Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir

by Stanley Hauerwas


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802867391
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 09/01/2012
Pages: 319
Sales rank: 319,041
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Stanley Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke University. Among his many books are Resident Aliens, A Community of Character, Living Gently in a Violent World, and A Cross-Shattered Church.

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Hannah's Child

A Theologian's Memoir
By Stanley Hauerwas

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2010 Stanley Hauerwas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6487-1

Chapter One

Being Saved

Where to begin? Not with the beginning, but with the decisive "decision," that is, what I did because I could not get myself "saved." I became a theologian because I could not be saved. I was baptized at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in — you will not be surprised — Pleasant Mound, Texas. Pleasant Mound was just that — a small mound just outside Dallas on which sat a small, white, framed Methodist church. I lived in Pleasant Grove, which was not far from Pleasant Mound. The Texans who insisted that these places were "pleasant" exemplify the proclivity of Texans to reassure themselves through exaggeration that it was a good thing to be a Texan. Of course, in the Texas heat even a small group of trees, a pleasant grove, could be quite pleasant.

Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist, which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had to be "saved." Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights. Sunday night was an hour hymn sing, a time for "personal prayer" at the altar rail, a forty-five minute to an hour sermon, and then a call to the altar for those convicted of their sin. If you came to the altar, it was assumed that you had struck up a new relationship with God that was somehow equivalent to being saved. I wanted to be saved, but I did not think you should fake it.

I am not sure how old I was when I began to worry about being saved, but it was sometime in my early teens. I had begun to date a young woman who also went to Pleasant Mound, which meant I was beginning to sin. I was pretty sure I needed saving, but I just did not think I should try to force God's hand. All this was complicated for me because the church was at the center of my family's life.

Pleasant Mound and Pleasant Grove were growing. A new church building was needed. The old church stood on a prime bit of property; at least, it was a prime piece of property for a gas station. After much deliberation, the old church was sold to make way for the gas station. The money from the sale made it possible to buy property and build a new brick church. My father, a bricklayer, became the general superintendent of the building project. Trained by my father to labor for bricklayers, I helped build the church in which I could not be saved.

I thought the church to be a grand building. We even had something called a sanctuary. Actually, it was not a sanctuary but a fellowship hall that was to serve as a sanctuary until we got enough money to build a sanctuary, which, as it came to pass, never happened. My father's funeral would be in the fellowship hall that served as a sanctuary. Still, as a kid I thought it was a special place. How else was I to explain my father's willingness to work for less so that the church could be built, when he never made that much to begin with?

Our minister was Brother Zimmerman. Brother Zimmerman had actually gone to college and maybe seminary, but he preferred to be called "Brother" to show, I suspect, that even though he was educated he was not all that different from the rest of us. He was thin as a rail because he gave everything he had to being a minister. I remember him as a lovely, kind man, but he believed we did need to be saved. Indeed, for a few summers after the new church was completed, Brother Zimmerman would erect a tent beside the church so that we could have the yearly revival. I remember that it was thought to be quite an honor for a clergyman from another nearby Methodist church to be asked to preach our revival. Despite the honor, the clergyman needed to be from a church nearby because we could not pay travel. It was never clear to me why we needed to be revived, but you could always count on some members of the church, and they were oft en the same people year after year, being saved. I sometimes think they wanted to be saved in order to save the preacher, because it was assumed that the Word had not been rightly preached if no one was saved.

So there I sat Sunday night after Sunday night, thinking I should be saved, but it did not happen. Meanwhile, some of the youth were "dedicating themselves to the Lord," which usually meant they were going to become a minister or a missionary. I am not sure how this development among the youth of Pleasant Mound began, but it was not long before several kids, a bit older than I was, had so dedicated their lives. So finally one Sunday night, after singing "I Surrender All" for God knows how many times, I went to the altar rail and told Brother Zimmerman that I wanted to dedicate my life to the Lord. I thought that if God was not going to save me, I could at least put God in a bind by being one of his servants in the ministry. When I took that trip to the altar, I assumed I was acting "freely," but in fact I was fated to make that journey by a story my mother had told me.

My mother and father had married "late." My mother desperately wanted children. She had a child that was stillborn — something I learned when I was looking through her "effects" after she had died. It was then that I discovered my original birth certificate, which indicated the previous birth. But my indomitable mother was not deterred by the loss of a child. She had heard the story of Hannah praying to God to give her a son, whom she would dedicate to God. Hannah's prayer was answered, and she named her son Samuel. My mother prayed a similar prayer. I am the result. But I was named Stanley because the week before I was born my mother and father saw a movie — Stanley and Livingstone.

It was perfectly appropriate for my mother to pray Hannah's prayer — but did she have to tell me that she had done so? I could not have been more than six, but I vividly remember my mother telling me that I was destined to be one of God's dedicated. We were sitting on the porch of our small house trying to cool off at the end of a hot summer day. I am not sure what possessed Mother to unload her story on me at that time, but she did. My fate was set — I would not be if she had not prayed that prayer. At the time, God knows what I made of knowing that I was the result of my mother's prayer. However, I am quite sure, strange servant of God though I may be, that whatever it means to be Stanley Hauerwas is the result of that prayer. Moreover, given the way I have learned to think, that is the way it should be.

Was I not robbed of my autonomy by my mother's prayer? Probably. But if so, I can only thank God. Autonomy, given my energy, probably would have meant going into business and making money. There is nothing wrong with making money, but it was just not in my family's habits to know how to do that. All we knew how to do was work, and we usually liked the work we did. As it turns out, I certainly like the work Mother's prayer gave me.

Mother told me only that Hannah had Samuel because she had promised to dedicate her son to God. I do not know if Mother knew that Samuel was to be a Nazirite or that he would be the agent of God's judgment against the house of Eli. On the Sunday evening when I dedicated myself to the Lord, I certainly did not think that I was assuming a prophetic role, and I am by no means a Nazirite: I have drunk my share of intoxicants, and I am bald. Some might think, however, given the way things have worked out, that I have played a Samuel-like role and challenged the religious establishment of the day. It is true that I have tried, with no more success than Samuel, to warn Christians that having a king is not the best idea in the world, at least if you think a king can make you safe.

But I have never tried to be Samuel. I did not even know the story of Samuel before I went to seminary. I certainly have not tried to be "prophetic," as I am sometimes described by others. Toward the end of his life, Samuel asked the people he had led to testify against him if he had defrauded or oppressed anyone, or taken a bribe. They responded that Samuel had not defrauded or oppressed anyone, nor taken anything "from the hand of anyone." If I have any similarity to Samuel, I hope people might cast it in terms like these.

After leaving Samuel with Eli, Hannah rejoiced that God had made her victorious over her enemies, who had derided her for being childless. It is a wonderful victory song, not unlike the great songs of God's triumph over the rich and powerful sung by Miriam, Deborah, and Mary. I should like to think that I have tried to do no more than remind God's people that, as Hannah sang:

    There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one beside you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
    Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
    for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.

It would take years for me to understand the significance of songs such as Hannah's. But I would have never known such songs could be sung without Mother's prayer. Of course, it did not work out the way my mother or I thought it might. When I finally dedicated my life to God I assumed, and I expect my mother assumed, that I would be a minister. But that was not to be. I tried. But the trying only made me feel silly.

For example, it was assumed by those at Pleasant Mound Methodist that if you had been "called" you were ready to preach. So it was not long after my walk to the altar rail that I found myself preaching on Sunday night. I was scared out of my wits. I did not have a clue. Out of desperation, I went to the church library and found a book entitled A Faith for Tough Times, by someone named Harry Emerson Fosdick. I do not remember which of his sermons I used, but I think it involved an attack on hypocrisy. It gives me great pleasure to remember that my first sermon was stolen from a Protestant liberal.

The expansion of the congregation at Pleasant Mound meant that we needed an associate pastor. A man named Raymond Butt s was appointed to the church. He was better educated than anyone I had ever known. From him I learned that if you were going into the ministry you probably ought to read books. So I started to read, but I had no idea what I was reading. Most of the books in the church library were about the Bible. I remember one that tried to use archeological evidence to prove that all the events recorded in the Bible, particularly the flood, really happened. Not only had the flood really happened, but the ark was visible in ice on the top of a mountain in Turkey.

That the church had such a book in the library did not mean that we were fundamentalists. You have to be smart to be fundamentalists, and we were not that smart. We did not even read the Bible that much, though I remember that Mother bought a Bible, a red-letter Bible, from a door-to-door salesman. It was a large Bible. Mother gave it the place of honor in the house; that is, it sat on top of the TV.

I assume I soaked up the stories of the Bible in Sunday school and through hearing sermons. I vividly remember the flannel board that the teacher used to illustrate Sunday school lessons in which we were told stories such as Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. The teacher reassured us that Isaac would be OK by putting a ram in the bush at the top of the flannel board. It came as quite a shock to me years later to be reminded by Kierkegaard that God had not told Abraham there was to be a ram in the bush.

The stories of the Bible and the stories of the family were intertwined. The family loved to tell the story of how Billy Dick, my six-year-old cousin, reacted to the story of the crucifixion at Sunday school by shouting out, "If Gene Autry had been there the dirty sons of bitches wouldn't have gotten away with it." Of course, we knew you should not say "sons of bitches," particularly in Sunday school, but Billy Dick, the son of Dick, my father's youngest bricklaying brother, was simply using the language of "the job."

I came to read the Bible only because of a program sponsored by the Dallas Public Schools. The Linz family, a Jewish family who had a chain of jewelry stores in Dallas, funded a program for the study of the Bible. The program was administered by the public schools — this was not yet a culture of "exclusive humanism." There was a study guide for each of the testaments. We met every Saturday morning at Pleasant Mound to review the material. The whole point was to take an exam at the end of the study of each testament, hoping you would do well enough to win a "Linz Pin." I won a Linz Pin for the New Testament, but I do not think I made the required score of 90 to win one for the Old Testament.

My range of reading, however, was expanding. I had discovered Cokesbury bookstore in downtown Dallas. I do not know how that happened, but I was enthralled by that store. On the upper floor they sold cheesy liturgical ware and outfits, but the first floor was lined with books. They even had a bargain table of books. I spotted a book by B. David Napier called From Faith to Faith. I had no idea who Napier was, but even if I had known he was a scholar of the Old Testament it would have done me no good, because I had no idea what it meant to be a scholar of the Old Testament. I read the book and understood just enough to figure out that the Bible was not exactly straightforward history. I began to think that I needed to think.

I stumbled on a book by Nels F. S. Ferre that gave me some idea of what thinking might look like. In The Sun and the Umbrella: A Parable for Today, Ferre made the astounding observation that Christ, the Bible, and the church could just as easily be used to hide the sun as to reveal God. I had no idea that I was being introduced to Plato's cave, disguised as a religious parable. I was impressed. Indeed I was more than impressed, because I was beginning to think that maybe all this Christianity stuff was not all it was cracked up to be. I began to think that I might not want to be a Christian at all. But I kept that thought to myself.

Of course, all this was complicated by the trials of simply growing up. I thought I was in love. I was trying to negotiate high school, which was no mean trick given the fact that I did not play football. Football in Texas, then as now, is everything and more that has been captured by the film Friday Night Lights. Where you played on the team determined your "making out" rights after the game. I could not be on the team because I worked for my father in the summers. To play football you had to begin practice in August, and I could not take off work to do that. The best I could do was to be a cheerleader. In short, I was not part of the in-crowd at Pleasant Grove High, nor at W. W. Samuel High, which is what we became aft er we were taken into the city of Dallas.

For most of my high school class, graduation from W. W. Samuel was the end of their education. But because I had dedicated my life to the ministry, I had been told by Reverend Butt s that I should go to college. No one in my family had ever gone to college. The only college graduates I knew were my teachers and ministers. All going to college meant to me was that I should study in high school because you needed good grades to get into college. So I studied. I even discovered that I loved to read history, in particular the history of England. There was a world beyond Pleasant Grove.

I applied to two colleges — Hendrix in Conway, Arkansas, and Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. In truth, I was not sure I wanted to go to college at all. I did not want to leave my girlfriend, fearing that in my absence she would find someone new. Moreover, given my doubts about Christianity, I was not sure why I was going in the first place. But the ball had started rolling down the hill, and it would have been hard to explain to my parents why I did not want to go to college. Admitted to both schools, I chose to go to Southwestern primarily because it was closer, making it possible for me to get home more oft en to see my girlfriend. That reason quickly evaporated, because she did soon find someone else. I was heartbroken for a week or two.

College, even one as small and undistinguished as Southwestern, was a new world for me. Only by going to college did I discover that I came from the working classes. My roommate, for example, had come to Southwestern to pledge a fraternity. I had never heard of a fraternity. When asked if I was going to go through rush, I had to ask what that was. When told that it meant you go to parties, I thought it was probably a good thing. It did not occur to me that I was supposed to try to get a "bid" — whatever that was.

I did, however, meet Joe Wilson, who later became a bishop in the Texas Methodist church, at the Phi Delta Theta party. We talked about the search for the historical Jesus. I thought it a really good thing that guys got together to explore such matters, so I became a pledge of Phi Delta Theta. The great benefit of being a member of a fraternity was that I had to learn the Greek alphabet. I never moved into the fraternity house.


Excerpted from Hannah's Child by Stanley Hauerwas Copyright © 2010 by Stanley Hauerwas. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


On Being Stanley Hauerwas....................ix
1. Being Saved....................1
2. Work and Family....................17
3. Studies....................47
4. Teaching....................73
5. Catholics....................95
6. Surviving....................123
7. Enduring....................151
8. Beginnings and an Ending....................179
9. Paula....................205
10. Good Company....................233
11. Patience and Prayer....................261
12. Last Things....................281

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Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
afterlifewriter on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Good read; interesting, thoughtful life.
roydknight on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A wonderful account of a wonderful thinker and theologian. Hannah's Child is also a wonderful account of a boy growing up in Texas, the only son of a hard working southern family and of his growth into realizing that being a Christian can be a surprising turn of events! Having had many of Hauerwas' friends and colleagues as professors and friends at Duke Divinity School where I studied for the ministry, made for great surprises and laughter! For those who have never met nor heard Stanley Hauerwas lecture or preach, you will be enticed to hear him by reading this account of his encounters with God through friends and even in spite of friends.
kaulsu on LibraryThing 10 months ago
There is a line between self-aggrandizement and abject honesty. I never felt Hauerwas was trying to build himself at any other's expense. His understanding of how belief and faith "happens" to one rang true to me. It was charming to read the amazement as he would look back and say, "Wow. God was working in my life. That I became a theologian was a gift. Finding a faith community was important. Loving my son has been an incredible journey. Marrying my second wife was a blessing." The story of his first wife's mental illness was difficult to read: that is as it should be since it was hell for her to live, and heartbreaking for Hauerwas and their son. That Hauerwas finally gave up is real life. That he could write it with such honesty admirable.But yet, I felt discomfort when he aired his differences with living people--well, not so much the differences as the disparagement.I thoroughly enjoyed his criticisms of theologians I was (I will admit) forced to read in Seminary. I need to revisit them briefly, to see if I have grown. After all, Hauerwas did!