Three Revolutionary Books

Confession: I can’t read just one book at a time. Maybe it’s an ADHD thing, but I generally have three or four books on my “currently reading” shelf at any given moment. However, it’s pretty rare for all of them to be this radical, this life-changing, at once.

The book I’m just finishing (and consequently have been reading longest) is Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig (he’s the guy who started “Creative Commons“). If you’ve ever illegally downloaded music from the internet, if you think Walt Disney was “original,” if you wonder whether or not it’s legal to Tivo your favorite show, or want to know why ASCAP sucks, you should read this book. Come to think of it, if you’ve ever produced anything creative in your life (a song, a painting, a poem, etc.) you should read this book. And you should be afraid of where our culture is headed. Lessig paints it like this:

Free culture is increasingly the casualty in this war on piracy … IN response to a real, if not yet quantified, threat that the technologies of the Internet present to twentieth-century business models for producing and distributing culture, the law and technology are being transformed in a way that will undermine our tradition of free culture … The opportunity to create and transform becomes weakened in a world in which creation requires permission and creativity must check with a lawyer.

The book I’m in the middle of reading is Shane Claiborne’s Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. I bought this book because someone at a conference told me I had to read it — apparently it would change my life. I’ve heard that line before, but I bought it anyhow. Then a few weeks later, David Bailey calls me from an airport and says, “Neal — drop everything you’re doing right now and go read this book. It will change your life.” This time I listened. They were both right. Last week I texted David and said, “You were right about the book. So when I go off the deep end, it will be partially your fault.” Claiborne calls for “Christians” to go beyond mere charity and distant, detached interactions with the social problems of our era:

Charity wins awards and applause, but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for charity. People are crucified for living out a love that disrupts the social order, that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.

It’s one thing to just think or say what he’s saying. I’ve done that plenty. But Shane Claiborne actually lives the way he talks, at an urban intentional community called The Simple Way. To me, this book and the ideas it contains could be the death and resurrection of the church, and possibly the world. And that would be a good thing.

The book I’m just starting is Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire, a Brazilian Educator who lived through the Great Depression, and taught illiterate peasants in his country how to read — not just so they could “prosper,” but more importantly so they could fight against the wealthy and powerful forces that sought to control and marginalize them in the first place. I haven’t gotten too far into the book, but just enough to get really excited (and cram the margins with notes):

This then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves … In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity,” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.

All three books challenge systems designed to keep the powerful powerful, and the rich rich — at the expense of freedom and opportunity: One from a technological/legal viewpoint, one from a sociological/theological viewpoint, and one from an educational/political viewpoint.

We love to *believe* that the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence — that “all men are created equal” — but but what we actually put into practice is more from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” And those “others” will generally stop at nothing to keep it that way. I think this is why Jesus preached that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. He wasn’t talking about people’s souls, or people’s hearts. He was talking about their houses, and their jobs, and their titles, and their bank accounts. Shane Claiborne puts it this way: “True generosity is measured not by how much we give away, but by how much we have left.”

Vive la Revolution!

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