I enjoy books that give me a window into the mind and life of people very different from myself. I will always admire a person who believes in something over a person who believes in nothing, even if I don't agree with everything they believe.
This book is about a young "ordinary radical" Christian whose life is like a mishmash of Christian humanitarian meets communal-living hippie. The author describes his own upbringing in mainstream Christian churches in Tennessee and how he went with his friends while attending Christian college to hang out with homeless people. He decides that he sees God when he's amongst the poor decides to spend his whole life amongst society's outcasts.
He goes to India to work amongst the poor alongside Mother Theresa for a summer "internship". Later, he organizes a community of Christians who live communally in the ghetto part of Philadelphia. They offer a house of hospitality to other Christians and protest when they think homeless people are being mistreated. (Like when a group of homeless people are told they can't live illegally in an abandoned Catholic church... I wasn't really sure that was such an unreasonable request, but the author seems so self-satisfied with protests and stunts like this throughout the book that I just accepted it.)
In the author's code of ethics, churches shouldn't spend money on things like big cathedrals - they should give almost all of it to the poor. This, he claims, is the pattern established by the early church. He says that if everyone would just share with each other, there would be enough for everyone.
Churches shouldn't be about moral purity, but about living with and helping the poor. For him, being an addict or fornicator isn't as serious a sin as being a middle-class suburbanite, because Jesus told that one dude to sell everything and follow Him and so should we. (The author speaks like you'd imagine a cool youth pastor to talk to teenagers, lots of "dude" and "man".)
The author is really against any war because all people are our brothers and sisters, so he went to Iraq to help the victims of warfare there. (Considering the fact that he doesn't appear to hold a regular job, I often wondered how he was getting money for all of the trips he describes going on, to Washington DC, India, the Bahamas, Iraq, Texas...)
The author is young and single. I'm not sure that this system would work well for parents, although that he claims some parents live in his "community". He claims the community votes on who gets what money based on need and relationships they all have with each other. I know a lot of idealistic groups that start off with this kind of arrangement (including communism and my own church), but I question the sustainability of this method on a large scale. claims the communities should stay small and create a network across the world.
I think I know what the author means when he speaks with rapture about the poor - a person in a position of great difficulty becomes humble and must rely on faith more than those who are rich, comfortable and proud, which can potentially lead them to communion with and help from the divine. But he doesn't delve much into why the people are poor or homeless or how to help them get out of that position, or what behavior could possibly have caused it to begin with. It's almost like being poor is something to aspire to for him.
Well, it was still an interesting point of view. He's trying to show that Christianity doesn't have to fit the mainstream, Republican, middle class, pro-gun, pro-war, patriotic stereotype, that there is room in God's family for the outcasts, and that what we call crave is a sense of belonging and community.