Can radical book tours change the world?

Over at Jesus Manifesto, Mark Van Steenwyck offers a challenge to the social-change-through-book-tour model:

It seems to be assumed that the way we can build a movement in our society is by wring books, building platforms, and then touring around using our amassed social capital to woo large numbers of people to being a part of the movement. This often, it seems to me, leads to a sort of coopted radical space where folks never have to go beyond the figure head who is leading the movement.

As more and more Christians in the US begin to wake up to the radical message, the question of “So what next?” becomes more and more important. Though Mark names Pete Rollins as the inspiration for his post, he just as easily could be talking about Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson Hart-Groves, the authors of the New Monasticism movement. It seems that every couple of months, I see a new book out from Jonathan or Shane. I’m sure they are all quite good, but I’m not convinced they are pushing the envelope much beyond Irresistible Revolution, a book that clearly reached a new evangelical audience with a message of radical, Jesus-centered Christianity. Many new Christian Peacemaker Teams recruits continue to tell me Shane’s first book was the where they first heard about CPT.

So, you say that social change isn’t about writing books and touring (or blogging for that matter)? Then what is it about?? Mark’s alternative model is “to foster and nurture growing clusters of praxis who can, collectively coordinate change.” I have to say that this is what brought me into the movement. Growing up attending monthly potluck of CPT Northern Indiana and hearing from folks working in Chiapas and the West Bank was critical in exploring what it means to put radical faith into action. Clusters of praxis also sounds a lot like the model that CPT is constantly learning more about from our partner communities such as Las Pavas in Colombia or Mothers for Peace in Iraq.

Of course, growing clusters of praxis is hard work, and often decades of work don’t show have the highly visible impact that a best-selling book can in a matter of years. That’s the other part of the history of insurgent clusters of praxis that Mark confidently references in the next sentence.

Finally, I should say that I like Pete Rollins. He hosted Charletta and I in his living room for a lovely chat a few years ago when we were in Belfast and we also sat in on one of his classes. He’s a nice guy. To be honest, many of his most interesting ideas are over my head. I didn’t like literary theory in college and I still don’t understand Lacan. But if you haven’t seen it before, check out the Ikon community, which he helped organize before. They have done all sorts of provocative projects such as the Evangelism project, where folks went around to people of different faiths seeking to be evangelized. I’d go so far as to say they probably qualify as one of Mark’s clusters of praxis.

So there you have it. Got clusters of praxis?

Comments (2)

  1. ST

    I read through all the comments on that Insurrection post. Wow. What a conversation it sparked. Most, I appreciated Rebekah’s comments, so want to post some of them here:

    “I’m glad to see Pete Rollins get some pushback, not necessarily because I have a problem with what he’s doing/saying, but rather because I think there’s been a tendency among the emergent congnoscenti to uncritically enthuse over everything he says…

    Regardless, we need to be careful not to confuse success in limited emergent/missional/progressive circles with actual success in the mainstream Christian and/or secular markets. I’m not sure I would even consider Shane Claiborne to be all that successful by those criteria, Esquire magazine notwithstanding. I certainly would not put him on par with Naomi Klein and
    Noam Chomsky (not to denigrate Shane).”

    She continued, responding to what Mark had to say about Rollins:

    “I have to wonder whether you’ve actually read any of Rollins’ work or heard him speak. When you say things like “these days so many have commodified and marketed pseudo-radicalized capitalism in ways that actually deepen the co-opting of dissent,” or “Charity is a mechanism within a system that allows capital to flow from the wealthy within that system to the poor within that system. Charity never actually challenges the system,” They sound like things that Rollins himself has said.

    I do think that there are legitimate separate roles for academic theologians and on the ground practitioners. That’s not to say they need to be divorced from one another, one supports and grounds the other. To paraphrase Paul, we are all one body with many members and all do not perform the same function.”

    She said, “I hope Peter continues to do real, practical, community oriented work and resists the temptation to become another talking head-guru. I hope that his work provokes reasoned, thoughtful critique that illuminates, edifies, and challenges all of us privy to this conversation.” (Thanks Rebekah!)

    I think the key here is humility, and all parts of the movement staying in touch with one another. On that note, I need to say that a conversation like this one (even somewhat affected by its medium of transmission via the blogosphere/web) feels very far away from what’s going on here with Christians. I wish there was a way to get a dialogue between the folks at the Irish Ikon and seminary students here in Ghana talking.

  2. John

    Before you can really change the world you have to understand what you are as a human being in Truth & Reality and thus how to live right life altogether.

    Otherwise you are just another unconscious player in the never-ending world Mummery.

    Everything you do is thus just an extension and continuation of the now, universal insanity. Playing out a culturally determined pre-scripted role and pattern of which you are completely unconscious. A script which governs and patterns every minute fraction of your existence-being.

    Just like all of the dreadfully sane normals in the Matrix Trilogy who had not taken the Red Pill.

    ALL of our conventional institutions, including ALL of what is called religion, even your so-called radical religion, conspire to keep the collective trance in place.

    Which is to say that you are all under-cover agents for, and clones of, Agent Smith. Working to keep the system or the relentless world-machine in place.

    But even those who had taken the Red Pill were essentially powerless in the face of the relentless world-machine, until NEO broke the spell which caused the old trance to lose its power and thus spontaneously fall away.

    And simultaneously create a new pattern or seed which enabled something radically new to occur.

    Such is the case described here. But only if everybody, one at a time, and all at once, consciously responds.

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