Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Better Hope

I am in the process of reading A Better Hope, a collection of essays by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Press, 2000). Stanley has long been a favorite of mine, in part because I dearly love his abrasiveness (and wish very much to be just as abrasive!), and in part because he has such clear focus on our Lord, and he strives to let that focus determine everything he thinks, says, does and/or writes.

This book, though, is his attempt to state the positive rather than the negative. He says this book will not, however, present "a kinder, gentler Hauerwas." Thank God! We don't need a "Hauerwoos." ;-) Listen:

I do not deny that I love a good fight, but I also know that it is a mistake, at least if you are a Christian, to have your life or theology determined by who you think are your enemies. Christians know we will have enemies because we are told we must love our enemies. That we are commanded to love our enemies is not a strategy to guarantee that all enmity can be overcome, but a reminder that for Christians our lives must be determined by our loves, not our hates. That is why Christians cannot afford to let ourselves be defined by what we are against. Whatever or whomever we are against, we are so only because God has given us so much to be for.
Certainly this statement (and others similar to it) will make Hauerwas new enemies, or at the least renew the enmity of old ones. Why?

Because people don't want policies that won't "work," that won't guarantee that "all enmity [will] be overcome." We human beings are not very comfortable with physical uncertainties. Refusing to conquer our enemies means letting them be who they are -- our enemies, some of whom want to kill us. It seems then that to love them is to give them tacit permission to kill us. So, loving them means we may have to give up our comfort and way of life, or the comfort and way of life we would like our children and grandchildren to have. We may get killed. That doesn't see fair -- here we are, working for justice, and we get killed for it? Some would simply refuse to pay that price. And since we know Jesus was rational, we "know" he could not have really meant that. Or so this line of reasoning goes.

But, if we realize, as Hauerwas has said, that we don't love our enemies because we believe it will "work" in some strategic way, that it will suddenly convert our enemies into puppy dogs so the world will become a "Precious Moments" scene, but rather we love them because God does and because we were baptized into the Lord who died for them, that line of reasoning is shown to be irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether or not the "strategy" (and it becomes at this point something other than a "strategy") "works": what matters is who we are -- we ARE a people defined not by our enemies but by our Lord.

I'm grateful for Stanley Hauerwas for showing this to me.

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