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

Monday, January 12, 2009

Living gently in a violent world

This past weekend I read a wonderful book called Living gently in a violent world (Hauerwas & Vanier, IVP Books, 2008). It is basically the transcripts of 4 presentations made at a conference at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland in 2006. The conference was facilitated by Dr. John Swinton, a respected colleague who is also growing to be a friend (it is difficult to make new friends with folks across the world). The main speakers were Dr. Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche communities, and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, American theologian. Kathi and I actually were there in Scotland for the conference, and were honored to meet Drs. Vanier and Hauerwas. It was great to read the presentations again as the information is important enough to be preserved in book form. If you visit blog entries for September 18, 20 and October 7 of 2006 entries, you can read my reactions right after the conference.

To me, the book's title is a bit of a misnomer. Perhaps that is due to the lenses that I bring to the book. It is more about what disability and programs like L'Arche have to say to the church. I resonated with much of what was said, particularly Dr. Vanier's comments of living with and among adults with significant intellectual disabilities.

One story told by Vanier that particularly touched me is shared on page 72...
There was a little boy with a disability who was making his first Communion in a church in Paris. After the liturgy a family celebration of tea and coffee took place. The little boy's uncle went over to the mother and said, "Wasn't it a beautiful liturgy? The only sad part is that he didn't understand anything." The little boy heard and with tears in his eyes said, "Don't worry, Mummy, Jesus loves me as I am."

Too often, we reject based upon our perceived notion of who people are. As the little boy related, Jesus never rejects us but loves us as we are. A bit later on (p 73), Vanier says,
We are called to meet people just as they are and to know that each one is precious and important...But the real question is always how to discover our fundamental identity as children of God who are united to all others with the same fundamental identity. As we discover this, we find ways to meet one another and dialogue with another.
As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, if I don't know why you are precious and important, that doesn't mean you are not precious and important. That means that I don't know why you are precious and important. God tells me that you are, and it is kind of an adventure to understand God's perception of people. I approach people based on God's perception, and pray that he will allow me, will help me to see people as he sees them. Jesus truly does love people as they are. I pray that I learn that.

The book is very accessible, I felt. One chapter is a bit deep for some readers (but very good).



RegencyKnitter said...

I just finished that book as well, and was pleased with how well both Vanier and Hauerwas were able to make their message accessible.

Anonymous said...

The story that Vanier told about the boy during his Communion goes to show that one should never underestimate the intellectual capacity of an individual. Also, the fact that the boy knew that Jesus loved him just as he was, and was a comfort to his mother, shows a great resilience and depth of character.

The book sounds very interesting and a worthy read.

Anonymous said...

This blog put tears in my eyes. We are all made by the same God and we are all to be treated equal although that doesn't happen unfortunately. Children should feel that Jesus loves them no matter what and they should feel that everyone loves them no matter what. Children can be extremely mean and hurtful that is why I feel that it is important to teach your children that we are all equal regardless of a disability, or race or anything else. We are all God children and shall treat one another that way.