Aug 28, 2012

Shane Claiborne, symbol of a possibility

Shane Claiborne, it turns out, can stand for Germans symbolically as representing one end of a range of the possibilities of what Christianity can be.

Claiborne -- of The Simple Way -- was referenced in a recent German opinion piece about (re)discovering the Christian faith, mentioned as an example of Christianity that is "radikaler als Punk oder Revolution," "more radical than punk or revolution." The authors, Elke Naters and Sven Lager, are Germans living in South Africa, where they escaped their Berliner ennui and found their faith. They speak of that faith specifically in the context of South Africa, but the raise Claiborne as an example of this kind of thing they're talking about existing in the West.

He's cited, too, as a counter-example to the one their German friends raise when they think of active and committed Christianity: George W. Bush. Claiborne is a representative of another alternative American Christianity, and is used in the piece to represent a version of Christianity that bourgeois and broadly liberal Germans might find compelling.

They affirm this kind of Christianity, which they present, kind of, as a challenge to Germans: They believe the Bible, they believe Jesus resurrected "und in uns lebt," "and lives in us," and they believe in eternal life, heaven and hell. This, they add, has a practical effect, a social consequence, as "wir glauben an ein Leben vor dem Tod," "we believe in life before death."

Naters and Lager write that Claiborne is an example of this life:
"Seither sehen wir die Kraft des Glaubens nicht nur in Südafrika. Der Amerikaner Shane Claiborne zum Beispiel hat schon viele Jahre vor der Occupy-Bewegung 10.000 Dollar in Münzen und kleinen Scheinen auf die Wall Street gekippt, und einen Tumult verursacht, dass die Straße abgesperrt werden musste. Radikale Großzügigkeit verschließt die Türen der Gier – so lautete seine christliche Botschaft."
"Since then, we have seen the power of faith not only in South Africa. The American Shane Claiborne, for example, had been at it already many years before the Occupy Movement dumped $10,000 in coins and small bills on Wall Street and the tumult caused the street to have to be locked down. Radical generosity closes the doors of greed -- that was his Christian message."
Claiborne strikes me as an odd figure to have this function. Not because he doesn't preach this message Naters and Lager describe, but just because he's such a relatively minor figure, in the scheme of things. Why wasn't Jimmy Carter the counterpoint to George Bush? Here Claiborne is, though, in the German press, representing a different kind of Christianity.