When I was fifteen, I was at a church youth camp where there were about 600 young people. We were having a lovely time. Then we were visited by Evan Jones, the minister from an inner city parish. He said to us “ Next door to my church is an institution for blind young people. They don’t get the chance to go on camp. Will you accept them into your camp and help them to have a good time.
I remember my anxiety’s going sky high at this suggestion. None the less we did it, and had a great time. Evan became a prison chaplain too, and I remember him to this day.
Evan was one of those people who, in a Christian’s journey are one of those ‘tough people.’ He put challenges to us privileged, white yet insecure teenagers, to serve the blind teenagers. That is why I remember him.
Over Lent, I have been reading Stanley Hauerwas’ commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel. Stanley is another one of those ‘tough’ Christians for me. He says things that make me think “Wow! That is tough! We, as a Church, and in particular as an Anglican Church are just so far away from this picture of what Stanley thinks Church is.
Here are three examples:
Stanley is talking about Jesus’ controversy with the Sadducees over the resurrection (p. 191 Kindle edition of Brazos Theological Commentary on St. Matthew). About the Resurrection he says “All we know about resurrection is what we are privileged to witness in Jesus’ victory over death…making it possible for us to share in the subjection (of death) through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We need to know no more about resurrection than what we have been given through the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ.”
I feel like saying ‘Take that!” after reading this. This account of the Resurrection takes us simply out of the realms of speculation about empty tombs, and places us directly into the realms of the present power of this event. Are we demonstrating the victory over death that Jesus makes possible? Am I still subject to the powers of darkness that have been conquered? The answer to both questions is ‘Yes, in part’, and I guess with St. Paul “Yes, and in hope of further living into this reality.”
But more than this, Stanley Hauerwas brings us to every Sunday morning: to the Eucharist. All we need in order to be able to experience the resurrection is to really ‘be present’ at the Eucharist. There will our lives be transformed. I believe this, but the thing that Stanley Hauerwas’ comment does is so sharply close down speculation, and put is in the place where we need to be to ask the right question, but more, to be questioned rightly! Take that!
Then we go in in Matthew’s gospel to the conversation with the lawyer about which commandment is the greatest. Jesus gives the proper answer ‘You shall love the lord, your God etc..( the shema).
Stanley Hauerwas goes on to say (p192) “Such love is no vague generality, but rather is manifest in the concrete and daily care of god for his people. We know what it means to love God only because of God’s love for us through the Law and the Prophets. This love can be harsh and dreadful, because to be loved by God is to be forced to know ourselves truthfully…such love requires a lifetime of training in which we are given the opportunity to have our self-centredness discovered and overwhelmed.’
I remember being at an accreditation meeting for a Supervisor of Pastoral Care. I quoted Hauerwas’ other idea about the story of Ananias and Saphira as being the paradigm for Pastoral Care because it shows how the job of love is to bring us into a true knowledge of where we are up to with god. This idea was rejected in horror by the candidate!
But my experience is exactly the way Stanley Hauerwas’ describes it. The tough love of God and our neighbour, beginning with Evan Jones’ challenge to a 15 year old teenager has been my experience of how I have been transformed: by the bringing to light of the hidden things of darkness, but within a framework of someone’s being committed to me.
This is why we need strong bonds on our institutions, like Church and marriage, because in order for such transformation to take place we cannot act, or be treated like ‘volunteers’ who can go at any time, especially if we are offended by inconvenient truths.
Stanley Hauerwas says it better “ Unfortunately, the emphasis on love as the defining character of the Christian life not only resulted in the Christian accommodation to the world’s standards of the good, but also made it difficult for Christians to understand what it might mean for us to face the demands of love. In particular, the separation of love from the one who has come to teach us what it means to be loved by God by making us disciples, tempts us to sentimental accounts of love.’
Then the story moves to Jesus’ attack on the Pharisees in the Temple precinct. Stanley Hauerwas’ reflection on this is that Jesus is attacking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He says (p196) [not to be a hypocrite] is a hard lesson to learn for crafty creatures like ourselves, capable of transforming any position, even the position of being a slave or a servant into a position of power and prestige. We desire that others regard us without the necessity that we regard them. Such is our fear of being otherwise lost in the cosmos.”
This comment hit me between the eyeballs because I think it is what I do! No one has put it quite like this though. This comment has made me more aware of the regard that I offer to others. And of the regard that I expect.
So there you are. More truth from someone who, like Evan Jones is prepared to tell the hard truths. May God send me more of them, hard though it be to hear what they say.