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Becoming Weaker by Christopher Heuertz

In a previous Q article, I once suggested that the end of poverty will require the beginning of poverty for those of us who actually are not poor. To really see an end to hunger, oppression, violence and brokenness in relationships, it will cost us something.

But is this realistic? It’s hard enough for most of us to celebrate a spirituality of simplicity or submission, let alone a spirituality that invites the possibility of voluntary suffering. So, how do we celebrate vulnerabilities? How do we receive limitations as gifts?

These sorts of conversations may have a conceptual acceptance in our worshipping communities, but how much we actually accept weakness is revealed by whom we surround ourselves. Talking about the poor and having concern for justice may be hip, but do we really know anyone who’s poor? I mean, really have friends in need?

Sadly, the only poor folks many North American Christians know are people they’ve gone to “minister to” or people they’ve met on short-term missions experiences.

Cultivating ‘friendships across difference’ is tough and often we need examples, humble prophets who embody these values to help guide us. Jean Vanier is one such man.

His community, L’Arche, has given themselves to relationships among people with profound needs to create safe spaces of discovery where seeds of hope can bear fruit. With insightful creativity, adults with developmental disabilities are L’Arche’s “Core Members” while the volunteers and staff are called “Assistants.” This reorienting of community has been a provocative recovery of the true center of L’Arche. The homes themselves are authentic places of peace, and safe places for women and men to explore vocation, community and spirituality.

Following a decorated military career and a celebrated academic stint as a professor of philosophy and ethics in Toronto, Jean Vanier bought a small home outside Paris, France and invited 3 friends with developmental disabilities to share it with him. It was 1964. Vanier was just 38 years old when that small community planted the seeds for what would become a global movement of prophetic hospitality. Today there are nearly 150 homes in the global L’Arche collective.

Considered one of the late Henri Nouwen’s most significant mentors, Jean Vanier has continued to be the humble visionary for the movement. Among his many books include already-classics like, Community and Growth, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness, and From Brokenness to Community.

In July, my wife Phileena and I joined Travis Reed from The Work of the People, a film maker from Texas, and Steve Frost of Vancouver on a small pilgrimage to Trosly-Breuil, France. Over the course of a few days we were invited into Jean Vanier’s personal study for a series of intimate conversations that were recorded and are soon to be released as video curriculum.

Here is a Q exclusive video clip from those conversations. May the life and legacy of Jean Vanier inspire us all to live faithful lives in the ordinary and undramatic vocations of love.

“My vision is that belonging should be at the heart of a fundamental discovery: that we all belong to a common humanity, the human race.” – Jean Vanier