“Christ’s Way of Peace
Manifested in our Weakness”
A Review of
Living Gently in a Violent World:
The Prophetic Witness of Weakness.
Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier.
By Chris Smith.
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
There are four essays in Living Gently, two by
In the book’s second essay, Hauerwas reflects on the significance of L’Arche and, in particular, its rootedness in local communities and its counter-cultural mission to care for the disabled rather than trying to cure them (or institutionalize and depersonalize them). He goes on to emphasize that L’Arche is not the Church and that its members should participate in church communities – for their own sanity as well as to bear witness to of L’Arche’s work to the larger family of God. He describes this sort of witness by likening L’Arche to a canary in a coalmine: “By watching L’Arche we know when we face the ‘culture of death’” (56).
Living Gently thus concludes with John Swinton’s brief essay which describes L’Arche as a peace movement. Indeed, I believe that the peace that Jean Vanier and L’Arche bear witness to is one that goes much deeper than simply abolishing war. Swinton concludes his essay:
L’Arche lays down a marker in the fabric of time, a marker reminding us that in Jesus, time has been redeemed for practices of peace. Its presence reminds us that Christianity is not a theory but a practice. To believe in Christianity, we need not only to know about God; we need to see God, to feel God and to love God in all things and at all times. That is our peace, our shalom. Peace follows the shape of the gospel; it needs to be seen to be believed. L’Arche helps us to begin to see what peace looks like (104-105).
This book is an important one for the Church, as it points to the example of L’Arche, as a witness to Christ’s gentle way of love and peace, and urges us to reflect upon L’Arche’s calling to share life in community with the disabled. There were however, two minor shortcomings that could have made this an even better book. First, I wish that the introduction would have included a fuller depiction of what L’Arche is and how life unfolds in these communities. Had I not been quite familiar with L’Arche, I fear that the first couple of essays would have been hard to follow without a more detailed description of L’Arche. Secondly, Hauerwas’s final essay was too short and choppy; his argument would have been much easier to follow it had been fleshed out more. Despite these issues, Living Gently is an important book for our churches to read and reflect upon, and I pray that it would lead us to more compassion toward those people that society rejects and toward a community that is marked by the peace of Christ and by joyous celebration of the hope that we have through his death and resurrection.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com