This is a personal reflection on the work of Stanley Hauerwas in celebration of his 76th birthday.
I have had the honor of working with Stanley Hauerwas for over a decade. Before I began he expressed his one concern, “Carole, I’m just worried you’re going to be bored.” At the time I had just finished my masters degree, I had a three year old and another baby on the way. “Stanley,” I answered, “I’d welcome a little boredom in my life.” Although there are days when certain aspects of work life feel mundane, that has never overshadowed the gifts that come from working so closely with someone who is anything but boring. I have learned more from working with Stanley than I could ever have imagined, and much of that has been formation not only in thinking theologically but in how to be a Christian whose vocation is that of a theologian.
Stanley’s known for his colorful language, but it is a real shame if that is the predominant characteristic used to describe him. Stanley is one of the most generous, humble intellectuals I know. He hates pretense and is just as likely to befriend a twenty-something kid from Iowa who writes to him with questions as he is to befriend some of the greatest minds writing today. I have learned from him what it means to take one’s work seriously without taking oneself too seriously. I have learned that it takes discipline to not use your intellectual gifts to act violently against those with whom you disagree. And I’ve learned that being right isn’t an intellectual virtue but being willing to listen and learn from others is. I’ve seen him take critiques seriously rather than flippantly dismissing them. I’ve seen him make both public and private apologies when he has said or done something wrong. I’ve seen that his appeal to Christian virtue is compelling not only because it is well-reasoned but because it is aspired to in his own life.
Stanley’s now technically retired but he’s just as busy as ever, still writing and still teaching. After all, he says, theologians don’t retire. There is always more work to do. At this moment in our nation I am convinced Stanley’s work is as relevant as ever. His voice is as significant as ever. He may be slowing down a tad (he turns 76 today) but that, I hope, means those of us who have been shaped by his thought will take up the mantle and continue to remind the Church that its first task is to be the Church. That we have failed to be the Church is painfully evident in our country today. But in taking up the mantle it is my hope that we will honor him not by regurgitating his arguments, but by embodying the passion, humility, and generosity with which he has made them and the charity he has shown and extended to so many of us — whether or not we’ve agreed with him.I love you, Stanley. I grow ever more appreciative of your witness and friendship. We still have much to learn from you. I wish you many more years of good conversations and good books.
Carole Baker is a Research Associate & ThD candidate at Duke University. She is also an accomplished artist whose work has appeared in sacred and secular settings.
For more on Hauerwas see: Stanley Hauerwas Contra the Bad Idea of Religious Toleration
If you’re looking for something completely different, see: TOP10 Books On Theology and Neuroscience
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