The Englewood Review of Books
Vol. 1, No. 7 – 15 February 2008
Diving for pearls in the endless stream of books (Eccles. 12:12B)
Chris Smith, editor
A review of
Jean Vanier’s Encountering “the Other”
By Chris Smith.
Many of the readers of The Englewood Review of Books will probably be familiar with Jean Vanier, a gifted writer and the founder of the L’arche communities. For those of you who don’t recognize Vanier’s name, perhaps L’arche will be a little more familiar, as it was in one of these Christian communities that Henri Nouwen spent the final years of his life. The focus of the L’arche communities is to provide a communal setting in which severely disabled people can live with non-disabled people and these two groups can take care of each other and together learn about what it means to be humans created in the image of a loving God. The L’arche website ( http://www.larche.org/ ) describes this relationship:
People with an intellectual disability often have the remarkable capacity to touch others. They are particularly welcoming and spontaneous, and their sensitivity allows them to bring us together, to enrich and challenge us as human beings. L’Arche is convinced that our societies are in need of these qualities and that people with an intellectual disability can be real teachers who are able to lead us back to the essential.
Vanier’s experience in the L’arche communities has yielded him deep insights into human nature and into our calling to share life together. Some of you may be familiar with his masterpiece on life in Christian community, Community and Growth. His little book, From Brokenness to Community, is a very accessible introduction to the frequent themes of Vanier’s work, and is a wonderful place to dive into for readers unfamiliar with Vanier. As a supplement to these wonderful books on community, Vanier has recently released a little book entitled Encountering the Other, which is an eloquent meditation on the struggles and the beauty of humanity. The chapters in this book have been adapted from talks that Vanier gave at a 2004 conference at which people from a variety of national and religious backgrounds were brought together to engage in conversation across traditional lines of conflict (Israeli/Palestinian, Britain/Northern Ireland, etc.).
As Vanier explains, the first step in the long, but necessary journey toward “Encountering ‘the Other’” is the establishment of trust and the letting go of power. Our tendency is to deal with the poor and those with less power is to offer generosity or service. However, Vanier is quick to note that such generosity is not ultimately redemptive, because it still clings rigidly to control. Instead, our calling is to the vulnerability of friendship. It seems that these initial insights and the ones that Vanier will build upon them would especially be of value to those who live and worship in urban places. Our cities are glutted with those who want to spread their generosity around, but there are few who dare to follow in the way of Christ and truly become friends with those many urban folks who bear the burden of poverty, mental illness, addiction, etc.
Vanier goes on to expose the root of our separation from other humans. Like our forefather Adam in the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 3, esp. v. 9-10), we hide ourselves from others because we are afraid. “This is the history of humanity,” says Vanier, “We hide behind walls, behind groups, behind culture. We can even hide behind religion” (28). From this point, Vanier proceeds to name the walls that divide us as “sin” (33). The way of redemption, of reconnection, begins as we start to listen and to talk to one another. “Let’s talk about [the pain of conflict],” says Vanier; “Talk because if we cannot talk, the pain keeps boiling up within us” (36). As we begin to talk with one another, the way toward peace and reconciliation opens up as we begin to enter into the pain that “the other” is experiencing. On this journey, God is our strength and our guide. Vanier says: “God is forgiveness. God is mercy; we don’t have to be frightened of God. God knows our brokenness, God knows how vulnerable we are, and God knows also the fear and the violence that are within us. But he is inviting us to go deeper” (44). This invitation comes in the form of the call to follow Jesus, whose incarnation is for us the prime example of the way in which we are to relate to others.
One of the walls that we are inclined to hide ourselves behind is the wall of “doing” or “service,” or to use Vanier’s term, “generosity.” At the core, Vanier’s message is that what we need more than these good deeds is a change of heart. This Lenten season of reflection, is a perfect time for us to pick up Encountering “The Other,” and to wrestle anew with the darkness of our hearts and our fears, and to submit ourselves again to the vulnerable way of Jesus, in which we are called to set aside our control and to become friends with those of different means and backgrounds that God has brought into our lives.
Encountering “the Other”.
Jean Vanier. Trade paperback. Paulist Press. 2006.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $7 ] [ Amazon.com ]
[ A note on buying books: We offer you the opportunity to buy the books listed here, either directly from our little independent bookstore (Doulos Christou Books), or through amazon.com. The prices listed for our bookstore do not include shipping or Indiana sales tax. Local folks can arrange to pick up their books from either our Lockerbie or Englewood stores. If you want to buy a book and are having trouble with the links in this email, drop us an email – email@example.com – and we’ll see that you get the book(s) you want. ]
Used Book Finds
The bread-n-butter of our bookstore business is the sale of used books, and we do a fair amount of scouting around for used books each week. In this section we will feature some of the interesting books that we have found in the past week. Generally, we will only have a single copy of these books, so if you want one (or more) of them, you’ll need to respond quickly.
The Law of Love and The Law of Violence.
Hardcover. Rudolph Field. 1948. RARE!
Very Good. Clean pages / Moderate wear.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ]
Letters and Papers from Prison.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Trade Paperback.
Macmillan. 1979 printing. Very Good.
Clean pages / Moderate wear.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $7 ]
A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine.
Roy Battenhouse, ed.
Hardcover. 1956 Printing. Good.
Mostly clean pages / Minimal wear.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $18 ]
Stanley Hauerwas extols “The Virtues of Alasdair MacIntyre”
“Few dispute that Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most important philosophers of our time. That reputation, however, does him little good. It is as though, quite apart from the man, there exists a figure called Alasdair MacIntyre whose position you know whether or not you have read him—and whose name has become a specter that haunts all attempts to provide constructive moral and political responses to the challenge of modernity.
The curious result is that MacIntyre’s work is often dismissed as too extreme to be taken seriously. In fact, MacIntyre’s work is extreme, but we live in extreme times. And though he is certainly critical of some of the developments associated with modernity, Alasdair MacIntyre is also a constructive thinker who has sought to help us repair our lives by locating those forms of life that make possible moral excellence. … ”
Read the full piece:
The MacIntyre Reader. Paperback. 1998.
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Alasdair MacIntyre. After Virtue. Third Edition. 2007. Paperback.
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[ Doulos Christou Books $25 ] [ Amazon.com ]
The New York Times Review of
Sizwe’s Test: A Young Man’s Journey Through Africa’s AIDS Epidemic.
By Jonny Steinberg.
“No matter how serious a disease may be, devising a cure or treatment or ways of prevention is only half the battle. The other half can be more mysterious. Throughout the world, people who should know better eat, drink or have sex in needlessly risky ways, or ignore medical danger signs until it is too late. These, the willful ignorers, are what interest the South African journalist Jonny Steinberg about the gravest medical crisis his country has experienced: AIDS. More than one out of every eight South Africans is H.I.V. positive, Steinberg reports; every day roughly 800 South Africans die of AIDS and more than 1,000 additional people are infected. A recent survey found that in the previous month, the average South African was more than twice as likely to have been to a funeral as to a wedding.
Pushed hard by a determined citizens’ movement, the South African government has at last begun widely distributing antiretroviral drugs. Why, Steinberg asks in “Sizwe’s Test,” do so many people dying of AIDS not take them? And why do millions of South Africans at risk not even get tested for the virus? … ”
Read the full review:
Sizwe’s Test: A Young Man’s Journey Through Africa’s AIDS Epidemic.
Buy now (Hardcover) from:
[ Doulos Christou Books $21 ] [ Amazon.com ]