The Beauty of Love: Learning from Thomas Jay Oord

FullSizeRender

As the events at Northwest Nazarene University continue to unravel in the coming weeks, I wanted to offer some positive words about my good friend Tom Oord, and perhaps introduce him to those who know the man of the books, but could also benefit from knowing the man behind them.

It was the year 2003 and I was a senior Religion major at Trevecca Nazarene University. I had worked hard, emerged from the cocoon of my theological raising, and spent the last 4 years of my life preparing for ministry. For my efforts, the Religion  Dept at TNU granted me the Systematic Theology Award for my graduating class. We had lots of smart folks in my class that year, folks whom I highly respect, so getting this award was a surprise even as it was an affirmation of how hard I had worked, how much I had read and the newly assimilated theology I was beginning to develop.

The award didn’t grant a person much, just bragging rights and a piece of paper with my theology professor’s signature (Dr. Henry Spaulding, now president of Mount Vernon Nazarene University). It also included a 25$ gift card to Cokesbury bookstore in downtown Nashville. My four years at TNU taught me to love books…making this 25$ almost as awesome as the award itself.

I’ll never forget the book I bought.

I perused the shelves and looked at all the textual options until I came across a book edited by a fellow Nazarene, a scholar with whom I had only began to become acquainted in my studies at TNU. The book was Tom Oord’s dual editorial with Bryan P. Stone, Thy Name and Nature is Love: Wesleyan and Process Theologies in Dialogue. This book absolutely peeked my interest. I had begun to really appreciate process theology at the time (at least as much as an undergrad religion major could) and was definitely interested in seeing how my Wesleyan roots might connect with this more progressive theological movement that placed a heavy emphasis on God’s relationship with creation, rather than God’s relationship above or in juxtaposition to it.

Tom’s article “A Process Wesleyan Theodicy: Freedom, Embodiment, and The Almighty God,” radically shaped the way I thought about Theodicy, a theme that was very important in his earlier work and continues to echo in his more direct explorations of Love. One could argue that this early essay is an issue that continues to motivate Tom as he continues to think about things like sin, death, evil, salvation and freedom in light of God’s name and nature of holy love.

As a young theology student I was really struggling with ideas central to the idea of God and our doctrine of such. One thing I came out of TNU clearly convinced of: classical theism and Greek Metaphysical theologies couched in the Bible didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I needed something more and I needed it to be more biblical and more Wesleyan.

Tom gave that to me.

He talked about how we as creatures are free and that God does not over-ride our freedom even to perform God’s will. He discussed the nature of evil and how God wishes to deal with evil through the almighty persuasion of human bodies to shape history and proclaim God’s goodness. The concept of “indirect bodily impact,” that God chooses to shape the world through us, not in spite of us, made a lot of sense methodologically and it was consistent with the ideas that God is holy, God is love, and we as creatures are free.

Most indicting in this essay is when Tom is busy being a great teacher and delineating differences of various theodicy’s employed in the church. Once he outlined multiple ways of talking about God’s absolute power in relation to conditional evil in the world, he gets to the crux of the matter. We can’t talk about God as being all-powerful in the traditional way of understanding that statement without God in some way being culpable for evil that God could otherwise prevent. If God is a God of perfect love, and that love is in some way intelligible, we must be able to speak in some way positively about that perfect love. He says it like this, “Because the God of accidental free-will theism fails to override or withdraw the freedom of such perpetrators, attributing perfect love to this God seems implausible.”

In other words, to have the power to prevent evil, and then not prevent it, makes one culpable for the action…and its hard to ascribe that sort of willful declension as loving.

He goes on to argue that God is not culpable for evil because God allows the world to be free and such freedom cannot be over-ridden by God. Thus God’s power must be understood in ways that are more relational and not coercive. This is where divine persuasion and love comes into the mix and Tom speaks of how scripture demonstrates to us God’s loving insistence to persuade humans to act, rather than coerce them to do. (a take that is also empirically verified in our daily lives)

This theodicy has proven indispensible to me as a Wesleyan thinker and pastor because it takes serious our Wesleyan insistence that God is love and God is relational…and that holiness is located in a relational holiness between God, world and others. Tom is simply trying to make theological and philosophical sense of how that might best work in a way that is methodologically responsible and also avoid creating a bastard theological hybrid between Wesleyanism and Calvinism, a marriage that never did make pretty babies.

In 2004, at the Wesleyan Theological Society’ meeting in Seattle, I met Tom Oord for the first time. I asked him some questions about this essay. He didn’t know me from Adam, but I remember the hospitality with which he engaged me and took me seriously. I followed that meeting up with emails and Tom always gave me thorough responses. He treated me as if I was one of his students, not the alum of a sister institution for which he had no time.

Since this first essay and meeting with Tom, I have learned that Tom is second to none in his support of young scholars in our tradition.

In 2009, I gave a paper at WTS in the science and theology section. Tom Oord was the head of that section and accepted my paper for presentation. Later in 2009, over some science and freedom discussions, Tom sent me a complimentary copy of his book Creation Made Free. The only caveat was he asked I write a review and get it published. I did so and that review appeared in the Review and Expositor: A Baptist Consortium Journal that same year. In 2011, I attended the Bible Tells Me So conference in Nampa, ID. After the conference, I noticed the intended publication from that conference did not include a particular essay that I found profoundly important on the relationship between the Academy and the Church. I wrote Tom. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but the essay was included in the final text. Later in 2011, I told Tom a fellow pastor and myself were going to read his text Defining Love. He sent me two copies, both signed, and even asked how the study went. In 2012, I asked Tom about proposing a paper on Arminius and Inter-religious Dialogue at the upcoming WTS in Nashville. I also wanted to get it published in the WTJ. After inquiring with Tom, he encouraged me to propose the paper, that it had a good chance of publication. In 2013, my first WTJ article appeared in the Spring 2013 Issue. And lastly, when I was applying to do Phd at Emory, Tom spent 45 minutes with me on the phone discussing a career in the academy.

Had it not been for Tom Oord, there is much I would not have learned from his multiple books, but there are also many chances I would not have been given in our tradition. Without his help, the doors of Wesleyan academia would probably have remained shut to me.

My seminary degree was done at a Bapstist institution. I have had multiple chances to publish in print and online, give papers and be a part of projects through my Baptist connections. I have had zero opportunity in my own tradition, except what has been granted by the hospitality of Tom Oord, the gifts he saw in me and the gift of his friendship. I never had him as a professor, but he has worked with me as if I was one of his students.

Our tradition needs teachers like Tom Oord.

We need scholars that provide us with a broad theological landscape and challenge us to think through our ideas not just with our existing ideas. We need scholars that will drop the proverbial Barthian Bomb on our theological playground and equip us with the tools to engage the world with responsible and mature reflection. We need teachers with whom we may not always agree, because in disagreeing, we may be given a stronger intellect if it leads to a more thorough discovery of the weaknesses of our position. We need folks like Tom Oord that aren’t content to just give us buzz words and pledge allegiance to the old guard, but really believe our theology of holy love is worth doing…but it must be done right and without trite. And lastly, we need scholars like Tom who will stand beside young scholars, encourage, equip and give them the opportunities they need to be the future teachers of the church…teachers who aren’t worried about the good ole boy Wesleyan or Nazarene club but sincerely want to shape the future through influencing young scholars.

I am thankful for the decade long history I have with Tom Oord. He has shaped me in ways he’ll never know…but I do know I am simply one among many to have been changed by his life and work.

I am thankful for the ministry and academics of Tom Oord. I am thankful for his friendship. And I am thankful for what is happening on NNU’s campus as some of the steps of recent days are being reconsidered. The truth is, despite everyone being worried about Tom’s future, the real future we should be worried about is ours. Administrations may think they are doing Tom a favor if they let him keep his post, but the reality is, We, our tradition, need Tom…perhaps even more than he needs us.

So Tom, thank you for who you are, what you stand for and all you do. Your efforts have not returned void.

Why You should Love Antiquarian Books

old book image
A prerequisite to loving old books is, of course, an enjoyment for reading. One can appreciate old books, collect old books, and admire the architecture of their spines and ornate cover designs without reading. But this is to love the value of the books or their aesthetic appeal. This is not the same as loving old books. It is not to get caught in the life of the old book itself, to look upon this simple object with words and covers and feel something more than an object of value.

I have discovered that I am book addict. I like books. I buy them. But there is something about an old text, an antique text, that has a whole other appeal to me than the latest modern novel or the latest academic musings.

As I hold an old book I realize a few things.

First, the life of the author rushes through my mind.

I imagine a person that prior to modern distractions poured their shade and energy into this text. Someone who by a dimly lit light, or perhaps even a candle, pen in hand, quarreling with their imaginations how to speak what cannot be spoken. How this pre-post-modern person toiled with their ultimate concern and endowed their characters or their topic with the same passion that occasioned this act of creation at the beginning. Books are pieces of people with dreams, hopes and aspirations. The text is the collision of the author and their context…the latter of which is usually lost on us and the former of which we think to be mechanical.

An example is a recent antique book I bought by Mary Johnston. Her two volume civil war historical fiction, “The Long Roll,” & “Ceasing Fire,” (ca. 1911 & 1912) are fictional attempts to honor and boldly imagine the Confederate struggle from within a Confederate sympathy a generation after the conflict.  Long before the genre of war fiction took hold, Mary Johnston was trailblazing a new way of writing fiction inside history, a bold attempt to give historical figures an additional life.

But what makes Mary so alluring to me as I hold her books is that she was the daughter of Confederate General Joseph Johnston, the last General to make a stand against Sherman in Resaca, Ga, May 1864. Here is the child of a man that made history and was part of the deepest and darkest conflict in our nation. Here is a woman born in the South during Reconstruction, her life animated by the stories her father told her, feelings that have not yet healed from the conflict. Here is a woman that probably still shared the lost dreams, lost hopes, and lost loves of a lost cause. When I hold her book I wonder what was she thinking, why choose this scene, what she felt as she recounted these memories and stories and did she cry as she began to blend history with fiction. Was her book the process of writing her dream and justifying her affections? Were these books exploding inside her or were the words like removing the sword from Kings Arthurs stone?

The thing about old books is that they are written by old people, people now dead but who were once living…people like us. So when I see an old book, I think about the author and I ask, “what was this life that thought writing these words were worth the time, energy and sacrifice?” “What passion is here that I cannot see yet I need to feel?”

Second, I like old books because I don’t imagine we know more than their authors.

One of the most efficient lies of the Enlightenment is that of progress.

The general public thinking they have progressed past the opinions and ideas contained in these old dusty pages. Whole worldviews and animations have been lost because we are so confident that our perspective on history is the correct one. We rarely consult antique books for anything more than mantle decorations when within them one might find that our ideas are not nearly so novel. We think their opinions or stories to be irrelevant on history and we formulate our historical, fictional, scientific, or whatever opinion, absent the people who actually lived and wrote about it as it was happening.

We forget the wise words of Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

And this generality extends to fiction as well.

As any great author will tell you, fiction is always contextual, erected from a world of events that make the fiction pertinent. To read fiction as if it is created in a vacuum is to misread it and to think we generate thoughts blindly.

As George Orwell explains in his little monograph Why I Write, “Above all it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time…Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side of the grave you will never get away from the marks it has given you.”

The context of this passage is the influence of Wells’ Englishness on his work and its interaction with the world. But his point is noted: our writing is always a writing of civilization and generally the really well written fiction is always about imaginatively encountering a non-fictive problem with characters and words that are able to take the heat of criticism and enter places the author would never be able to venture.

Writings is always time-full.

Thus, time would fail us to imagine all the idiots that have commented on Evolution and never actually read Darwin or considered his context!

Time would fail us to recount all the idiot politicians that have never read a stitch of political theory such as Rousseau, Locke or Hobbes, let alone actually read American founding Fathers that read them such as Jefferson and Franklin

Time would fail to note how much anti-southern sentiment has been forged apart from reading any Southern literature from the 1840s-1880’s!

Time would fail to recount all the people that love to invoke Shakespeare because it makes them sound smart yet they have never thought deeply about any play he wrote!

And herein lays the problem: our opinions are often baseless because they are without history, fictive, non-fictive or otherwise. We have our opinions and they are informed by nothing but ourselves…as if our ideas born when they are necessarily implies they are forward progress.

But we should not be relegated to ahistorical opinions because we have old books that allow us to position ourselves historically. Old books contain sentiments against, and within which, we are able to position ourselves and participate with those that have lived and died. We are able to partake of their wisdom, read the words of lives less busy but far more passionate, and imagine a world in which entertainment, education and imagination blend together in indistinguishable ways.

Thirdly, I imagine all the people that have held the book I now I hold.

As I sit among dusty books, many of which as old as my great grandparents x5, I imagine all the hands that have sat on porches or in libraries and held this very book. I imagine why they would bother. What had the hands experienced before or after reading this that would make this book worth their time?

On a daily basis many of us are removed from the dead, they are still and alone in their graves on the outcroppings of hills we have long forgotten. Yet when I hold a book published in 1870 I am instantly in connection with someone that is no longer with us.

My hands are turning the same pages. I am holding the same covers…I am perhaps even placing my fingers in the same places on the same pages as someone who is now deceased but has come to this book for a reason, a reason that might not be dissimilar to mine. I read this old text, write and talk about it with my friends. Perhaps those who owned this book long before me did the same.

Old books are symbols of dead people, writers from which they originated and owners who can no longer hold them because they are no longer physically present.

It is this piece of people and the invisible mark they leave behind that enthralls me, captures me and churns my mind. In an eerie way I feel as if the people I will never know I now instantly know because I have shared history with them…we have shared this book. And long after I am dead someone will share this book with me even if they do not realize it.

Fourth, the smell of old books is the smell of paper that has lived.

There is nothing like walking into a room filled with books, the smell of time bursting through your senses. To stare up at the stacks of time that are lost, yet found, preserved yet forgotten, is as close as we get to an incarnate representation of human creativity. Ancient civilizations have built monuments and stones that are still reminders of their creativity, but these are now giving way to weather and time.

But words…words cannot be destroyed.

They can be torn from their sentences but they cannot be lost. They will always find their way back home no matter how much fire is heaped on the pages that contain them. Roman arches may have fallen and Greek Temples may be decimated, but the words of Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Plato and Marcus Aurelius still live.

Taking an old book into your hands, opening it up and shuffling its pages produces that distinctly old book smell…the smell of time, of aged paper, of ideas inviting you to pause and consider that the smell can take you somewhere.

Old books have lived.

They have been carried through heartbreak. They have been secured in backpacks during wartime. They have been the relief of troubled souls wandering the four corners of the earth. They have been expressions of joy and inspiration for their readers. They have slid around on the floor board of old carriages or sat in the window sills of widows who have lost their loves. They have been hid under old saloon counters waiting to be read by bartenders at the end of the night. They have even been carried by prostitutes and read after a long nights work, feeding the imaginative and intellectual need of a woman or man that had been trapped in this dark industry, the participants of which are now all dead.

Books have lived.

They have been carried by people into countless places, read for a plethora of reasons and now they are still here, speaking to us, as we hold them in the same way as history has always held them since their inception from the press.

So, I confess again, I love old books.

As I hold an old book, I hold poetry that can never be held. I hear dreams that were once only seen. I sympathize with the author and envision them standing beside me. I weep for their loss, share in their joys and continue to toil over the problems their book addresses…and I wonder how many eyes have seen these words in these very pages…stared at them like me…and wonder how much of their soul soaked up these words.

The warmth of hands that held these books long before I was here is still present…and I wonder if hands in the future will feel the warmth of my own imprint on these very books.

A Poetic Essay: Writing Love & Poetry with Cixous

cixous

Helene Cixous, the philosopher, writer, thinker, novelist, poet…one with the uncanny ability to grasp the impossible and poetically narrate newer possibilities.

As Derrida describes of her, “A poet-thinker, very much a poet and very much a thinker.”

She writes the kind of poetry that describes the conversant and then leaves one asking, “what just happened?”

Cixous writes,

“It is the places that make love.  Places and all their features.  For them to make love (and so that they might do so), the features must combine their forms, their different energies, and their properties in a whole whose total makes god.”

Poetry is poietic.  The mundane becomes the exotic.  Form and content blend in ways that seek an apocalyptically pristine constitution.

Something to deliver us from ourselves.

The more I see of the world the more I become convinced that the world will not be saved by those who can write prose and disseminate its smooth flat reality.  Such only leads to the nothing of no possibility.

What the world needs is the poet.  As poets perish, the stench of the corpse of our imagination begins to intrude into the spaces that are disguised as lively.

And we hear the gasps of death left in the vacuum of the dead poet.

Poetry lives among us and sees beyond us…it sees and feels the rhythmic beat of relationship and gives rolling hills and texture to Tom Friedman’s “Flat World.”

Poetry, as theory and praxis, is difficult.  Difficult because we no longer think poetically; we think matter-of-factly.

We no longer use words in which we may become lost.  In writing our words…we have lost them.

We no longer feel emotions that cannot be harnessed.  We commoditize our emotions through manipulation and consumption.

We see the world in the script of black and white (letters and reality).  When in actuality, reality may be best situated beneath the writing and beneath its margins…imagined in the places we cannot see because we cannot speak them.

Poetry is not merely the art of speaking and rhyme…

it is the very act of taking the actual path that has become grown over through time as we faintly see the footprints of daring poets whose footprints have left vague impressions in the dirt…

Hear Cixous:

“One can’t escape the hidden designs of God.  She has written everything down and we do not read.  We are read”

Cixous, writes and speaks…and she does so poetically.  It is a poetry not bereft of science or prose…but one that writes poetically in response to this world of cold hard surfaces.

She has met Lacan and yet she is still a poet.

She captivates the reader with simplicity in a world filled with complexity…making what is so familiar to us all, the language of love, distantly close.

I ran across one of her texts recently, a text that is as deep as it shallow and as profound as it is complex.

As a lover of the gospel, and its imaginative possibilities to love more deeply and thrive more fully, I embarked on her work “Love Itself: in the Letterbox.”  What I happened upon was the delicate and inter-relationality of continental theory, psychoanalysis, language and deep expressions of love for which I was little prepared.

This is a dangerous text.  It is shockingly simple.  It is infinitely iridescent.

If you want to think and feel the subjunctive character of what is so familiar, then read her.  She writes of the already and the not yet always already.

She makes the simple act of writing love letters, letters in the letterbox, an act of deep reflection and intuition.

She talks of love, its behavior, its appearance and its presence.  She speaks our language, with our language and is yet speaking of the act of writing love past our language.

She is the poet.

Here is the world.

The world does not drown our words…and therefore our interminable possibilities.  The words of the poet open up creation…giving us a new gospel of sorts.

Going to the letterbox, Cixous speaks with us, to us, for us and also past us…about that which is most salient in our lives, either in lack or in excess…the incarnation of this four letter word: L-O-V-E.

The problem with writing love is that it is the problem of writing us.

Our problems are beautiful.

Our humanity can be tragic, but that is what makes it lovely.

Just as Gospel attempts to reforge creation via love located in the depths of what we call God, it being the hearkening from out of our graves into a poetically imaginative and lively world, so poetry speaks words of creativity and new impossibilities into the dirt that attempts to bury our dreams and hide our morbid smell.

This conflict of life and death, of the as is, with the as it should/could be, is the task of poetry.

Poetry is the horribly beautiful description of that which we most long for…but for many of us remains remote.

She writes “love itself.”

She doesn’t create a new world as much as she sees the real world, where routine trips through our lives are given sharper focus and memories become conversation partners with our future.

Wherein our emotions become sensations, we feel with our sight, smell with our hands, and think with our heart.

Thus, in the Spirit of Cixous, I not only form this essay in her simple prose, but I write this short poem pursuant to her vision and to descry the absent presence of love…longing not for a world of continued non-rapport, but for a world were love itself and being itself can finally become one.

Love is Poetry, Poetry is Love

Cixous writes, “I was afraid you would always be there. I didn’t want to tell you that earlier.”

Have I not heard footsteps behind me?  Have I not imagined them as they approached?

I have seen you before.

Your Smile is familiar.  I knew it was there but I did not see it.

I was afraid of this day.  Hopeful it would come.  I have read this story before, even though it has not been written.

The speech that is spoken, I see your lips move, but I am unable to hear.

I see your breath in the foggy, misty morning, but I do not feel it upon my neck.

“I was afraid you would always be there. I didn’t want to tell you that earlier.”

Earlier has arrived later.  I delivered the letter.

The mailbox was empty.  The letterbox was not emptied but my letter did not remain.

I wonder if it was delivered.

What an undone world.  Tears roll down my cheeks.  They collect behind my ears.

The world is lonely.  I am surrounded by everyone.  But I am not surrounded by one.

“I was afraid you would always be there.”

Perfect love?  Gospel?

Love is a nomad that returns to my tongue and restores my despair.

I didn’t want to tell you.  But love casts out fear.

I keep writing love, love writing me.  The letterbox is cold.  It warms my hands.

I leave the letterbox solemnly.  Back through the fog, leaves crunching behind the smile I feel staring at me.

I look through the world.

I say to myself, “I was afraid you would always be there. I didn’t want to tell you that earlier.”

Too Scared to Love: an Essay on Fear, Love & the Gaze

Emerson Fear

FEAR & GOSPEL

“Perfect Love Casts out all Fear,” so the writer of the Epistle of 1 John tells us.

In a world of so much fear, and so little love, one is left to wonder if there is indeed a perfect love that can handle the level of fear that seems to be inundating our worlds, our communities and our lives.

Fear of being nothing motivates us. Fear of losing everything makes us work harder. Fear of being ignorant makes us study. Fear of never being loved makes us pursue those filled with fear and unable to love in return with even more abandon.

Fear negotiates the world. It even negotiates our relationship to one whom we call The Christ. Were it not for fear, the fear of God, one wonders if fear could have become such a common currency.

It is used by so many, understood by so few. Fear is the Lord of the world.

Perfect love casts out fear? Really? Into what context does this even make sense…?

The Gospel’s knew something about fear.

They knew whoever controlled the mechanism of fear controlled the masses and their behavior. Yet, the Gospel attempts at multiple levels to dispel fear in some uniquely concrete ways that are lost on us when we read it as a story of details, rather than a narrative of provocation.

At multiples places in the Gospel the very thing that causes fear (principally the unknown) is resolved through a state of overcoming that which is feared.

In other words, fear is defeated by fear that is directed toward the redemption of fear.

The remainder of this redemption is no longer a love gone awry…a love that is misdirected because it is directed by fear, and therefore unloving, but a love that is so perfect that it can cast our fear.

Fear has been redeemed to become otherwise than itself through a dreadful event.

There is nothing more fearful than a dead person emerging from a borrowed tomb…yet there is nothing more redemptive than the ultimate fear of death lying lifelessly dead beside one whom the earth could not contain…The Christ simply giving it a passing glance as he slowly walks by.

This is paranormalChrist at his finest. An Example of the perfect love of God casting out the fear that threatens all of us constantly.

But the resurrection is not the only fearfully fearless redemptive act that redirects a love gone awry.

Others places in the Gospel remind us that Jesus came into the fearful situation of calming storms. These situations are unique because it speaks volumes about the Gospels mission to step directly into situations wherein fear is the arbiter of reality and denounce it as a misdirected affection. It is no coincidence that the stories do not primarily serve a purely Christological function, as much as they serve to renarrate the world we receive.

No doubt, the incarnation of God in one whom we call The Christ is a renarration par excellence, but such renarration does not occur because we have been able to precisely determine the ontological significance of the Historical Jesus. The stories don’t serve as perichoretic marking points.

The stories serve as confrontations with rulers, with archetypes, with paradigms of seeing the world that are now made new because the Christ has been his paranormal self and defied the natural order of things via God’s perfect love for the world…a love that castes out fear in every situation because what we fear most, our deaths, is now no longer something that should be feared.

Remember, Death is still lying outside the tomb lifelessly dead, its vibrancy and sting negated via the Christ and his stubborn refusal to remain subject to Hades.

This doesn’t only mean that now fear has been dealt a death blow via the death of death, though it certainly may mean at least as much. It also means that the supernatural perception of the Christ, the powers that allow him to calm fear, to suspend deaths final grasping, is not bound to his X-Men capabilities as much as it is bound to the simple things we miss about The Christ.

Fear cannot be defeated with greater fear.

Christ does not defeat fear in the world via the death of death with a greater coercive strength to make death die.

It is not with force that Christ resurrects himself nor is it with force and great chaos that Christ speaks stillness into the brooding clouds and churning seas of life that would love nothing more but to overtake our beings, who we are, and sink our dreams and potentials into the watery abyss below.

Fear is not defeated with a greater fear…that simply makes it stronger and more resistant.

What fear and death cannot resist, and what can thereby redeem love gone awry, is perfect love.

Perfect love that is characterized via The Christ as: perfect words, perfect presence, perfect patience, prefect space…a space that receives perfect love in simplicity and is filled with so much love that fear itself no longer has habitable room.

There is very literally no room at the inn where perfect love resides.

Moment of fear: The Crucifixion

Moment of love: Today you shall be with me in paradise…words spoken into immeasurable violence and death wishes thrown all around us.

Moment of fear: The perfect Storm

Moment of love: Peace be still…words of peace spoken into hearts filled with dread.

Moment of fear: My life is moving toward death

Moment of love: Death is not the final word…God actively raising Jesus and giving Jesus the gift of resurrection.

*And for a contemporary application…

Moment of fear: People all around us so filled with fear that their fear has produced a love gone awry

Moment of love: embracing the paranormalChrist and being a presence of spoken love that gives fear no safe harbor.

The Gospel is filled with saying no to fear, yet it is by fears we have been living and through fear our love has gone awry…and we have mistaken our fears for the things that we love even as the things that we love seek to be destroyed because fear does not allow us to fully love what we have been given to love.

We do not know how to love and surrender power through love.

We do not know how to receive love that is not seeking to gain something from us.

We do not know of a love that seeks the benefit and wholeness of the Other because we love through our fear of self satisfaction.

We do not know that love is not about control; it’s not about infinite demand.

We do not know that perfect love is self-kenotic…a self-kenosis that incarnates a love that is more than ourselves and creates a world so utterly foreign that it lends its audience to ask, “Can this be the Christ?”

Surely salvation/healing doesn’t look like this!

We are so fearful of losing everything or not being fulfilled or getting our way that our fears have characterized our affections and disguised themselves as pure motives when all they really do is keep us from loving and precipitate the destruction of our worlds…one nation, one community, one home, one person at a time.

Fear does not give life…it steals it…which is precisely why The Christ had to steal the greatest fear of them all.

Fear does not have the final word; It doesn’t get to write the end of the story.

Love and the Gaze

Our world is one with fear and trembling before the very numinous presence of a multitude selves unaware and it has become the catalyst for our narcissism and the infinite demands such places on those around us.

We know that fear is persistent and structurating because our world is in disrepair. A world guided by perfect love does not fall apart; its seams remain tight and colorful, keeping reality sewn neatly together…but fear unravels the seams and slowly pulls reality apart…because fear cannot understand what it cannot see…that it doesn’t really exist.

There is nothing to fear because fear is no-thing.

The nothing of fear has held love hostage…and love has gone awry…its very presence being questioned and its idea being lost.

And this takes multiple forms.

The chiefest form that is encountered by the many of us is the fear that holds us hostage to the gaze of the other…or perhaps we are the other that holds the world hostage in our own gaze.

The gaze is the view into reality wherein the subject, the person, is the all knowing, seeing, desiring eye, by which all of life is held to account.

There is nothing outside the gaze…no greater perspective than the gaze. It is penetratingly stubborn and inhospitable because it desires to see all things without adjusting its view…without discovering that it’s a gaze that is founded upon the fear of really not seeing what is there to be seen.

So long as the gaze can hold the world in its view, it sees what it wants as such desires are generated out of the fear to really see the world for more than it is. To see the world for more is to see its own self negation, to be on the road to seeing a world marked by beautiful subjectivity rather than fearful controlling of the subjects/objects that comprise the world.

So long as the all seeing eye of the gaze is lost in its specter of fear…love will remain distant because love is the impossibility of real relationality that the gaze has lost in its own sight.

The gaze becomes its own worst enemy because the very thing it is attempting to achieve, i.e., peace and happiness, is alluded its sight because it has failed to grasp that peace is not the product of seeing and demanding…holding the world in debt to its vision.

As Gerard Wajcman notes in describing a central thesis on the gaze:

“the central thesis that rules the hypermodern world- that all of the Real is visible- is itself animated by an implicit correlative thesis: If all of the real is visible, then all that is not visible is not Real.” (Lacanian Ink 38, “The Universal Eye and the Limitless World”).

It is little wonder that a world lost in the gaze of a love gone awry, one fueled by fear and disenchanted by what could be real by what is “real,” is incapable of seeing past its own fear and into a world of new creation that doesn’t just expand the gaze but negates it in its totality.

Real love, real relationality, is absent, not because fear has the final word, and thereby also death its closest partner, but because death and fear are what is visible and real…while the real moments of love that could be spoken into existence are seen as not real because they are not…they are not in the gaze.

And thus the vicious cycle recurs.

Those who want love the most…are also those whose love has gone awry because it is founded on fear and not in the simplicity of a spoken presence that reshapes the world one syllable, one touch, at a time.

Such perfect love simply does not exist in the gaze.

Peace is the result of loving past the fear, past the sense of happiness founded upon the fear of not controlling or having, past the sense that everyone around us is held hostage to the debt of the perception of the gaze.

“Perfect love Casts our fear…” the writer of the Johannine Epistle tells us.

As long as we continue to love from fear we are never really loving; we are only fearing to love.

…and as long as we fear to love because we have confused love with the needs of the gaze, we as a culture and society will continue to become dismembered, continue to spiral into despair and continue to be our own worst enemies in our quest for what all human beings want…

Love, peace and happiness as can only come from one who emerges from the tomb, stops, directs his gaze at us and confidently says, “Fear Not.”