This post is part of an ongoing series on the book Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, by Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles. This series is being authored by Jonathan McRay, Jonathan Swartz, and Brian Gumm. This post covers Ch. 9, "Gentled Into Being"
As in earlier chapters, Coles names the profundities in the writings of his friend, Stanley Hauerwas – he clearly appreciates that Hauerwas wants gentleness to be “constitutive of any politics that would be just” (208). Further, Coles sees gentleness as a current sweeping through Hauerwas’ writings (influenced by Vanier of course, but Coles thinks John Howard Yoder is just as important to Hauerwas’ gentleness) even though this gentleness is sometimes obscured by the kinds of impatient and polemic writing that Hauerwas engages as he wrestles against the secular theology emanating from nation-states and markets. This secular theology produces an impatience that “cuts deeply into possibilities for becoming communities through which we might learn better to befriend time and enact a politics of gentleness” (208-9). Hauerwas is impatient with the impatience of secular theology – better, he’s downright pissed. The art of gentleness is thus intertwined with the arts of “critical biting” (Hauerwas’ language in the previous chapter) – Hauerwas “never said gentleness somehow implies that one should not have and identify enemies” (209).
Coles has no difficulty sharing these convictions with the theologian, he also wants to hold together gentleness and struggle with enemies – but he senses at least several differences in how they might approach the entwinement of gentleness and struggle. Coles, revisiting a theme from an earlier chapter, is looking for a vulnerability that he wonders if Hauerwas is willing to admit and adopt; and he probes The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics in search of vulnerable offerings. Coles is NOT worried that the church imagined and practiced in The Blackwell Companion constitutes a sect – he values the passionate commitment to hospitable engagement with the world beyond the church. Coles is more worried that the church imagined is a church that “makes the border secondary to an interior volume that is at the center and that only prepares for rather than is itself partly constituted by the borders themselves” (212). Coles’ seems to want to de-center the assumptions of what constitutes a center. Or he wants to make sure the form includes the boundaries.
In relation to practices this means that the church becomes the foot-washer (but not also in need of being foot-washed by non-Christians), the host of the Eucharist (but not the one who might sit at the lowest spot), and the server (but not needing to be served by those outside the church). “It is as if there is a people called and gathered prior to encountering others, rather than a people equiprimordially gathered and formed precisely at the borders of the encounter” (212). Coles is concerned that a church so imagined will assume that the form is prior to the edge and fail to see that the edges also constituted the form. A church so imagined can tend to assume that it has all it needs to be what it needs to be in the world. A church so imagined tends to avoid the receiving that is at least as important as the giving – “We must not refuse our feet to Jesus… We must feel the pressure of his touch, the touch of the stranger” (213).