Shane Claiborne "Downward Mobility & the Wounded Healer" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Our goal is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences right around the world.
Today in this podcast, I have a conversation with Shane Claiborne. Shane is a prominent speaker, activist and bestselling author. At one point, he worked with Mother Teresa, he founded The Simple Way in Philadelphia, and he heads up Red Letter Christians, a movement of folks committed to living as if Jesus meant what he said. I consider Shane to be on the cutting edge of faith. And in this inspiring podcast, Shane, a great fan of Henri Nouwen’s, tells us why the world needs wounded healers like Henri.
I was really struck as I listened to you, Shane, about the power of imagination. Even the very fact that you said that you’re “as young as your dreams, as old as your cynicism.”
I want to know from you what you’re dreaming about these days. Where is your heart going and where is your cynicism? Or do you have any?
Shane Claiborne: Oh, well, I have a coffee mug at my house that says “relentless optimist” on it, so I get accused sometimes of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, I guess. But I do think there’s a difference between optimism and hope, and I am incredibly hopeful right now. And one of my friends says, “Faith is believing despite the evidence, and watching the evidence change.” And so, I think that there’s so many people that are concerned about injustice, from the movement for black lives to the Parkland students, to what happened at Standing Rock. I think there’s just a new or a fresh sensitivity and kind of holy uprising, and it feels wonderful.
So, I’m really hope-filled right now. At the same time, I think our country’s really in a crisis right now. And there’s many people that have mentored me that are 80 years old that I think see where we’re at right now. And it feels like we’ve just been knocked back a few decades. But I think all of this was there, and that’s why I’ve been saying that Trump didn’t in change America, he’s just revealing America. And I think he’s also not changing evangelicalism. He’s just revealing it. But sadly, I think what we see is very troubling. And we’ve lost our grounding in Jesus, I think, so I’m preaching Jesus these days.
Karen Pascal: That’s a good place to be centered, but one of the first places that you and I met was on the phone, or maybe it was just in an email, I’m not sure, but I basically reached out to you saying, “Did Henri Nouwen ever mean anything to you?” and I loved what your response was. Do you recall what you said?
Shane Claiborne: No; tell me what I said.
Karen Pascal: Well, you just said “Downward mobility. Of course, he means something to me.” And you’d obviously done some reading. How has Henri Nouwen impacted your life?
Shane Claiborne: Oh, boy. There are so many ways. This last week, my buddy and I were building some bookshelves in my office, because my wife said if I don’t find a place for the books not to be on the floor, they’re going to be donated. So, I’m looking through all of them and I’m just seeing one after another of Henri’s books. And some of the first books we started reading as a community together were Henri’s books. So, I think one of the very fundamental values in our community is the idea that we’re wounded healers, and that certainly comes directly out of Henri’s work and theology. And that idea that those among us who have bumps and bruises have often kind of been conditioned to think of them as liabilities, whereas I think they actually are our credentials. Just as Thomas saw Jesus’s scars, I think that there’s ways that the things that we have survived actually become a part of the testimony and even the power of love and grace.
And so, some of the most amazing people leading our community these days are wounded healers who have some pretty deep wounds from things that they’ve survived, and that’s our heartbeat. And the best folks to help women coming out of domestic violence are women that have survived domestic violence. The best folks to help folks recovering from heroin are folks that have been seven years clean and know the monster of addiction. So, I learn every day from our recovering community about my own addictions and recovery, and the power of what it means to be a wounded healer. And that’s something Henri taught.
And the prodigal son – one thing after another of Henri’s work has been really influential on us. Even the downward mobility, from Harvard to L’Arche. I never made it to Harvard, but I did drop out of Princeton, so that counts for something. But finding Jesus on the margins and maybe in the places I might not have expected to, is exactly what I’ve learned from Henri.
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting, because I think something that, as I was listening to you today, that I heard and which touched me and I think connects you to Henri, is your sense of love of community – the reality being that I think it was a discovery for Henri. I think he was pretty lost and always longing to find where he belonged. And I think the role of community amongst those that weren’t always whole, who weren’t necessarily his equals intellectually, but when he found that community, he found life and he found a sense of home. Tell me about how community is working for you and what it looks like, and what kind of a contribution that makes to your faith life and your faith work.
Shane Claiborne: Yeah, well, the community’s one of those things that’s sort of in all of us, isn’t it? We’re created in the image of a God who reflects community, you know: Father, Son, and Spirit – that’s this plurality of oneness. And when the first humans are made, it’s not really good until they’re helping each other, and Jesus is saying where two or three of you gather, I am with you. So, there’s this communal element, I think, that we were made to love and be loved. But in some ways, it’s kind of a lost art in our industrialized world of western Christianity. I think we’ve idolized individualism and independence. And in our community, we say, “Independence is not a gospel value; interdependence is a gospel value.” Not codependence, but the fact that we need one another is a beautiful thing.
And that communal dynamic, we’ve built our life around that. We’ve been sharing money and life and cars and food and gardens and houses for 20 years, now. So, we learned that, like I shared today, by visiting some other communities that could help us with the tools for what that looks like. Because it’s not always easy, especially if you’re new at it. Dorothy Day, of the Catholic Worker Movement, said we’ve got to create “an environment where it’s easier to be good.” And it’s a beautiful line. It doesn’t just happen by moving a bunch of people into a house. You don’t just have community; it needs structure, just like tomatoes in the garden. I think we need structure for community to flourish. So, we learned by reading books like Henri’s and Jean Vanier and others that were really helping us find community. And in some ways, it’s like we’re exercising muscles that have atrophied a little bit, because I think we’re made for community. We’re made in the image of community, but we’ve often not practiced it enough. So, you don’t just run a marathon. You kind of start jogging a little bit and then learn it as you go.
Karen Pascal: One of the things that I hear in you is the influences of some of the Catholic, I would say, important spiritual masters. And that’s, I think, really interesting, because you really bring together something very ecumenical, something evangelical. And yet it seems to be steeped with some traditions that come from the other side of the fence. We used to think of it as the other side of the fence, but we are now finding ourselves so very enriched by this. Would you share a little bit about what that has meant in your faith walk?
Shane Claiborne: Yeah. It’s one of the reasons that it’s not maybe that surprising that 10 years or so into our community living at The Simple Way, we began to put some of the pieces together of a prayer life that was ecumenical. And out of that ultimately came this book, Common Prayer, that we did, that has 50 songs from different traditions. And it has different quotes all through it, and it’s also remembering history and when Mandela was released from prison, and Oscar Romero was killed, and when we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All those things are in there. But also, we remember the saints, with a big S and a little S. So, we remember folks that have influenced us, and I’m sure Henri’s all in there. But there’s John Wesley, there’s Dorothy Day, there’s Oscar Romero, so many different people from all over the world and names that we didn’t know, because we had Orthodox and Catholic and Anabaptist folks. So, I’ve really learned so much from the different streams.
And part of what happened when we did this, was we realized as we were doing this prayer book that there’s 35,000 denominations of Christianity. And yet, Jesus’ longest prayer is that we would be one, as God is one. And so, that’s what we’re really seeking. And one of my Catholic friends says, “I keep seeing the Catholics becoming more Protestant and the Protestants becoming more Catholic.” So, there’s something to that, though, because I think what we saw is, we say we’re Protestant, but half the word Protestant is “protest,” and we’ve forgotten where that even came from. And our roots don’t go back enough, we’re not Catholic enough to remember what we were protesting, you know? And I think Catholics also have a lot to learn from some of those renewals, like the radical reformers. The more I’ve studied the Reformation, the more I see that, man, here we are killing each other, and the radical reformers, the Anabaptists and some of those that were the only folks that really seemed to be grounded in the Sermon on the Mount. But I’m so glad to be mentored by Catholics that I’ve known and others like Henri that I never had the chance to meet, but have really shaped my own spirituality.
Karen Pascal: That’s lovely.
Shane Claiborne: And I’m loving the Pope. I’m ready to meet the Pope. I went and hung out with Justin Welby, the Archbishop Canterbury, he’s like the Protestant Pope, but I’m still ready to meet Francis.
Karen Pascal: Isn’t it great to have a moral leader like that in our midst? I mean, really. He does cause you to go, “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. You’re really setting a standard there for us.”
You’ve got a new book, Executing Grace. Tell me, what is this all about? What is the most important cause before us right now for you?
Shane Claiborne: Well, I think that Executing Grace is really about forgiveness and grace and restorative justice, and what does it look like to heal the wounds of violence in our world? And so, it’s also about the death penalty, because, as I looked at the death penalty as kind of the lens, as you peel away the layers of it, there’s so much more that it reveals to us. And for instance, the death penalty wouldn’t stand a chance in America if it weren’t for Christians. And wherever Christians are most concentrated is where the death penalty has survived and flourished. So, we’re recording this in Texas, and Texas is often called the buckle of the Bible Belt. It’s where half the executions in our country are coming from – this one state.
And so, the fact that the Bible Belt is the Death Belt really troubles me. And it’s also true that there’s this entire history of slavery and racism that we can’t disconnect from, either. That the states that held onto the death penalty the longest are the same states that held onto slavery the longest. And where lynchings were happening a hundred years ago is where executions are still happening today. So, all those things. But there’s a theology, there’s a spirituality to that as well. And certainly, one of the things I love about Henri Nouwen was how he began. He lived in a real, with his feet on the ground, a real community, but he also knew that our spirituality should cause us to care about these bigger issues of life and injustice.
And so, I really believe that Christians can play a role in history when it comes to the death penalty. And this is the time. It’s like 80% of millennial Christians are against the death penalty. Millennial Christians: It’s not in spite of their faith, but because of it. And Catholics have been a great voice in this. But, like I said in the session, still, half the Supreme Court are Catholics. We still have a lot of Catholics in the pews and parishes that could be a stronger voice for life. And it’s one of the things that I kind of grieve, is that when we say “pro-life,” sometimes we would more appropriately say, “anti-abortion,” because we so narrowly define what it means to be pro-life.
But to me, to be pro-life is to care about every issue of life. And abortion is certainly one of those, but so is gun violence and racism and immigration and the death penalty. So, I think it’s ironic that in the United States, you can say you are pro-guns, pro-death penalty, pro-military, but pro-life – as long as you’re against abortion. But what Mother Teresa and Henri, and so many others, and Pope Francis is doing for us is that consistent life ethic that says every person is made in the image of God. And if we’re really going to be pro-life, that’s more than just being pro-birth, and more than just being anti-abortion. It means we want to champion dignity in life on every one of these issues. And ultimately, it’s not about slogans and t-shirts and bumper stickers. We need to create loving communities that can care for and nurture life and find alternatives to things like the death penalty.
Karen Pascal: It sounds like you’re doing that very much so in Philadelphia, but you’re also sprinkling it as seeds all over the rest of us, and really, you make it so attractive. You do, because it’s mixed with wit, and it’s mixed with a lot of kindness, a lot of warmth, a lot of “we may not have it right, but let’s do the best we can.” And I really appreciate that about you. I’m going to take you back one last time to Henri and I’m curious what you think Henri might have to offer to this generation coming up. Do you think there’s anything? Personally, I think of his incredible grasp of what it is to be beloved. What do you think we need to share with those that are the generation coming up now? What do you feel they need to hear?
Shane Claiborne: Yeah, it’s interesting that you said that, because I can remember, I think probably one of my first interactions with Henri’s work was a college friend of mine [who had] an old VHS cassette or something. He was like, “Sit down, we’ve got to watch this.” And he puts it on. It’s just Henri talking about the beloved. And we sat there and listened for what – I mean, in one way it flew by, but I think it was quite a while that we just listened to him speak about this idea that we’re beloved. And even this morning, I mentioned that we all need to hear that whisper. And I think that’s still a part of who we are, is that we believe at the end of the day that we’re made to love and be loved.
And when we understand that, some of the other stuff gets a little bit easier. And when I think about Henri’s relevance and what he has to offer today – I hang out with a lot of young people, and what I’m finding is that they are not looking for Christians that are perfect, but they’re looking for Christians that are honest, and Henri Nouwen was honest. I think he was wrestling with his own darkness, his own struggles. And too often, I think a lot of Christians have acted like the church is a country club for saints, rather than a place for imperfect people to fall in love with a perfect God, and try to help each other become more like the one we love and worship. And Henri, I think, does that for us. He certainly knew the perfection and love and mercy of God in his own struggles to be more like God. And community, I think, was a space where he could be continually reminded of his own belovedness. And so yeah, I think that’s one of the greatest needs in the church, and that’s why we have so many young people that love Jesus; they just aren’t crazy about Christians, because we’ve often looked very unlike our Christ. So, Henri left off the fragrance of Jesus, and I’m so grateful for his life.
Karen Pascal: I just want to say, thank you so much. And I want to encourage people to buy the latest book, or any one of them. But I’m going to say, Executing Grace, because I think we could turn this around. I think we should turn it around. I think the time is right. Grace is needed in this.
Thank you very much, Shane, for your time. Really appreciate this.
Shane Claiborne: Always wonderful to be with you.
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