Friday, 12 July 2019

A proxy for justice

... in situations of war and violence, hospitality functions as a proxy for justice.  Such hospitality-as-interruption does not achieve justice but it stands in its place for a time and shows that justice is possible...

I’ve been spending time with this observation of Durham University’s Prof Anna Rowlands.  It comes from her reflection on those who live out an alternative narrative to the scandals of how we treat refugees.  She sources it to Simone Weil’s essay L’illiade ou le poème de la force.  ‘The tradition of hospitality,’ I find that Weil says, ‘persists... to dispel the blindness of combat’.

I’m struck by it as an illuminatingly simple insight.  I often fill up my own reflections with huge unobtainable pure concepts – things like forgiveness, grace, healing, justice, kingdom, love, mystery, numinous, peace.  I know I’m better off when I people my thoughts instead with obtainable hints – a conversation, a generous gesture, an act of hospitality, an unexpected kindness – stories which interrupt the unavoidable narrative of power and act as place-holders for other possibilities.

The essay’s title identifies it as being about force, ‘that x which turns anyone subjected to it into a thing’, ‘as pitiless to the man who possess it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims’.  ‘Only he who has measured the dominance of force,’ it almost concludes, ‘... is capable of love and justice’; subjugation to power’s reality is what she sees in Jesus’ Passion.

I’m used to reflecting that God cannot be treated as an object to be observed or manipulated, or that we drift into heresy when we do so.  Perhaps the parallel assertion must be that this is as true of those made in the image of God – those moments of attention and valuing recognise fully the way power has made us heretically relate thing-on-thing and briefly uncovers each of us instead as a subject rather than an object. 

I remember years ago a colleague telling me of coming away from a meeting at Church House, Westminster, finding a bereaved victim of Pinochet vainly protesting at the time of his brief arrest, and not ignoring her; they both knew Chilean Government power had been murderous; they both knew British Government power would nevertheless release him; they both knew their encounter said much more about her dead son and herself than those overwhelming facts.

The picture is of a huge scroll created at All Age Worship on Sunday, one feature of Paul’s handwritten postscript to his letter to the Galatians; you probably cannot make out the names which have been added in the spirit of ‘see what large letters I make’.

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