Q&A: Stanley Hauerwas, theologian & author

akennedy@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 3, 2010 

You write a paper here, a dissertation there. You teach classes in Christian ethics, grade papers. You meet with students, advise them, guide them.

The details of the days add up to make a life, a career of more than 40 years.

Much like laying brick eventually makes a home.

Stanley Hauerwas, Ph.D., D.D., was trained in brick laying in the hot sun of Pleasant Grove, Texas. His father did that for a living. Young Stanley first learned the trade among hardened men named Bearhunter, Mr. Henry and his uncles Rufus and George. Stanley’s father discouraged him from following him in the craft, because he knew the times were changing.

And so, Stanley went away to college. It would turn out to be a great gift — the working-class parents allowing their only child to spread his wings, not stifling his curiosity and intellect.

After amassing degrees at Southwestern College and Yale University, Hauerwas’ career took him to teaching positions at Augustana College, the University of Notre Dame and then Duke Divinity School at Duke University.

He’s currently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke, where he’s taught since 1983.

A noted author, one of his most popular books is “Resident Aliens,” co-written with the Rev. Will Willimon. Arguing for Christian discipleship, the authors challenge the church to be more than just a rubber stamp of the culture.

Hauerwas’ most recent book is his memoir, “Hannah’s Child” (W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

The professor spoke recently with the Ledger-Enquirer.

You’re about to be 70. Big plans? No, not really. I’m going to retire in three years. I’ll probably do the same things I do now: I’ll get up in the mornings and read and write.

You’re getting good feedback on this book. I get at least a letter or two a day. People identify with many parts of it.

When you were named Time’s Theologian of the Year in 2001 did you think you’d arrived? It was Sept. 10, 2001. The public relations person at Duke came in and told me and I said, “ ‘Best’ is not a theological category.’ ” After the next day, everybody forgot about it.

Your parents, who weren’t formally educated, allowed you to go off to school. You say in the book that was a gift. It was a wonderful gift, but I didn’t know it at the time; it was a gift in retrospective judgment. … I think I’m still just a worker. I was brought into the world to work and serve other people. The last thing I want to do is take shortcuts.

When you ride around, do you find yourself staring at brick buildings like your father did? Absolutely. You always look at brick, whether the head joists are true or not. Many people don’t have time for the craft. They want a new building, they call up the engineers and they want it put up quickly.

When you went to Yale Divinity School, were many people like you — exploring study but not for ordination? I think quite a number were doing that. This was the beginning of the ’60s and the Civil Rights Movement. Lots of people were exploring. (Ordination) for me didn’t seem to come up. My mother was determined I’d be ordained, but I did not think that a good reason for seeking ordination.

Since your days at Augustana College, when you stood up for a group of minority students, have you taken part in other protests? No, not that I can think of. I am not an activist when it comes to mass demonstrations; crowds scare the hell out of me.

When you were at Notre Dame, you were warned to watch your language. I was once called the ‘foul-mouthed theologian.’ I got tired of it. There are certain words I know I cannot use. I’m much better for it.

In light of your late wife’s mental illness, do you think the stigma has lessened any? It’s still a big problem. Especially if someone is bi-polar, as Anne was, they hope no one will know. She desperately wanted it to be kept hidden.

Are you still running? No. I ran for more than 20 years. It’s the knees. I had knee surgery, but I finally had to give up running. I now use an elliptical machine, which is great.

Do you see yourself as a provocateur, as you’ve been described? Certain things I say make people mad.

Such as? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not gone well. I questioned going into Afghanistan after 9/11 and some people now say I was on to something.

You’ve said you don’t believe in California. Pasadena and going north is more real. They can have L.A. I also don’t like Florida.

Talk about your distrust of intentional communities. I find them to be too much work. I admire some of them, and the people, but you can get into terrible problems by constantly reinventing the wheel.

What are you paying attention to? The Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill. I care a lot about what goes on there. My wife, Paula Gilbert, is on the ministerial staff.

You got a second chance with this marriage. Yes. We’re celebrating our 21st year.

Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be contacted at 706-576-6237

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