Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We Are All Broken

I thought maybe I could use a funny photo to help make a point about Haiti, which I will get to eventually. One of John's childhood neighbors sent him this picture yesterday. It was taken sometime around 1964. John is on the right in the back row and his brother Tom is sitting next to him shirtless. The boys are acting goofy, as young boys often take pleasure in acting.

Over the past few days, I've been reading a book, Living Gently in a Violent World by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Stanley is a university theologian and Jean Vanier founded L'Arche, "an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities experience life together as human beings who share a mutuality of care and need."

So much of what is in the book reminds me of Haiti. First, just the juxtaposition of the words Gently and Violent in the title, for Haiti and Haitians are both gentle and violent. I find the people to be gentle and when they are not, it is often the violence of the poverty that elicits the violence.

Jean Vanier talks about God's vision for the world: "It is a promise that people can get together. It is a vision of unity, peace and acceptance. It is a promise that the walls between people and groups can fall, but that this will not be accomplished by force. It will come about through a change of heart--through transformation. It will begin at the bottom of the ladder of our societies." (Italics mine)

It will begin in places like Haiti.

I want to quote a number of passages in the book where Jean Vanier is talking about people with disabilities. What he says, I think, also applies to Haiti.

"Jesus wants to break down the walls that separate people and groups. How will he do this? He will do it by saying to each one, 'You are important. You are precious.' There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that the other is important. Your are precious. You--not just 'people' but you."

"When we listen to stories of terrible pain and know we can't do anything about it, we touch our own vulnerability. We have heard the scream of pain, but we don't know what to do with it. None of us knows what to do with the deep brokenness of our world. Maybe that realization can bring us back to community. We can do nothing on our own. We need somewhere to be together."

"We must begin at the bottom. Jesus came to announce good news to the poor, freedom to captives, liberty to the oppressed, sight to the blind. Let's help the poor to rise up, and then help those who have power and money to see that for the sake of peace, which is the greatest good human beings can seek, they too should enter into this vision and start helping the weak to rise up."

"Jesus came to change a world in which those at the top have privilege, power, prestige and money while those at the bottom are seen as useless. Jesus came to create a body. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, compares the human body to the body of Christ, and he says that those parts of the body that are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the body. . . Who really believes it?. . .Do we really believe that the weakest, the least presentable those we hide away--that they are indispensable? If that was our vision of the church, it would change many things."

"I have been trying to point out that our deep need is to meet those on the other side of the wall, to discover their gifts, to appreciate them. We must not get caught up in the need for power over the poor. We need to be with the poor. That can seem a bit crazy because it doesn't look like a plan to change the world. But maybe we will change the world if we are happy. Maybe what we need most is to rejoice and to celebrate with the weak and the vulnerable. Maybe the most important thing is to learn how build communities of celebration. Maybe the world will be transformed when we learn to have fun together. I don't mean to suggest that we don't talk about serious things. But maybe what our world need more than anything is communities where we celebrate life together and become a sign of hope for our world. Maybe we need signs that it is possible to love each other."

My head is swirling with the truth of these statements. Let me just add a few more thoughts. Sometimes I get a little nervous when people start talking about how happy the poor are, not that I think that's what Jean Vanier is doing at all. People living in poverty have much to teach us about what is important. But I also think that some of the horrid, torturous conditions that I have seen children living in shouldn't be tolerated and we should work fervently to alleviate those conditions.

Secondly, when I think about how people at the bottom of the ladder are seen as worthless by the rest of the world, I think of my son. My son, who is an absolute dynamo, smart, compassionate, athletic, loving, my son was on the last rung of this ladder until God brought him to us. For me, he represents all of the children in the developing world who exist in such conditions that their gifts are lost to them and to the world. We are not seeing clearly.

Thirdly, we are all broken. All of us, probably none so much as those of us overachievers in the First World. Even those cute, little boys in the picture at the top, who all went on to become successful men. But as Jean Vanier would point out, they are having fun.

Because I've been so inspired by him, I'll give the last words to Jean Vanier: "The heart of L'Arche is to say to people, 'I'm glad you exist.'"

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