“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Saturday, October 07, 2006

More from the Aberdeen conference

As I related, I recently attended a conference at the University of Aberdeen. There were two featured presenters, Dr. Jean Vanier and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas. Both of these men are professional heroes of mine. I could not believe that I would have the opportunity to meet them both at the same conference, particularly as the second day of the conference was with an intimate group of about 30 people with Vanier and Hauerwas.

Much of the focus of the conference was on the work of Vanier, particularly through the L'Arche communities. The second day of the conference was specifically dedicated to what the L'Arche communities have to say to the church. Dr. Hauerwas gave a presentation that day, in which he lauded Vanier's work, and the example of L'Arche as in many ways prophetic, as prophesy to the church. Allusions were made to L'Arche as in some ways being similar to a kind of monastic community. A question from the group of 30 particularly made that connection, which Dr. Hauerwas affirmed had occurred to him.

I then asked a question which I will have difficulty repeating here exactly, although Dr. Hauerwas' response will be much easier to reproduce. I asked something to the effect, "Although I have tremendous respect for Dr. Vanier and the work of the L'Arche communities around the world, don't you think the manner in which people in these communities interact with persons with disabilities should be like the "normal Christian life", the way in which we all should interact with such people? I mean, to set this community up as approximating a monastic model, only implies that it is not for everyone, as I for one will not be joining a monastery. Most people will not. Shouldn't this be the way we all should be interacting with persons with disabilities, within the churhc?" I actually thought I was asking a kind of a "soft ball" question, but his response shocked me. He said something to the effect, "I don't know, you have to ask Dr. Vanier." I can only assume I was misunderstood. I hope I was misunderstood. Otherwise, the love and compassion evidenced by people at L'Arche towards persons with disabilities, causes a world renown theologian and philosopher to reply basically that he doesn't know if that is the way Christians, or the church are to act towards people with disabilities.

A light came on for me.

This was a perfect example of what is wrong with the Church today. A brilliant man, one of the few theologians who has taken on disability and has written pretty powerfully about it, didn't know whether we as Christians, within the church, should be showing the love and caring demonstrated in L'Arche communities towards persons with disabilities. Maybe he was thinking of people living together in the manner of L'Arche, I don't know. But his answer was almost breath taking for me in illustrating how disconnected the church is about people with disability and who they are. Perhaps he needs to know more people with disabilities, perhaps he is afraid of people with disabilities. Clearly he holds those like Dr. Vanier who have done incredible work in this area in high esteem, but that can be a big part of the problem.

I have shared with the classes I teach that I have been told many times by a variety of people how wonderful I am because I work with persons with severe disabilities. I am a bit sick of that praise, however. I am at the point where I am going to respond, "If it is so wonderful, why don't you do it too!" Don't praise me and dismiss yourself. I wish you wouldn't praise me at all. Just you do what you can, so that all of us loving and supporting people with disabilities will become the normal Christian life.

And theologians will not be stymied by the question of whether I should love my disabled neighbor.



Anonymous said...

I know how much you were looking forward to this conference, so I understand the disapointment and disaffection you feel with Hauerwas' reply to your question.

It remains a difficult question for the Church, how to respond to the needs of the disabled in our midst. Maybe they don't need a respons at all; just acceptance.

I think we should all spend a little bit of time reflecting on the kind of people jesus hung out with.

Impossibleape said...


mind blowing in the best sense of the metaphor

you do 'blow' even the best minds
with questions like the one you asked of the good doctor and are now asking of us.

Thanks for asking

I think all of us will have a hard time answering it properly.

Anonymous said...

First i want to comment on the fact that you are tired of hearing people praise you for working with the disabled. I think that when people praise you for your efforts i do not think that they are not willing to work with the disabled them selves or wvwn include them into the church, i think that the prasis that you get is for the extent in which you have dedicated your lifes work to these individuals in helping the people of the communities to understand and to except these individuals in their own lives, that is something to be proud of and the fact that you have touched so many hearts with your work.

The fact about the conference is that any one should be accepted into the church no matter who they are, it is a part of the churches duties and the religion. Though to develop a community especially for the disabled is good but i beleive that the time used to devlop these communities should have also included time to make surronding communities understand the life of a disabled person. it almost seems as another way to segragate these people from the whole of a community instead of including them and excepting them for who they are.