Stanley Hauerwas

Leunig, Hunsinger and Hauerwas on ‘just war’ theory

As the US continues to beat its war drums in the Middle East, it’s a good time to think again about the so-called ‘just war’ theory. So, I draw attention to three pieces – from Michael Leunig, from George Hunsinger and from Stanley Hauerwas.

So, Leunig:

Just war

And in a recent piece published in Commonweal Magazine, Hunsinger argues that ‘a defensible case for the attack on Syria would have to satisfy traditional “just war” standards. In its modern form the just-war tradition (jus ad bellum) involves at least four primary elements: just cause, legitimate authority, last resort, and reasonable chance of success. If these criteria remain unmet, the recourse to war is unjustified’. In Hunsinger’s view, the proposed attack on Syria meets none of these standards.

And here, Hauerwas argues that the real realists are not the just-war advocates anyway, but the pacifists. Moreover, he contends that ‘the lack of realism about realism by American just war advocates has everything to do with their being American’. ‘In particular’, he suggests, ‘American advocates of just war seem to presume that democratic societies place an inherent limit on war that more authoritarian societies are unable to do. While such a view is quite understandable, I would argue that democratic society – at least, the American version – is unable to set limits on war because it is democratic. Put even more strongly, for Americans war is a necessity to sustain our belief that we are worthy to be recipients of the sacrifices made on our behalf in past wars. Americans are a people born of and in war, and only war can sustain our belief that we are a people set apart’. Such democracies, Hauerwas believes, ‘by their very nature seem to require that wars be fought in the name of ideals that make war self-justifying’. And, characteristically, Hauerwas concludes his piece with a reflection on the relationship between war, christology and ecclesiology:

Pacifists are realists. Indeed, we have no reason to deny that the “realism” associated with Augustine, Luther and Niebuhr has much to teach us about how the world works. But that is why we do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war.

Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. When Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world, we will find other forms of sacrificial behaviours that are as compelling as they are idolatrous. In the process, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

If a people does not exist that continually makes Christ present in the world, war will always threaten to become a sacrificial system. War is a counter church. War is the most determinative moral experience many people have.

That is why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war. Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war. When Christians lose that reality – that is, the reality of the church as an alternative to the world’s reality – we abandon the world to the unreality of war.

For what it’s worth, whenever I happen across Christians defending just-war theory to justify their participation in the state’s various machineries of cross-border violence (which, for the record, is not what I think Hunsinger is doing), I’m reminded of another George – George Bernard Shaw – and his challenge to (hypocritical) church leaders:

They have turned their churches into recruiting stations and their vestries into munitions workshops. But it has never occurred to them to take off their black coats and say quite simply, ‘I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologise for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all the years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God.’ Not a bit of it. They have stuck to their livings and served Mars in the name of Christ, to the scandal of all religious mankind.

Following Jesus means learning to say both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

yes noOver the years, I’ve learnt to be grateful – really grateful – for anyone who helps me to take more seriously what it means to follow Jesus. And part of what I’ve learnt – and need to keep learning – is that to follow Jesus means not only learning to say ‘Yes’ but also learning to say ‘No’; not only learning to say ‘I love’ but also learning to say, with equal discipline, ‘I hate’. Yes, I agree, ‘hate’ is a word that ought be used sparingly. And yes, I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was right to insist that only love can drive out hate, and that Frederick Buechner is spot on to observe that pure ‘haters simply lose themselves’. But ‘hate’ is not, for these reasons, a word that ought to be completely outlawed or which is out of place in faithful and loving speech. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. So, for example, it’s because I love my partner that I hate all that threatens to diminish our relationship. It’s because God loves marriage that God hates divorce (Mal 2.16; and, yes, I know that there are alternative renderings of this verse).

But back to ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. The Barmen Confession, more explicitly than perhaps any other Reformed confession, reminds us that genuine confession of faith is always both an affirmation of truth and a denial of untruth. Elsewhere, Barmen’s chief author put it thus: ‘If the Yes does not in some way contain the No, it will not be the Yes of a confession … If we have not the confidence to say damnamus [what we refuse], then we might as well omit the credimus [what we believe]’ (CD I/2, 631, 630). Of course, that there is a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ to be said (and acted upon) doesn’t rusticate the ‘Maybes’. But that there are not only Maybes means that to be a response-able human being is to live other than on a fence. Luther’s famous ‘Here I stand’ speech comes to mind here, as does Kierkegaard’s Abraham. And so, for example, it’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to the Father whose face is made available to me in Jesus Christ that I must say ‘No’ to those church liturgies which replace/mimic the triune name with a set of functions. (Isn’t it a no brainer? God has a name. God went to a lot of trouble to tell us that name. So use it!) It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to Christ that I must say ‘No’ to Caesar. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to the ploughshare that I must say ‘No’ to the sword. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to life that I must say ‘No’ to life’s enemies. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to personhood that I must say ‘No’ to individualism. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to prayer that I must say ‘No’ to distraction. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to faithful tellings of the gospel that I must say ‘No’ to the way that the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll sometimes spout theological bullshit in the name of Christian truth (and ‘No’ to the way that so-called Christian publishers profit from their verbiage).

So back to ‘Hate’. While those who live in – and so are formed by – Facebookland are dis-encouraged to feel so strongly about anything that they should ‘hate’ it, or even ‘dislike’ it, human beings are not called to live lives constituted by Mark Zuckerberg but by the event of God’s decision to be human among us, an event that calls everything into question. Some of those questions will be met by a ‘Yes’ and others by a ‘No’, some by a ‘Love’ and others by a ‘Hate’. And I was reminded of this recently when watching this wee clip of Uncle Stanley (who is one of those who has helped me to take more seriously what it means to follow Jesus) talking about the things that he hates.

Training for the Christian life

Whenever the body of Christ eats together in Eucharist on Sundays, it does so in the hope that it will have its eyes opened to and participate in what God is up to in the world, not only on Sundays but on Wednesdays too. The claim, made by Stanley Hauerwas and others, that living in a deeper awareness of the story of Jesus and of the Church does, in the freedom and grace of God, ‘do’ something is deserving of a hearing. While there is no magical change of status, and while these graces do not turn the gathered people of God into liturgical automatons nor automatically make them more ethically-consistent or mature, the Church’s gospel-shaped practices are, I suggest, the means by which the Head (i.e., Jesus) immerses his Body (i.e., the Church) in the way of ordinary gospel-posture. Specifically, they are means by which Christ trains us. This is true whether we are talking about something like the Church’s calendar, its fasting, or its weekly praying of the Lord’s Prayer, and it is particularly true when it comes to the Lord’s Supper. Every time we come to the Table, which is where the entire Church’s story is enacted in concentrated form, we are offered training in how to live sacramentally in the world, to unearth its idolatries, and to expose what William Stringfellow calls the ‘transience of death’s power in the world’.

Hauerwas on the Church and the abolition of war

In Hauerwas’ latest piece, ‘Ten Years and Counting: The Church and the Abolition of War’, we hear, near the eve of 9/11, themes long-echoed by Yoder’s most prolific publisher:

‘I want to convince Christians that war has been abolished. The grammar of that sentence is very important. The past tense is very deliberate. I do not want to convince Christians to work for the abolition of war, but rather I want us to live recognizing that in the cross of Christ war has been abolished.

So I am not asking Christians to work to create a world free of war. The world has already been saved from war. The question is how Christians can and should live in a world of war as a people who believe that war has been abolished’.

You can read the rest here.

I’ve also posted some resources on pacifism and war here.

Hauerwas on Mother’s Day, and other idols

I’m not sure when Mother’s Day became part of the Church’s calendar (I obviously missed the memo on that one), but Stanley Hauerwas, who is always such fun to read, and whose latest collection of provocative and stimulating sermons and essays, Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian, reminds us why we ought to lament the fact that so many did get the memo.

He once addressed a group of young people with these words:

I assume most of you are here because you think you are Christians, but it is not at all clear to me that the Christianity that has made you Christians is Christianity. For example:

—How many of you worship in a church with an American flag?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many worship in a church in which the Fourth of July is celebrated?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that recognizes Thanksgiving?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that celebrates January 1st as the “New Year”?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

—How many of you worship in a church that recognizes “Mother’s Day”?

I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.

I am not making these claims because I want to shock you. I do not want you to leave the Youth Academy thinking that you have heard some really strange ideas here that have made you think. It is appropri­ate that you might believe you are here to make you think, because you have been told that is what universities are supposed to do—that is, to make you think. In other words, universities are places where you are educated to make up your own mind. That is not what I am trying to do. Indeed I do not think most of you have minds worth making up. You need to be trained before you can begin thinking. So I have not made the claims above to shock you, but rather to put you in a position to discover how odd being a Christian makes you.

One of the great difficulties with being a Christian in a country like America—allegedly a Christian country—is that our familiarity with “Christianity” has made it difficult for us to read or hear Scripture. For example, consider how “Mother’s Day” makes it hard to compre­hend the plain sense of some of the stories of Jesus. In Mark 3:31–35 we find Jesus surrounded by a crowd. His mother and brothers were having trouble getting through the crowd to be with Jesus. Somebody in the crowd tells him that his mom cannot get through the mass of people to be near him. Which elicits from Jesus the rhetorical question “Who are my mother and brothers?” which he answered, noting, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Even more forcefully Jesus says in Luke 14:26: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” When you celebrate “Mother’s Day,” the only thing to do with texts like these is “explain them,” which usually means Jesus could not have meant what he plainly says.

Of course, the presumption that Christianity is a family-friendly faith is a small-change perversion of the gospel when compared to the use of faith in God to underwrite American pretensions that we are a Christian nation possessing righteousness other nations lack.

– Stanley Hauerwas, Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 116–7.

And while I’m drawing attention to brother Stanley’s latest publication, let me quote another passage, this time his wonderful wedding sermon opener. The target? The sentimentalisation of love:

Christians are required to love one another—even if they are married. That may be a cruel and even heartless demand, but it is nonetheless the way things are if you are a Christian. From Paul’s perspective marriage is not necessarily the context that determines the character of love or our ability to love and be loved by another. Rather, Paul seems to think we need to learn to be loved by God and so to love God, and then pos­sibly ourselves, and if we have gotten that far we may even discover we can love our neighbor, who may be our enemy, which often turns out to be the necessary condition for those who are married to love one another. (p. 139)

Writing off Yoder

The latest edition of One the Road, the journal of the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand, includes a helpful piece by Michael Buttrey titled ‘12 ways to prematurely write off Yoder: Some common misconceptions about Yoder’s ‘Neo-Anabaptist’ vision’. Buttrey identifies the twelve ‘misconceptions’ as:

1. Yoder believes Constantine corrupted the church.

2. Yoder thinks that there was no salt or light in the medieval church.

3. Yoder hates Luther, Calvin and the other magisterial Reformers.

4. Yoder has a low view of God’s sovereignty over history. Or:

5. He idolizes the early church.

6. Yoder inappropriately sees Jesus’ earthly life as normative.

7. Yoder fails to deal with the Old Testament, especially the wars of Joshua.

8. Yoder’s pacifism inhibits any effective witness to the state, especially regarding war.

9. Even for Christians, Yoder’s pacifism is impossible, or at least irresponsible.

10. Yoder advocates separation from the world that ‘God so loved.’ And:

11. Isn’t Yoder a ‘fideistic sectarian tribalist’ like Stanley Hauerwas?

Here, Buttrey writes:

These common accusations seriously misunderstand Yoder.

First, Yoder’s context was one where he was urging traditionally quietist Anabaptists to realize they had a social ethic and witness to society, while simultaneously calling activist Christians to realize they need not abandon the gospel and take up the methods of the world in their impatience to get things done. Ironically, Yoder has often been taken more seriously by theologians and political philosophers outside his tradition – such as Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles – than those on the ‘inside.’

Second, Yoder has no desire to divide the church further. Indeed, in “The Kingdom As Social Ethic” he deeply objects to the labelling of radically obedient groups as sectarian, for they had no intentions of separating themselves:

[Such groups] have called upon all Christians to return to the ethic to which they themselves were called. They did not agree that their position was only for heroes, or only possible for those who would withdraw from wider society. They did not agree to separate themselves as more righteous from the church at large. (85)

Third, Yoder is fundamentally not interested in withdrawal or separation from society. In “The Paradigmatic Public Role of God’s People,” Yoder agrees with Karl Barth that ‘what believers are called to is no different from what all humanity is called to. … To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord makes it inconceivable that there should be any realm where his writ would not run.’ (25) Of course, those who seriously see Christ’s commands as normative for all tend to be called fideists or theocrats. Yoder is neither.

Yoder is not a fideist because, unlike most realists, he sees the gospel as having a truly universal appeal. Christian realists typically assume that the gospel is inaccessible and incomprehensible to all other groups, and so it is necessary to use a neutral, ‘public’ language to oblige non-Christians ‘to assent to our views on other grounds than that they are our views.’ (16–7) Indeed, it is not Yoder but his critics who tend to think that their faith is fundamentally irrational and its public demands must be set aside for that reason. This reverse fideism is not surprising, however, given how modern liberal democracies understand religious groups and language.

Further, Yoder is not a theocrat, because he does not call for the violent imposition of the gospel, which would be an oxymoron. Rather, the challenge for the church is to purify its witness so ‘the world can perceive it to be good news without having to learn a foreign language.’ (24) Christ’s universal lordship obliges the church to make great demands of the world, but by definition, the gospel witness is a process of public dialogue, not coercion.

In short, the best word for Yoder’s understanding of the church’s witness to society is that of model. Consider some of these potential imperatives for civil society Yoder derives theologically in that same essay:

  • egalitarianism, not because it is self-evident (history suggests that it is clearly not!) but because baptism into one body breaks down ethnic and cultural barriers;
  • forgiveness as commanded by Christ (he agrees with Hannah Arendt that a religious origin and articulation for forgiveness is no reason to discount it in secular contexts);
  • radical sharing and hospitality, even voluntary socialism, as implied in the Eucharist; and
  • open public meetings and dialogue, as Paul instructed the Corinthians.

This sketch is almost a political “platform,” and hardly separatist. But for Christians with typical approaches to politics, Yoder’s call for the church to be where God’s vision for society is first implemented and practiced is an enormous stumbling block. It is yet another irony that realists are so often closet quietists: they see the only choice as being between transforming society and letting it go its own way. Yoder, however, asks us to obey Christ even if no one else is interested – although he trusts that the Kingdom will advance if the word of God is faithfully witnessed and embodied amid the powers and principalities of the world.

12. Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas are the same.

You can read the full piece here.

Hauerwas on War, Sacrifice and the Alternative to the Sacrifices of War

The ABC’s outstanding Religion and Ethics site has recently posted a stirring three-part reflection on war by Stanley Hauerwas:

Here are some tasters:

  • ‘I think the language of sacrifice is particularly important for societies like the United States in which war remains our most determinative common experience, because states like the United States depend on the story of our wars for our ability to narrate our history as a unified story’.
  • ‘I think it is a mistake to focus – as we most often do – only on the sacrifice of life that war requires. War also requires that we sacrifice our normal unwillingness to kill. It may seem odd to call the sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill “a sacrifice,” but I will argue that this sacrifice often renders the lives of those who make it unintelligible. The sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill is but the dark side of the willingness in war to be killed. Of course I am not suggesting that every person who has killed in war suffers from having killed. But I do believe that those who have killed without the killing troubling their lives should not have been in the business of killing in the first place … Killing creates a world of silence isolating those who have killed’.
  • ‘Awarding of medals becomes particularly important. Medals gesture to the soldier that what he did was right and the community for which he fought is grateful. Medals mark that his community of sane and normal people, people who do not normally kill, welcome him back into “normality.” [Lt Col Dave] Grossman calls attention to Richard Gabriel’s observation that “primitive societies” often require soldiers to perform purification rights before letting them rejoin the community. Such rites often involve washing or other forms of cleaning. Gabriel suggest the long voyage home on troop ships in World War II served to give soldiers time to tell to one another their stories and to receive support from one another. This process was reinforced by their being welcomed home by parades and other forms of celebration. Yet soldiers returning from Vietnam were flown home often within days and sometimes hours of their last combat. There were no fellow soldiers to greet them. There was no one to convince them of their own sanity. Unable to purge their guilt or to be assured they had acted rightly, they turned their emotions inward’.
  • ‘Killing shatters speech, ends communication, isolating us into different worlds whose difference we cannot even acknowledge. No sacrifice is more dramatic than the sacrifice asked of those sent to war, that is, the sacrifice of their unwillingness to kill. Even more cruelly, we expect those who have killed to return to “normality”’.
  • Hauerwas also cites from Carolyn Marvin’s and David Ingle’s book Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag: ‘In the religiously plural society of the United States, sectarian faith is optional for citizens, as everyone knows. Americans have rarely bled, sacrificed or died for Christianity or any other sectarian faith. Americans have often bled, sacrificed and died for their country. This fact is an important clue to its religious power. Though denominations are permitted to exist in the United States, they are not permitted to kill, for their beliefs are not officially true. What is really true in any society is what is worth killing for, and what citizens may be compelled to sacrifice their lives for’. To which Hauerwas comments: ‘This is a sobering judgment, but one that cannot be ignored if Christians are to speak truthfully to ourselves and our neighbours about war. I think, however, Christians must insist that what is true is not what a society thinks is worth killing for, but rather that for which they think it worth dying. Indeed, I sometimes think that Christians became such energetic killers because we were first so willing to die rather than betray our faith. Yet the value of Marvin’s and Ingle’s claim that truth is to be found in that for which you are willing to kill is how it helps us see that the Christian alternative to war is not to have a more adequate “ethic” for conducting war. No, the Christian alternative to war is worship … The sacrifices of war are undeniable. But in the cross of Christ, the Father has forever ended our attempts to sacrifice to God in terms set by the city of man. We (that is, we Christians) have now been incorporated into Christ’s sacrifice for the world so that the world no longer needs to make sacrifices for tribe or state, or even humanity. Constituted by the body and blood of Christ we participate in God’s Kingdom so that the world may know that we, the church of Jesus Christ, are the end of sacrifice. If Christians leave the Eucharistic table ready to kill one another, we not only eat and drink judgment on ourselves, but we rob the world of the witness necessary for the world to know there is an alternative to the sacrifices of war’.

‘The politics of gentleness’

Scott Stephens and Carmel Howard have posted a wonderful wee reflection – ‘The politics of gentleness’ – in which they draw upon a recent episode of Encounter which featured Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas. Here’s a snippet from Hauerwas:

‘If you want to know what speed is, it’s war. War is made necessary by presumption that we don’t have the time to come to reconciliation, or to discover who the other is, that seems to be threatening us because we need to kill. What L’Arche represents is the time necessary, and how patience creates the time necessary, for people to come to reconciliation and knowledge of one another in a way that we’re not threatened to eliminate the other because they frighten us so deeply. We have all the time we need in a world that doesn’t think it’s got much time at all to draw on God’s love, to enact that love, that the world might see what it means to be chosen by God … Liberal political theory is so often based upon presumption that you want to have the autonomy of something called the individual that makes it possible for them to live without the need of others. What I think that L’Arche helps us see is we are not and should not be, autonomous, but our first stance is always to need another human being if I am to survive. So it is dependency, not autonomy, that we must learn to live if we’re to live well with joy, without regret. And so I think learning to live as, in Macintyre’s phrase, ‘dependent, rational animals’ is a great challenge within liberal cultures … I take the body image in Corinthians to be extremely important. We are interconnected in a way that some of us have gifts that others do not. And the gifts that the others have that we do not, we need. One of the problems that the so-called ‘weakest’ present is that many of us think that is an invitation for us to be very strong, where we can take care of the weak, rather than to see how the weak offer us gifts, that doesn’t make it imperative for us to always be strong. That’s part of what it means to learn to live as a body’.

By the way: the photo, which has been the focus of my meditation this week, is Raoef Mamedov’s ‘Het Lasstste Avondmaal’. Click to enlarge. Stay with it a while to enlarge yourself.

Here and there …


Naming God

Long-time readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem will know of my abiding interest in discussions about naming God; which reminds me, my friend Rick Floyd has two fantastic posts here and here on this topic. Anyway, inspired by Robert Jenson, Stanley Hauerwas has written a stimulating piece on this same topic. Here’s a few snippets:

‘… it should not be surprising that in a culture which inscribes its money with “In God We Trust,” atheists might be led to think it is interesting – and perhaps even useful – to deny god exists. It does not seem to occur to atheists, however, that the vague god which some seem to confuse with trust in our money cannot be the same God who raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt’.

‘… We, like the people of Israel, would like to think we get to name God. By naming God we hope to get the kind of God we need, that is, a god after our own likeness. We can make the “more” that must have started it all after our own image. But God refuses to let the people of Israel – or us – assume that we can name the One who will raise Israel from Egypt. Only God can name God. That, moreover, is what God does’.

‘… The God we worship is not a vague “more” that exists to make our lives meaningful. The God we worship is not “the biggest thing around.” The God we worship is not “something had to start it all.” The God we worship is not a God that insures that we will somehow get out of life alive. The God we worship is not a God whose ways correspond to our presumptions about how God should be God.

That God has come near to us in Christ does not mean that God is less than God. God is God and we are not.

Yet we believe that the God we worship has made his name known. We believe we have been given the happy task of making his name known. We believe we can make his name known because the God we worship is nearer to us than we are to ourselves – a frightening reality that gives us life. We believe that in the Eucharist, in the meal of bread and wine, just as Jesus is fully God and fully man, this bread and this wine will, through the work of the Spirit, become for us the body and blood of Christ.

To come to this meal in which bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Christ is to stand before the burning bush. But we are not told to come no closer. Rather we are invited to eat this body and drink this blood and by so doing we are consumed by what we consume becoming for the world God’s burning bush.

By being consumed by the Divine Life we are made God’s witnesses so that the world may know the fire, the name, Jesus Christ’.

[Image: bLaugh]

Hauerwas on Christian identity, and on being sent into the world

‘”We’re all congregationalists now.” I don’t particularly like it, but we are. How to ensure given that reality that Eucharistic assemblies are not separate from each other is one of the great challenges before us. The role of the bishop is very important to make sure that Eucharistic assemblies are not isolated from one another. There are also other ways to do it. Certainly sending people from one congregation to another helps. But how we recover Christian unity in the world in which we find ourselves is a deep challenge. By “unity,” I don’t mean just agreement about ecclesial organization; I mean the refusal of Christians to kill one other. I think that the division of the church that has let nationalism define Christian identity is one of the great judgments against the Reformation in particular’.

‘Christians have to engage the world in which we find ourselves. We’re in love with the world because God is in love with the world. Therefore, we want the world to know what God has given us. Of course, I’ve never asked Christians to refrain from being politically engaged. I just want them to be there as Christians. What it means to be there as Christians is to be shaped by the body and blood of Christ, which has been done for the world. The closing prayer after our Eucharist celebration includes: Send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart through Christ our Lord, Amen. How could that be a retreat? I can’t imagine how the Eucharist can be self-containing if you’re sent out from it’.

– Stanley Hauerwas & Andy Rowell, ‘The Gospel Makes the Everyday Possible’.

There he goes, tacking against the fields’ uneasy tides …

[Image: Members of the staff of the Bank of New Zealand, on Lambton and Customhouse Quays, Wellington, gather around the first electronic book-keeping machine installed in the bank, 1960. HT: National Library of New Zealand]

Stanley Hauerwas on the place and calling of the elderly

‘Our communities depend on memory to understand what makes us who we are. If you think life is fundamentally about consuming and not about such memories, then the elderly have no place in your world. But I believe that the older you get, the more obligations you have to those who are part of your life to remember your mistakes—and the mistakes of the community—so you can be part of the articulation necessary, hopefully to avoid some of those mistakes in the future.

So everything depends on the assumption that life is made up of wisdom that is derived from these many lives and many judgments over time. We can pass this on to the next generation. My emphasis on the importance of sharing stories is crucial in that regard because stories are contingent on the tellers. The elderly have to become good tellers of the stories that make the community who they are’. – Stanley Hauerwas, ‘For the Faithful, There Is No ‘Florida’

Hauerwas on Christian Ministry and Speaking Christian

‘God knows what possesses anyone to enter the ministry in our day. The lack of clarity about what makes Christians Christian, what makes the church the church, and continuing ambiguity in our diverse denominations about ordination itself should surely make anyone think twice about becoming a minister. Moreover the lack of consensus about what it might mean for anyone to act with authority in our society and the church cannot help but make those of us who are not ministers wonder about the psychological health of those who tell us they are called to the ministry.

Too often I fear the ministry is understood by many Christians as well as many who become ministers, to be but one expression of the more general category of something called a “helping profession.” A minister is a social worker with “a difference.” “The difference” is thought to have something to do with God, but it is not clear exactly what difference that difference is to make for the performance of your office.

As a result many who enter the ministry discover after a few years of doing the best they can to meet the expectations of those they serve— expectations such as whatever else you may do you should always be nice—end up feeling as if they have been nibbled to death by ducks. They do so because it is assumed that since pastors do not work for a living those whom the minister serves, or at least those who pay them, can ask the minister to be or do just about anything. Though it is often not clear how what they are asked to do is required by their ordination vows, those in the ministry cannot say “no” because it is not clear what their “job” is in the first place.

Many in the ministry try to protect themselves from the unlimited demands and expectations of their congregations by taking refuge in their families, some alternative ministry such as counseling, or, God help us, a hobby. Such strategies may work for a while, but often those who employ these strategies discover that no spouse can or should love another spouse that much; that even after you have done C.P.E. you are still stuck with the life you had before you were trained in C.P.E.; and a hobby turns out to be just that—a hobby.

The failure of such strategies, I think, throws some light on clergy misconduct. I wish I could attribute the sexual misconduct characteristic of some Methodist clergy to lust, but I fear that most people in the Methodist ministry do not have that much energy. I think the problem is not lust, but loneliness. Isolated by the expectations of the congregation, or the challenge of developing friendships with some in the church without those friendships creating divisions in the church, too often results in a profound loneliness for those in the ministry. Unfortunately, the attempt to overcome that loneliness can take the form of inappropriate behavior.

There is another alternative. You can become a scold urging the church to become more socially active in causes of peace and justice. This may earn you the title of being “prophetic,” but such a strategy may contribute to the incoherence of the ministerial task. For it is not at all clear why you needed to be ordained to pursue causes of peace and justice. It is a great challenge for ministers who would lead their congregations to be more socially active to do so in a manner that does not result in the displacement of worship as the heart of the church.

… what you have learned to do in seminary is read. By learning to read you have learned to speak Christian. That you have learned to read and speak means you have been formed in a manner to avoid the pitfalls I have associated with the contemporary ministry. For I want to suggest to you that one of the essential tasks of those called to the ministry in our day is to be a teacher. In particular, you are called to be a teacher of language. I hope to convince you that if you so understand your task, you will discover that you have your work cut out for you. But that is very good news because you now clearly have something to do.

Yet in the book of James (3:1-5) we are told:

not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

The problem, according to James, is no one has found a way to tame the tongue. Because the tongue cannot be tamed it becomes a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” The tongue is the source of discord because it at once makes it possible to bless the Lord and Father yet curse those who are made in the image of God. That we bless and we curse from the same mouth is but an indication of how dangerous the tongue is for those who have learned God will care for his world through patient suffering.

If James is right, and I certainly think he is, then how can I suggest to you that if you are to serve the church well in the ministry you must become a teacher and, in particular, a teacher of a language called Christian? I do so because I think the characterization of the challenges facing those going into the ministry is the result of the loss of the ability of Christians to speak the language of our faith. The accommodated character of the church is at least partly due to the failure of the clergy to help those they serve know how to speak Christian. To learn to be a Christian, to learn the discipline of the faith, is not just similar to learning another language. It is learning another language.

But to learn another language, to even learn to speak well the language you do not remember learning, is a time-consuming task. You are graduating from seminary, which I assume means that you have begun to learn how to speak as well as teach others how to talk, as we say in Texas, “right.” For as I suggested there is an essential relation between reading and speaking—it is through reading that we learn how to discipline our speech so that we say no more than needs to be said. I like to think that seminaries might be best understood as schools of rhetoric where, as James suggests, our bodies—and the tongue is flesh—are subject to disciplines necessary for the tongue to approach perfection.

That the tongue is flesh is a reminder that speech is, as James suggests, bodily. To speak well, to talk right, requires that our bodies be habituated by the language of the faith. To be so habituated requires constant repetition. Without repetition—and repetition is but another word for the worship of God—we are in danger of losing the grammar of the faith. At least part of your task as those called to the ministry is to help us, as good teachers do, acquire the habits of speech through the right worship of God’.

– Stanley Hauerwas, ‘Speaking Christian: A Commencement Address for Eastern Mennonite Seminary’, The Mennonite Quarterly Review 84 (2010), 441–44.

Around: ‘Love seeketh not itself to please’

‘The Clod and the Pebble’

‘Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.’

So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

‘Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven’s despite.’