(LOTS of stuff today. I’ll try breaking into little pieces in separate posts.)
One of the major points Miroslav makes in Exclusion and Embrace is thisâ€“God demonstrated profound love to human beings through Jesus’ death. As the Apostle Paul said, “while we were still enemies, Christ died for us.” Because of this, we too, as followers of Jesus must be willing to embrace others, even our enemies. We must figure out how to “make space in ourselves for the other,” how to keep from closing ourselves off to relationships with others.
It begs a pretty obvious question that was voiced today: “Ok, fine…but how does one get the will to embrace? How do we get ourselves to even want that on a practical level?” Volf’s answer was thought provoking, and as the four of us who are here processed it, we agreed that maybe Quakers have something to offer this conversation.
First, Volf’s answer: It takes communities to shape in us the will to embrace. For him, it was his family of origin, a mother and father who were committed to loving those who hurt them the most. Miroslav’s brother was killed as a five year old boy in the streets of Osijek, Croatia, because their nanny let him out of her sight. He joined some soldiers on a truck going through town, and his head was crushed as he leaned too far out of the truck. Miroslav’s parents made the decision to live by what it says in the bible: “Forgive others, as God in Christ forgave you.” He said they made the decision to forgive the nanny and stay in relationship with her. They made the decision to forgive the soldier and not press charges. Once the decision was made, then the hard part came, trying to work through the pain and the grief and the anger of their loss, given their commitment to forgive. This, Miroslav said, is what shaped him most profoundly. He wanted to have the will to embrace and forgive, as his parents courageously did.
This, he said, is why good theological reflection within our communities is important. We must wrestle with what it looks like to not just know the story of Jesus, but find ways ourselves to enter into it. Because his parents had already been a part of a community where the bible’s words were important, because they had wrestled beforehand as a community with the reality of our need to forgive others as God forgives us, the community prepared them to make the hard choice to forgive when their world crashed in upon them. He spoke of other things, like liturgy, which help us enter into the story.
A lot of his language (following lots of philosophers and narrative theologians) focuses on “the story of God in Jesus Christ.” Interpreting the story is important; finding where we fit in the story is important; living as communities shaped by the story is important. All of those things are so true and right, and challenge us as Quakers to do the hard work of understanding and appropriating and identifying with “the story of God in Jesus Christ.”
But perhaps there is one piece we offer to the conversation as Quakers, too. At the core of Quakerism is the amazing truth that each human being can truly experience and encounter God. Not only do we place ourselves in a story, but we are able to truly encounter the one who authors the story. We can connect with the living God in the now! And what a better place the world would be, if we can learn to couple our experience of the living God with proper reflection on “the story of God in Jesus Christ.”