Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Hard Work of Discipleship

In my last post, I thought about Mary Rose O'Reilley's comment that self is too precious to be conjoined with sacrifice.

Ideally, the church is the place where we "present ourselves as a living sacrifice" and receive the love and affirmation which sustains us. I often turn in my mind to these quotes from Stanley Hauerwas, who argues that church, rather than family, is the most important place for the shaping of our character. “The love that we have toward our spouses and our children follows, rather than determines, the kind of love that we learn in the church through our being a people pledged to be faithful to God’s call.” He writes that our character is shaped by our relationship to God’s faithfulness, and in turn by the community of people who are also striving to grow in God's Spirit. Love, he writes, is not “some affection for another that contributes to my own sense of well-being” but ”the steady gaze on another that does not withdraw regard simply because they fail to please.” That love “is first learned through being required to love our brothers and sisters who, like us, are pledged to be disciples in Christ.”[1]

I appreciate Hauerwas’ emphasis on Christ, his call, and our discipleship. Hauerwas is trying to counter a kind of shallow, “focus on the family” kind of Christianity and provide us a better, stronger model of the church. But Hauerwas omits, in a quote like this, the problem of church people who have self-hating, psychologically unhealthy, and suppressive versions of discipleship that they, in turn, foster upon others. This was Mary O'Reilley's initial complaint: as a young girl she was taught a kind of discipleship which stifled rather than helped her.

Not all of us in the church are equally pledged to be Christ’s disciples and, even if we are, we're not equally equipped to strengthen one another’s growth in Christian love. On the other hand, Hauerwas provides an excellent reminder about the kinds of love and discipleship that follow upon God's undeserved love for us.

1. Stanley Hauerwas, “The Family as a School for Character,” in Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, Moral Issues: Philosophical and Religious Perspectives (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996), pp. 239-246 (quotes from page 244).

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