Seeing in New Ways by Naming Truly—With the Help of Stanley Hauerwas
On Monday, October 17, the prolific writer, teacher, and theologian Stanley Hauerwas was the featured lecturer at the The Carondelet Lecture Series at Fontbonne University here in St. Louis. Hauerwas is well-known as the sort of speaker who seems incapable of being uninteresting; and Fontbonne’s campus is literally adjacent to the Seminary on our northwest corner. This was a good combination, so with a number of our graduate students and several other faculty members, I trooped over and partook of the lecture. His topic was this: “Disability: An Attempt to Think With.” And it was interesting (and Fontbonne is close). Here’s some take-away from that lecture, but remember that these few words are my impressions and ruminations based on my hearing of the lecture.
Another way to say “disabled” is to say “vulnerable.” In our culture, certain people whose bodies and/or brains don’t work well are “disabled,” and it is particularly easy to include the very young and very old in this category of “disabled.” But we are all vulnerable, able to be hurt, in need of being loved and in need of loving others. And doesn’t this conform to something very profound about what it means to be a member of God’s people, for whom the second, equally great command is to love the neighbor? In my memory I attribute an aphorism to C. S. Lewis, though I can’t put my finger on the specific citation; I think it’s from The Four Loves. Let’s just pretend that Lewis said it: “Eternal life will be a time and place of unbounded giving and unashamed receiving.” All equally loved, and all equally rejoicing in being loved. In that sense, we are all together, vulnerable, disabled—and that’s why the work of Christ Jesus is for all.
Here’s another one. The “medical understanding” of suffering concludes that suffering has no purpose and no positive value; therefore, suffering is purely a problem that doctors should try their best to eliminate or prevent. We can all smell where that can go—not least for the very young/unborn or the very old/infirm. By strong and remarkable contrast, the Christian Gospel locates suffering in such a way that it can have a purpose. We often don’t know why suffering happens. But the Bible reveals that in Christ and under His gracious reign, God can accomplish his ends through suffering. As my pastor, Tim Wilkins has said, “Jesus is the Lord of your suffering.”
Last. How can we relate to the disabled . . . to the vulnerable . . . that is to say, with each other? We can work for them, we can work with them, we can be for them, and (my favorite) we can be with them. To be with the vulnerable takes many forms. I wonder if the most widely available is to engage in the profound and effortful work of . . . listening. To listen intently and wisely and patiently can be a profound act of love and of courage. Though this isn’t what Jesus meant: let the one who has ears, hear.