Hugs

There are lots of different kinds of hugs. There are guy hugs that include lots of yelling and backslapping, quick friend hugs that only last a second or two, side hugs that just say ‘hey, you’re special’, and so on and so on. Then there are those hugs, generally reserved for those who are truly intimate (i.e. siblings, parent and child, childhood friends, lovers, etc), where a person just hangs on to you and doesn’t want to let you go. The kind of hug that lets you know that this person doesn’t want you to leave. I got one of those tonight.

I know I’ve written about my friend… Shana. She’s a 14 year old girl who I’ve known since she was 2. She is my favorite kid in the world (except possibly my nephew… I kind of feel like I have to add that in). Sometimes I think she might have a crush on me, although I honestly doubt it. Every now and then she’ll give me a hug and just not want to let go, or we’ll high five and she’ll grab my hand and hold it a little longer than necessary. I know she’s at that age where she’s started thinking about boys, but doesn’t really want to admit it yet, and I know she loves me.

I’ve actually taken a few steps, just in case. Thrown in the word ‘kid’ every now and then when I’m talking to her, stuff like that. Honestly though, I don’t think the has a crush on me. I think that she loves me, and knows that I love her, and is maybe having a tiny bit of trouble figuring out what that looks like now that she’s becoming an adult. Heck, I fell in love with a 17 year old not too very long ago simply because I’d known her forever and couldn’t figure out the difference between love and romantic love. … …I’m still trying to figure out this whole love thing, I came pretty late to the game. Thankfully, the 17 year old set me straight, and that was definitely a good thing.

Still, those hugs are nice. The kind that let you know that someone truly, completely wants you around, and that’s what tonight was. There wasn’t any confusion in the hug she gave me tonight. No worries about anything, just love. So often in today’s culture we think of love as a dirty word. As a friend of mine recently said, we define love as ‘eros’ when we should be looking for ‘agape’, and that part of why (even anonymously) I kind of hesitate to write this. I worry that someone will read this and misunderstand. I worry that my own eros infused brain will point me in the wrong direction. I worry that my thoughts or my heart won’t be pure and fatherly.

I think these worries are good things. They keep me watchful over my own actions and emotions, and this is a good thing… as long as it doesn’t go to far. This is always the thing with limitations and protections. They are good, until they become legalistic. That’s the key with limitations. They can’t simply exist for their own sake. If the law is the law simply to be the law, then the law is utterly and completely pointless and should be done away with. The law exists to protect us, to guide us, and to make us better, not simply to hedge us in and control us.

P.S. Not-Sarah called me back. We’re going to get dinner and a movie on Wednesday.

They Say That to Love Another Person…

So, I finally got around to watching the new Les Miserables tonight and I have to say that it is nothing short of amazing. However, my favorite line, at the death of Jean Valjean, is ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’. Not only is this a wonderful line, but I honestly think its true. I was going to write about Javert’s suicide and the loss of belief tonight, and I think that’ll make it in as well, but the love of Jean Valjean is just as important.

I’m not superman. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. I want to rescue people from themselves, to help people, to make them better, and ultimately… I can’t. I can’t make people change, and I can’t make them better, and every time I try I wind up trying to impose my will onto them. I understand both characters in this story very well. I understand both love and hate pretty well, and that is what Javert and Jean Valjean embody.

I’ve written some about my past before, and I think I’ve mentioned that I used to hate… everything. For a long time all I knew how to do was hate. I hated people, God, myself, the world… all the people I should have loved I hated. I’d never known love, never understood it, and never felt it, and it took a long time for me to come to terms with feeling anything other than hate. Feelings are frightening things.

However, as much as I used to hate, now I can’t seem to stop myself from loving. My friend that I mentioned the other day, the one with all the problems, I love her. I love my roommate that stole money from me. I thought about knifing him for a while, but the anger passed pretty quickly, and the love remains. I love my students, and my family, and my friends. I love the people at my favorite coffee shop. I just love people, even when I don’t particularly want to.

And I completely agree that to love someone is to see the face of God. Trusting God means trusting people, and loving God means loving people. There’s no getting away from that. The  apostle said as much in 1st John. If you hate your brother then you hate God, and if you love God then you love your brother. It’s taken be a long time for me to actually begin to understand that, and I really think that I am just beginning to understand it.

It’s hard to lose the thing that defines you. I’ve been through this a few times. Javert lost his conviction that people  cannot change. “Once a thief, always a thief” was the mantra that filled his heart, and when Jean Valjean proved him wrong it killed him in more ways than one. I lost my hate a long time ago. God made me let it go, and then my suspicion, my anger, now my pain. These are the things that defined me, that shaped my life. ‘Everyone lies’, ‘People are evil’, ‘She’ll hurt you’, ‘Everyone leaves’, ‘No one cares’, ‘There’s no point in trying’, ‘I’ve always been alone’… these were the mantras that filled my heart, just like Javert’s. They aren’t entirely untrue, but they also aren’t entirely true. Certainly they aren’t principles to build a life around.

Love is a much better principle to build a life around. The thing is, love doesn’t reject most of those principles. It simply doesn’t care. People are evil… love them anyway. Everyone does lie… love them anyway. She might hurt you… love her anyway. They might leave… love them anyway. Love the people who don’t care, the people who walk away, the people who fight (God knows I did). Why? Because that’s all of us. That’s me as much as any of them, so why should’t I love them?

Right now, I can’t think of a reason.

Love, Hate, and Taoism

I’ve been reading a book about Taoism that has helped more clearly understand Taoist concepts and their relation to Christian concepts. I’ve written about the concept of Wu Wei before, and I think I’m still somewhat enamored of the idea, but perhaps not as much. Laozi puts forth the idea that being is better than doing. This idea, as Holmes Welch describes it in the book I’m reading (Taoism: The Parting of the Way), is the concept that attitude is better than action. Laozi’s argument, in its essence, is that when we act we provoke reaction, and the reaction will often be in opposition to the action that we take. Laozi’s answer to the evils of his day was to take no action to stop them, oppose them, or even address them, but to simply ‘be’ good. His argument was that in being good one’s nature would naturally stand in opposition to evil without actively opposing that evil, which would create a strong reaction from said evil. Laozi argued that no one can fight with the sage simply because the sage refuses to fight. Mahatma Ghandi’s life was an excellent example of this principle in action, as was Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement.

This same concept can be seen in portions of the scripture (i.e. if a man strikes one cheek, give him the other), but Laozi takes the concept further than scripture allows us to do. Laozi argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being (i.e. true attitude is better than hypocritical action), but he also argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing (because action causes reaction). However, scripture commands both Being and Doing. 1st John is an excellent example of this. John commands us throughout this book to an attitude of love (agape). He juxtaposes love with two possible opposites though: first he tells us that a man who hates his brother does not love God. Here Love (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the well-being of another, even at the expense of one’s own) is juxtaposed with Hate (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the harm of another, even at the expense of one’s own well-being).

It is important not to confuse this Love/Hate juxtaposition with the Love/Hate juxtaposition used in Paul’s legal terminology. Paul tells us that God ‘loved Jacob, but hated Esau’. Does this mean that God had a ‘deep emotive concern for the harm of Esau’? Of course not. This is a legal use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘hate’ that reflects a covenantal choice that holds no emotive value. God did not wish Esau harm, but he did choose Jacob through whom to continue the spiritual line of Abraham, a place for which Esau was rejected. This is important, but entirely different from the emotive love/hate juxtaposition that John creates in his letter.

However, John does not simply juxtapose love to hate. He also tells us that ‘he who does not love his brother does not know God’. Thus, love is also juxtaposed with apathy. Hence it is not enough to show love by not hating another, but we must also show love by showing a deep emotive concern for another’s well-being. This concept is necessarily active in nature. While the love/hate juxtaposition could potentially reflect a non-active attitudinal love, the love/apathy juxtaposition cannot. This is also reflected in James’ exhortation that ‘faith without works is dead’. Thus a very, very important difference between Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy is the necessity of action. Scripture certainly argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being. However, scripture absolutely argues against the concept that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing.

The other area of major difference is that of ultimate goal or purpose. Laozi’s writing was ultimately concerned with the temporal (though not necessarily material) world. He sought an answer to the warfare that was rife in China during his lifetime (which was probably somewhere between 60 and 200 years, if he existed at all… I must confess that I cannot bring myself to argue that Adam lived 900 some years, Abraham 180 years, Moses 120, and yet completely reject the notion that Laozi may have lived for 200 years). Ultimately, Laozi’s argument is that through Being and Not Doing we can more effectively implement our will in the world than through Doing and Not Being, or through Being and Doing.

However, the ultimate goal or purpose of the Christian is not to implement our will in the world, but to glorify the Godhead (I’ve said this many times) in part by implementing his will in the world (though this is not our only means of glorifying him). Thus, Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy again find themselves at odds simply because of the source of the will that they seek to enact. There are many good things in Laozi’s philosophy, and his concept of Being as primary is one that I think many American Christians need to embrace. However, ultimately, the differences, as well as the similarities, must be addressed, and it is never enough to only examine one or the other.

Not My Law

As Christians we’re supposed to place God’s law above man’s, right? Absolutely, but in practical terms, what does that mean? According to the modern church in America, or at least the way we act, that means to pursue a vigorous, staunch, often demeaning and dehumanizing political campaign against anything with which we happen to disagree.

Abortion is immoral. Therefore it should be illegal in any and all circumstances, no matter what the populace has to say about the matter. Homosexuality is immoral. Therefore homosexual couples should hold a lower legal status than heterosexual couples, including a lack of access to combined health insurance, a lack of inheritance rights, a lack of power of attorney, a lack of tax breaks, etc, etc, etc. These are the two major issues right now, but certainly not the only issues.

However, what does placing God’s law above man’s law do to man’s law? In declaring abortion to be murder we effectively announce our dismissal of American law. Murder is a term that is defined by law, and American law does not define abortion as murder. Thus, when we declare that abortion is murder we remove ourselves from the conversation by declaring that American law is unimportant to us.

All in all, the church today expresses an extreme pride, self-interest, and obsession with temporal power in our political stances that puts us very close to the excesses of the medieval Roman Catholic church. It doesn’t matter what the bible actually says, what matters is that we are in control! It doesn’t matter how we treat people, as long as they do what we want! This does nothing to edify the body, or to advance the kingdom or glory of God.

“But wait!” You say, “aren’t we supposed to defend God’s law and his word?”

I challenge you, find me any place in scripture that commands us to defend God in any way? We are commanded to obey God repeatedly. Peter commands us to be ready to give an account of our faith. However, no where are we commanded to defend God. God is God and if he wants to be defended he is perfectly capable of assigning a thousand legions of angels to that defense. Our job is not to defend God or his laws by forcing others to obey.

“But wait!” You say, “doesn’t that mean that there’s no point in apologetics?”

I ask you, since when was apologetics the defense of God? There is every reason to pursue an apologetic defense of the faith. The task of apologetics is not to defend God, or his law, but to defend the rationality of Christian belief. In light of questions like: Can God be real? Is the scripture trustworthy? Did Jesus really die on the cross? We must have an apologetic response. This is a part of what Peter meant when he commanded us to be ready to give an account of our faith. To answer reasoned questions with a reasoned and thoughtful faith is very different than spewing thoughtless rhetoric and pursuing a legal divine mandate of Church rule.

In too many ways the Church resembles Senator Palpatine’s description of the Jedi in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, we have held political power in this nation for a very long time, and we are loathe to give it up. However, make no mistake, the attempts to legislate marriage, sexual conduct, the handling of pregnancy, etc is less about the rule of God and more about the fear of the church. It shows a lack of trust and an extreme cowardice.

Does this mean that there is no homosexual agenda bent on attacking the church? Of course it doesn’t, though it would be ridiculous to assume that all homosexuals are a part of this agenda. Certainly the nation is becoming more hostile towards Christianity, and persecution is coming. However, Peter does not tell us that when persecution comes we should fight for our power and rights tooth and nail, even if it means destroying the other side. Instead, Peter tells us to rejoice that we may share in the sufferings of our lord!

How much of this sharing and rejoicing do you see in the modern church? Do we gleefully welcome the coming persecution as a chance to join in the suffering of Christ and show the true heart and resilience of the Christian faith? Or are we too busy trying to make the pain stop and make everyone to agree with us, regardless of whether they actually want to?

To those Christians who can’t see past their noses, and certainly not far enough to love their neighbor and their enemy, I would say: Get the log out of your eye!

To those who would see the Christian faith persecuted, hurt, injured, and destroyed, I would say: Bring it on! Do your worst and find out just what our God is made of. Come and see the love of Christ through the blood of his people.

To those who stand somewhere in between I would say: Watch, think deeply, seek truth, and find your way. If you want to see an example of the Church righteous under all threats and enemies, look at the early church that bore many and varied persecutions in love. Look at the anabaptists who were persecuted, tortured, burned, and drowned by Catholics and Protestants alike. Look at the Christians of Nazi Germany who took Jew into their homes and hid them, despite the risk to themselves. Who spoke out against the regime in love, despite the certainty of punishment, who acted not to destroy the government, but to protect the people, and who did not flee the consequences of that action.

This is what we should be. A face of courageous love and truth that stands against hate and violence, not a face of hate and violence that seeks to oppress those who disagree. We should be better than we are.

Love

Last Sunday, as soon as I got to church, a 14 year old girl ran up, threw herself into my arms, gave me a bone-crushing hug, and told me she loved me. Don’t worry, it’s not what it kind of almost sounds like. This is a girl that I’ve know since she was two years old, and she is the only person who rivals my nephew for the title of ‘Favorite kid in the world’. She and I love each other. There’s nothing romantic about this love, we don’t actually even spend much time together… seriously, 30-something man, 14 year old girl… not a whole lot to talk about there. However, she and I have known one another for her entire life, and there isn’t much that I wouldn’t do for her if she asked. However, she never has. In fact, I don’t think she’s ever asked me for anything other than my attention and my affection.

This is what love is, and this is what I tend to forget in my romantic relationships. I want to be loved, but I tend to forget that loving someone else is a prerequisite of being loved. The women that I love, and I have ‘loved’ several of the women that I’ve dated in a phileo sense, don’t have any requirement to love me in return, and while I get hurt, that doesn’t mean that I honestly have a right to be upset. I can say that there is one woman who I tried to date recently (tried being the key word) that I honestly did love, but she wasn’t having any of it… which was probably a wise decision given that she was much younger than I am.

Here’s the thing. We often forget (I often forget, which is sad because I really know better) that 1st Corinthians 13 is the definition of the love that we are commanded to throughout the New Testament. We tend to ‘love’ others, until they hurt us, and I’m not immune to this. The last girl I dated (sort of, we dated for a while, but she was never willing to admit that we were dating) and I are no longer friends. Why? Well… mostly because I wanted more than she did, but the most direct reason is that she lied to me… once. It was about something pretty major, and very hurtful, but still… it was one time.

Here’s the thing though, I should have loved her the way I love my 14 year old friend… let’s call her Jill. If Jill lied to me I’d be disappointed, maybe hurt, but it wouldn’t end our friendship, and it certainly wouldn’t keep me from caring about her. Heck, Jill could probably walk up and kick me in the nuts for no reason and not significantly change our relationship. The thing is, I should love everyone that way, and I don’t. When it comes to love I am, all to often, Peter. When Christ asks me ‘Oldguy, do you agape me?” My response is, “Lord, I phileo you!”

I want my response to be, “Lord, you know I agape you!” However, my actions often don’t support that position. My actions usually say, “Maybe tomorrow, Lord, today is for me.” And this isn’t something that I’m comfortable with.

So, what am I going to do to change it? Well, I start every day by asking God to help me focus on him. I spend time with him everyday. I do my best to put others first, and I try to always listen to God. Mostly, I try to live every day righteously and be a little bit less of a bastard than I was the day before. I try to remember, whatever I’m doing, that I’m in the presence of God. Maybe someday I’ll get there… hopefully.