Notes from the Margins: Swords into Plowshares, AK-47s into Shovels

Notes from the Margins: Swords into Plowshares, AK-47s into Shovels March 1, 2013
Each week in Notes From the Margins, D.L. Mayfield writes about the kingdom of God, marginalized people groups, and popular culture.


There are a few books and movies that have played major roles in my spiritual formation. The book of 1 John. Missionary biographies. Mere Christianity. You get the picture. But one of the stranger ones was a cheaply made documentary that my new husband picked up at a punk rock show. I can still recall the first time I watched it, my memory crisp and clear, the last few seconds I had of a “normal” life. The documentary was called Another World Is Possible, and it was made by Shane Claiborne and the good people at the Simple Way, an intentional community in Philadelphia. Even now, I can’t exactly explain why it impacted me so much—on subsequent viewings I found the movie itself to be a somewhat hastily edited documentary on familiar topics: war, greed, poverty, and the Christian response. But for whatever reason, on that night in March of 2008, I was undone.

That documentary got into my bones. I heard, for the first time, that things in the world were very broken, and my quest for safe and secure and “happy” life was a part of it. I had been struggling for some time to make sense of my life. I and everyone I knew believed in a very good and very just God. But outside of our churches and Bible college, things were pretty bleak—full of sickness and sadness and corruption. What did any of us have to offer? What did Jesus have to offer?

I believe that one particular documentary, on that one particular night, changed the course of my life. And not just because the information is presented was factual (I presume it was) or that it was emotional (it was, but not in an exploitative way). I think it changed me more than anything because it was interesting, sprinkled with good humor, and most of all, hopeful. I believed that there really was a way for me to be involved, in every level of my life—financially, relationally, and spiritually—in living out the Good News. After making several life changes (most notably moving into a low-income housing complex to hang out more with my refugee friends) it is more clear to me than ever that I need the Good News to be good. I need it to be goofy, full of celebration, centered on community and good humor. Because if there is one thing I have learned on the margins, it is this: Everyone is looking for hope.

Oscar Wilde once said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh—otherwise, they’ll kill you.” After years of being the perpetual Debbie Downer, I am inclined to agree. Those first few months after watching that documentary were hard on my friends and family (if my husband or I saw people brandishing certain brands/shopping bags we would harass gently admonish them). Through the years, as we have delved less into “issues” and more into the lives of those living in brokenness, our sense of outrage and a thirst for justice have not been quenched. But they have changed, as we learn to rely less on our own abilities to change the world and find ourselves hopelessly leaning on the Good News of Jesus, on his ability to change hearts and minds and turn people toward God. Watching Another World Is Possible was a turning point for me, orchestrated, I believe, by the Holy Spirit. But infusing the truth of our world with humor and hope takes an extraordinary amount of time and energy—not to mention humility—that I rarely can attain. Of all the current prophetic voices in our culture, calling for the Church and Christians to rise up and see the Kingdom come, I think Shane Claiborne and his friends have done the best job of this. And it is working.

Just this past week at the Justice Conference, Shane and his friends at RAWtools did an astounding demonstration. On Facebook Shane had asked if anybody had an AK47 they would like to donate. An individual stepped up and said he would like to, that he was hoping for a future that ended the patterns of gun violence in our country. At the Justice Conference, the two guys behind RAWtools took a fully functional gun and converted it into working garden tools: rakes and shovels. Those tools will be used in the community garden at the Simple Way, which will in turn feed the people of the neighborhood.

And that is what we need right now. I don’t view this as an abstract representation, but a living and breathing example of our hope in Christ’s coming kingdom. AK47s are not a part of heaven, and we should grieve that they are a part of our present. We all know this, but tend to get caught up in various arguments/rhetoric discussing our present day. So many of our current conversations are humorless and rote, convincing few and alienating many. This is why a few more demonstrations of the creative presence of the Gospel are needed. I truly believe we are all fully aware of how horrible and beautiful and corrupt and promising the world is. But sometimes, we need to be shaken, badly, out of our stupor (be we paralyzed from fear or indecision or satiated on our own comfort). Sometimes we need to be reminded of how very good the Good News is, that our Deliverer is coming. Sometimes we just need to laugh, to commiserate and celebrate and find our tribes that will partner with us in doing whatever it is we need to do in order to live fully for the Kingdom. And sometimes we need to be creative, using the supernatural gifts of hope to see weapons of destruction turned into tools of life-giving food.

Lately, I can feel the enthusiasm and the outrage that fueled my activism wearing rather thin. The world is hard, especially on the margins. But Jesus is here too, teaching us to be creative in our hope for redemption. The underlying principles I have absorbed—a deep belief that Jesus wants to use me to bring his rule and reign in the world—still remain. And for that, I am grateful to visionaries such as Shane Claiborne, for sharing their gifts and for showing me that another world really is possible. One where this happens, and where it is a sign of what’s coming:


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