“Christ’s Way of Peace
Manifested in our Weakness”
A Review of Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness. by
Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier.
By Chris Smith.
Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness. Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Paperback: IVP Books, 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ] [ Amazon ]
Since this past summer, when I first got word of this book, I have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to dig into it.Not only is it written by two of the most important figures in Christian thought today, it also is the first book in the series “Resources for Reconciliation” from IVP Books and Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation.And this little book did not disappoint, offering a brief but compelling argument for the place of weakness in the life of the Church.
Living Gently is primarily a book about the L’Arche communities, which Vanier founded in the mid-1960’s, and the witness that these communities offer to the wider church.For those who are unfamiliar with L’Arche,these communities are comprised of people with and without severe disabilities, who share life together and learn and grow together.Indeed, L’Arche provides a fertile context in which to think about our calling to be ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation.Both Hauerwas and Vanier have spent many years reflecting on the place of disability and weakness in the church community, albeit in different contexts: Vanier within L’Arche and Hauerwas within the academic community.Those who may have discovered Hauerwas’ writings in the last decade, may not be familiar with his earlier works on medical ethics and the Church, in which he frequently explores the role of disability and suffering.
There are four essays in Living Gently, two by Vanier and two by Hauerwas, as well as an introduction and concluding essay by John Swinton that frame the Vanier/Hauerwas conversation nicely.In the book’s first essay, Vanier describes the vision for the L’Arche communities, which he characterizes with the images of “fragility” and “the friendship of God.”Vanier here names three practices that are essential to the vitality of L’Arche: eating together, praying together and celebrating together (i.e., laughing, fooling around and having fun).He concludes by sharing the primary theological insight that he has learned through his experience with the L’Arche communities: “To become a friend of Jesus is to become a friend of the excluded.As we learn to be a friend of the excluded, we enter into this amazing relationship that is friendship with God” (41).