Dear Esquire Magazine --
Now: I have't written you today to berate you about your high-class soft-core format. I'm writing because of something you did about a year and a half ago which just came across my e-mail, and I was wondering if you could help me get my arms around it. I want to grasp what you had in mind when you published this open letter by Shane Claiborne.
I get it, by the way, that Shane kinda peaked in 2009 after the "success" of Jesus for President and Becoming the Answer to our Prayers, and he was on a somewhat-perpetual mission of self-promotion at that time between all the time he was spending with the poor. So getting him to write an open letter "To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends" probably wasn't very hard. Zondervan probably helped him get the gig because that's what publishers do.
At this point, I'm sure someone else would want to take apart Shane's letter for all its broad and narrow mistakes -- and it has plenty. His reading of the parables of Jesus or of John 3 leave a considerable amount to be desired from a purely-Christian standpoint. I mean: these are Christian stories, and one hopes that when someone tells them they will at least get them right from a foundational point of view even if they then jump off them to some other use.
But I'll be honest: I think you guys did something out of character, and I'm trying to figure out why.
Here's the basic story of Shane's letter:
- He's sorry that some Christians are so mean.
- He's not one of those because Jesus is not one of those.
- He loves you the way Jesus loves you.
- Everyone jump up on the Peace Train. E-ya-Ee-ya-ooh-ah! Jesus says you don't have to be mean.
- And God is not going to send anyone to Hell -- or at least we should hope so.
See: your magazine is about looking a certain way, looking at women a certain way, and thinking about things that, if you say them the right way, will get women to look at you a certain way. (cf. paragraph 1) There's not really the weight of ethical (let alone moral) bedrock under your magazine's periodical efforts. So to let Shane out of the box here with a message that says, in a very simple way, "don't be mean because God isn't mean," seems to scrub the fur of the hair of the dog the wrong way.
You guys couldn't care less about "mean". You probably enjoyed Shane making fun of the street preacher he witnessed while strolling in downtown Philly (ministering to the poor who were out on a date, I am sure), and enjoyed his shots at radio and TV messages by Christians, and the hackneyed Gandhi quote, but when he gets to the part about peace, patience, kindness, joy and love, did it strike any of you as somewhat ironic that one has to divert one's eyes from the link to "Women We Love Gallery" to read further? We can take it for granted that you didn't force anyone into sex slavery to fill that gallery, but is it really actually kind to pose women half-naked in order to drive traffic to your site and sell ad space in your magazine?
It's a living, I am sure, but is it actually any better than the fellow with the coffin and the mic Shane was so exercised over? At least the body that guy was treating like a sideshow attraction was a mock-up, and he wasn't rolling people for $18 for 33 issues of more of the same. Even if his method is a little impolite, his intention wasn't to make people more-likely to treat your daughter like a menu, or worse.
So why publish a letter from a guy like Shane Claiborne about how nice Christianity intends us to be? It seems to me that you could have had only one logical reason: you see his message as disposable. It runs in the same circle as the 10 essential truths of Men's Style, and your reading list which includes once-relevant items like Charles Bukowski's Women and Nick Tosches' Dino. Shane's idea of "nice" may offend the fundies and the TV evangelists, but it can't offend the libertine or the boozie hipster. In fact, it is marginally-admirable to them, an ideal which they can smell of and taste like a stick of gum which they hope will cover over the vaporous funk of what else they have been ingesting.
So all that said, I don't have a book to sell, and I don't have a hipster pretension to being some kind of post-medieval white rasta monk. I have a house in suburbia in the Bible belt, and I work a day job in renewable energy. I drive a decent silver sedan. My kids each have their own dogs, and I pay a mortgage. I am married to my one and only wife. But I have a series of 5 messages all about the length of Shane's, and they are about the problem that Christ poses for all kinds of people: conservatives, liberals, rich people, poor people, educated people, fashionable people, etc. If you're interested in more filler which will be even more edgy than Shane's letter, I'm game if you are.
Think about it, and as you do, also think about the kind of world we must live in where half-naked women and a message about being nice (not judgmental or even morally-refined) will co-exist without any raised eyebrows. That's a weird world to say the least, and your dirty little magazine has helped make it possible.
I hope you consider that good work, since it is your own. If not, perhaps we could talk about what good work looks like. I'd enjoy it, and I think you would, too.