St. Francis, Pray for Us
by Shane Claiborne 10-03-2011 02:17 pm
Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.
Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, born into a society where the gap between rich and the poor was increasingly unacceptable. It was an age of religious crusades, where Christians and Muslims were killing each other in the name of God. Sound familiar?
Francis did something simple and wonderful. He read the gospel where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” “consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow,” “Love your enemies” — and he decided to live as if Jesus meant the stuff he said.
Francis turned his back on the materialism and militarism of his world, and said yes to Jesus.
One of the quotes attributed to Francis is a simple and poignant critique of our world, just as it was to his: “The more stuff we have the more clubs we need to protect it.” It does make you wonder if he’d be on Wall Street protesting today.
With a childlike innocence, Francis literally stripped off his clothing and walked out of Assisi butt-naked to live like the lilies and the sparrows (and to become the patron saint for the flower children). He lived close to the earth, and like Jesus became a friend of the birds and creatures, whom he fondly called “brother” and “sister.” In light of that, many Christians brought their pets to church yesterday for a special all-pets-allowed service, an annual tribute to Francis. And many a bird-bath dons his iconic image.
But it’s easy to turn our best movements into monuments. His life was a powerful critique of the demons of his day, which are very similar to the demons of ours.
One of my favorite stories of Francis was when he decided to meet with the Muslim sultan during the Fifth Crusade. It was a tumultuous time. War had become a necessity and a habit, and was baptized by much of the church. Francis was sent off as a soldier, but he could not reconcile the violence of war with the grace of Christ. So he got off his warhorse, and put down the sword.
Francis pleaded with the military commander, Cardinal Pelagius, to end the fighting. Pelagius refused. Instead, Pelagius broke off all diplomatic relations with the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil. The sultan in turn decreed that anyone who brought him the head of a Christian would be rewarded with a Byzantine gold piece.
Francis, however, pursued his vision in steadfast faith, surmounting all dangers in a journey to see the sultan. He traveled through fierce fighting in Syria and inevitably was met by soldiers of the sultan’s army, who beat him savagely and put him in chains, dragging him before the sultan himself. Francis spoke to the sultan of God’s love and grace. The sultan listened intensely and was so moved that he offered Francis gifts and money. Our saint of course had no desire for the money, but he gladly accepted one gift — an ivory horn used in the Muslim call to prayer. He took it back with him and used it to summon his own community for prayer. Both Francis and the sultan were transformed by that encounter.
In an age of religious extremists, Francis offers us an alternative. We have seen religious extremists of all stripes — Jewish, Muslim, Christian — distort the best that our faiths have to offer and hijack the headlines with stories of hatred. We’ve seen Christian extremists burn the Quran, blow up abortion clinics, bless bombs, baptize Wall Street, and hold signs that say “God hates fags.” But Francis invites us to become extremists for grace, extremists for love.
Although the Church is prone to forget his witness or to make a monument of his movement, there is a whole world remembering his radical witness today. We celebrate his critique of an economy that left masses of people in poverty so that a handful of people can live as they wish. We rejoice in his love for the earth as we work to end the ravaging of our world. We remember his witness that there is a better way to bring peace than with a sword. And we remember the whisper he heard from God, “Repair the church, which is in ruins.”
Let us do a little something today as a tribute to old Francis. Maybe we can get rid of some of our stuff or spend some time with a homeless person. Maybe we can laugh at advertisements today that try to convince us that happiness can be purchased. Maybe we can hang out in the woods and spend some time with the lilies and sparrows. Maybe we can take an “enemy” out for dinner.
These are the words of the famous prayer of Francis. May they inspire us to become better people and to build a better world:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.
“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
I had a revelation the other day.
It brought a sweet sense of comfort from the Lord, and gave me freedom in an area that had been troubling me for some time.
It’s never good to feel condemned, or to feel accused of falling short of God’s best. It’s just not what Jesus intended for us. After all, the devil is the accuser of the brethren. I have to say, though, that the accusations that hurt the most come from brothers and sisters in the Lord.
A curious thing happens when a Christian – at least one in local evangelical circles – decides to start thinking for himself and questions the church authority he has submitted to for some time. He may suffer accusation, slander and gossip – even shunning – especially if he decides to confront issues in the church that he disagrees with. And if those are long-held doctrinal beliefs, then there’s usually hell to pay.
But aren’t we supposed to question what we believe?
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
I John 4:1
I John 4:1
Stupid me – I’m afraid that’s what I did when I decided to question certain doctrines and other matters I felt were creeping into my church.
I am not going to rehash all those details here, because that would be pointless, and hurtful to many people. But I do want to stress how hurtful it has been to me, to be told: “Now brother, don’t be bitter” or “Guard against that bitter spirit” or “I can see that you’re bitter about what’s happened.”
Every time I heard something like this, I checked my heart to see if I was holding any unresolved bitterness and sin. And that was part of the problem – I equated bitterness with sin, and it always brought condemnation along with it.
I just didn’t feel “clean” being bitter.
But I had a revelation the other day.
God spoke to me clearly, to let me know that the bitterness I’ve tasted is the same as if I’d unknowingly eaten something bitter, or had been forced to drink poison, or experienced something that pierced my heart like an arrow.
I’m not trying to sound like a victim here – I just want to convey the sense of freedom I experienced when I realized that the bitter taste in my spirit – in my soul – was not from anything I did. It was not sinful. It was not dirty.
The bitterness I felt was due to the heartache of a very painful experience – and the fact that this was not the first time, but the second that a local church’s authoritarianism had crushed my dreams and vision.
Of course, others won’t see it this way, and may even comment here about how wonderful their church is. That’s great. I’m just talking about my experience.
The truth is, though, I’m not alone.
I know many people who have suffered painfully in similar – and worse – fashion. Many have never returned to church – even after many years – and to this day people ask, “What happened to the old you?” or “When are you coming back to church?”
Most folks are well-meaning, but they’re asking the wrong questions. They’re not opening their ears and hearts to the cries of those who hurt and asking them what they’ve experienced.
But don’t do this unless you’re truly prepared to listen to the answer, and see the truth through the eyes of the one who’s hurt.
Because if you’re only going to argue with what you’re hearing; if you’re only going to argue in defense of your church and your pastor, then you may as well not ask. When you open that door and ask your friend to share their hurts and pain with you, and then you choose to ignore what they tell you because it may rock the foundations of what you’ve believed your entire life, then don’t even ask!
I can tell you personally, that it’s been too painful when I’ve shared my bitterness with “friends” who asked me to, then had those people ignore me to this day – almost two years later. This has happened on several occasions, and I have to tell you – it’s grievous. It has left a bitter taste in my spirit.
And it left a sense that I was in sin, because that’s what I had been told so many times.
But I am not in sin.
My bitterness comes from a righteous anger that wells up inside of me because I believe the Body of Christ is supposed to act like Jesus on earth. But when I see injustice, arrogance, self-righteousness and pride in the church – especially within the leadership – I tend to speak up. But that has only brought me separation – separation from people, dreams, vision and goals I’ve worked toward for more than 33 years. And that can be a bitter thing.
But I am clean, and so are you if you are not being hateful toward those who have hurt you. Your bitterness then is not a sin. Be free.
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”