Defining Acts

This is from Hauerwas and Willimon’s book on the Ten Commandments.  It’s one of the things I’m turning over for tomorrow.  Before this quote, the chapter (on the third command regarding Sabbath) takes the reader through how, for the Christian, Sabbath is a reordering of time.  Sabbath observance is about actively remembering God.

One of us was raised in Texas, where there is a wonderful institution known as “Juneteenth.”  On June 19, news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas.  June 19 became the day on which African Americans, with no legal recourse, simply refused to show up for work.  Whites might not have liked it, but there was nothing they could do about it.  They simply accepted “Juneteenth” as a holiday.

The Christian Sabbath is Juneteenth.  It is when Christians perform one of our most radical, countercultural, peculiarly defining acts—we simply refuse to show up for work.  It is how we put the world in its place.  It is how we take over the world’s time and help to make it God’s time.  It is how we get over our amnesia and recover our memory of how we got here, who we are, and in whose service we are called.


The Problem With Commandments

I’m reading a book about the 10 commandments.  The book is old by many people’s standards, published in way back in 1999, by Hauerwas & Willimon.

I think I’m starting a journey to reading everything Hauerwas has written.  I started with his memoir last year at David Swanson’s suggestion.  Hauerwas makes Christianity seem both accessible and incredible for it’s simplicity.  He and Will Willimon often get together, join literary powers, and paint this faith beautifully.Station of the Cross

This slim volume on the commands is just as intriguing.  Their premise, or one of them, is that the commandments only make sense if we have as a background the vocation of worshipping God.  God is not to be helpful or responsive to us but worshipped.  God is, and creation worships.  In their own words:

The commandments are not guidelines for humanity in general.  They are a countercultural way of life for those who know who they are and whose they are.  Their function is not to keep American culture running smoothly, but rather to produce a people who are, in our daily lives, a sign, a signal, a witness that God has not left the world to its own devices.

You may disagree, but those sentences clarify the ten words (another way of talking about the commands is by using the earlier phrase “ten words”), but they also make them that much more dubious in that clarity.  They are both sensible and nonsensical, which is how they come to the language of these acts being countercultural.

This quote below is actually about an early theologian, Thomas Aquinas, and their summary of something Aquinas said.  But the quote is searching me right up through here.  It is in the chapter on the fifth commandment not to murder.  By this point in the chapter, they’ve hinted at how murder is a term that captures all kinds of killing and that they scripture’s intent is both external and internal.  So think about behaviors and thoughts:

Aquinas does not mean that we are not to feel righteous indignation against injustice, but rather that we are to develop among ourselves those virtues that free us from temptation to envy and self-importance, which so often lead to presumptions that we have been grievously wronged.

I’m thinking about this in relation to being a father, thinking about this as a leader, as a husband, as an opinionated person.  And the less the commandments are about the external only (i.e., murdering a person), the more challenging they become.  I’m pretty sure I’ll see coming the whole me-murdering-somebody-thing.  It’s external.  But the internal killing is taken up into this commandment, too, and when I believe that, when I believe that God who is concerned for thoughts from afar or “lust” as Jesus has so said, I have an existing problem with the commandments.  I feel both inspired to live into this vocation as a person before God and knocked to my knees.  At some point, I get really thankful that grace is both fulfilling and inspiring.  At some point.  For now, I taste that problem on my tongue.

A Peopled Memoir

The other week I finished Stanley Hauerwas’s memoir, Hannah’s Child.  Hauerwas spoke a bit in the beginning of his book about the reasons he wrote a memoir.  He mentioned the obvious in that theologians are not known for completing such works.  He said by their nature and by the nature of their work theologians don’t spend many energies in the apparent effort of telling their own stories as much as they tell another story, the story of God and God’s things.  Of course, that’s a very rough summary of his introductory remarks, in my own words.

Coming away from his book, thinking it through slowly while I read it, I am convinced and glad at how peopled his remembrances are.  He even said that he nearly subtitled his memoir so as to make it a clear tribute to his friends.  Over and again he commented on how necessary and significant others were for the work he had done and the work he was doing.  Friends–and he named them and told their stories as well–were the ones who framed how this thinker about God told of his life.

I’m not writing a memoir and I won’t most likely, but I think Hauerwas, theologian that he is, has left us with more than his own story in Hannah’s Child.  I think he’s given us a method of doing theology.  I think he’s given a way of going about the work of God and God things and in God’s world.  I think his example of pointing to people, getting into trouble and fun with them, and of making a life for and full of others is more than commendable for us, whether or not we consider ourselves theologians.

Of course, we all talk and make sense of God; in that way, aren’t we all theologians?  But we can benefit from the way this teacher and servant has chronicled his life.  If you’re interested, please read the memoir.  The content in the first pages is worth the purchase.  Then there’s the added benefit in getting through the pages.

Love of the Particular

Like his gentleness, his sense of craft was also out of step with the spirit of the times.  The world wanted work done quickly and cheaply.  The world wanted shortcuts.  The world wanted him to build houses of brick so soft that they would melt from watering the yard.  He was incapable of such work, so he was not rewarded as the world knows reward.  Yet he lived well, secure in the knowledge that he never built a house with a “hog in the wall” — that is, with one course more on one side of the house than the other.

There is a rock building back in the woods outside Mena, Arkansas, that my father and mother built.  Few people will ever see that building, though it is one of the most stunning rock jobs I have ever seen.  My father and mother could not have built it otherwise, for to do so would have offended my father’s sensibility.  To lay rock well you must see each rock individually, yet in relation to what may be the next rock to be laid.  To see each rock in this way requires a humility founded of the love of the particular.  This is the humility that characterized my father’s life.  And it was perhaps nowhere more apparent than when you walked with my father through the woods.

From Stanley Hauerwas’s, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir