Shane Claiborne on Pope Francis: Making the unremarkable remarkable

Shane Claiborne is an activist and best-selling author, founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and popular speaker. You can find him at Photo courtesy of Shane Claiborne

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) On March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio officially became Pope Francis. In the year since, he has fascinated the world.

Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Friday (Feb. 21). RNS photo by David Gibson

Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Friday (Feb. 21). RNS photo by David Gibson

He didn’t don the snazzy red shoes and fancy papal attire. He chose a humble apartment rather than the posh papal palace. He washed the feet of women in prison. He touched folks that others did not want to touch, like a man with a disfigured face, making headline news around the world.

He has put the margins in the spotlight. He refused to condemn sexual minorities saying, “Who am I to judge?” He has let kids steal the show, allowing one little boy to wander up on stage and stand by him as he preached. And, one of my favorites on the pope’s greatest hits of 2014: he stopped the Popemobile in St. Peter’s Square to pick up hitchhiker, one of his pals from Argentina.

But beyond the sound-bites and headline news, Francis has spoken courageously and eloquently throughout his first year, addressing some of the most urgent ethical issues of our age. In honor of the one-year anniversary, I’m reading his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, a 200-page manifesto to the church.

In response to the growing gap between the rich and poor, where 85 people now own the same amount of wealth as half the world (3.5 billion), Pope Francis says: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?”

I look forward to more surprises from Francis. I have lots of hopes for the next year, like seeing him address the epidemic of violence in our world, pointing us to the “consistent ethic of life” that Catholics are known for, and perhaps helping us end to the death penalty in America during his reign.

But as I reflect on his first year, and have reporters asking for a sound-bite – here’s the thing I find most noteworthy.

The most remarkable thing about the pope is that what he is doing should not be remarkable. He is simply doing what popes and Christians should do – care for the poor, critique inequity, interrupt injustice, surprise the world with grace, include the excluded and challenge the entitled.

Shane Claiborne is an activist and best-selling author, founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and popular speaker. You can find him at Photo courtesy of Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne is an activist and best-selling author, founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and popular speaker. You can find him at Photo courtesy of Shane Claiborne

Pope Francis is leaving off the fragrance of Jesus, and he is fascinating the world with Christ. Maybe his witness will invite more folks to give Jesus a chance despite the embarrassing things we Christians have done in his name. I hope so. I want the world to see a Christianity that looks like Jesus again, a Christianity that is not just known for who we have excluded but for who we have embraced. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians were known for our love again… not for our picket signs, or our bumper stickers, or t-shirts, or dogma… but for our love?

I can’t help but think St. Francis of Assisi (the pope’s radical namesake), and all the angels and saints in heaven must be smiling as they look down on our brother Jorge Bergoglio, whom we now fondly call “Pope Francis.”

(Shane Claiborne is an activist and best-selling author, founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and popular speaker. You can find him at

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  • If we’re not here to help one another, then nothing else makes sense.

    Mega-pastors and Right Wing vulture capitalists aren’t going to like Pope Francis one little bit.

    Call me cynical but I have no difficulty imagining they’ll attempt to attenuate or oust him somehow.

  • Right wing vulture capitalists!!!!! I would suggest that you take a long look at the mega corporations that are run by left wing vulture capitalists. These would be companies such as Microsoft, FaceBook, Google and others.

  • You don’t have to be a Christian or believe in any god to be a good person. We don’t need to give Jesus a chance in order to love people, help others, and lead a happy life.

  • Yes, you are right, but where does being a good person come from? What defines you as a good person? It does you good to feel good about yourself and what you do for others, but do you put yourself in their place like Jesus did? He died to insure that we will be forgiven for our sins and have a place in heaven with him. All he requires of us is to accept him into our lives and live as he did, with love and forgiveness. I hope you can see that, if you are truly a good person you are half way there. All you need is Jesus because he is the one who gave you back your life through his sacrifices. Accept the good and work to change the bad with sincerety. He loves us all; even those who are labeled “bad people”; they can be saved, too.
    God’s Peace

  • If you are “truly a good person you are half way there” and are leaving Christianity behind! What constitutes a “good” person. Do you think the qualities that Buddha posessed made him a good person? Aren’t they the same qualities that Jesus is said to have posessed? They both cared about suffering and tried to alleviate it. Can you be a “good” person and persecute people because they don’t accept your beliefs or because they are homosexuals? Can you lie and be a good person? Can you cheat your workers out of fair wages for honest work or deny them access to the health care that they need and be a “good” person? I don’t even see how a “good person” could even claim that God demanded a blood sacrifice, that he demanded that Jesus pay for our sins. That would make God not a “good” person. Aren’t “good” persons people that have the capacity to forgive? How could God be less than we are (he is jealous, vindictive, judgmental) all things that the Bible tells us not to be, how can he be a “good” God if he is all of those things?

  • @Sheila Landgraf,

    You said, “All you need is Jesus”

    Yes, such simple, clear, uncomplicated thoughts are indeed all you need.
    If you want to be Hitler.

    “Bring mine enemies, those who would not have me as their King, and EXECUTE THEM in front of me.” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)
    [from the parable of the 12 minas; perhaps the most evil words in the Bible and apparently Hitler’s favorite]

    We must resist these easy flippancies about how “JESUS is all we need”.

    The path of unthought is the enemy. Religion is brain novocaine!

  • Without necessarily speaking for Sheila, often we Christians are looking for the origins of ethics, morality, what is determined as best or good, etc., in our responses. We see others (atheist, agnostics…) speaking from a strictly humanitarian perspective in which those qualities and values are inherent in being human and come from creation itself through evolution or some other means. It is as if they just emerge as a pat of life and no further reason needs to be put to it. The Christian posits these with God in the sense that good cannot just emerge as an idea or a reality unless it existed in some form to begin with (hence, God). So, our starting points and world views are quite different. Everyone defines good according to some parameter – be that science, philosophy, religion, government policy, etc. In many cases it can seem self evident and commonly accepted, thus giving the humanist ample reason to think it is just a natural part of life that just came into being. Would you say that if there are degrees of perfection (or good) that we can ascertain, then there must be an ultimate perfection which must exist in order to measure that standard against?

  • No. That argument goes all the way back to Plato and his concept of archtypes or forms. It is a subjective argument made by people trying to establish an objective ideal. Logically you can’t make a subjective argument in an attempt to prove an objective concept! The reality is that we are subjective people, even IF there was such an ideal concept of the “good”, we would never be able to recognize it because we would always look at it through our own subjective bias and prejudice. The failure to recognize this harsh reality has created all kinds of problems for our world when some folks attempt to claim that they are in posession of TRUTH and that all others have to do what they say is the right, moral, virtuous thing to do. I think the greatest evil in this world is when people try to justify and sanctify their “bad behavior” by claiming that it is what God demands of us as though they are an impartial interpreter of God’s word!

  • You make my point perfectly Susan – we are speaking from two totally different points of reference. In fact, I’m totally at a loss for your argument. If you want to talk Plato and subjective arguments, fine, but I just asked a simple question about how one addresses the origins of ethics/morality/goodness. You seem to have some belief in this arena because you judge my (Christian, God’s) behavior as evil. So you are applying some standard of good-evil, I just wonder where it comes from. The article that started this conversation centered on the Pope who believes the answer to what is good (his actions towards the poor, addressing injustice, etc.) comes from Christianity. You can dispute that and I may have no problem accepting your answer. But if you believe that people are just good because we exist and that there is no causality to morality, then just say it! Where this argument goes for me and many Christians, is that we have a biblical standard that defines ethics/morality/goodness which stands over-against what humans may choose to do and then justify all on their own. If there is no standard, then on what basis does anyone make judgments about what is best and moral in a society? As I said before, in that case it must come from observation about reality only and what most people would agree with or commonly find acceptable and unacceptable in society. There is much overlap with Christian morals at that point (murder, stealing, etc.), but eventually you get into other issues (abortion, homosexuality, divorce), and it is these issues which cause so much of the dissention. Still, these are relevant ethical/moral issues and someone in society will make a decision for all, leaving the others to be denigrated for being wrong/evil/out of touch, whether it is really true or not.

  • Don’t lie about me John I have never said or judged as you said “you judge my (Christian, God’s) behavior as evil.” There is no God so how could something that doesn’t exist be Evil? People commit Evil, and the greatest Evil in my opinion is commiting an Evil act and then claiming that it is sanctioned and justified by your God. That isn’t saying that your God is Evil, it is saying YOUR action is. Actually YOU do NOT have a Biblical standard, and that is proven by the many different interpretations of the book. You have a subjective standard. Your or anyone/s very claim that God exists, that the Bible is the Word of God, is subjective opinion, NOT objective fact. Now that that is straightened out. I will address the other issues in the next post. This is already too long!

  • There are further problems with the idea of a Perfect concept of “Good” or any other ideal or thing, beauty, ethical as examples of ideals, God is an example of a Perfect Being,…. Just look at Aristotle’s arguments. Aristotle distinguished between “substances” and “qualities”—good is a quality. I won’t go into his lengthy arguments here you can google them, but substances are the only things that have existence, that are real, that we can touch, see, hear, taste. Qualities are totally dependent upon the substance they are attached to. If there is no substance there is no quality. Now this doesn’t negate the concept that the essence of Good is contained within God. BUT it does mean that God would have to be a substance something that could be touched, seen, heard, or tasted to be real. If God isn’t substance then according to Aristotle’s reasoning God would have to be a quality. A quality can’t exist independently if it is contained in another quality. There are further arguments. The ideal of Perfection is an impossibility. So there can be no perfect or ideal concept of Good or a Perfect God. It is in essence a Catch 22, to be that thing would mean you can’t be that thing. Here we have the reality that IF there is some ideal, some perfection we call Good would mean that it would be Good in every instance, there would be no Ifs, Ands or Buts. In reality we know there are many Ifs, Ands or Buts. Things aren’t Good in all situations, the very concept of Good is relational, which is the point you made that we compare things against an ideal, BUT we don’t compare things against an ideal, we compare things against each other. For example Water is Good? Right? Wrong? In some case too much water can cause flooding and damage homes and property and people can drown in too much water. Water is necessary to sustain life, BUT water can also be polluted and contaminated and poison us. The “goodness” of water is not determined by some ideal of “good”, it is contingent upon the comparison made with other samples of water and the purpose the water is used for. Too little water can also be a problem, but not for some plants, some plants are drought resistant and would die with the amount of water that an oak tree needs. What is good for one is bad for another. AND this is the realization of Yin and Yang of Chinese philosophy, in all things Good there is an element of Bad, there is no perfect Good.