Claiborne writes in his concluding chapter, “we are not just called to be candles. We are called to be fire [the kind that purifies and cleanses]” (352). And where do we get the fire symbolism? From the tongues of fire that were the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, er, apostles. And how do we see the Holy Spirit moving in the rest of the book of Acts after this monumental moment? Everyone gets a tongue of fire over his or her head. No! The Holy Spirit is constantly shaking things up (and sometimes literally). It’s the same with radical Christians. Claiborne exemplifies one way to be radical. A great way, a challenging way. But the Holy Spirit does not look or act the same in all places or in all people throughout his appearances in Acts, and neither is the body all fire. Some is water, and some a banquet, and some words, and some music, and some whatever else you can think of. I’m out of metaphors. It’s late.

Maybe that’s what I mean by God is doing something new and it’s going to be big. It’s going to take over the world. It is, I can feel it. Here’s an “ouch” moment for you: “in a Christian culture shopping for the cheapest grace, the temptation is always to tone things down a little bit” (318). We want people to feel more comfortable. But wait! Where does God say, “Be comfortable Christians?” No! I don’t want to be comfortable. I want to grow, move forward, be challenged, challenge others, meet God. Comfortable people settle. They stop moving. They become like standing water, and that breeds mosquitoes that suck your blood and leave gross, itchy bumps. No, I don’t want to be comfortable.

“The world of efficiency and anonymity dehumanizes us” (301). Isn’t that what we learned in Fandom? We hunger for community, to share ideas and trade secrets and learn something new together; yet we are also a generation of automated servers that “cater to our needs” by categorizing and confining us until, as one of the authors stated, we are the only ones listening to our radio stations. A whole station for yourself. If that’s not isolating…

I like Claiborne’s emphasis on imagination. Creativity, innovation, new-ness. That’s what the church is becoming about, that’s part of this new thing God is doing. Claiborne writes, “Jesus’ theological stunts and prophetic imagination surprise and disarm” (282). I know Claiborne’s talking about violence and war, but I think imagination is so much more useful than just for that. Jesus brings healing in imaginative ways, too. And he has imaginative theological and apologetic discussions. The way Jesus engages the world is imaginative, and even the way he engages his tormentors. The way God chose to come to us, the way God chose to redeem us, and the way God chose to leave himself with us until he returns–it’s all imaginative, it’s all surprising and radical and new.

How’s this for another stab at body theology: “All the time we look at people…but over time we can develop new eyes and look into people. Rather than looking at people as sex objects or work tools, we can see them as sacred. We can enter the Holiest of Holies through their eyes [because, remember, the curtain is torn and the sacred is free]” (265). Our culture teaches us to look at people, and it teaches us what we should look for and how we should judge what we see. We label and categorize based on what we see, and that is more of the identity-shaping that culture is oh-so-good about providing. But God gives us new eyes (so much new-ness going on) to look deeper, to see people the way he sees them (and, I hope, to see ourselves). Good body theology is learning to change the lens we look through to see the world, to see people, and to see ourselves.

I’ve always loved C. S. Lewis. I grew up on the Chronicles of Narnia and the science fiction trilogy. I’ve heard sermons and talks and lessons on this precise excerpt from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe about Aslan the lion who is not safe but is good (228). I think about all the times I’ve run to God for protection, feeling safe in the hollow of his hand or under the shadow of his wings or hidden in his strong tower. And God is not safe? The Old Testament God defended against enemies, a violent and angry, vengeful kind of defense. God was certainly not safe for those outside the kingdom of Israel. And for those within? I think of Achan who the ground swallowed up because he stole the devoted things, or even of the New Testament Ananias and Saphira who were struck dead for withholding from the community. But this is all God the judge, and God is also merciful. Is that what it means for God to be not safe but good?

Claiborne writes, “A gospel that is not political is no gospel at all” (194). I really struggle with this kind of mentality largely because I just am not political. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t often watch the news or read the paper. I don’t really care to engage in political debate, and I usually don’t know who is running for what or what they stand for (or against). I have a hard time with advocacy and social justice issues simply because that is not where my heart is. I’m glad that there are others who have a heart for these very important issues. But I wonder how to challenge my church context when I myself don’t feel any drivenness. Community I can get behind. Worship I can get behind. Culture, building relationships, engaging with theological issues–I’m there. But politics is just not my heart. What does it mean to be a political Christian, to have a political gospel? What if I’m not behind that?

Claiborne writes, “Jesus did not set up a program but modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God, a community in which people are reconciled and our debts are forgiven just as we forgive our debtors” (159). We (at least, Presbyterians) are so program-oriented. I’ve been trying for two years to erase more than twenty years of program-mindedness. It’s about living, not structuring a program. Living, and living in community, is what draws people in…but that’s only because we’ve already gone OUT to live and move among the people we want to draw. I constantly wonder how to challenge my home church to reach out to the community in a visible way. We like to write checks, being a rich church, and we like to think we’re open to anyone who comes through the doors (yes, even the homeless!). But we don’t actually go volunteer as members of the church at the Rescue Mission down the street. We write checks to them, but we’ve never been inside. The idea of simplicity is simply outside the realm of experience of the majority of my fellow church members, some of whom actually define themselves by their zip code! What would it look like if we, as a community (albeit a large, rich one) were to attempt the practice of redistribution in our context?

My aunt LeeAnna is famous (in our family, anyway) for lamenting when she was little and needed comfort that while she knew that God loved her and held the whole world in his hands, “sometimes you just want someone with skin on.” I about fell off my chair when I read that exact phrase in Claiborne’s book (127). He stole that from my aunt! But that should tell you how serious the need for proper, holistic body theology is in our churches today. We know a lot about God, and we may have wonderful experiences of God, moments of revelation, etc. But God did not call his church to wall up into little anchorite cells. He called us to live, to live abundantly, to live in community, to go out and make disciples, to do unto the least of these. I suspect our non-participatory church services contribute to non-participatory Christian lifestyles that look more nominal than anything else, regardless of what is going on in the mind and spirit of a person. The body is also part of spiritual life; what are we doing? I mean, what are we doing?

The challenge of radical Christianity is putting your faith into visible, active practices that affect change in the world, even if it’s just the world for your next-door neighbor: “They cared for people and put stagnant nominal Christianity to shame. They took tremendous risks to invite people to experience love, grace, and community” (100). Do people say that about us here at Fuller? Do people say that about people in our home churches? Maybe nominal Christianity isn’t just in the South.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bonhoeffer since reading Claiborne’s book. He talks about the cost of discipleship in pretty challenging terms, and then he goes out and gets executed for living it out. Claiborne writes, “The temptation we face is to compromise the cost of discipleship, and in the process, the Christian identity can get lost” (105). We just looked together at all those articles in Fandom that kept reminding us how malleable our identities are, how susceptible we are to being defined in terms of our culture and media experiences. How quickly we fall into cheap grace.

And here’s a side note: I finish my degree in the fall, and I don’t know what’s next. Claiborne told people he was “more interested in who I am becoming” than in what he would do/be. He quotes Mother Theresa: “Do not worry about your career. Concern yourself with your vocation, and that is to be lovers of Jesus” (108). But I wonder if I’m brave enough for that.

“Some time back, we had stopped living Christianity and just started studying it” (71). Isn’t this a familiar critique of theologians (and for that matter, seminarians)? How often do we give up our devotional time in order to finish a paper or make it to class on time?

On another note, I told you I’d be back to the subject of body theology soon enough: “Our bodies are the temples of God…We are the body of Christ, not in some figurative sense, but we are the flesh and blood of Jesus alive in the world through the Holy Spirit–God’s hands, feet, ears” (79). This is what I mean by more than body image. It’s not just understanding our own physicalness but the physicality of the communal body of Christians who ARE the incarnation of Christ in the world because of the empowerment of the Spirit. How about that for a headrush?

And I also like the next section when the curtain in the temple rips: “Not only was God redeeming that which was profane but God was setting all that was sacred free” (80). Now God is in the world, not contained in a holiest place that no one can inhabit. Now the sacred is everywhere, and it’s in the body.

Here Claiborne tells the story of protecting homeless people from being evicted from living in an abandoned church building. It became a community effort, and before they knew it, “church became something we are–an organism, not an organization. Church became so fresh and vibrant, it was like we had brought something dead back to life” (42). How many of us are looking for that kind of renewal, revitalization, in our own church communities? We can’t replicate the circumstances, but surely we can gain the same results. I like Claiborne’s implicit challenge to stop complaining about the church as it is and start trying to be “the church we dreamed of” (64).