Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Community Focused on the Good and Realizing Its Telos

"Humility, like all the virtues, comes as a gift made possible by being part of a community that has, quite literally, no use for pretense. Pretense can be defeated only when a people have such good work to do that they have no time for the games of status. Such work is no better exemplified than the l'Arche movement begun by Jean Vanier. L'Arche is the community in which some learn to live with those whom the world calls mentally handicapped. Those who live with the mentally handicapped want to help them grow, but according to Vanier, before

'doing for them, we want to 'be with them.' The particular suffering of the person who is mentally handicapped, as of all marginal people, is a feeling of being excluded, worthless and unloved. It is through everyday life in a community and the love that must be incarnate in this, that handicapped people can begin to discover that they have value, that they are loved and so lovable.' (Vanier 1979, 3)

Such a community both makes time and takes time." -Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, p. 162.

I am attracted to this section of Hauerwas especially by his stress on focus as a community and not just as individuals on the great good of reaching thos marginalized by our society. "Talk is cheap, brother", I feel some of you say sometimes. There is a great need in Baltimore and here in DC, a great crying need. There is a good work to do and in the doing it I hope we might find the focus together which increasingly humbles us as Hauerwas describes. I don't think that community in all cases is necessary for humility. It seems that many prophets had to go without. But maybe I am wrong. Certainly to be a prophet of God you've got to be humble. Think of the company they keep. I am thinking of the focus implied here in conjunction with something I read from Michael Sandel about commercials in public classrooms:

"But, even if corporate sponsors supplied objective teaching tools of impeccable quality, commercial advertising would still be a pernicious presence in the classroom because it undermines the purposes for which the school exists. Advertising encourages people to want things and to satisfy their desires: education encourages people to reflect on their desires, to restrain or to elevate them. The purpose of advertising is to recruit consumers; the purpose of public schools is to cultivate citizens." Public Philosophy, p. 75.

Sandel argues in a way that I find persuasive that the purpose for which the schools exist is undermined by the commercials in the classroom and the manifold little compromises. I remember seeing the kids subjected by the arm of the State to captive commerical watching when I was a substitute teacher so that the schools could have free TVs for every room. I knew something was deeply disturbing and outrageous about this but I couldn't articulate it very well at the time. It seems that the time has come for us to learn to articulate just what is wrong with this kine of excessive encroachment. Jesus said we should watch and pray so that the cares of this world and the love of it do not snuff out our faith. We should ask what is our purpose as a church for existing and see that our focus is increased and not drawn away into the world's manifold distractions whether commercial or ascetic.

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