We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.

 

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Social Disability and the Trinity

Seeing disability through the lens of the social disability paradigm and the Trinitarian paradigm as opposed to the medical model of disability is critical in understanding what our role as Christians is within all of society, both personally and professionally. By understanding and applying what we learn, we are able to move towards a mature spirituality that reflects the Gospel more fully and enables a deeper relationship with God.

“The disability rights movement has identified the standard naturalized perception of disability in Western culture today as framed within a medical model of disability, which has pathologized unconventional bodies and has individualized disability as a personal tragedy.” (Tataryn, 19) This view of one’s embodiment as personal tragedy rather than the perspective of it being the natural outcome of living life causes society to view the person as incomplete or not fully human. This is exacerbated by an environment of hierarchies and competition; a race up the corporate ladder or an accumulation of prestige and respect in your personal life. In a society that values particular types of beauty, wealth and abundance, it necessarily creates a lower caste of people who disgust or struggle in poverty and with scarcity. This effectively disables groups of people, as described by the social disability paradigm.

“The social model of disability locates disability within society rather than in an individual… what we presume to identify objectively as impairment in a person may depend more on social factors than anatomical facts; we may be judging rather than simply observing.” (Tataryn, 19) In effect, it recognizes that what disables people isn’t often their embodiment as it is their exclusion from society and participating fully within it. This comes at a cost to all of society because we do not reap the benefits of the gifts given to every individual. Jesus was one who wanted to dismantle this hierarchy and he calls those who follow them to do the same. This can be exceedingly difficult when society teaches the opposite. “When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.” (Vanier, 19)

A hierarchy within society that places those that do not conform at the bottom is best described as elitist; an accumulation of power and wealth in one group at a cost to another. They “win” at the cost of the rest of humanity suffering. “Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team. That is the heart of apartheid and every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts not outside.” (Vanier, 20) Embracing the trinity within the social disability paradigm encourages us all to relinquish our egos in order to engage within an inclusive community.

Jean Vanier, a man who did this in part by establishing communities where those disabled by society could have the freedom to live and grow together described the experience thusly: “And I come here to tell you how much life these people have given me, that they have an incredible gift to bring to our world, that they are a source of hope, peace and perhaps salvation for our wounded world, and that if we are open to them, if we welcome them, they give us life and lead us to Jesus and the good news.” (Vanier, 9) To experience this in our professional lives calls us to engage with all people, to consider the needs of all rather than most and to facilitate the growth and respect of every individual. Privately, this could look like being inclusive in those you invite to your home, who you develop friendships with, and how you raise your children to engage with others. Finally, from a spiritual perspective, this kind of engagement with others helps us to grow more mature and surrender our ego as we encounter the Trinity more fully.

In fact, by engaging with people different from ourselves, we encounter not only the person but the divine within them. “Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that person who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked.” (Vanier, 25) We do not need to be at the top of the ladder or compete against one another to “win” at being Christian but rather, learn to value the differences of others without coming against it. “Just as Christ, the God-Human (theanthropos), has united the divine and the human, so now humanity, through love, can reconfigure that which has been seen as opposite and recognize difference without opposition.” (Tataryn, 64)

To take it even further, we should look at the people God chose above all others as his people. They were not chosen because they were physically or mentally superior, more faithful or purer. “Israel is the people of God not because of their own actions or merits, but by the graciousness of the Lord. In other words, it is a community called into being by the One who has loved Israel since before its birth. The Christian community is likewise a community that is called into being, not constituted by its own actions or decisions.” (Tataryn, 52) We exist, and our community exists, not by our own merits but due to a gracious God who calls us into deeper relationship with him through deeper relationship with each other.

Thus, the Trinity and the social disability paradigm reveal the call away from disabling, competing and subjugating one another and into a relationship with all creation at all times. By doing so, we understand the expansiveness of our family and the value of inclusiveness even at a cost of not putting ourselves first. “More and more people are becoming conscious that our God is not just a powerful Lord telling us to obey or be punished but our God is family. Our God is three persons in love with each other; our God is communion. And this beautiful and loving God is calling us as humans into this life of love.” (Vanier, 35)

Works Cited

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

Vanier, Jean. From Brokenness to Community. United States of America: Paulist Press, 1992. Print.

Thoughts on Communion

Holy Communion… One of the definitions of communion is “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.” How much thought do you put into this tradition? More specifically, what do you think Jesus was trying to say during this dinner where he offered his bread and wine to his community?

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25

When I read these verses and think about the frame of mind Jesus had to be in, and what he must have been trying to say and teach in this experience, I believe that he had to be doing more than giving a ritual to remember him by. While we cannot, of course, understand fully any aspect of God, we can understand from scripture what Jesus must have been feeling in that moment.

Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”  Mark 12:28-31

Because of these verses, I have to believe that Jesus does these things primarily for love of God and love of humanity rather than pure obedience to the Father. In his actions, he demonstrates the love for both. First, he gathers around him his disciples, the people whom he taught and loved during their time together. Here we remember that he is using the bread as a symbol for his body, and the wine as a symbol for his blood, the source of life for all living things.

First he thanks God for his “body” and then he breaks his “body” and gives it to them.  He says, “Take it, this is my body.”  He is figuratively breaking his body for his community, but soon it will literal. Then he thanks God for his “blood” and gives it to all of them to drink. He tells them that his blood will be poured out for many, but the life that blood represents? He again shares it with his community. He is symbolically showing them what will come pass… that out of love, he breaks his body and pours his blood out for others.

Of course, this has great implications for us. He does this for us, for his community. But what are we to understand from the ways in which he sacrificially loves us?

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Jesus didn’t come here just to die and be resurrected (although it’s a big deal and I am forever grateful for that). However, if such were the case, he could have done so without the teaching, the miracles, the lifetime of being fully human. The prophets foresaw what they did and Jesus fulfilled it so that he could show us how to live. To demonstrate that those who follow him do not put themselves first but rather, prioritize others. They deny themselves and carry the cross daily, a necessary attribute to follow him. This call isn’t new; we are to do what was at the heart of our covenant from the beginning. Jesus reminds us of this when he says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

Jesus lives a life that fulfills both the prophecies as well as the Law: a law of love. A law that is a call to mercy, forgiveness, repentance, relationship, and hope. A law that is good news for the poor. To be a person of humility and justice. Because we could not figure out what that looked like, he came to show us in person.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

I certainly do not want to discourage people from communion. I think it is a great tradition that is meant to recall to us not just the sacrifice made by Jesus but also to remind us of the life to which we have been called as followers of Christ. Instead of empty ritual I want to see people experience communion in such a way that their hearts are set on fire for God; that they are inspired by his example and moved to carry their cross daily.

Jean Vanier, an extraordinary man moved by God to have relationships with people who are outcasts in our time, reflects the character of Jesus who also came alongside those who were rejected by the rich, powerful and religious. Vanier created communities where people with various disabilities could live with one another while experiencing love, reedom and hope. Here is how he describes communion:

To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.”  Pg. 16, From Brokenness to Community