Monday 30 March 2009

Living gently in a violent world: Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier on the witness of L'Arche

Speaking of L’Arche, IVP recently launched a new series, Resources for Reconciliation. The first volume discusses justice and reconciliation. The second volume in the series is a dialogue between Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (IVP 2008). Their dialogue explores the prophetic witness of L’Arche to the church and to society. “In a world determined to cure those who cannot be cured, Christians should refuse to do anything other than be with those Jesus taught us to be loved by – that is, those we ‘help’ by simply being present” (p. 56).

Vanier writes: “Today in France they are saying that within a few years there will be no more children with Down syndrome because they will all have been aborted…. The heart of L’Arche is to say to people, ‘I am glad you exist.’ And the proof that we are glad that they exist is that we stay with them for a long time. We are together, we can have fun together. ‘I am glad you exist’ is translated into physical presence” (p. 69).

And Hauerwas writes: “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 … is a lie. To be human is to learn that we don’t get to make up our lives because we’re creatures…. Christian discipleship is about learning to receive our lives as gifts without regret” (p. 93).

And in a concluding reflection, John Swinton observes: “L’Arche reminds us that time is not simply a commodity to be wasted, spent, saved or used but is rather a gift given…. The people living in L’Arche have recognized that time is a gift…. L’Arche lays down a marker in the fabric of time, a marker reminding us that in Jesus, time has been redeemed for the practices of peace” (pp. 104-5).


JM said...

Last year in the UK Downs rates actually went up, and it was surreal to see the reaction of journalists baffled that fewer people were having them aborted, even though prenatal tests for Down have gotten better. They even had the audacity to go to new parents of Downs babies and ask them why they 'chose not to terminate.' I found it chilling.

Ben Myers said...

That's very interesting, JM. Although this is a chilling story, the phrase "choosing not to terminate" sounds like the perfect fulfillment of pro-choice discourse: having a baby is now defined as "choosing not to terminate". (You hear the same thing in all those movies where a pregnant woman "decides to keep it": apparently death is the rule, and life merely an exception.)

roger flyer said...

Jean Vanier is one of the great theologians of or time.

Matt said...

Krista Tippett said she has felt in the presence of God twice in her life, with Thich Nhat Hahn (not a theist) and Vanier. If you haven't heard her interview with Vanier entitled "Wisdom of Tenderness", I would do so.

Favorite Vanier moment: he was visiting our home and all of us got some time with him. One of our core members walked in, looked at him and turned right around to walk out. One of the communities members asked her if she knew who the man was. She said no. He said "he is Jean Vanier." She said, "that's nice" and walked out of the room laughing. Jean found this instance hilarious and chuckled with her.

Josh Winn said...

Another great resource on the topic of reconciliation and justice is Miroslav Volf's The End of Memory. Volf argues that remembering “rightly” the wrongs suffered is fundamental to reconciliation. By “rightly,” he means in the exact way the wrongs occurred, that is, not recalling or recounting them to be more than they actually were (as one might do when they catch a guppy, but report it to be a large mouth bass). To remember “wrongly” is to make the crimes greater than they were, which equates to injustice for the perpetrator. Seldom is justice concerned with the perpetrator. Yet, Volf contends that the cross of Christ makes justice concerned with both the perpetrator and victim, because all are perpetrators when considering the necessity of the cross.

roger flyer said...

I think Krista might be referring to the genuine presence of humility...?

Matt said...

Those were her words when I talked to her. Clearly I do not think she believes Vanier is God, but there is something of Vanier that seems akin to God for her.

roger flyer said...

For me, there is a palpable sense of God wen I read Vanier...I believe it is because of his humility...the power of his 'crucified' life...?
I love Krista Tippett by the way.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Although I reluctantly hold that abortion is, though always tragic, sometimes the least evil possible, I have never held with aborting just because the developing fetus would be a special needs child. My wife and I refused amniocentisis tests because the main thing they would test for is Downs--and we would've raised a Downs child. Meanwhile amniocentisis actually INCREASES the risks of miscarriage.

The doctor had a hard time believing we would choose not to avail ourselves of this test. Well, our genetic history wouldn't make it possible to have Tay Sachs or Shattered X syndrome, genetic diseases where the child-to-be has no future (brutal and short), so there was nothing to tell us.

I do not think one need hold to the absolutist view against abortion to be horrified at the "designer baby" trends and desires for perfect children. Receiving not only OUR lives, but the lives of others as gifts seems to flow naturally from Christian faith.

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