Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist, author and founder of the Simple Way organization, spoke to a full crowd Monday at the Massey Performing Arts Center as part of Career & Calling Week.
And the best word to describe the event would be “different.”
Everything, from Claiborne’s unorthodox appearance–complete with homemade, front-pocketed pants and a short, shaggy haircut which, until recently, was styled in body-length dreadlocks–to his unorthodox message about peacemaking and vocation, fell under the broad theme of being different.
“It’s not just what we’re going to do, it’s who we’re going to be,” Claiborne said.
Essentially, Claiborne spoke about how what jobs students have is a much less important fact than who they are, regardless of employment status.
And, if Claiborne had his way, both would be radically different than the status quo.
To illustrate his point, he used the popular biblical “Parable of the Good Samaritan” from the Gospel of Luke. In the parable, the only person who helped a man beaten up on the side of the road was the one least likely to do it, the least stereotypically religious of them.
Claiborne adopted this parable as a thesis statement for his two main arguments.
First, he said, everything students do must be oriented towards love and must point people to Jesus, no matter their calling. And, second, he encouraged students to make time for interruptions.
“We should see suffering every time it raises up,” he said. “We have no space for interruptions. Make room for suffering in your schedule–to hijack it a little bit.”
Interruptions, Claiborne said, are the moments at which suffering typically occurs. But when people are bound by schedules and appointments, they are unable to see the very people they are called to help.
Culture tells us to move away from the places in which suffering thrives, he said.
“We’ve got to walk down streets where people get beat up,” he said. “The Gospel calls us into those places. It pulls us into the pain and the suffering of the world.”
As it applies to the concept of career and calling, Claiborne took this idea and exemplified it with the stories of three people: a lawyer, a robotics engineer and a massage therapist.
While their careers may have varied in practice, the practitioners were all unified in theory by their being “different because of Jesus,” he said.
The lawyer, a Harvard graduate, lived in a one-room apartment; the robotics engineer created machines to disarm landmines; and the massage therapist catered primarily to the working poor.
“We get to embody God’s love,” Claiborne said. “What would it look like if we had our imaginations stirred by Jesus for the poor, the impoverished, the oppressed of the world?”
Claiborne also spoke about radical peace in the face of violence, mentioning specifically such events as the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
The activist also discussed the more recent, religiously motivated massacre in Paris.
“The answer to extremist religion is an extremist movement for love and grace,” he said.
Following the convocation, Claiborne provided concrete steps for Belmont students to follow in the interest of creating space for interruptions.
“I think it’s a matter of turning some things off and others on,” he said. “There’s a reason my wife and I don’t have a television in our house: to simplify our lives and make space for community.”
Claiborne suggested getting involved with the outreach programs which already exist in Nashville and conceded the “hardest steps are the first few.” He also suggested that “rhythms are helpful”–or, in other words, habits and practices which allow for interruptions–a piece of advice any Belmont student could identify with.
But Claiborne ultimately saw vocation as the intersection where students’ passions and the needs of the world meet.
“We’ve got to take our deepest passions and meet them with the world’s pain,” he said. “There’s a voice for everyone in the freedom choir.”