Conor Sweetman

Concrete Level Community

Conor Sweetman
Concrete Level Community

I called Shane Claiborne in the middle of a fish delivery.

As the author of Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President, Shane has become an honest and prevailing voice in the Christian world.

The monastic lifestyle that he embodies, along with a small community in Philadelphia called “The Simple Way”, takes the idealizations within the walls of churches and seminaries and turns them into a concrete reality through every small action carried out.

As I finished my elaborate description about Ekstasis Magazine being an endeavour to bridge academia with the arts and gain spiritual insight and ideas from high-minded thinkers, Shane began to laugh at my words. Immediately gaining composure and ensuring I didn’t get the wrong impression of his reaction, he explained: “I'm laughing because I have sh gunk all over me as we’re talking. We’re installing a new aquatic system where the sh nourish the ground. It’s pretty sweet... We live in a place dominated by concrete where we don’t have good soil. So, we’re doing our best to allow things to grow through this cool sh technology.” Shane was speaking from being in the middle of dirty life, digging unrestrained into the soil of love and relationships. He specializes in finding holy moments in the middle of rush and bustle. “It’s not unusual” he explains “for me to be sitting in the middle of a lot where a fire just burned down a bunch of houses and we’re planting a garden.”

“In all that we do as a community, we try to see the integration of how I think with my head and how it works out in my hands. A perfect day for me is getting my hands in the soil, hanging out and helping kids with their homework, writing an academic article about the death penalty... they all intersect for me. I see Jesus talking about the massive dream of the kingdom of God where everyone has their daily bread, swords are being beaten into ploughs — but then He’s also sitting with a woman at a well. He
is never too busy to be interrupted; He existed in interruptions and holy surprises. When people needed him he was there, he lived through people’s pain right by their side. We’re in the thick of that too.”

Describing our culture’s modern obsession with full calendars and busy days, he says, “We make idols out of our day planners... But a lot of life doesn’t happen there. If you think of your greatest memories, most of them aren’t what you had at 10 o’ clock on your day timer.”

With an invitation to loosen the bounds of metropolitan bustle, and live in the freedom for ‘holy interruption’ to occur, Shane elaborates further, offering an alternative. “It’s clear to me that the plea to ‘not be conformed to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ is an invitation to live with imagination.It’s not easy because a lot of our imaginations have been colonized by TV — the ever-present bombardment of the Kardashians and the election. All this stuff that clutters our spirits and tells us that happiness has to be purchased. We’re subjected to an onslaught of lies in the name of ‘ e American Dream’. Over here in Philadelphia, we have a community that is marching to a different drum beat, hears a different song, and we’re oriented to a different story.”

“I live with absolutely wild people. For example, I’ve been to jail a dozen times with an 85-year-old nun who was repeatedly locked up for her protesting. We need people who continually encourage us to live simple and beautiful lives, but also to take risks. Sometimes people say to me ‘Oh my gosh, you went to Iraq or Sudan’, but I went with some of the most courageous people on the planet, some who’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize. their courage rubs off on me. We’re talking about swimming upstream, even when the stream is pretty brutal.”


“We get a different vision of what beauty is through the life of Jesus. He says ‘Consider the lilies of the eld, the sparrows in the air’, they are more beautiful than anything we can create with our hands. ere’s this sense that there’s a lot of counterfeit beauty and clutter. Simple living doesn’t mean ugly living... To see an abandoned house become a home, an ugly wall become a mural — it’s a constant resurrection that we live in light of every day. When we repurpose things and reclaim space, we’re partnering with the holistic redemption story of God. We’re trying to bring the Garden of Eden to Philadelphia! It reframes how we imagine the world and what we think is possible. We believe in building a new society in the shell of the old one. rough faith we believe despite the evidence, and then we watch the evidence change.”

“I find deep contentment, and genuinely get excited by gardening in the concrete, we saw our first cardinal, lightning bug and praying mantis recently. that stuff gets me totally jazzed. I love hanging out with kids, they keep me energized, and we have fun with them when we juggle, do re-breathing, unicycle — crazy things we do to make the world smile a little bit. Here we have a different way of thinking about joy. ere’s a deep contentment that comes that’s much different than the superficial stuff. I had someone say to my friend “You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to live how you do” to which she replied “You couldn’t pay me that much either! I do it because it’s what I love and what I’m called to. ere are hard days; there are plenty of struggles. But it’s where the light shines — hope in the context of struggle. We see a lot of evidence changing.”