Shane Claiborne’s first book, The Irresistible Revolution, was one of the most influential and thought-provoking books I read last year. I wasn’t sure if I would like Jesus for President as much, since from the title and opening pages it seemed very much addressed to a U.S. readership. But Shane’s writing is so eminently readable, and the book was so visually appealing, I couldn’t resist picking it up and giving it a try.
If the goal of Christianity is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable,” then the mission of Shane Claiborne (and his co-author on this volume, Chris Haw) definitely falls within the latter of those mandates. If you’re a comfortable, middle-class Christian in the western world and you’re not disturbed, troubled or challenged by SOMETHING in this book, then … I don’t know where you’re coming from. From a very different place than I am, I guess.
Although there is a very American focus to the book, its message is relevant to Christians anywhere and everywhere. It can be boiled down to a simple statement: Christians owe their allegiance to God above any earthly country or ruler. I think we can all agree with that, can’t we — even the flag-waving God Bless Americans? The difficulty, of course, is how we apply that belief — what does it really mean to put allegiance to the kingdom of God first? Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw would take that allegiance to some pretty radical extremes — and they’re prepared to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Me, I’m more in the category of “I agree in theory, but I’m not sure I can change my lifestyle enough to catch up with my theories.” Still, I make more changes than I would if I weren’t challenged by reading people like Shane Claiborne.
Not that there are, as far as I know, really very many people like Shane Claiborne (except possibly Chris Haw). It’s interesting that the message of Jesus for President is very similar to that of Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change. But while McLaren’s book left me thinking, “Yeah? And? Of course this is what I believe, but what’s new here?”, Jesus for President challenged me, excited me, made me see the whole world in a different way. In fact, Jesus for President was the book that made me think “Everything must change!!”
Partly it’s the writing style, and I do have to say the visual appeal of the book was a big part of it too. It’s a beautifully designed book which is a pleasure to look at. The style is similar to the layout of Geez magazine and some other lefty publications — that is to say, it looks like the scrapbook of a brilliant sixth-grader with ADD, and there’s heavy use of Courier New, which is the Official Typeface of the Revolution, apparently. OK, I mock, but it really is attractive and I think adds to the weight of the words themselves. A little humour doesn’t hurt either.
I know I’m never going to be a Christian-retro-hippie living in an inner-city commune sewing my own clothes and getting thrown in jail for protesting pretty much everything — in other words, I’m no Shane Claiborne. But reading his work does make me rethink and re-examine many things about my own life and see what changes I can make, and I’m grateful to him for that.