Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas (5) (living gently in marriage)

This is a series of short excerpts from each chapter of Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas edited by Leixlip lad Kevin Hargaden.

The outline of the book is in this post. This excerpt is from Chapter four ECCLESIAL POLITICS, PEACEMAKING, AND THE ESCHATOLOGY OF WORSHIP.

In this chapter the conversation between Brian Brock and Hauerwas delves into familiar Hauerwasian territory of pacifism, gentleness and the church as an eschatologoical community. It’s rich reading.

One theme that gives me much pause for thought is where Brock and Hauerwas discuss how a theological commitment to pacifism needs to be part and parcel of learning to live gently in a violent world. (Echoing themes of Living Gently in a Violent World that Hauerwas wrote with Jean Vanier of L’Arche).

Brock notes at one point that

It’s at moments like these that it’s clear that you are aware of the danger that your work is easily subverted when people receive it as a challenge and a crusade to establish pacifism, rather than as a sign in the wilderness pointing to intangible practices of living gently in a violent world (106)

And Brock adds later,

In so far as people read you as pacifist and think that somehow excuses them if they are not being gentle, I’d like to insist that is not a venial sin but a complete falsification of your work. (107)

In other words, it is easy to be committed to pacifism / non-violence in an aggressive and violent way – I guess a bit like the evangelist who tells people ‘God loves you’ in a hostile or threatening tone.

Rather, Hauerwas is proposing (against his own instincts to fight and win against his enemies) that gentleness needs to be a virtue that characterises all of life.  Responding to Brock, he gives the example of marriage:

… What is one of the most frightening aspects of marriage? The person we are married to learns to know us better than we know ourselves. That’s why they are able to hurt us the most; they know our vulnerabilities. I think that there’s a certain sense in which it is very important that there be a gentleness between people who are married. It is a learned virtue. (108)

OK – so let’s go off on a Hauerwas inspired marriage tangent here ….

As someone who can seem reasonably agreeable to most people most of the time, who believes that following Jesus means a commitment to non-violence, and is researching and writing about love –  this chapter hit home. For it is possible to present that face and to believe those things – but not live or think or act gently.

What do you think it means to live gently in relationships? In marriage?

If gentleness, as Hauerwas says, is a learned virtue, then the tongue needs to be controlled to speak gently as a way of life. James does not mess about on this – see 3:1-12 and this:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. James 1:26

I have much learning and repenting to do for sure on how and what I speak.

On gentleness or kindness in marriage as a learned virtue see this important and practical article in The Atlantic on research into successful and failed marriages. Successful marriages the researchers found flourish on kindness – expressed a thousand ways. (The Atlantic article describes different examples of kind or unkind interactions).

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters [those with happy enduring marriages] tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

That love and relationships need sustained hard work is the language of learned virtue. The disposition of kindness (or gentleness or love) needs to be practiced and reinforced every day – it unlocks and releases potential kindness and love in return.

Kindness [as opposed to contempt] glues couples together. Research … has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.

A lack of kindness, in other words the presence of aggression, hostility and especially contempt are signs that the marriage is in deep trouble. The researchers could predict with 94% success whether couples would stay together from observing their interactions around kindness (or the lack of it).

This all makes perfect sense. But, as the Brock / Hauerwas interaction reminded me, it is one thing to know something in your head, it is quite another thing to practice that virtue.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas (4)

9780567669964

This is a series of short excerpts from each chapter of Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas edited by Leixlip lad Kevin Hargaden.

The outline of the book is in this post. This excerpt is from Chapter Three on TEMPERAMENT, HABIT, AND THE ETHICS GUILD.

A challenging and fascinating chapter contains a conversation about Hauerwas’ relationship with the academic guild.

One thing you’ve got to like about Hauerwas – whether you agree with him or not – is his willingness to stand up and be counted in challenging a dominant consensus – whether in the academic world, in the church or particular toxic assumptions of his country’s nationalism. At one point he says this

  … what makes a life truly worthwhile is having some hold on the truth, the ability to be non-bullshit honest. (85)

Good theology is anything but boring! It cuts right to the heart of issues of justice, hope, forgiveness, love, death, money, power, sex, ambition, the environment, politics etc. Theologians, and the churches they represent should be speaking and acting as Christians within the world. And this will involve confrontation with the powers.

Hauerwas makes me uncomfortable because I wonder where is my passion for living as a Christian – a resident alien in the world. He should also make the church uncomfortable – for the last thing the church should be is boring, conventional and bourgeois, comfortably existing within the status quo of a deeply unChristian Western world. We are, after all, followers of a crucified Messiah.

Below, in response to Brock’s probing, he shows that his first ‘loyalty’ is to speak as faithfully and truthfully as he can as a Christian … and if that makes him not a very good ‘objective’ ‘impartial’ ‘professional’ academic then so be it.

SH: I assumed that part of what it meant to become a theologian is you ought to have something to say. I probably was insufficiently trained out of that presumption …  I appreciate the conceptual skills in which we were trained [at Yale], but I thought I  ought to have something to say. To have something to say, you have to be at least willing to be accountable to some community. That’s part of why the emphasis upon the church is so important to me. It’s a matter of accountability. And of course, I draw from what I’ve learned as a Christian, because I personally don’t think I have all that much to say. But what I do have to say, I have to say because I’m a Christian. So, I try to say to Christians what I think Christians should say to one another. That of course, makes me a very bad academic! (67-68)

On his comment that ‘on his own’ he doesn’t have anything that significant to say – Amen! How often do you hear something like that from a ‘famous’ Christian leader?

A Christian teacher’s authority only comes first from the Scriptures and secondarily how they have been interpreted within the ‘Great Tradition’ of the Church. There is an essential humility in attempting to be faithful to a received gift and pass it on to others. Oh, that many a self-absorbed and egotistical preacher and teacher would remember that they are under that discipline and calling!

Now, in different hands, Hauerwas’ words could become pious claptrap. But he rightly, keeps reminding us of his many limitations. Later in the chapter he says this .

I’ve always felt about half Christian and I’m never sure if I don’t enjoy being Christian more to thumb the nose at those who aren’t and who are arrogant about it, or whether I am really Christian (84) ….

That’s honest.

Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas (3)

9780567669964This is the second in a series of short excerpts from each chapter of Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas edited by Leixlip lad Kevin Hargaden.

The outline of the book is in this post. This excerpt is from Chapter Two on CONTINGENCY, VIRTUE, AND HOLINESS.

The exchange below is located within a complex discussion about Aristotle and virtue. It speaks, I think, right into our contemporary Western culture and its obsession with materialism, comfort, tolerance and equality. Brock’s question about a modern distaste for strong moral convictions evokes a classic Hauerwasian response about having children, abortion, faith, hope and a determination not to let suffering have the last word.

It also speaks to me of the adventure and challenge of being Christian.

BB: … Does it admit the debate or ought we to admit the debate, “Maybe I’d fare better if I didn’t have strong moral convictions?”

SH: Well, that’s one debate that would be well worth generating, if we could! I do think that people are afraid of having strong convictions today.

BB: Life certainly seems to go more smoothly in at least in the short and middle term with less strong convictions. How else would utilitarian and consequentialist modes of reasoning become our dominant modes?

SH: It’s clearly a bourgeois ethic! Or at least the way it works out most of the time. It’s a bourgeois ethic that asks how I can get through life with as little suffering as possible, given the fact that there is nothing that I  deeply care about. My problem with those kinds of lives is, “God, how do you stand the boredom of it!” If we weren’t Christians Brian, what would we end up doing? Drinking, screwing, and dying!

I think that you see the results of the attempt to avoid strong convictions in the avoidance of having children today. I’ve always regarded the debates around abortion as a failure to get at what’s really at stake. And what’s really at stake is people’s lack of confidence that they have lives worth passing on to future generations. So, abortion really is a nihilistic practice that says we’re not going to impose the meaninglessness of our lives onto future generations. That’s really a very sad result.

The supposed lesson of the Wars of Religion was that if we could just get people to not take themselves so seriously, then maybe they wouldn’t kill anyone. Well, they end up killing their children. I have a lecture I used to give on the yuppies as the monks of modernity, because the yuppies really have an ascetical discipline; they would rather have a boat than a child. So they discipline themselves not to have children exactly because why would you want children when you would rather have a boat? What strikes me about such a way of living is it is just so sad.

I regard one of the great moral witnesses of the last centuries as refusal of Jewish people to let Christian persecution stop them from having children. That they would have children in the face of Christian hatred was an extraordinary faith in God, because it’s not that you’ve got faith in your children turning out OK, it’s that you have faith in God, who would have the Jewish people be for the world a sign that God will not give up on us. (49)

 

Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas (2)

9780567669964This is the first is a series of short excerpts from each chapter of Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas edited by Leixlip lad Kevin Hargaden.

The outline of the book is in this post.

In this excerpt, Brian Brock asks Hauerwas about his method of writing his autobiography, Hannah’s Child.

BB: Having talked a bit about the question of why you wrote the memoir, let’s talk more seriously about how you went about doing it.

For instance, in every presentation of the self in writing, the writer has to locate herself within the conventions of the culture and the writing, identifying the canon which the writer wishes to join. You’ve already, as you do in the book, talked about Trollope being your model in a sense. To write is to opt into all the exclusions and elisions that positioning oneself within a canon demands. The ambiguity of all confessional, autobiographical, or memoir writing lies in the writer having to inhabit those conventions, the conventions of the day, and therefore to present themselves as inevitably artificial constructions. Writing in this way necessarily straddles the fuzzy boundary between literary convention and personal memory, and memory
itself is organized by conventional tropes and frames of reference. I take this to be one of the core reasons that you’ve resisted the comparison of Hannah’s Child to Augustine’s Confessions , and you only very guardedly and partially embrace this connection in your responses to those reviewers who have suggested it. You proposed instead that you stand closer to the tradition of the English realist novelists. That’s a positioning in relation to an established canon that I’d like to understand how to negotiate.

You’ve already said that you thought long and hard about how to write the book and the core question there had to be of what form would convey rather than threaten what you believe is most important about the particularity of your own life and theology. Is that right?

SH: I think that’s right. It’s lovely put.

It’s always important to try to read an author for what they don’t say, as well as what they say. There’s much in Hannah’s Child that isn’t said. I tried to avoid the “personal,” because I didn’t want— and this has to do with the point I made at the outset today— I didn’t want Hannah’s Child to be a legitimation of “my experience.” So I didn’t talk very much about my experience.

I didn’t notice a trope that is much used when I was writing the book, but folks kind enough to read the book have called my attention to it. The trope “I didn’t understand.” For example, I say I didn’t understand what it meant to go to seminary, I didn’t understand what it meant to marry Anne, and I didn’t understand what it meant to move from Notre Dame to Duke. I didn’t. I really didn’t, because I’m the kind of person that tends to make decisions and be willing to live them out, without having thought them through! That has worked out OK for me. I’ve talked with friends in the academy who have had a job of offer, and they use phrases like, “I’m not sure this would be a good career move.” I could never use a phrase like that. It’s never occurred to me that I have a career that I needed to be one place rather than another for the advancement of a career. My life has happened to me. That’s a wonderful thing. (8)

 

Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas (1)

A wee while ago I posted a book notice about Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas edited by Kevin Hargaden and featuring a series of extended discussions between Brian Brock [BB] and the man himself [SH].

The book is a creative format that draws you into what I’d call an ’embodied theology’. By this I mean Hauerwas has been willing to open up his life and thought beyond what emerges in Hannah’s Child. Indeed he admits he may not have known what he was getting himself into when he agreed to the idea of a series of conversations. [That theme of not knowing or understanding pops up throughout the dialogues. It’s another aspect of SH’s honesty and his humility (this might not be a word that many associate with SH but I think it is true).

I put ‘life’ and ‘thought’ together, because a by-product of reading these discussions is a reminder of how none of us are Cartesian ‘brains on a stick’  – disembodied objective minds rationally deducing truth with a capital T. All of us exist, think, live and work in specific contexts by which we are profoundly shaped, and Hauerwas is no different.

He’s lived a pretty tumultuous American life: full of friends, a lot of pain, a deeply ambivalent attitude to the idea of modern America, and an endless energetic work habit. It’s the latter that has propelled him from being an outsider to an insider; from the son of bricklayer to one of the most prolific and significant theological voices in the world. One thing he’s not is dull. So one of the beneficial, and perhaps unplanned, outcomes of what are deeply theological conversations, is the new light that is cast on Hauerwas the man.

I’m not drawing straight lines here between Hauerwas’ theology and his life. BB and SH talk about this issue a fair bit, particularly in chapter 1 on the writing of Hannah’s Child. Hauerwas resists any easy deconstructions (not that BB is attempting this – he’s far too astute. Heck at times, such is the depth and insight lying behind BB’s questions that it seems that BB knows and understands SH better than SH does!).

But what comes out in Hannah’s Child and in this book, is how Hauerwas’ writing projects, his idea of a ‘career’, his marriages – the whole trajectory of his life – just sort of unfolded, unplanned. This is not to say he was not ambitious and driven. But there is a real sense that he lived ‘in the moment’. Without complaining or much introspection he just got on with things regardless of the circumstances of his life (and at times they were grim). There is a sense of someone who survived and flourished in and through a relentless work routine. And, it must be said, the God-given gift of a brilliant mind.

Out of all of this contingency the famous ‘Stanley Hauerwas’ emerged.

One of my favourite exchanges captures SH’s innate ‘anti-success’ approach to theology in general and being ‘Stanley Hauerwas’ in particular. Brock brings out a lovely reverse parallel to Saint Paul. In Corinthians Paul describes his willingly embraced experience of suffering and rejection despite his right to be called an apostle. Hauerwas distances himself from being revered as ‘Stanley Hauerwas’ and insists that his ‘success’ is mostly due to factors outside of himself – especially his friends.

BB.  You and he are making very similar gestures but to opposite ends, it seems to me. He is being treated like rubbish, even though he’s an apostle, and so he tells his story to counter that. You’re being treated like the hero, so you talk about your friends to puncture that. Is that correct?

SH. Yes. I didn’t write my story to say, “Do this.” It’s the story I had to tell, and it had to be told that way because that’s the way my life has been lived. Namely, I’ve always been saved by friends who by claiming me as a friend make me more than I am. It turns out by making me more than I am, I am not the same “I am” I was before the friendship.  (7)

That’s a flavour of the conversations. Here are the chapter headings that follow a very well written Foreward by Kevin. I’m not going to review the book, but in a few follow up posts will clip a favourite exchange from each chapter (hard to select one but will try).

FOREWARD. Kevin Hargaden.

  1. BIOGRAPHY, THEOLOGY, AND RACE. Special focus here on the ethics and mechanics of writing Hannah’s Child. I think this was my favourite chapter in the book. Fascinating.
  2. CONTINGENCY, VIRTUE, AND HOLINESS. The densest chapter – on metaphysics and the implication that the ultimate contrast between God and all that exists.
  3. TEMPERAMENT, HABIT, AND THE ETHICS GUILD. What it means in practice to be a Christian ethicist.
  4. ECCLESIAL POLITICS, PEACEMAKING, AND THE ESCHATOLOGY
    OF WORSHIP. Discussions around the church and peacemaking and the transforming hope of the Christian narrative.
  5. ARE CASUISTRY, NATURAL LAW, AND VIRTUE METHODS? Brock really does interrogate Hauerwas here on his method of theological ethics.
  6. JUST WAR, PACIFISM, AND GENDER. Themes most closely associated with Hauerwas the anabaptist. He is pushed hard here on specifics.
  7. MEDICAL ETHICS, DISABILITY, AND THE CROSS. The upside-down ‘anti-success’ kingdom emphasis of Hauerwas, especially on disability.
  8. PREACHING, PRAYING, AND PRIMARY CHRISTIAN LANGUAGE. Explores how prayer is central to Hauerwas’ thinking and writing. Reveals particularly, I think, a deeply engrained Christian habit of prayer that flows from a lived faith. This ventures into areas that many academic theologians fear to tread. As ever SH kicks against false modernist conventions that attempt to divide faith and reason.

AFTERWORD: Brian Brock and Kevin Hargaden.

PS. I happily received a free copy, but unhappily the book costs £85.

 

 

 

 

Interrogating Hauerwas – book notice

My friend Kevin Hargaden has had the privilege and task of listening to and editing a series of conversations between his two Texan PhD Supervisors, Brian Brock and a certain Stanley Hauerwas. He’s done a great job.

The result is Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas, to be published in February 2017. Here is the endorsement that I’ve had the pleasure to write:

“This is no ordinary conversation. Brian Brock’s deep familiarity with the entire Hauerwas corpus, astute and persistent probing, combined with an ability to push Hauerwas hard, results in an important book – one that offers new perspectives on both Hauerwas the man and the integrative importance of Christology and ecclesiology within his diverse theological vision. Following the discussion is demanding. It is also an education – not only in Hauerwasian theology but in truth-telling, the art of conversation, wisdom, virtue, suffering, prayer, love, hope and joy. All told, a richly rewarding eavesdropping experience.” –  Patrick Mitchel, Irish Bible Institute.

I read it in bed in a mammoth session over a weekend when not feeling very well. It was a wonderful excuse to do nothing else but devour this book and forget about the rest of life for a couple of days. While these two men are obviously very good friends, the conversations are far from ad hoc chats. Brian Brock is frankly rather awesome (I can say that of an American) in his depth of research combined with an ability ‘interrogate Hauerwas’ in a way that very few people would be equipped to do.

The resultant conversations are erudite and – I’ve got to be honest here, you can’t BS about Hauerwas, he’s the one who says we must be first and foremost truth-tellers! – at times I had to read and re-read to keep up with what was going on.  The level of learning and the art of conversation is remarkable, but more that this, what comes through is the vibrant, attractive (I’m a huge fan) and passionate humanity of Hauerwas.

The thing is he is just simply right about a whole lot of things. And he writes beautifully, whatever the subject. The discussion on his writing of Hannah’s Child was fascinating in how seriously Hauerwas takes the creative art of writing.

What’s the best way in to Hauerwas? Opinions welcome.

Three suggestions to begin:

His autobiography Hannah’s Child is wonderful – I read it again a while ago and it helped me enormously at the time.

The Peaceable Kingdom is terrific – I recall thinking that Hauerwas was extolling the benefits of narrative theology long before it became popular and fashionable.

War and the American Difference is classic polemical and prophetic Hauerwas, calling Christians to an alternative ecclesiological body politic to that of militarism, nationalism and violence that characterise contemporary America. (And that just might be a message that needs to be proclaimed from the rooftops in the next few years …)