Friday, August 06, 2010

Great Book - "Living Gently in a Violent World"

TITLE: Living Gently in a Violent World - (the prophetic witness of weakness)
AUTHOR: Stanley Hauerwas & Jean Vanier
PUBLISHED: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008.

Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (Resources for Reconciliation)I like this book. It is a collection of articles that reflects a contrast of styles and substance. The title suggests a ‘gentle lifestyle’ against a backdrop of a violent environment. The authors are also contrasted, with Hauerwas as an academic who sees ideas and ‘enemies’ to be defeated, while Vanier is a practioner (founder of L’Arche) who sees hearts that need healing. Yet, both men are fighting on the same side: one on theological and philosophical realm, while the other on the human healing aspect. If there is one word to describe the book, it is the word ‘reconciliation.’

Two men of contrasting styles are reconciled in a common goal to bring a ‘prophetic witness of witness.’ They write two strong articles each arguing for the need for the Church to be different from the world. 

A) Jean Vanier
In “The Fragility of L’Arche and the Friendship of God,” Vanier describes the formative years of the ministry to the Disabled and Marginalized through the L’Arche organization. The name ‘L’Arche’ means “The Ark” where people (specifically the disabled) are welcome to live together. Vanier sets up L’Arche after recognizing the great injustice and pain the common world inflicts upon people considered ‘disabled’ and marginalized in society. The way forward is to offer all residents the friendship of God, which Vanier does so admirably.  This community gives the people of L’Arche some semblance of humanity and meaningful relationships. Three activities are crucial to the cultivation of a strong community: 1)Eating together; 2) Praying together; and 3) Celebrating together. Ending with Rev 3:20, Vanier adds:

We have to hear Jesus knocking at the door and then open the door and let him come in to be our friend. To become a friend of Jesus is to become a friend of the excluded. As we learn to be a friend of the excluded, we enter into this amazing relationship that is friendship with God.” (41)
Vanier’s second article, “The Vision of Jesus” is a stronger demonstration of what it means to live peaceably in this world. Ironically, it means to attack the ‘walls of fear’ like “rejection, abandonment, not succeeding, failure, deterioration, death.” (61)
The heart of the vision of Jesus is to bring people together, to meet, to engage in dialogue, to love each other. Jesus wants to break down the walls that separate people and groups. How will he do this? He will do it by saying to each one, ‘You are important. You are precious.’ There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that the other is important.” (63)

We are not just doing good to them as professionals. That is important, but it’s not just about that. It’s about revealing to them that they have value. They have something to say to our society.” (63-4)
Wow. That is right. Ministry work is not what we do for people, but how we can encourage and empower people to help themselves, but shining God’s light on them to shine in God’s vision for them.

B) Stanley Hauerwas
Hauerwas’s article, “Finding God in Strange Places,” is a clarion call for the Church to be involved, and why L’Arche needs the wider people of God to exist. He attacks the 2 enemies of community: Speed and Placelessness.

He makes a shrewd observation about life:
Gary (a mentally disabled man) also read Scripture. It would take a long time. But for the church to learn to wait for the lesser member to speak in the Pauline sense is to witness to the world a different way of living in time. We live by slowing down and saying with our lives that the world will not be saved by frantic activity. If time has already been redeemed by Jesus, we learn to wait on the salvation of the Lord by taking time to listen to our weakest members.” (45)

He says of technology and its terrible effect on medicine and politics:
When technology replaces community, you ain’t got community to fall back on when you’re in a crisis.” (49)
 He bemoans the tendency of modern medicine that seeks more to try to cure rather than to care:
That seems to me to be an image of how speed has produced technology, which then undercuts the viability of community. We see it in medicine today; the task is not to care for patients but to cure them. When caring turns into curing, we don’t know what to do with patients when we can’t cure them.” (50)
He then points out the problems of placelessness, where people suffer violence in terms of not given a proper place in this world. For example, the baby in the womb diagnosed with a mental disability will either be aborted or banished away to a secluded part of society if born. Violence comes in the form of ‘getting rid’ of those that do not conform or comply to the general order of things. The body of Christ must become the Body that accepts all people in their various forms.

Hauerwas’s second article, “The Politics of Gentleness” marks quite a change of tone, that calls for the increasing use of tenderness and gentleness to guide policy formation and activities. At the heart of this is to recognize the loneliness inside each person. In other words, we are already naturally wounded, and we all need healing. This healing comes in the form of a community that accepts one another.

Long story short: we don’t get to make our lives up. We get to receive our lives as gifts. The story that says we should have no story except the story we chose when we had no had no story is a lie. To be human is to learn that we don’t get to make up our lives because we’re creatures. Christians are people who recognize that we have a Father whom we can thank for our existence. Christian discipleship is about learning to receive our lives as gifts without regret.” (92-93)

My Comments
This is a great book to reflect and to reduce (and reject) our dependence on the ways of the world to run our lives. It is a necessary message. It is a crucial call for Christians not to compete with the world, but to contrast their lifestyles with the world. The people that the world rejects, the Church must readily accept. The violence that societies tend to inflict on the marginalized, Christians need to readily defend the poor and the weak. In a nutshell, people are made for God and for one another. One cannot accept God on one hand, and reject certain people simply because they are too slow, or not able to sing our same songs. Neither can we play favouritism especially when God Himself does not discriminate. Salvation is for all who comes to Christ. Anyone can come to faith in Christ. The choice is theirs.

I have spoken to John Swinton before, and am aware of his passion to help the disabled live better. In this book, he does a commendable job in introducing the two scholars and affirming the common goal for all:

ways of becoming people of peace wherever we may be.” (103)

This is a message for all, especially the Church. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. May we all as children of God, live gently amid a world where violence is perpetuated. May our witness bring forth a haven for the marginalized. 

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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