Process Theology and Jean Vanier
Krista Tippet's Interview with Jean Vanier
Process Theology and Jean Vanier
There is so much that process theology wants to say about life and pain and beauty, but Jean Vanier says it so much better. And there is so much that process theology wants to say about the importance of vulnerability in community life; but, again, Jean Vanier says it so much better. Indeed, there is so much that process theology wants to say about divine vulnerability, about how even the mystery at the heart of the universe is found in, not apart from, our being with one another in loving ways, but Jean Vanier says it better. Withness of the body? He's better. Shared feeling? He's better. Justice? Better. And he has little interest in process theology, which makes good sense. He knows, as ought we all, that experience takes priority over ideas. Aristotle knew it, too. And who could interview him better than Krista Tippett? It is worth listening to - all fifty minutes. Skip church. Or synagogue. Or mosque. Or sangha. Or farmer's market. Or the Colbert Report. If you must.
On Being is a spacious conversation — and an evolving media space — about the big questions at the center of human life, from the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of the human spirit.
-- from the website for On Being
“The response to injustice is to share. The response to despair is a limitless trust and hope. The response to prejudice and hatred is forgiveness. To work for community is to work for humanity.”
"Can we reasonably have a dream of a world where people, whatever their race, religion, culture, abilities, or disabilities, whatever their education or economic situation, whatever their age or gender, can find a place and reveal their gifts?"
Whatever their gifts on their limitations, people are all bound together in a common humanity. Everyone is of unique and sacred value, and everyone has the same dignity and the same rights. The fundamental rights of each person include the rights to life, to care, to a home, to education and to work. Also, since the deepest need of a human being is to love and to be loved, each person has a right to friendship, to communion and to a spiritual life.
Why Jane Became a Christian
Several years ago a good friend of mine -- I will call her Jane -- became a Christian. She had grown up in a secular environment and was very suspicious of anything close to "organized religion." She still is.
But she listened to the interview with Jean Vanier from On Being with Krista Tippett, and she heard something beautiful that rang true to her. It was not the truth of theology but rather the truth of experience. She calls it the wisdom of tenderness. She left secularism and decided to walk with Jesus. She's still walking.
Jane is not alone. This single interview has changed many lives for the better, including my own. It has helped me realize the limited value of theology, including my own. Vanier speaks of the primacy of experience over ideas. I'm with him. When we get too lost in our heads, we lose what really matters in life: to love and be loved. Love is so much bigger than theology. Or, to say it better, so much smaller. Let me explain.
Smallness and Beauty
Jane is not a Christian exclusivist. Jean Vanier talks about learning from a Muslim friend and a Hindu friend, and Jane likes this. She is spacious, too.
Still, Jane is a little friend of Jesus. Hers is not an imperial Christianity. It is not about winning converts. It is counter-cultural and power-relinquishing, gentle in heart and body. It is about downward mobility not upward mobility, about descending into the depths of the broken human body. It is about joy.
Maybe this is what Christianity is about. Maybe Christianity begins with the experience of a God who the very opposite of untouchability, because touched every time we love others and are loved by them. Maybe the good news is that God is closer than we might otherwise imagine, disarmingly close because present in the other person and in our own hearts.
I ask Jane if she believes in God. She says: I believe in tenderness. I ask her if tenderness is high and mighty or small and beautiful. She says small and beautiful. I ask her what she likes about Jesus and she says vulnerability. I asked her if Christianity is about pleasure or obligation and she says pleasure.
It's all about the satisfaction of a desire to love and be loved.
I tell her that some Christians might say her God is too small and she says maybe their God is too big. I think of Whitehead who said that we wrongly render unto God that which belongs to Caesar and who proposes instead that we render unto God what which belongs to Jesus. Jane would add that we render unto God that which belongs to those Jesus touched: the disabled.
I think of a Buddhist student of mine, Vivian Dong, who once said that the only God she could believe in would have to be tiny enough to fit behind the eyes of each person. I think Jane and Vivian would like each other.
Other articles you might enjoy:
Nanking! Nanking! by Vivian Dong
Love Made Gritty by Teri Daily
Bearing Witness to Broken Bodies by Teri Daily
The Space Within the Trinity by Teri Daily
The Space to See Things Differently by Teri Daily
Recipe for a Healthy Community by Margi Ault-Duell
In God There is no Normal: Process Theology and Aspberger's Syndrome
Process Theology and Parkinson's Disease
Who Gets to Dance?