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Shane Claiborne Challenges Students to be “Easter People”

Author and activist Shane Claiborne speaks during Bethel’s Chapel.

When author and activist Shane Claiborne took the stage in Chapel on April 21, he told a story and pulled a tiny paper bookmark out of his Bible.

That tiny piece of paper was something that probably hadn’t been on the stage in Benson Great Hall before: a Marlboro Mile from the back of a pack of cigarettes.

Claiborne and his community began ministering and distributing food to north Philadelphia’s most destitute, inspired—with a bit of poetic justice—by the homeless people who had taken over an abandoned church in the mid-1990s. The Simple Way community has since expanded to include a group of residents who’ve made it their mission to reclaim their community in the name of Christ and bring life to broken spaces and people.

In front of Bethel’s community—on Grandparents’ Day—Claiborne recalled walking to the store for sandwich ingredients one day and meeting a woman, a prostitute. He walked past her and later realized that one of the loaves of bread had mold on it. Realizing that to return the bread to the store would mean awkwardly seeing the woman again, he thought about how Jesus would respond.

“Jesus never talked to prostitutes—because He didn’t see a prostitute,” Claiborne says. “He simply saw a child He was in love with.”

He walked out the door that day and invited the woman to come eat with them at The Simple Way. When she came, she burst into tears and asked if the residents were Christians. They confirmed her suspicion and prayed with her before she left. When she returned months later—barely recognizable because of the transformation she had gone through—she came bearing a bag of Marlboro Miles loyalty points. It was one of her most prized possessions, but she wanted to thank the group and contribute to their cause.

“When I see it, I’m reminded that our God is a God of resurrection,” said Claiborne, holding up the Marlboro Mile.

Caring for women like her, serving the homeless, and confronting social issues in their neighborhood has long been the mission of The Simple Way. Claiborne quoted Isaiah 2, which says, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” The group took that image of restoration and new life literally in the face of growing gun violence, rounding up donated guns and melting them into gardening tools and musical instruments. Asking the mother of a murdered man to help with the forging, the community rallied as the weapons were symbolically reformed into new, life-giving objects.

“We’re called to cultivate life—we are Easter people,” Claiborne says. “[As Christians] we need to get in the way of death. Not just pull people out of the river, but go upstream and see where they’re getting thrown in.”

Associate Dean of Campus Ministries Matt Runion recalls Claiborne’s last two visits to Bethel—in 2007 and 2009—had a profound impact on students’ thinking about how they should not only believe in Christ, but allow the gospel to transform their actions and lifestyle.

Shane is not only a speaker—he’s a follower of Christ and a practitioner,” Runion says. “He is seeking to live out the call of Christ to solidarity with people on the margins. Currently in our country, we have a widening economic gap. We believe, as Shane does, that the evangelical church in America has something to say about that. Jesus has something to say about that.”

“The purpose of Campus Ministries is to equip the Bethel community to live lives of transformation as we grow together into the image of Christ,” Runion says. “It's all about discipleship. We hope our community looks more like Jesus after spending some time with Shane.”

Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, and activist who worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India and founded The Simple Way community in Philadelphia. He heads up Red Letter Christians, a movement of folks who are committed to living "as if Jesus meant the things He said." Claiborne is a champion for grace and a prolific author. His newest book, Executing Grace, explores the difference between punitive justice and restorative justice, appealing for the abolition of the death penalty.

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