Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World; The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 115pp.
The four essays in this gem of a little book originated at a conference sponsored by the Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability at the University of Aberdeen in 2006. The book's publication represents a collaboration between InterVarsity Press and the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School that pairs leading thinkers with practitioners to explore what hope means in a world of brokenness. Hauerwas (b. 1940) is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School with a joint appointment at the Duke University School of Law. Vanier (b. 1928) is the founder of L'Arche, "an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities experience life together as fellow human beings who share a mutuality of care and need. Today over 130 L'Arche communities exist in 34 countries on six continents."
Vanier and Hauerwas take turns writing the alternate chapters of the book. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that "those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable" (1 Corinthians 12:22). That sort of thinking subverts what society considers "normal" and challenges the labels, stereotypes, caricatures and false assumptions that we make about people who are weak in body, mind, or spirit. Vanier's stories relate how L'Arche emphasizes "living with" instead of "doing for" or trying to "fix" the disabled. The goal is not a solution to a problem but a sign of hope, of the possibility to love each other. Care, not a cure, is the invitation that the weak offer us. To live and think this way signals the end of all social meritocracy, and the upending of the "pyramid of hierarchy" that so many of us seek to climb. And so, Vanier says, "I'm not interested in doing a good job. I am interested in an ecclesial vision for community. We are brothers and sisters, and Jesus is calling us from the pyramid to become a body."