Chancing the arm.

Personal Preface, Pt 2

Read Part One

In the first transcription that I did last year, Kearney, Irish by birth, shared a moving story from his nation’s history to illustrate a radical ethic of hospitality that under-girds his anatheistic hermeneutic.

No doubt many of us are aware of the decades of violence between Irish Catholics and Protestants. Hostilities in Ireland extends well past the beginning of the 20th century. In 1492, the Butlers and the Osmonds, two Irish aristocratic families, were engaged in combat. The battle made its way to St Patrick’s Cathedral in present day Dublin. Finally realizing that the conflict was going to reach a draw, Gerald Fitzgerald (an Osmond) decided to take a risk to bring an end to the fighting. He had his troops cut a hole in a wooden door at the cathedral. Then he chanced his arm. Thomas Butler, who had sought refuge in the cathedral was probably quite concerned when a hole appeared in the door. He likely thought this would be the end of his life and perhaps his family’s nobility. Imagine then what he would have been thinking when he saw an arm stretch through the door in a posture that was not hostile, but hospitable. Fitzgerald chanced his arm, extending it in a gesture of peace. The two shook hands, thus signaling an end to the conflict.

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The Door of Reconciliation (Flickr user SensoredMedia) - CC Licensed

Now historians doubt that this event is the actual origin of the phrase chancing one’s arm. When and where the phrase originally emerged from is not the point of Kearney’s use of the story. This event, even if it was not the gensis of the phrase, is still an example, a very literal example in fact, of chancing one’s arm.

Fitzgerald’s arm could have been sliced off. Or, Butler could have responded by not acknowledging Fitzgerald’s offer of peace. The battle could have continued. Fitzgerald created a space for the possibility of hospitality and peace. Literally, he cut a space through which a symbol of peace could be extended through.

The illustration of Fitzgerald points us to one of the essential arcs of the anatheist’s hermeneutic: hospitality. Kearney writes that “at best, love of the stranger is a form of ‘faith seeking knowledge’….The love of the host for the guest always precedes and exceeds knowledge.” (47) Hospitality is only possible with faith. Naturally, one might wonder whether or not it is a blind faith that welcomes everyone and anyone. While hospitality, the love and care of the stranger, is essentially and necessarily radical, it still requires discernment. More on Kearney’s notion of hospitality later.

While my encounter with Jose in the Wendy’s parking lot was by no means a violent encounter, there was still animosity within me that prevented me from welcoming him into my space (even under the hood of a car!). I was initially hostile to him. Even though I eventually did accept him, my attitude was still suspicious, prejudiced, unwelcoming.

As Jose checked out the engine, I began to realize I had been wrong. I had assumed somethings about Jose that were untrue. Instead of allowing him to share who he was, even if it was nonverbal, I dictated who he was to my mind. I realized that I had not fully opened myself to Jose, but had left him in a cold desert of stereotypes, the subject of jokes, under me, a second-class citizen.

I wanted to make things right between myself and Jose, who represents to me not just a particular man who calls Dallas home, but all the Strangers I have encountered and will encounter. I decided to chance my arm as it were in what I hoped would signal to Jose that I was thankful for his help. But more over, I wanted to do this because I knew I had to begin the journey towards hospitality, now or never.

It is in ordinary moments like this where one has the choice to welcome or push away. This is by no means a prolific moment in the eyes of most people. But moments of hospitality do not have to be. Moments of realizing one’s inhumanity do not have to be. Hospitality is not just for monks, extroverts, ivory tower academics, or some other particular group. Hospitality is not the domain of a specialized team for your community.

I began to realize that when Jose walked up to me and said “Do you need some help?”

Chancing one’s arm is a potentially dangerous act. But it is also an ultimately liberating act. It liberates people from conflict, internal and external. It is an act which requires faith. Faith in oneself, faith that one will come through the other side. Faith in others, faith that the Other will respond hospitably. Chancing one’s arm requires us to give up safety, certainty, power, whatever is holding us back, and whatever is causing or may cause conflict. Hospitality requires us to let go of old prejudices, stereotypes passed down by tradition, and long-held suspicions that are unfounded.

Chancing one’s arm is code for hospitality.

May the word become flesh.

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