Swami-like and pedagogical in skullcap, glasses, corduroy blazer, and striped tie, with the first Beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”) tattooed on his wrists, Aaron Weiss steps into the street after his band’s sound check and is promptly cornered by a young man wearing a homemade Aaron Weiss T-shirt. The young man has questions, questions; Weiss nods, smiles, radiates. The world is looking very worldly this evening, in Philadelphia’s Chinatown—the dazed conventioneers issuing from the nearby 1,400-room Marriott; the seamed faces of the homeless—but here outside the Trocadero Theatre, we’re running a slight spiritual temperature. Local theophile band mewithoutYou is playing a sold-out show, and the air holds the possibility that the kingdom of God, if it doesn’t descend to Earth tonight, will at least lower itself by a couple of inches.
Oh, to be a young believer in Philadelphia right now, where the spirit of Christian activism is mingling vigorously with an apparently unkillable strain of old-school countercultural Jesus-freakery. Here, if you’re listening, you’ll hear hosannas on the streets, and a flavor of tambourines. A band called Psalters mounts an ululating, multi-drum offensive against the capitalist hegemony. They dress the part, too—if you saw this lot coming on a dark night, you’d run. The dreadlocked Shane Claiborne is here, author of The Irresistible Revolution (2006) and a leader of a movement known as the New Monasticism. Claiborne co-founded the Simple Way community in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood in 1998, and the area has since grown to include a branch of the young storefront evangelical church Circle of Hope. Weiss typically visits Circle of Hope on Sundays, before dropping by the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in West Philly. (Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was a Sufi sage to whose teaching Weiss’s parents introduced him.)