Friday, May 23, 2014

Lunch Table Discussions: the Heart of L'Abri

I have a post up here at Relief Journal about some things that have really struck me this go round about L'Abri's philosophy and practice. The rest of this post is a more specific example of the kind of conversation that reflects this philosophy (as is the post on Buber/Sufjan that follows it).
This Tuesday’s lunch discussion is a beautiful example of the vulnerability, humility, and trust it takes to ask an honest question. A young Korean student—someone who has been very shy and quiet thus far in the term—spoke up almost immediately after the worker asked if anyone had a question.

She said: “How do we eliminate prejudice from our hearts?”. After asking this, and giving several examples from her experience, she said that seeking an answer to this question was the main reason she has come to L’Abri (she will be here for the entire three month term). We then ended up spending a good amount of time discussing what the student meant by the use of the term “prejudice”--we often spend a lot of time at table discussions defining terms—and I have learned that this is a way to begin to truly hear another person rather than assume that I know what he/she means. Our discussion ended up focusing more on the idea of judging another person because of his/her behavior as opposed to holding prejudice towards a different race, nationality, or class.

The worker at the head of the table made an interesting distinction between the necessary act of judging actions and the problematic/unhelpful/sinful embracing of “judgementalism” as a worldview. There was a consensus that we must judge actions if we believe in justice; as another worker said “We must have judgements. Without judgement, there is no forgiveness.” In other words, if we never judge, then we do not recognize either evil or goodness. But this is also tricky when encountering another person and, if practiced non-relationally—as simply following a set of rules, it can so easily lead to an attitude of self-righteousness. It can also prevent us from truly seeing that other person. When we take the time to truly hear someone else’s story and begin to understand the motives and reasons for their actions, we often see that it is not such a simple binary  (black/white) issue. The question I was left with was this: Although I agree that we need to judge whether an action is right or wrong (but even that is hard because sometimes we do not have enough information and might judge incorrectly), I wonder if it is right to actually judge a person as a good person or a bad person. I am inclined to say no; I believe that only God can really know this. And that the “line of good and evil” (as both Dostoevsky and NT Wright call it) runs right through the heart of each human being. The practice of capital punishment implies that we can judge a person’s worth fully and say when they have become so inhuman that they deserve to no longer live. But where is the hope for redemption? The acknowledgement that God’s image is in each individual?

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