On Living Joyfully

I love Stanley Hauerwas. This makes me something of an oddball in my politically/socially/theologically liberal confession (esepcailly at my seminary, where his views are not well-liked, particularly by ethicists and systematic theologians), but being an oddball and/or outcast (or simply being a malcontent) is something I am used to. When the spring semester ground to a halt, I walked out of the library with an armload of Hauerwas books, and I’ve just finished reading his primer on ethics (he’s not fond of ethics as an endeavor), The Peaceable Kingdom.

There’s so much in this book that is worth discussion, but I’ll stick with his bit on joy from the last chapter, in which Hauerewas speaks of joy and tragedy and the Christian life:

Through repentance we thus learn to accept that our lives personally and socially were not meant to be tragic but joyful. And our joy is not that for which we hope, but is a present disposition that pervades our whole life. It is the presupposition of all the virtues. It is the discovery that we are not by nature liars and violent, but rightfully we are those who desire to know the truth and to live peace with ourselves, our neighbors and most of all God. Joy thus becomes the disposition born of a hope based on our sense that it cannot be our task to transform the violence of this world into God’s peace, for in fact that has been done through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Our joy is the simple willingness to live with the assurance of God’s reemption.

Joy is not the same as happiness, Hauerwas says:

The joy that characterizes the Christian life is not so much the fulfillment of any desire, but the discovery that we are capable of being people who not only desire peace but are peaceable. Joy thus comes to us as a gift that ironically provides us with the confidence in ourselves which makes possible our living of God’s peace as a present reality.

That is why we cannot try to be joyful even though we can try to be happy. Joy always comes to us in a form we hardly expected. … Joy is thus finally a result of our being dispossessed of the illusion of security and power that is the breeding ground of our violence. Violence is not something that we “get over” through one decision to be non-violent. THose long committed to the way of non-violence testify to the continuing presence of violence in their lives, not the least of which is the temptation of the non-violent to use their “weakness” to manipulate others to achieve their own ends — ends that others would pursue in a more aggressive manner. Self-deception is no less a problem of the nonviolent than the violent.

Rather nonviolence requires life-long training in being disposessed of all that I think secures my significance and safety. And the irony is that the more we lose, the greater the possibility we have for living life joyfully. For joy is the disposition that comes from our readiness always to be surprised; or put even more strongly, joy is the disposition that comes from our realization that we can trust in surprises for the sustaining of our lives. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of learning to live joyfully is that we learn to see the simple and most common aspects of our existence, such as our friends, our spouses, our children, as sheer gifts to which we have no right but who are nonetheless present to us.

The church is the community formed by, through and around Christ, and thus for Hauerwas, ethics is not about making “right” choices but about living faithfully and being formed by this Church which speaks and lives the truth — a truth that has been given only to the Church and which is not reasonable (it cannot be distilled by reason).

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