Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life as Theology

It is difficult for me to describe the impact Stanley Hauerwas' work has had on my life. The book he co-authored with William Willimon, Resident Aliens is one of the most personally influential books I have ever read. I first stumbled across the book for an Acts term-paper during my first semester of Bible College. I was so engrossed I could not put it down. While I think the theology articulated in that book is quite relevant to how Acts ought to shape Christian lives today, it is not the best resource for an exegetical term paper. I ended up devouring the book in a day or two rather than working on my paper. In the end, the term paper was in quite bad, but the book has had a lasting impact.

It was not until reading Hauerwas' latest book, Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, that I was reminded how important my friends' reactions to Resident Aliens were for me. After my initial reading I wasn't quite sure what to do with the book. I knew I loved it, but I had no idea what to do with it. I had not yet made the friendships necessary to have the capacity for Resident Aliens. I wondered how seriously I should or even could take this odd little book. I can liken my reaction to Hauerwas' initial response to reading The Politics of Jesus, "He wrote clearly and powerfully. I was overwhelmed. I also assumed that he had to be wrong [. . .] pacifism had to be a mistake" (116). It wasn't until I began to learn from the force of nature that is Thom Stark that I had the capacity to take Resident Aliens and Stanley Hauerwas seriously. Thom and I have our differences but he was profoundly influential in making me come to terms with the implications of a cross shaped gospel. He is also a dear friend. He taught me that it did not matter if I liked the idea of pacifism, which I did not, what mattered was whether or not I would follow a crucified Messiah and be honest with the gospel that claimed my life.

Of course, Thom Stark is not solely to blame for my pacifism. A lot of it had to do with reading the book of Revelation, John Howard Yoder and spending time with friends who really thought God mattered. So it's also the fault of scripture, witness and community. Soon I was convinced that following Jesus meant forsaking violence. It was because of friends like Thom and others that I could read Hauerwas. I was delighted to discover that his memoir is, in many ways, "a testimony to friends" (286). It was true for Hauerwas and has been true for me, "I cannot separate what I think from who I know. People make all the difference" (196).

Hannah's Child is a fascinating and exciting book. I had trouble putting it down to "work." I loved hearing the stories of how Hauerwas met and was challenged by some of the greatest theological and philosophical minds of the 21st century. It was also an intensely personal reflection on his failed marriage and his role as a father. I have long thought that a person's theology cannot be separated from their life, something I no doubt read in Hauerwas and learned from Michael DeFazio. In Hannah's Child Hauerwas offers his life as the embodiment of his theology. It is, in my mind, one of his most important books. If nothing else, you will be challenged to take God seriously by someone who doesn't have time for hypocrisy. Rather than offer any critique, which I don't really know how to do with this book, I will share Hauerwas' words that I found insightful:

On the insufficiency of faith as intellectual assent:

"The grammar of 'belief' invites a far too rationalistic account of what it means to be a Christian. 'Belief' implies propositions about which you get to make up your mind before you know the work they are meant to do." (x)
"I m not interested in what I believe. I am not even sure what I believe. I am much more interested in what the church believes." (254)
"I hold no conviction more determinatively than the belief that prayer names how God becomes present to us and how we can participate in that presence by praying for others." (281)
On learning

"I slowly learned by his [John Score's] example that to be a Christian meant that you should never protect yourself from the truth." (11)
"I think reading Nietzsche had convinced me that how Christians lived surely must be crucial for understanding how, if at all, what Christians say they believe might be considered true." (51)
On living out of control:

"Learning to live out of control, learning to live without trying to force contingency into conformity because of our desperate need for security, I take to be a resource for discovering alternatives that would otherwise not be present." (137)
"What so often makes us liars is not what we do, but the justifications we offer for what we do. Our justifications become the way we try to defeat the contingencies of our lives by telling ourselves consoling stories that suggest we have done as well as possible." (159)
I find it only appropriate to conclude this little reflection with a testimony to the friends who have made my life possible. Thanks to the friends and mentors who always remind me that God matters. Michael, Dan, Jay, Lane, Jordan, Josh, Thom, Shane and Sarah, the Dougs, the Marks, Jason, Kyle, Dr. Lowery and of course Margo, you have taught me and continue to teach me what it means when I say "God."

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