old for this book. I've long outgrown any desire I might have had in my younger years to stir up trouble for myself by bringing the negative attention of authority figures my direction. Actually, I get along quite well with authority figures. Maybe I'm just fortunate to live in a place where the government is more interested in building community than in oppressing needy people. Or maybe I'm blind and my blindness survived this attempt to open my eyes.
This book wasn't a waste of my time to read. It gave me a view of an alternative approach to Christian living. It's good for me to see how other people are living out the teachings of Jesus Christ. Reading it reminded me that ministry happens outside the four walls of the church. But it gave me no ideas for law-abiding ministry in my rural community. Mr. Claiborne wouldn't find nearly enough excitement and challenge in my world. While people were struggling with drunk-driving citations and literacy and economic issues, the most likely action I can imagine for him would be to move into a tepee set up outside the gates of the local Navy base in protest against the war, inconveniencing the civilian employees there by forcing the base to go on high danger alert. (This scenario doesn't take all that much imagination on my part. It has already been done in protest of some other military action.)
In summary, I'm not unhappy about the time I invested in reading the book, but it won't get a permanent spot on my bookshelves. If someone wants to read it, I'll mail it to the first person who asks.