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Approaching poverty, Claiborne style


Shane Claiborne at the MennoniteChurchCanada Youth Assembly 2009

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Girl at Youth Assembly 2009
Elayna Bergen

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August 21, 2009
-Elayna Bergen

CARONPORT, SaskatchewanThis year, four of the eight youth from my church in Winnipeg who attended the MC Canada Youth Assembly in Caronport, Sask., graduated from high school, myself included. 

As a gift from the church, each graduate was given a copy of Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution. I read my copy on the bus ride to Caronport.

I hadn’t heard of Shane Claiborne until seeing his name on the cover of my book, but later discovered that he would be speaking at the assembly and running a workshop! (Our youth pastor, Derek Funk, tells me that he was aware of this when he gave us Shane’s book, but for me it still felt like a freaky coincidence!) This direct connection caught my attention and made me all the more keen to hear what Shane had to say.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Shane’s message was about approaching poverty with creativity, positivity, and practical faith.  His reflections on living in the inner city of Philadelphia as a member of an intentional community of sharing and support especially stood out for me. I live in Winnipeg’s West End and witness poverty everyday too.

One story Shane shared was also elaborated on in The Irresistible Revolution, and it effectively tied together all the points of his message. A couple of years ago, Shane and his friends came into some money –  $10,000 from a court settlement that sprang from actions they had taken on behalf of homeless people in New York City who were being arrested for sleeping on the street, and another 10,000 from an anonymous donor. They wanted to do something different with the money, something that aligned with God’s sense of economy.

In his book Shane wrote, “Until we have the sort of imagination Jesus had to upstage hoarding and to celebrate a dream more liberating than the American dream, nothing will change. Until we have the courage to risk and scheme ways of redistribution with the same passion and fervour with which people scramble after wealth, the market will overpower God’s vision of Jubilee.”

So they decided to have their own Jubilee on Wall Street, in the heart of the world’s economic system, and a place where people from all economic classes can be found – from the homeless to the wealthy. After months of planning, about a hundred people gathered there with all the cash they could carry. Some of them went ahead and stashed hundreds of two-dollar bills in hiding places all over Manhattan.  They proclaimed the Jubilee in the middle of Wall Street by confessing the brokenness of humanity, our need for each other, that another world is possible, and that, in fact, that new world is already here.  They blew a ram’s horn (just like the Israelites used to do) and said, “Let the celebration begin!” 

In the presence of security guards and crowds of people, they threw their money away.  Some tossed paper bills from balconies, while others threw coins on the street.  They blew bubbles and drew pictures on the street with sidewalk chalk to create a party atmosphere. The joy, Shane said, was contagious.

They could have gotten in trouble for disturbing the peace, though the unique nature of their “crime” made it challenging for anyone to want to arrest them.  But what a witness to the local community that a small household of Christians would chose to give away their money in such a radical and potentially risky way!

The way Shane talked about money, poverty, witness and faith inspired me to think more intentionally about what it means for me to live in Winnipeg’s core and what it means for our church to be located there. My church’s youth are ready to discuss new ways for our church to reach out to the local community and we urge other congregations across the country to join us!