Friday, September 08, 2006

Back home, and thoughts on two Revolutions

We got home Monday night, and I've been digging out from being gone for twelve days. And I've noticed something - when people ask me how my trip went, I'll mention a few highlights, but then tell them to read my blog. It's almost easier to point people to the blog posts and the various observations I made during the trip than to try to recap the whole thing. (See pictures here.)

I've been jetlagged all week. One morning Ellen and I were both up at four a.m., so we watched a movie before the kids got up. I'm still waking up at two or three and using the time to catch up on my reading. Here's an interesting compare and contrast: George Barna's Revolution and Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution. Plenty of folks have already blogged about their content and themes, so I'll just make some comments about their approaches and styles.

Despite the similarity in titles, the two books could not be more different. In sum, it's the difference between the analyst and the activist, the data cruncher and the storyteller. Barna's book is somewhat polemical and makes broad, declarative generalizations with few concrete illustrations of what his revolutionaries' lives actually look like. Nor does he give much self-disclosure about his own journey - by the end of the book you still don't have much of a sense of why Barna is so worked up about the church. It didn't capture my imagination at all, even though I probably agree with him on many points. Barna just doesn't feel like someone I'd want to hang out with.

On the other hand, Shane Claiborne definitely comes across as likeable and approachable, a fellow traveler on the journey. Full disclosure - I've met Shane and interacted with him at a couple of gatherings, and he endorsed my suburbs book. So I'm inclined to like his book because I like him. But you really get to know Shane through his book. He tells dozens of stories about his upbringing, his experiences with Mother Teresa, at Willow Creek, in the inner city and elsewhere. He's both self-effacing and prophetic, and he has the credibility of living out what he believes. And he doesn't come across as an angry activist (in a bad way) - he's winsome and engaging, even when he's being provocative in his critiques of the church.

Basically, Barna made the error of telling without showing, while Claiborne has mastered the art of both showing and telling. Naturally, different authors have different capacities and styles; a Barna report is not going to feel like one of Claiborne's stories. Both books have a place and will likely appeal to different readers. Barna represents a certain kind of boomer Christian, whereas Claiborne is what many Xer and millennial Christians wish we could be like. I appreciate the fact that he's theologically grounded and has a wholistic integration of theory and praxis.

Barna may well be right that people are leaving traditional churches to follow Jesus in different ways. If so, then I hope they're reading The Irresistible Revolution. Shane Claiborne models for us an exciting, hope-filled vision for what today's Christians could be living like.


Kristi said...

Hey Al. In reading your Suburbs book, I notice that you quote Jim (James Howard) Kunstler a few times. He lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where I lived and worked for a few years out of college. He wrote a column for the daily paper where I was an editor, and he was a JERK! One of those writers who went ballistic if you changed a comma. He was also known to occasionally yell at people in public. He made me not want to be his neighbor or be anywhere near him. But people loved his column and his book, and my boss said we just had to suck it up and put up with his jerkiness. Interesting, huh? For a guy who advocates for community.

Al Hsu said...

Thanks, Kristi - while I have no firsthand knowledge of Kunstler, the vibe I got from his writings was . . . shall we say . . . a bit curmudgeon-ish. I thought some of his critiques of suburbia were valid but were written in a rather off-putting, alienating style. Actually, a lot of "urban elites" seem to write in this way, as if it's self-evident why suburbia is inferior or substandard. Which is of course the problem with many such external critiques, in that they may be affirmed by folks who already agree with them but do little in terms of persuasion or dialogue. Anyway, interesting to hear about Kunstler's personality. Seems like a lot of authors and media personalities are similarly unappealing in person!

Kristi said...

Present company excluded, of course! I'm enjoying the book very much. It's prompting many conversations among friends, and my sister-in-law picked it up when I was visiting them and now wants to read it too.