June 29, 2010

books: a community of character

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When I ran construction crews, I once hired a young man fresh out of prison. He came to the U.S. as an infant. While serving his nine-year sentence, he had an encounter with Jesus. Raised Buddhist, he knew little of Christianity. He asked a prison ministry to send him a Bible. For five years this was all he read.

One day, he informed me that he was being deported. I was devastated to lose him. Astonished I asked, ???What will you do!? How will you survive?!???

He looked at me puzzled, ???What do you mean????

???What do you mean, ???What do I mean?!?????? I said, ???You???re being sent to a land where you don???t know the language or people, with a criminal record!???

He scrunched his forehead up looking at me surprised, ???Jason, if God took care of Moses, he???ll take care of me.???

I think this young man got what Stanley Hauerwas is aiming for in A Community of Character. He looked at the world through the lens of Scripture. Every experience was first calculated through his understanding of the Story of Scripture. Hauerwas??? vision for the church is not so different. He hopes that the church will process each experience as my friend did, ???What do we know of this circumstance through our own History????

My friend could???ve hidden. As so many do, he could have bought a Social Security number, moved and gone by another name and lived as many undocumented residents do. A little risky, but potentially much more comfortable than going back to an unknown homeland. But the narrative drove him towards the adventure... with hope. When we process Scripture in our communities as knowledge and lose an imagination for how we are to live into it, we grow safe. Nurturing a narrative role of Scripture sweeps us into a story that requires risk and loss yet brings hope and excitement to our experiences.

If you haven???t read Stanley Hauerwas you should. His writing has had a significant impact on the missional church conversation in general and certainly me in particular. He is an ecclesiologically eclectic Christian theologian. His influences pull from several streams. He frequently credits impact on his work by philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Alasdair MacIntyre as well as theologians such as Karl Barth and John Howard Yoder. As he states in the introduction of this book, he is a Methodist that appreciates high church worship yet finds Anabaptism to be one of the most faithful Christian forms. He is a professor of theology and ethics at Duke Divinity School, having previously taught at University of Notre Dame.

In his introduction to A Community of Character, Hauerwas states that his thesis is ???to reassert the social significance of the church as a distinct society with an integrity peculiar to itself.??? In other words, Hauerwas argues that Christian ethics begin not through our cultural lense, but Christ. Through Christ, we understand our relationship to each other as the Church, God, and Scripture. Through this lense we see how we are to engage the world.

I admit that Hauerwas has made a significant impact on my thinking but it is interesting that he often makes clear that he chose to be a theologian, not a pastor. Yet his writing deals with how theology is worked out within the church. He touches on subjects that are often the most difficult to lead on. It's easier for him to say some of this from the towers of the academy than pastor people in this way in the real world. But as I read this book I was reminded that I increasingly view a great part the Christian leaders role to be the story-tellers of the Grand Story as well as the histories of our own communities. This reminds me that I love the way Jerry at First Pres??? has ended sermons sometimes, ???The is your Story. Live it.???

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