What to do for Lent this Year:

executing grace

Hear Shane Claiborne at Christ Church

By Becky Ford

I came late to Lent. I was 44 years old the first time I had ashes placed on my forehead with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” There was much love of Easter in my house growing up—my mother even celebrated by answering the phone on Easter day with a chirpy, “The Lord has risen!” instead of hello—but I have no recollection of even a Good Friday service. Imagine my intrigue the first time I attended Maundy Thursday, the service during which the church is darkened, the altar is stripped and everyone leaves in silence. I had no idea how much I needed the darkness of Lent to give the light of Easter context and meaning. And so, each Ash Wednesday I am marked in remembrance of Christ’s death, beginning 40 days of penance and devotion. As a latecomer, it makes more sense to me to do something rather than give something up for Lent, and so I use my 40 days to focus on the life and words of Jesus. I have read many wonderful books during Lent: Into The Silent Land, by Martin Laird, The Misunderstood Jew, by Amy-Jill Levine and Red Letter Revolution, by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. This commitment has deeply enriched my faith and I highly recommend it.

When choosing speakers for Christ Church’s Courage & Faith series this spring, it made sense to me to invite Shane Claiborne, an author and activist who spends his life “living as if Jesus meant the things he said.” Claiborne is the co-founder of Red Letter Christians (named for Bibles which print the words of Jesus in red), a movement that firmly believes all people are made in the likeness and image of God and that freedom comes from serving others rather than from power, politics and materialism. Claiborne lives in an intentional community in a poor part of North Philadelphia that is devoted to charity, ecology and anti-violence. His life and work is like the Sermon on the Mount in action: what does it look like to love your enemy, to show mercy, give to the poor, to be pure in heart, not to judge, not to worry about what you will wear and eat? What does it mean to proclaim the kingdom of God?

Claiborne comes from a long line of peacemakers and reformers doing the work of Jesus in their own time: St. Francis, Mother Theresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gandhi. His latest book, Executing Grace, is about his work to help abolish the death penalty. Like his friend Bryan Stevenson, he sees the death penalty as a race and poverty issue that destroys not only the lives of prisoners but also those of their families and the families of the victims. As Christians, life is not ours to take; life is ours to preserve, especially the lives of people with the least access to justice and mercy. Executing Grace points out that we have become a people who venerate the cross as a symbol of faith and forget the brutal means by which our savior was executed. For me thinking about Jesus, his life, his sacrifice and his challenging “red letter” words to us is what Lent is all about. I would like to live as those words instruct, and Claiborne’s radical and unconventional life shows me how.

Please join me on Saturday, March 17th at 7pm at Christ Church to hear Shane Claiborne tell his story. From his work with Mother Theresa in the slums of Calcutta, to his championing the rights of the poor in Philadelphia, to his international aid work in Iraq and Rwanda, to his fight to abolish the death penalty, Claiborne spreads the love of God and the good news of Jesus by seeking His kingdom first.

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”
Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Becky Ford is the Director of Christ Church’s Courage & Faith Speaker Series and the manager of Christ Church Books & Gifts. When not at Christ Church, she paints, writes and meditates using the Jesus Prayer.

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