Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Doing Things WITH Rather Than Just FOR the “Needy”
In Harmony with Vanier
In his L’Arche homes, Vanier and those who followed his example, modeled what it means to treat people who have physical needs with respect. They chose to live with people who had serious mental and/or physical “handicaps,” not just to provide homes where they could be taken care of.
Before I learned about Vanier and L’Arche, I heard about similar institutions in Japan, institutions very much in harmony with the L’Arche movement Vanier began in France in 1964.
Two years before Vanier started the first L’Arche home, Fukui Tatsu’u (福井 達雨), a 32-year-old Japanese man, founded what became Shiyo Gakuen (止揚学園) as a home for physically challenged people.
Fukui, a 1956 graduate of the Department of Theology of the renowned Doshisha University in Kyoto, remained the head of Shiyo Gakuen until 2015.
During the years I taught at Seinan Gakuin, Fukui-sensei was invited many times to be the guest speaker during the “Christian Focus Week” special chapel services at the university and the junior-senior high school. He always emphasized doing things with the “needy,” not just doing things for them.
In 1976, Hisayama Ryoikuen (久山療育園), a similar facility, was established in the outskirts of Fukuoka City. Their emphasis from the beginning has been “living with” (tomo ni, pronounced toh-moh knee, in Japanese).
Doing something for others is expressed in Japanese as tame ni (pronounced tah-meh knee). These similar words express a great difference—and the former continues to be admirably modeled by Hisayama Ryoikuen, Shiyo Gakuen, and Jean Vanier’s L’Arche homes.
|From a Hisayama Ryoikuen poster emphasizing "living with"|
In the Spirit of Vanier
I don’t know if he was influenced at all by Jean Vanier, but Chris Arnade is a fascinating man who spent a considerable amount of time in the 2010s living out the spirit of Vanier by constant contact with the “underclass” of American society.
Arnade (b. 1965) earned a Ph.D. in physics and then worked with a Wall Street bank for twenty years before becoming a freelance writer and photographer. In 2012 he began visiting a neighborhood in the South Bronx where he became friends with homeless people, sex workers, and addicts.
Arnade then traveled over 150,000 miles around the U.S., spending time with “back row” people in American society. Based upon his experiences, earlier this year Arnade published a book titled Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America.
I first learned about Arnade’s book by reading Peter Mommsen’s excellent interview with Arnade published in the Summer 2019 issue of Plough Quarterly. That interview and the book are both very impressive.
The first chapter of Arnade’s book is titled, “If You Want to Understand the Country, Visit McDonald’s.” He spent countless hours in McDonald’s restaurants talking with the people who are frequent visitors there.
Arnade concluded that many of the people he found at McDonald’s felt “excluded, rejected, and, most of all, humiliated.” He recognized that society has “denied many their dignity” (p. 284)—thus the title, and thrust, of his book.
At the end of his interview with Mommsen, Arnade emphasized, “Take time to listen to people. Give them respect.”
While most of us can’t, or won’t, choose to live in a L’Arche home or a similar institution, we can choose to spend more time with “needy” people of various sorts, seeking to show them dignity and respect by doing things with them rather than just doing something for them.