I’m a big fan of Stanley Hauerwas’ work. Even when I disagree with his positions, the way he puts things never fails to make me think, and think hard. He spoke at the Fifth Summer Institute of Theology and Disability today, and delivered this line–one of his best.
But what does it mean? Hauerwas argues that we cannot understand our lives–or Christianity–outside of narrative. We are all part of the Christian story, and we all have individual stories that comprise it. This basic idea is under attack, he says, when the Enlightenment argues that we have no story. We create ourselves, same the modernists. We’re blank slates. Further, the idea of a universal story is hogwash, according to the Enlightenment. Modernists say we’re making up our backstory and plot as we go, out of the shards that we pick up along our way.
Naming the Enlightenment self-creation project as a lie is particularly important when we engage with those who have been handed a challenging story: people who live with disabilities. It is only honest to say that disability is part of the story. None of us can whisk that reality away–unless we try to prevent people with disabilities from being born. And that’s not prevention, that is murder. That is the reality of the story.
One of the ways I think Hauerwas’ theology of disability is in fruitful complementarity with the Theology of the Body is that story is not possible without relationship. John Paul II begins, first of all, not with ontology, but with sacred story: the creation of Adam and Eve. But the point he draws out of Genesis is that human beings are created as a sign that points to God’s desired union with us, and with a spousal meaning that speaks to our need for fulfillment in relationship. There is no story without relationship. It is part of the plot. It is much of the characterization. Relationship and our need of it makes the story matter, and serve as more than popcorn entertainment. The human being created for relationship is the heartbeat of every story, including God’s story.
The other way Hauerwas’ theology of disability is in fruitful complementarity with the Theology of the Body is in their common conviction that God is the writer of this story, and it is told through the Church. It may seem odd to need to affirm that God is the writer of the story (isn’t it obvious? Apparently not to modernity), and its true that free will has its role. But not all Christians seem to hold that God is in charge of the story. Our free will is part of the story, but it is granted to us: free will is not the core principle. God is in charge and desires to shape a story that brings us to Himself. And the Church serves to witness to that, to foster that! It is a story told through the Church and is the Church. And what is the Theology of the Body but a witness to the mysterious relationship–story, if you prefer–between Christ and the Church? That, in fact, is the whole point of Ephesians 5, according to John Paul II….
Our story is the story of Adam and Eve. It is the story of a humanity loved, created, designed, broken, ashamed, confused, and wanting. It is the story of Jesus Christ. It is the story of the Church as it unfolds under the power of the Spirit, and the sin of its members, through the centuries. It is a story that we take on faith will end with the Second Coming. And our smaller stories (including the disability stories) cannot be ignored or erased or eliminated. They may be tragic and difficult, or they may be triumphant, or both, or neither. But they all make up the storied fabric of the Church. To say otherwise is to deny reality, live a lie, and reject the Author, God.
Just some thoughts after a frankly overwhelming conference.
Interested in buying the book? I do refer to Hauerwas’ work (more clearly than I just did above!). Links to buy a signed copy, a regular new paperback copy, or the ebook are listed here.