Like many students, I was saddened to learn that Shane Claiborne’s campus event had been cancelled. In one sense it was simply disappointing that we missed an opportunity to dialogue with Claiborne in person. More importantly, the incident was disappointing in what it revealed about the “forces for status quo” (to use John Edwards’ phrase), and the length to which the foot soldiers of legalistic fundamentalism will go in order to silence an “ordinary radical” whose message of love, peace, and justice are simply too extreme for this world.
Personally, I’m particularly drawn
to Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution because it seems to
me an important picture of “The Great Law of Hospitality”; that
is, the ethics of Jacques Derrida.
One of Derrida’s goals was to subvert – he said “deconstruct” – this traditional arrangement. Deconstruction forces us to open ourselves up to the voice of the marginalized. Derrida does not want to invert the binary, so that being irrational is greater than being rational, but rather make the two live in tension between the forces of violence that would pull them apart or have one subjugate the Other.
Most relevantly to us today, we need to see that the marginalized Other in our society is undoubtedly the poor, the downtrodden, the impoverished. In the face of the “least of these,” Derrida calls us to an impossible task: unconditional hospitality. The impossibility of such a demand is the very condition of the call itself, the very reason it ought to nag us by day and haunt us at night.
Furthermore, this call contains in
itself immense risk: there is no guarantee that an unqualified openness
to the Other won’t bring personal danger, harm, tragedy. This is justice,
Derrida said, for it invites the foreigner inside – our home, our
koinos, our heart – without question and without demand.
Not 20 feet onward I came across Jesus again, this time in the form of a scraggly man who wanted to eat at Arby’s. Undoubtedly the beggar and I should have just eaten together, but breaking bread with a dirty Jesus seemed more difficult and so I just gave him some bills.
The third time I saw Jesus was just minutes later, when a beggar headed towards me from a ways down the sidewalk. I immediately began to think of excuses… that the price of my evening had already doubled, that I was “poor” too, that I “needed” to get home… that giving unconditionally was too hard. And so I turned a blind eye and crossed to the other side of the street.
Was there ever a more disgusting, obviously
Pharisaical act? That my Savior passed His three tests, that
He died on the cross, that He rose again on the third day… that is
only what saves a wretch like me.
For if we truly unconditionally welcomed the Other – the unwanted, the marginalized, the destitute, even our enemies – our lives would require such radical re-constitution that we’d be shaken to the core. Wouldn’t we as individuals, as communities, and as a nation, ultimately have to conduct ourselves very, very differently?
Would we any longer bless the pre-emptive war-mongers, so that they might inherit the earth? Would we any longer tolerate cowboy imperialism, pretending that it represents the kingdom of heaven? Does unconditional hospitality erect a 2000-mile fence to keep out Unwanteds and Outsiders? Does unconditional giving mean HMO bureaucracy just to treat a sick child?
To turn the other cheek and to give (not invest) our last dollar: these are the demands of that wandering Christ we claim to follow. Welcoming – not bombing – the poor, tired, and huddled masses is undoubtedly a risky proposition. Our Jesus, however, does not call us to safety or economic efficiency; He calls us to love.
It’s so simple. To love extravagantly beyond all measure, because that is how our Father in Heaven loves us. This is a love that can transform all of us here at this Christ-ian university… so that next time Jesus wants to visit us in the disguise of a long-haired hippie from Philadelphia we unequivocally say Yes, please. Welcome.