Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Perogys with Hauerwas

Stanley Hauerwas has been here in Winnipeg for a couple of days, to preach and to give a lecture titled "Why North Americans are Afraid to Die." I went to both, but by far the highlight for me was the opportunity to sit down with him, and four other people, for perogys at a local Ukrainian restaurant.

I'd been reading a fair amount of his writing in preparation for his visit, so I knew we were all in for a treat. Hauerwas is wonderfully cantankerous, outspoken, and a man who loves the church. This all comes through in his writing. And in person, he did not disappoint.

The conversation was all over the map. We started with homosexuality in the church and the mistake to bring rights language into the debate, as ordination is always a privilege; we then moved to the difficulty of ministering to people outside the church because of the lack of any shared narrative, and the subsequent tacit support of personal religious syncretism, at least in contexts where genuine sharing of faith is supressed (like in chaplaincy); following that we spoke about abortion, virginity and promiscuity; and then, to my surprise, we had at least nominal agreement that Christians can talk about just war, but that the best place to start was always local policing. More interesting was the thought that Christians might make the best police force, because our willingness to lay down our lives for our friends would mean that we would be willing to police without weapons or the threat of the violence needed to protect ourselves.

But what impressed me most about Hauerwas, besides his intellect, was his willingness to be truthful. I'm afraid this was not something I learned in seminary. I've probably bought into the idea that to be truthful is to not be pastoral. But Dr. Hauerwas was friendly, laughed a lot, joked, and truthfully told us what he thought about some very touchy subjects. His friendliness and truthfullness were not at odds with each other, at least around the lunch table.

Our conversation that day is leading me to think that not being truthful may actually betray a lack of respect and dignity in relationships, including pastoral ones. There is more dignity in a relationship that is truthful because we are not afraid to reveal ourselves to each other, while silence is to be content in being misunderstood. Speaking truthfully may be, in the end, far more pastoral than silence or evasion, because to be truthful is to bring what is in darkness into the light, and reveals faithfullness through the hope of reconciliation.

I'll write a little more on the lecture tomorrow, but for now you might want to visit Elliot at Claw of the Conciliator. He was at the lectures and another event that I didn't get to, and he has some interesting things to say about the Jehovah's Witnesses.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Chris T. said...

I disagree about homosexuality and ordination, for a couple of reasons. First, ordination is not a privilege, but a call from God. I even know folks who have experienced Jonah-like consequences when they ignored that call. It is not mere denial of an optional privilege to not ordain LGBTs and others who are called to ordained Christian ministry.

The other reason I disagree is that all of life is a free gift from God, it is not owed us. But since God gives the gifts of her grace equally to all creation, when a particular aspect of religious experience is being denied to an entire group by human beings, the language of rights is appropriate. Kathryn Tanner's theology helped me a great deal in understanding how the language of rights can be squared to the notion of creation as a free gift of God.

As for Hauerwas, I really have to respectfully disagree about his character. He might be willing to reveal opinions on touchy subjects, but he's incredibly disingenuous when he wants to be, as he is on the abortion debate, ignoring when it's convenient the fact that a third of all American women terminate a pregnancy at some point in their lives. Many feminists in the church don't think much of him, and I think they're quite justified in that opinion. I find his work exasperating, though he does have important things to say.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006 1:26:00 PM  
Blogger Preston said...

Chris - I think you are mixing two different categories.

Category 1 - priesthood. Priesthood is a call made by the church. The personal call is always tested by the mind of the church, at least in churches that are structured as the Anglican church is. Whenever someone comes forward with their personal call, the first thing we say as a church is "Maybe." Then we consult with parish councils, diocesan councils, and bishops in order to confirm or deny that call. The call to priesthood is not simply a personal one, but an ecclesial one. And the church is the one who in the end says yes or no.

Category 2 - prophet. The call of a prophet (like Jonah) is a personal call that may lead the person into the wilderness, through their rejection by the church. The church may very well be wrong, but if the message is not vindicated by the church, it isn't vindicated by the church. And the prophet has to walk that very lonely walk. This is the life of the prophet. I thank god I am not a prophet.

Rights language does not have a place in the church. Americans are especially liable to this by virtue of the constitution, but Canadians as well have a charter. But why should we let secular ways of government impinge on the politic of the church? The church is already the church without rights language, and if the notion of rights is fracturing the church as we know it we can faithfully reject it.

I'm not sure that we can place priesthood in the category of religious experience, either. This is a cultural attitude that does not fit the church's notion of priesthood. Priesthood does not exist in order for me to fulfill my spiritual destiny. I am a priest in order to serve the church. Some partiuclar and priestly spirituality may arise out of that. But it should never begin with that.

I'm not sure about Hauerwas being disingenuous. But, following our conversation, he is not ignoring the fact that so many women have abortions. All of us at the table that day were mourning the fact that it happens so often, and that this reflects a general lack of hope in the world. We also mourned the fact that there are many personal and physical consequences to abortions that are often hidden.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006 1:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris T. said...

I just can't agree that the priesthood is only a call by the church. The church claims that in ordaining someone to the priesthood, the Holy Spirit enters that person in a way that is unique to the ordained priesthood. If there is not also a legitimate call from God, their priesthood is not legitimate. If we didn't make significant claims about what priests are uniquely capable of doing (for instance, consecrating the Eucharist), then we might be able to pass it off as a human category where mistakes are no big deal. But that's not what we believe and teach about the priesthood.

While Jonah was not a priest, it has still been my experience and the experience of others in the church that a call to the priesthood, if ignored, can lead to difficult spiritual consequences until it is heeded. I never conflated the categories of priest and prophet, only suggested a similarity of experience when one ignores the call.

As for rights language, that's not only a secular discourse. I have been ambivalent about that language in the past, but I do believe Tanner's work provides a framework for using it in a Christian context.

If homosexual orientation is indeed an impediment to accepting the freely-given grace of God, then it's true that homosexuals may not be able to validly receive ordination as a result of their sinful orientation. But if homosexuality is a morally neutral orientation (as most allies of LGBTs in the church affirm), then it is appropriate to talk about their rights as a class of baptized Christians not to have to grovel at the feet of straight Christians for discernment. We all have to remain in the conversation, but allies are certainly justified in their commitment to this particular right (among those who we discern to be validly called), as part of the ongoing dialogue on the subject.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006 2:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think you are correct that the pastoral approach taught in seminaries isn't about telling the truth. reflective listening and asking questions that help people seek their own answers are stressed. which i always feel stupid doing. i watch a few televangelists and i am always a bit jealous of the way they talk about personal sins in a way that we do not.

this evasiveness to truth seems to me to be an off shoot of contemporary psychology, with a good dose of pc liberal theology thrown in. i tend to tell the truth to my detriment. however there are also people who find my unwillingness to hem and haw refreshing.

there are ordained people who speak the truth, however they are rarely rewarded by the system. our system, at least the american anglican one, rewards classic upper class social behaviors. i often find the prophetic priests feel sidelined, or seek the sideline so they can speak the truth.

juniperjane

Tuesday, November 07, 2006 4:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Preston. Firstly: you're a very lucky man, I wish I could have been there. Secondly, without going into it in a great level of detail, I too don't like rights language - I think the tradition is rich enough to generate the insights necessary without having to resort to 'nonsense on stilts'. But thirdly, and most importantly, what you say about truth, and ministering to people outside the church, really resonates with me. (See herewhen I was wrestling with precisely this point, as a result of a pastoral problem. I'm coming to the conclusion that it's virtually impossible to be in the role of priest to someone who doesn't have faith. I can be a Christian - and exhibit Christian virtues - but the 'cure of souls' (which I see as a core part of the ministry) simply gains no traction where faith is absent. I muse more and more on Christ's words 'your faith has made you well' - and I see it as essential these days.

Thanks for this. (Best wishes for your new home as well!)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006 1:15:00 AM  
Blogger Preston said...

Chris - you're right, the call to priesthood is a call from God, no doubt. But, that call always has to be confirmed by the church. And there is not one particular "class" that needs to "grovel" (I would be more comfortable with submit) to the discernment of the church. I did, I imagine you did too. What I was trying to say was that the church is not a disposable part of the discernment process.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006 9:08:00 AM  
Blogger Preston said...

Jane - I wonder if this approach of seeking people's own answers is ok, but only to a degree. If we have a shared narrative, as we do as Christians, proclamation of that story is appropriate. Telling the truth about the work of Christ in our lives is the right thing to do, with an exploratory approach to pastoral care as only part of the larger task of groeing in Christ.

But most of us get our practical experience in CPE, in hospitals visiitng all sorts of people. And when we are visiting people who don't share this prime narrative, we go to lowest common denominator, and help people discover their own answer. The significant problem, and this is very important, is that we end up tacitly supporting a very consumerist and syncretistic approach to pastoral care - "whatever works for you."

I'd rather we grew, with great difficulty and discipline, into our narrative of suffering and redemption in Christ. Then we place evangelism under a different category completely, and abandon this Rogerian nonsense, and finally proclaim Christ to those who don't know him.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006 1:40:00 PM  
Blogger Preston said...

Sam - I am lucky! And you're right. I'm not sure I can be someone's priest who is not within the church, at least in terms of offering real pastoral care. I can be helpful, and help get people out of bad situations, and offer limited counselling. But this isn't really what it is to be a priest, is it?

That's real question, by the way.

And about the house, and as the saying goes - if you're ever in Winnipeg . . .

(That means you have a place to stay.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006 1:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Catherine said...

quoted part of this entry on my blog today... and yes, gave you credit :)

Saturday, November 11, 2006 11:56:00 PM  

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