Thursday, June 17, 2010

We should then remain silent

What can we say when things don't make sense?  Especially after an end to a tragic life?  Below there is a valuable passage from a new book that addresses this subject.

Some Background:
Dr. Hauerwas, a Duke professor of Theology, has written a memoir that includes theology, his career, and his family.   It's much more readable than a standard theology text, but it still delves into theological issues.  Some of the most heartbreaking but valuable lessons come from his relationship with Anne, his first wife and the mother of his son.  She had a very serious case of bipolar disorder. Her family put up with the abusive behavior that the disease provoked, but eventually she initiated a divorce and moved away.

There is no chapter in the book titled "Anne."  The story is somewhat abruptly interwoven into other stories, I suppose the way traumas tend to exist around the rest our lives.  Even while waiting on the results of a loved one's surgery, you still have to return to mundane life as you wrestle with the hospital vending machine to outwit it so it will  take your dollar bill for dinner.

From Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir By Stanley Hauerwas, see Page 207 for the full original text.


Anne has been dead for almost ten years.  Like her mother, she died in her late fifties of congestive heart failure.  She had been living in a controlled living arrangement that allowed her some independence....After she had died some days passed before her body was discovered.
The way she died served only to make me acutely aware of how lonely her life had been.  That her loneliness was self-imposed does not make it any less sad.  What possibly can be said about life so lived?

I am a Christian theologian.  People assume I am supposed to be able to answer that question.  I have no idea how to answer that question.   If anything what I have learned over the years as a Christian theologian is that none of us should try to answer such questions.  Our humanity demands that we ask them, but if we are wise we should then remain silent.... When Christianity is assumed to be an "answer" that makes the world intelligible, it reflects an accommodated church committed to assuring Christians that the way things are is the way things have to be.
Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers.  That is to put the matter too simply, but at least such a claim might suggest why find that being a Christian makes life so damned interesting.

One area where I would differ from the text is the idea that Anne's loneliness was self-imposed.  Chronic disease is really its own agent, here bringing on consequences for which the self would never wish.

The ability to come clean and confess that we don't know what going on, probably a lot of the time, is difficult in a society of rapid knowledge accumulation.  But coming up with a contrived answer can be more hurtful than admitting ignorance.

Many Christians reject the "health and wealth" gospel - do the right things and God will bless us materially (think of the promises of "Prayer of Jabez").  But a lot of us were trained in a "know and go in peace" gospel, where God gives us answers, peace of mind, and a clear path when we do the right things.  We hope for such a blessing, but we shouldn't expect it.  Followers as noble as Mother Theresa very often felt the absence of God more intensely than the peace of God even as they passionately served to bring peace and good news to the world (that Mother Theresa's situation was only revealed in writings released against her wishes after her death may point to embarrassment  in not meeting our expectations of peace and guidance from God).  Removing that expectation allows us to long for meaning and peace of mind while freeing us to love even if we don't experience those good blessings.

Think of U2's "40" singing "I will sing a new song" with the repeated "How long to sing to this [not so new or desirable] song?" which was heavily inspired from  Psalm 40, triumphantly proclaiming,
I waited patiently for the LORD; 
he turned to me and heard my cry.

yet still ending with a plea,

Yet I am poor and needy ,
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer; 
O my God, do not delay.


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