As I Am – 5000 Broken Gifts (L’Arche International)

The L’Arche International community  has taken a beautiful initiative to counter the tendency, present in all cultures, to view people with intellectual disabilities that they are the undesirables. To change this injustice they have started the web series, “As I Am”, as

“an invitation to imagine the world differently and to rejoice in who you are as you are”.

This fourth “As I Am” story is that of Mateusz Jaworski from L’Arche Poland who shares with us an inventive way of giving.

L’Arche Web Series

#As I Am

The particularly close attention that needs to be paid to the ways that we are conceiving what it means to be human is designed to open up and make more sensitive our practices of being human. In our view, some of the best work being done to explicate in practical terms what it means to live as if all humans are valuable (e.g., finding ways to live with, worship with and catechize the disabled, to be present with those with dementia) deserves long overdue conceptual backing which displays why such practices are an extension (rather than a repudiation) of the historical Christian faith. This is not to suggest that Christians have always been sympathetic to the marginalized and fragile among us, but to begin from the presumption that there have always been some Christians through the ages who have recognized in various ways the importance of such people in the divine economy.

(Excerpt from Brian Brock, ‘Looking at “Us”, Attending to “Them”, Seeking the Divine: Revisiting Disability in the Christian Tradition.’ Journal of Religion, Disability & Health, 17:3, 328)

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Double Perichoresis: God and human experience

Life love hopeExcerpt from Jan-Olav Henriksen, Life, Love, and Hope. God and Human Experience. Eerdmans, 2014.

In the history of theology, perichoresis is a notion used to articulate the hypostatic union of the three divine persons of the Trinity, as well as the union of the two natures of Christ. The affirmation of the union in diversity made possible by this notion implies that “the two natures of Christ and the persons of the Trinity somehow interpenetrate one another, yet without confusion of substance or commingling of natures.” (Crisp, O.D. 2005)… In the present context, the notion is used in two different realms which only partially relate to the debates about the inner-Trinitarian reality: (1) as a metaphor to say something about the relation between the three persons of the Trinity as they interact in relation to the creation (the economic Trinity); and (2) to say something about the close relationship between the Trinity and the world. … I also suggest that we may speak of a perichoresis of the different realms of human experience …

The notion of perichoresis thus signifies a cyclical movement and “evokes the coinherence of the three divine persons, an encircling of each around the others” (Johnson, 1992). The term, as Elizabeth Johnson suggests, may have both a static and a more dynamic meaning: it may mean to dwell or rest within another, or it may mean that things interweave, permeate, or encompass each other…

The net effect of these metaphors gives strong support to the idea that each person encompasses the others, is coinherent with the others in a joyous movement of shared life. Divine life circles without anteriority or posteriority, without any superiority or inferiority of one to the other. Instead there is a clasping of hands, a pervading exchange of life, a genuine circling around together that constitutes the permanent, active, divine koinonia (Johnson, 1992).

If the world is to be understood as a manifestation of the triune God, we have to see the divine community as presenting humankind with profound chances for developing their own community in life, love, and hope. Such a Trinitarian vision of God and the world is also an alternative to an abstract, philosophical form of theism (or deism) that allows for the possibility of seeing the world as something that can be fully experienced and understood without the constant activity of God… the Trinitarian vision of God and the world is experientially related to how the development and evolution of the world are viewed…

Perichoretic movement summons up the idea of all three distinct persons existing in each other in an exuberant movement of equal relations: an excellent model for human interaction in freedom and other regards. Precisely as community in diversity Holy Wisdom has the capacity to be the ground of the turning world (Johnson 1992).

The advantage of interpreting the interactional reality of the Trinitarian God on the one hand, and God and the world on the other, from the point of view of these elaborations of perichoresis is that it underscores how the essence of God (and the world – including human experience) is to be in relation. This relational character of God points in two directions: it points toward a dynamic understanding of God in unity where God’s essence is not defined outside of or independent of God’s relations (as they are realized in the unifying reality of the Trinitarian persons), and it points to how the fullness of human experience is also realized in relation, especially in relations shaped and marked by love.

Henri Matisse, Dance (1909-10). The state Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, via Wikipedia.

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Hallowing bare life

Excerpt taken from “The Duty of Care to Refugees, Christian Cosmopolitanism, and the Hallowing of Bare Life”, Bretherton Luke, Studies in Christian Ethics (2006), 19(1), 39-61.

Refugees and bare life as gift

Arendt suggests that one of the reasons nation-states find it so difficult to assimilate refugees into the political order is that as a form of human civilisation it cannot cope with the sheer givenness of human existence. What cannot be organised and domesticated reminds us of the limitations of human activity. The other, in their sheer givenness, emerges as a threat that arouses ‘dumb hatred, mistrust, and discrimination because they indicate all too clearly those spheres where men cannot act and change at will, i.e., the limitations of the human artifice’ (Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 301).

By contrast, to hallow something means recognising the irreducible worth of what is before one. To hallow a name is to recognize a person and value that person’s ‘external self-outworking and self-expression in relation to all other beings’ (Barth, The Christian Life, 154). To hallow one with a name is to identify someone who is free to act in and of herself, who is not simply a passive recipient, but someone who brings herself to expression in the world (either potentially, actually or latently). A person with a name is one who is differentiated, distinct and deserving of honour that is their due. Barth identifies hallowing the name of God with glorification and transfiguration. Barth takes these to mean the overcoming of ‘all misunderstanding and obscurity concerning someone and to set forth and display his true being openly and clearly’ so that he may be known ‘distinctly and unmistakably as the one he really is’ (Barth, 160). To hallow one made in the image of God, imaging being understood in relational terms, involves this same dynamic of overcoming misunderstanding and obscurity. Thus, within discussions of refugees and asylum seekers we are to avoid characterising them as passive subjects. Rather, they are persons with a name possessing their own complex agency and motivations…

In hallowing the name of God we recognise both the otherness of God and that God is intimately related to us. The One we hallow is named to us as Father. Thus, the two dimensions of divine personal being – otherness and relation – are encompassed in the prayer. Likewise, if hallowing bare life involves recognising another person with a name who is distinct and other, it also involves recognising relationship as constitutive of creaturely personhood. (p. 56)

Refugees and bare life as promise

The hallowing of bare life involves trusting that we will see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. ‘Hallowed be thy name’ is an expression of eschatological hope for that time when God will be all in all. The Lord’s Prayer as a whole can be read as a summons to live according to the Kingdom of God. The gift of kinship with God  that is established in Christ is the beginning of a new community whose pattern of life is set out in the Prayer. This new community generates new forms of solidarity. Bernd Wannenwetsch notes how the formation of the ekklesia overcame the antinomies of polis and oikos to form a hybrid, the oikos-polis. The new political space that was the church re-figured all existing social relationships. Women, slaves and children, who were previously excluded from the public political realm where now addressed as citizens. Men, the only ones who had political agency, and who in their homes were the pater familias, are now asked to identify themselves as brothers to slaves, women and children. As Galatians 3 suggests, ethnic, sexual, political and economic differences do not count when it comes to being included as a citizen in the city of God; and as the Gospel of Matthew puts it, it is ‘whoever does the will of my Father in heaven [who] is my brother and sister and mother’. The hallowing of bare life involves just such a re-configuring of social relations in the contemporary context…

The new forms of solidarity that emerge through the hallowing of bare life necessarily involves a two-way reconfiguration. Openness to the Other involves changing the status quo in order to accommodate the Otherness of the Other. Likewise, the ‘guest’ must adapt and change as they, with their host, together seek communion with God. … However, such mutual transformation necessarily involves loss as the familiar and what counts as ‘home’ is renegotiated. In order for new forms of solidarity to emerge, a process of grieving is necessary as both guest and host emigrate from the familiar. Such grieving is the prelude to the formation of shared memories and an interdependent identity narrative….

It must be remembered, however, that eschatology is neither utopian nor idealistic. Thus, the hallowing of bare life is not a call to be overwhelmed by what cannot be done. We are not to fret that we are not gods. We can only take little steps operating within the framework of opportunities and possibilities open to us…’Measured by whether it is analogous or not to the hallowing of God’s name for which we pray, a supposedly great step might be a fairly small one. Measured by the same criterion, a supposedly little step might really be a very big one.’ (Barth, The Christian Life, 172). Stories of five thousand fed from a few loaves and fishes, of mustard seeds turning into great trees, of new life gestated in crucifixion and death should open our eyes to the reality that, within an economy of grace, small steps can bear manifold fruit. (59-60).

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Parenting, Power, and Control


by Liz Gandolfo, a repost

Last week I was invited to bring my two-year-old to an early childhood development class so that the students could see a toddler in action and ask me questions about his daily routine, developmental milestones, etc.  I was happy to oblige as long as my four-year-old son could accompany us, which was thankfully fine with the professor.  The night before we were supposed to attend the class, my five-and-a-half year old daughter was up for hours with a croupy cough.  She was clearly not well enough to go to school, but she was perky enough in the morning that I decided to bring her to the class along with my two sons.  Things went well for about 20 to 30 minutes or so, during which time all three kids were very shy and surprisingly silent.  But then all hell broke loose.  The two-year-old continued to sit quietly with me, but the older two began to wrestle (complete with sound effects worthy of WWF) right in the middle of the circular seating arrangement that was designed for more intimate access to the visiting guests, not for a circus side-show of pre-school antics.  I did my best to corral the trouble-makers, but to no avail.  They completely defied me and refused to be quiet or still.  In my hurry that morning, I had neglected to pack crayons, a snack, or other activities that might lure them into submission.  So in those painfully long 20 minutes of chaos, I longed for the ability to control my children with one stern look.  A Jedi mind trick would have been helpful to have up my sleeve at that moment.  But alas, a Jedi mother I am not, so I sat meekly staring at my children in horror, mortified at their behavior and my lack of ability to control my own offspring.

This is just one anecdote among many—and a particularly embarrassing one at that.  How often I long for the power to control my children’s behavior—for their own safety, for my own sanity, or for the sake of raising them to be polite and respectful human beings fit for social interaction with others.  I am sure there are parenting techniques that would help me gently persuade my children to heed the commands of their mother and father, and I aspire to one day master those techniques.  In the meantime, my desire for some semblance of authority and control over my children is raising some interesting questions for me as a feminist theologian.

ImageIn feminist theology, power (both divine and human) is often recast in terms of relationality, reciprocity, and mutuality rather than unilateral authority, domination, or might.  For many feminists, this distinction is one of power-with vs. power-over; the power of persuasion vs. the power of coercion; power-in-relation vs. power-in-control.  As a feminist thinking about power structures and social relationships, I am completely on board with this vision.  As a parent of small children, though, I am having a hard time with the imperative need to have at least some semblance of the old-school authoritative control over my children that I have theoretically (and politically) rejected as antithetical to the true nature of power and love.  Sure, the ultimate goal of my relationship with my children is the kind of mutuality and reciprocal exchange of power that these feminist ideals uphold.  But the reality is that I have three children under the age of six, and my desire for control is not entirely unwarranted.  Preventing children from running out into traffic, from spitting in each others’ faces, from stabbing themselves with sharp objects, or from emptying all the bathtub water onto the floor.  These are not unreasonable areas in which to hope for some authority as a parent.  My primary strategy in these situations, and in our relationship as a whole, aims for persuasion and respect for my children’s developing sense self-worth.  But coercion—the dreaded word that I dare not use in a positive light when I write as a feminist theologian—is often a necessity in parenting young children.  The coercion of which I speak is not physically violent or abusive, of course, but it does seek to control a child’s behavior in an authoritative manner.  Even the most permissive of parenting styles must admit to some need for unilaterally controlling certain behaviors in order to preserve the physical safety of children.

The necessity of some degree of coercion in parenting leaves me wondering whether and how power as authority and control might fit into a feminist theology committed to mutuality and respect.  Is there a rightful place for coercion in feminist theological accounts of divine power, human interaction, or ethical action?  Or is parenting young children the sole exception to the unacceptability of power as coercion in feminist theology (if it is an exception at all)?  It is only in writing this blog post that I have even been able to even formulate these question, and I have no answers to offer here.  So your thoughts on these matters are most welcome.  What do you see as the place of power, coercion and control in parenting?  In life? In theology?  In ethics?

This is a reposting from:


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The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

About [28] years ago a small group of artists and former graffiti writers initially worked under the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network to paint murals in neighborhoods that had fallen on hard times. … Local leaders came to appreciate the way murals could represent the positive values of their neighborhoods, help communities feel pride and inspire more energetic commitment to social action… The murals tell tales of the past – about the injustices, sufferings and struggles of the people of inner-city Philadelphia – but they also speak to these same peoples’ dignity, perseverance and triumphs. Perhaps most of all, these walls express their dreams and aspirations. The murals testify to how people can come together to create beauty… As O’Connell puts it, “The beauty of this art lies not only in its content and the reactions it evokes (aesthetics) but also in the types of relationships it fosters among those who create it and those who encounter it (ethics).”… She gives us moral theology with a fresh face – culturally engaged with the grass roots rather than just with the academy, concerned with the real challenges faced by ordinary people, not text-book hypotheticals imagined by someone trying to get tenure.

(excerpt from a review of If These Walls Could Talk, by Steven Pope, Christian Century, 5/1/2013, 130(9), p29-30.)

On our Theological Anthropology blog, Sander Vloebergs, PhD student at the KULeuven, talks about his own project that combines theology and arts. In ‘Art, Imagination and Theology‘ he discusses Maureen O’Connell’s ‘living theology’ ‘from below’ in relation to Medieval imaginative theology as an imaginative theology ‘from within’ that inspires his own creative project.




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Troubling kinship and alternative kinning

ethics of everydayExcerpt from Banner, M. (2014) The Ethics of Everyday Life.  chapter 2 ‘Conceiving Conception: On IVF, Virgin Births, and the Troubling of Kinship’.

In staccato fashion, the Apostles’ Creed notices paradigmatically human moments in Christ’s life: he was conceived, born, suffered, died and buried. But these moments would very likely appear in any syllabus for a course in social anthropology – a point which brings to notice the fact that these events are not only paradigmatically human, in the sense of being of special interest and concern in any human life, but also sites of contention and controversy, where what it is to be human is discovered, constructed, and contested.

… How do the moments of Christ’s life (as they are evoked in the Creeds and as subjects of extended reflection in theology and sermons, in prayers and liturgy, in art and literature) represent human life? And how do these representations relate to present-day cultural norms and expectations and newly emerging modes of relationship, themselves shaping and framing human life? And, furthermore, how does the Christian imagination of human life which dwells on and draws from the life of Christ, not only articulate its own, but also come into conversation with and engage other, moral imaginaries of the human? (35)

Troubling kinship

According to Luke’s account of John the Baptist’s preaching, John’s call to repentance opened with a hyperbolic denunciation of any simple reliance on the claims of kinship: ‘Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham’. This warning against complacent reliance on the salvific sufficiency of mere ancestry need not be taken to presage a total discounting of the claims and privileges of ancestry and kinship – it may warn only against complacency. Ancestry may remain necessary, even if not by itself sufficient. But, as it turns out, this proclamation that the fulfillment of God’s promises need not be constrained by lineage and inheritance opens a story the outworking of which will lead to the claim that the fulfillment of these promises not only need not be, but in actual fact is not so constrained: ‘I tell you this brethren, that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God’, but ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’. Kinship is then very thoroughly troubled by this story, but – and this is significant – Christians no more lived ‘after kinship’ than do … those who find themselves in the infertility clinic. Paul, after all, tells his brothers that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom. We can imagine a community, perhaps, that dispenses with the categories of kinship altogether, but this particular community does not take its foundational stories to demand the erasure of kinship, but rather its reconfiguration – kinship is to be played out in a new key but still to be played out… Brothers aren’t banished from the New Testament, but reappear as brothers of all others within the community of believers: ‘The most prominent use of “brother” in the New Testament is as a metaphor, or fictive kinship term’. That is not, then, an unkinning, but a rekinning – even if the reappropriation establishes what should be regarded as, in the case of the community of discipleship, a ‘counter-cultural social structure'(41-43).

Alternative kinning

…we could look to Augustine to supply a critical theory of kin and kinning. But where might we look for exemplification of a critical practice? There are two lines of inquiry here which may contribute to a better description of the theory’s embodiment. First, although it is not unproblematic, we might look to practices of adoption as providing different models of making kin. Second, a demonstration of the possibility and nature of alternative kinning would be provided by an ethnography of a Christian community in which a countercultural form of non-biogenetic kinship is plainly and powerfully manifested – a community in which there are no biological ties, but in which the reality of being a mother and father, or brother and sister, or son or daughter, is richly experienced (58).

Ethnography of traditional communities of religious may provide such examples, but one of the most interesting and novel experiments in community life and in alternative ways of making kin is found in the L’Arche communities, in which those with learning difficulties are invited to live in a shared house with volunteers who contribute to their care…(58-59).

Whether or not it can commend it descriptively or merely prescriptively, however, Christian ethics looks towards a kinship that does not fall back on ‘classic’ ways of doing family, which privilege ties of blood. Instead it commends a kinship framed by our conceiving our conception in the light of the conception of Christ, to whom Joseph was truly a father. Christian rites intend to unkin us, only to rekin us with the new bonds that dispel childlessness as much as they eliminate orphanhood. And if kinship is a mode of ‘organizing alterity’, as Faubion puts it, a directing of the self to the other, kinship can hardly be erased but it can be sharply reconceived. The rites of baptism (which displace kin by blood), and of the eucharist (which makes us kin to Christ, and thus to one another by sharing in his blood), are such an enacted reconception – and are signs of the continuing purpose and power of a critical Christianity to fashion kinship amongst strangers (59).

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The conference blog: preview, review, overview


A month from now, the conference ‘Relation, Vulnerability and Love: Theological Anthropology in the Twenty First Century’ will take its concrete and final shape. The link to ‘Program’ in the conference banner gives you already a first preview.  In between all the practicalities we still have a further series of blog posts set up as so many appetizers for the discussions and conversations that will make the con-ference  into a dynamic, vibrant gathering around an interesting set of shared foci.


040For those of you who would like to explore the previous blogs chronologically, below you find an overview. The blog posts, with excerpts from the keynote speakers, respondents and other relevant authors, show a richly textured subject matter, which you can easily access through the categories-list. We also would like to draw attention to the possibility of making comments and are grateful for the contributions so far from Jacques Baeni Mwendabandu and Gakwaya Remy, both residents in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi. We hope to involve them directly in a session at the conference.




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