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.  
 
The comparison of Shane Claiborne to Jacques Derrida is, at first blush, perhaps a little odd: one a young American hippie, the other a deceased French theorist. However, Derrida’s connection to Claiborne and his immense relevance to this campus is perhaps best encapsulated in his claim that “ethics is hospitality.” For Derrida, unconditionally welcoming the foreigner – the Other – is the very meaning of justice.  
 
As Derrida tells the story, the history of philosophy is the history of exclusion. Starting with the Ancient Greeks, it is a history that is obsessed with erecting binaries: male/female, rational/irrational, objective/subjective, fact/opinion, presence/absence, etc. The former is always privileged and the latter always sidelined, dominated, oppressed. To be male, rational and factual, was supposedly clearly superior to being female, irrational and opinionated.

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.  
 
Enter Shane Claiborne. I am convinced that Irresistible Revolution sketches a brilliant picture of what a life of unconditional hospitality might look like. Claiborne’s simple call is to love; love deeply, generously, excessively. Most importantly, do this especially to the unlovable.  
 
Last fall, after reading Claiborne’s book, I committed myself to giving and welcoming unconditionally. One night I was in Dayton’s Oregon District when I was approached by Jesus, disguised as a beleaguered woman. She needed bus tickets and so I gave her money without hesitation.

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. 
 
Derrida and Claiborne are driving at an ethical demand that’s almost too radical for us to handle or even comprehend. It was just as radical two millenia ago when Christ first proclaimed these truths. The Sermon on the Mount is so outrageous that it’s still unwelcome today, sometimes unwelcome even on our own campus.

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.

 
- Kevin Cole, February 2008