In praise of a significant example

In response to a recent series of posts by Periphery, particularly this one, I’d like to write about a significant example in the sense of the Hauerwas-Willimon quote included in a previous post.  Consider this post to be: (a) in hearty support of Periphery’s claim that “the Cross and all our crosses force us to revise our conceptions of dignity”, (b) reflection on the church being the church well, and (c) most importantly, in praise of a significant example.

B and his wife are members of my church, and were the first people to strike up conversation with me.  Roughly two years ago, he told the church he has ALS.  Now he is in a wheelchair and speech is very difficult for him.  During each service we have a time of sharing of joys during which all are welcome to report praises and concerns to the congregation.  Since his diagnosis, B has shared quite often during this time; he began by reporting on how, since his illness, he has become far more comfortable with and bold about sharing his faith with us and with others.  We now consistently receive frank reports on his condition, particularly about his core muscle strength, increasing limitations on his movement at home, projects to make his house more accessible to him, whether he has had the strength to endure a car ride to visit his daughter at school…  This is all in the form of praise for help he has received from friends, joy at visiting his daughter, and appreciation for his wife.

What is happening here?  A couple of things.  First, when we listen to reports on core muscle strength in a voice we have increasing difficulty understanding, we are forced, as Periphery claims, to revise our conceptions of dignity and ability.  His statements (as well as those of a developmentally disabled couple in the congregation who, interestingly, also frequently share with us) are honored in such a way that I am forced to and given tools to rethink my assessment of his situation.  What I want to particularly point out is that this is happening via a practice (sharing of praises and concerns) that, in its underlying rationale, supposes a community of neediness – it points us toward conceptions of dignity and ability that cohere with such a community and what it proclaims about humanity.  

Second, B is allowing the church to be the church.  He’s allowing us to be true to and recall a vision of a community where our practice of hearing and honoring him are coherent.  We’re forced not only to rethink his situation, but to remember what sort of community we’re supposed to be.  The ethical import of this, for things ranging from improving the church’s accessibility to our stance on euthanasia, is clear; it also ought to remind us again of our self-identification as a community of people in need.  Note that this is not happening through new programming or improved self-understanding, but via a practice ingrained in our worshipping life.  This practice has often been the occasion for less edifying praises, but by keeping it, the church has (maybe unwittingly) exposed itself to B’s faithfulness, which ought to remind us of the truth about ourselves – our contingency, our dependence, our need for the community and God.

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