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After Parting

July 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Photo by greekadman (used by permission via Creative Commons)

I continue to soak in the glory of Michael O’Siadhail’s poetry. In “Elegy for a Singer,” he writes one line that pierced and exposed my heart at the same time.

“…but know
that always after parting
I cherished you…”

One of the greatest treasures in my life is a meal and conversation with a few friends. And yet, I never feel that I sufficiently express my gratitude to the friends who spent their valuable time and presence in my life. After parting, the words of gratitude burn inside.

So as I read O’Siadhail, I can only echo the simmering love revealed in his words to a friend. I am rich for I have dined in the presence of glorious people who fed my soul and continue to strengthen my memories.

Meeting in a Time of Tweets

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Frederik de Klerk & Nelson Mandela (92) (photo by World Economic Forum va Creative Commons)

The other day I commented on Nicholas Carr’s article “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.” I mentioned a positive opportunity and a negative challenge inherent in emerging forms like the wired world of the web. One breathtaking aspect of this emergence is the possibility for connection people from all races, languages and countries.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to form and sustain many lasting friendships across the web. My life has been enriched and challenged and expanded through conversations with people around the world. Some of whom I’ve never seen face to face.

While I see negatives in this webbed world, like the dark side of tribalism (with little patience to learn the language of other tribes) and the tendency to reduce real rhetoric and argumentation to the sloganeering of bumper stickers (which really helps no one), I also see great potential for learning how to talk, how to listen and how to connect across our “boundaries” in space and time.

In a time when we can shoot off pithy answers before thinking about the human recipient, I thought it might help to consider some folks who thought, spoke and modeled much about how humans should and could relate.

Some of the writers who deeply challenged me to think about conversation and dialogue and thinking and action are Martin Buber, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, TF Torrance and Eugen Rosenstock Huessy. While there are distinctions and disagreements in their thought, I see correspondences that might be helpful for us as we think about relationships or about moving through space and time in love.

I am going to summarize a few ideas from each man thought I recognize anything I write in such limited space is woefully incomplete. Today, I want to highlight a few thoughts from Hans Von Balthasar who focused on three essential properties of being: truth, goodness and beauty.

For now I am going to bypass his overall argument and simply focus on these three transcendentals in relationships. I confess that I am adapting his use of these in relation to God, and for now, I want to use them in relation to humans. Von Balthasar focuses on the types of knowledge I gain from truth, goodness and beauty in relation.

Truth – In one sense, truth is focused upon the credible and accurate witness. Truth focuses on both the observable and the logical. On a basic level, I meet another person and based on their appearance, I make instant decisions as to their gender, age range, possibly their status, and their race. I observe them speaking, acting, living before me.

So the knowledge I gain from truth is observable and thus objective. Other people should be able to make similar observations with similar conclusions. While this may not seem especially significant in relationship, it is deeply significant. For sadly, we break and lose relationships often on the basis of knowledge that is not credible from witnesses that cannot be trusted.

When I encounter another person, I listen, watch, observe. I must be cautious about information given me about another person. I might ask myself, “Do I trust this person as a credible witness?” “Is this person in fact the direct witness or are they relaying third hand information?” “Does this person have vested interest in my opinion the person in question?”

While I may not be able to answer these questions completely, it might help me to pause over indirect observations. Also, I might questions my own observations. When I have made a judgment about a word or action, I might ask myself self, “What did I actually observe?” “Is is possible there are multiple causes for the action I’ve observed?” These type of questions might help me to realize that even my own deductions can be suspect at times.

The danger of “truth” is that knowledge can be reduced to mere facts, categories, ideas, laws. Without the balance of “goodness” and “beauty,” truth flattens relations into mere formalism.

Goodness – In relationships, Von Balthasar understands “bonum” as the interior light I experience. In relation to God, he speaks of hearing the proclaimed/historical witness (truth) and then the inward response of faith (goodness). Whereas truth focuses upon outward sign (the observable person), goodness focuses upon the signified (the value of the person).

I hear about Jesus Christ (outward, physical life), and I believe he is my redeemer (inward response). I meet John and instantly I feel there is a connection. I believe this inward, subjective response is how Von Balthasar is using goodness. When I meet other people, I not only observe them outwardly, I make inward judgments: good, bad, nice, friend, foe, and many other much more subtle inferences.

This is why I am attracted to Kelly over Jane. This is why I make friends with Bill instead of Harry. This is why I instantly trust the words of Tim, but pause over the words of Robert. This intuitive knowledge is real knowledge that shapes my actions, but it is inward, subjective knowledge. This type of “Goodness” is present in all relationships. My value assessments may be wrong and later have to be corrected, but act of making those assessments is part of the processing in forming relationships.

The danger of goodness is that it can become utilitarian and hedonistic. Outside the balance of “truth” and “beauty,” “goodness” can become pure narcissism as all relationships exist only to further my own goals and desires.

Beauty – The knowledge I gain from beauty is distinctly different from truth and goodness. I cannot grasp or take hold of this knowledge. Beauty is the mystery of unity between form and content. Content is not behind form but within it.

Let me put it this way. I mentioned this idea of “interior light” in goodness. Beauty is the interior light within the person in front of me. It is the realization of their depths as a person. Let me give a few examples.

At one-year-old, my niece already exhibited a will. I’ve watched her choose to allow my mom to pick her up while rejecting the advances of someone else. Of course, they could still pick her up, but they couldn’t change her will by physical force. Something unique and deeply mysterious about her cannot be controlled no matter how little she is.

Each person has an external, definable form. We can ask them a series of questions and might attach certain personality characteristics to them. And yet, there is untold mystery in every human being that cannot be forced out, seized, examined under a microscope or fully controlled.

As a person turns toward me and chooses to reveal themselves, suddenly a turn of the head, a look in the eyes, a handshake, a hug, a word, or simply a silence can reveal something about that person that simply cannot be seized or captured in a test tube. This something. This mystery. This uniqueness. This is beauty. In this revelation, there is a beauty that is independent of my desires, independent of my facts and figures, there is a beauty, wonder, a glory that simply is.

I cannot even seize the moment with a picture. It simply breaks forth in the very form of the person. And in this encounter, I step outside myself. I encounter someone who changes me in the encounter.

Von Balthasar writes that the beautiful makes the demand upon me to “be allowed to be what it is.” I let go of attempts to control and use. I simply rest in the presence of the beautiful other. Von Balthasar quotes Schiller, “Beauty is freedom in its appearing.”

This freedom is a freedom to enter into relation. It is the freedom of God to become man and reveal Himself in the particularity of Jesus Christ. I cannot force His revelation, but he can freely choose to reveal Himself to and in me.

In all my human relations, there is the possibly for a beautiful encounter. I’ll return to this idea of the beautiful encounter, as I reflect upon Martin Buber, TF Torrance and Eugen Rosenstock Huessy in future posts.

Categories: Community, friendship

Free to Love

April 29, 2010 6 comments

One day my brother-in-law bought my dinner. I reached to take the ticket saying, “You don’t have to do that.”

He smiled and said, “You’re right. I don’t have to do this.” Then he proceeded to pay for my meal.

He didn’t have to act. He was free to act.

Makes me think of an old story.

The late afternoon sun beat down upon Mechab’s arms. Heat rose from the dry and broken soil beneath him. His body ached. His thoughts drifted.

Mechab dreamed of eating honey, bread and some fresh cheese. Traveling back to Samaria from Jericho, he’d soon be resting in the arms of his beloved. Mechab smiled. The draining swelter of this balmy day would not slow his pace toward home.

A groan interrupted his thoughts.

Turning aside, Mechab looked for the source of this human anguish. Lying down the hill in a ditch that sometimes flowed with spring water, Mechab saw him.

As he looked, the grief of suffering pierced his side, and Mechab felt the grieving of this poor fellow deep in his bowels. Called by the agony of a fellow traveler, Mechab ran to the side of this, this Jew.

Without considering the implications of his actions, Mechab wrapped his strong arms around this wounded merchant. His sweat mixed with this man’s blood.

This was not his blood. Or the blood of his people. This man was his enemy. This Jew despised Mechab and his people. This Jew might just consider it God’s justice if Mechab were beaten and left for dead. This Jew could not even look at Mechab.

The force of ethnic tabus should have repealed Mechab, should have driven him away, should have formed an unassailable barrier between Mechab and this man.

But they didn’t.

Answering the call of one groaning voice that penetrated his thoughts, his heart, his stomach, Mechab acted without consideration. He violated his tribal, ethnic expectations to love this one man who cried out for help. In Mechab’s world, he violated the ethics of his culture to love and care for this man.

He didn’t have to help this man. He was free to help this man.

Ivan Illich once described this parable as a story of freedom. As Jesus told this strange story to bewildered Jewish listeners, he described a freedom that no one could understand. He described the freedom of the people of God.

This is a freedom from obligation, a freedom from duty, a freedom from cultural or ethnic expectations. This is a freedom that steps outside of status, race, and all power structures. This is a freedom to simply love another human being.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. He didn’t have to serve them. He was free to serve them.

When Jesus reconciled us to Himself. He didn’t have to bear our sin and suffering. He was free to bear our sin and suffering.

Jesus reveals a freedom of love that flows between Him and His Father. Jesus reveals a Love of the Spirit that blows where it will. In the Father, Son and Spirit, we behold and are immersed in a freedom that cannot be constrained, cannot be blocked, cannot be defeated. We behold a Love that creates and sustains us. We behold a Love that redeems.

Outside of this love, we are not, cannot be free. We are bound by our culture, our family, our society, our emotions, our sexual and physical drives, our expectations, our hurts, our struggles, our resentments, our memories.

In Christ alone, we are free.

There is more to say on this, but for now I’ll stop.

May we ask the Spirit of God to teach us the freedom to live by the breath of His love. We are free to bless, to encourage. By His Spirit, we step forward into a boundless love that knows no limit. A love that embraces friend and enemy alike.

We are free to love one another extravagantly, giving everything away–even our lives.

Shiny Happy People

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment


Doug Smilin’

Originally uploaded by dulasfloyd

My day started with a mouthful of smile as I read a note posted by the JTV Friends on Facebook. These shiny happy people love jewelry, gemstones and people. They posted a note of appreciation for the time I spent helping start a JTV community online.

Their kind words made this bright day just a bit brighter. We rarely catch of glimpse of the impact our lives have on others, so it’s a nice surprise when we discover our lives have touched someone else.

While many spend their lives pursuing fancy job titles, power, or boatloads of cash, I’d rather make a few friends along the way. Thanks JTV Friends for surprising me with some smiles today.

Christmas Presents

December 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I heard a man say “Merry Christmas” and then apologize switching to “Happy New Year” instead. But he was really right the first time. We’ve entered Christmas “time,” and today is only the sixth day of a 12-day feast. During some seasons, Kelly and I have chosen to exchange a gift for each of the 12 days, helping remind us of the extended season of feasting.

Since I love getting presents this makes for a good tradition. While I realize that it is better to give than receive, I find it delightful to get…lots of presents. Presents and Christmas just go together. Some of my fondest memories from childhood include sitting under the Christmas tree and stacking up all the gifts that were labeled, “To Doug.”

During my early childhood, we’ve lived up in New Jersey. Every year we’d receive several large boxes from Tennessee, and each box was filled with presents from all our relatives.

What a delight I had to tear into the boxes, unpack the gifts and stack them under the tree. During the days leading up to Christmas, I’d sit by the tree and gather the “Doug” gifts, shaking, weighing and wondering upon the contents of each pretty package.

Sometimes I think I enjoyed the presents more before I opened them. The fancy papers, the colored bows, the odd shapes, and the varying weights all were a feast for my young imagination. Augustine’s idea that true happiness is found in anticipation of the good was being proved even in my childlike world of wonder.

In a way, this may be why Christmas sometimes seems like a letdown for some children and adults. The anticipation of the event is far more delightful than the actual experience. We discover like Augustine that the good we longed for is still ahead of us and not found in the mere gifts we exchanged.

As he reflected upon our longing for the “good,” Augustine came to believe that this good must be outside of us or we wouldn’t long for it. Then he assumed it must be something greater than what our outer world could supply. Because all our earthly goods never live up to the longing we have.

As he wrestled with this unfulfilled longing, Augustine came to see this greater good as something or someone that would fulfill the “desire” within us that drives us to long. And eventually Augustine came to realize that this “good” must be God, and that true happiness was found on earth in the anticipation of God who is beyond us.

For him, true earthly happiness was found in the longing for the “beautiful vision” of God. We merely touch hints of this vision in present life and will only enjoy the complete vision in the life to come. So even in the delight of a Christmas present, Augustine might see hints of God’s wondrous love.

I like that because my delight with Christmas presents might be seen as an act of spiritual devotion. Then again, it might be my unbridled selfish desires. And oddly enough, I suppose it is really a mixture of both. And God in his grace is working and transforming me in spite of my selfish motives.

But for now, let me go back to the presents! I have a question for you. What is the most memorable present you have ever received? I asked myself this several days ago, and oddly enough, it’s not an easy question to answer. All the presents blur together in my mind. Sweaters and pants and shirts and toys and boxes and bows all jumble together in one confusing mix.

So I’m not sure I can answer the question. After a few days of consideration, I have begun to remember the Bozo riding in the Bozo car that still sits in my house to this day. Then I remembered a Fisher Price circus set and a golf ball yo-yo and a train. Oops now the memories are flooding my mind: multiple race tracks, G.I. Joe dolls, magic tricks, a chemistry set, and a Tootsie Roll machine. Now I can’t stop. On and on I could go for pages listing trinkets and toys that delighted me for seasons of my childhood.

I failed to mention that the first gift which came to mind was a broken toy: a little car with broken wheels. I hated this gift but remember it more than any other gift. My sister and I were attending a youth choir Christmas party. We exchanged gifts using numbers we drew from a hat.

When I opened my little package, I was shocked to find a used and broken toy. Sad to say, I burst into tears. “Why me Lord?” “Why in heaven would someone have given me a broken toy?” As usual, my sister came to the rescue. She quickly pooled some money with another girl, and they ran down to the bookstore to buy me a puzzle.

I appreciated her kindness but somehow always felt a tinge of guilt playing with that puzzle. Why was I so sensitive and selfish over such a small thing? The memory stills haunts me on occasion.

I still wonder, “What is the story on that broken car?” Who thought bringing a broken car as a gift was a good idea? Were they too poor to buy something? If so, maybe this little broken car was actually a treasured gift, and they were giving me something of great value.” I’ll never know the story before it came to me, but I can tell you the story after I received it. Discarded. Trashed. But not forgotten.

Every gift is not simply a gift. It is actually a story in motion. It had a story before I got it and in one way or another it becomes part of my story once I receive it. For every gift that someone bought for me over the years, there was a moment or many moments of wondering, “What would Doug want?” Or possibly, “What can I get the best deal on?”

A whole series of thoughts might have occupied someone’s mind: “What size does he wear?” “What color does he like?” “Maybe I’ll just get him a goofy toy and call it a day.” For every gift someone bought for me, a thought or series of thoughts passed through their mind about me.

Now I realize something rather odd about the gift. It is actually an extension or symbol of the relationship I enjoy with that person. They took a few minutes to think about me and to find a gift for me because I am in relationship with them (even if that relationship consists in simply feeling some obligation to buy something).

Now this might seem odd, but I come to realize that gifts are but symbols for persons in my life. The wonder of gifts might not only point to some deep longing for the God, they might also point to the wonder of human relationships.

Looking around me at all the people in my life, I realize that I am surrounded by all shapes and sizes of gifts. Some talkative. Some quiet. Some big. Some tiny. Some friendly. Some a bit grumpy. And yet, in the mystery of God’s grace all these people are gifts of love and relationship God has granted me in this life: hints of His divine and all-surpassing love.

I can admire the packages. Or I can open up the gifts. How? I listen, enjoy, appreciate the wonder of the people around me. I can realize that each of these people have a story that extends far beyond me. But in some mysterious way I am part of their story and they are part of my story.

Every person in my life will change me and I will change them. I can celebrate them and thank God for them, or I can act like I got a bunch of broken toys. And ask, “Why me?”

I hope I’ve learned that even broken toys have mystery and wonder and stories that may unfold surprising hints of God’s goodness and grace.

As I celebrate the 12 days of Christmas this year, I am opening up gifts. Not physical boxes, but the amazing wonder of people in my life. From family and friends to the mystery of the stranger in the story, I am surrounded by gifts of wonder and glory. May I have eyes to see this wonder and sense the stirrings of a love from deep heaven that binds us together in grace.

Doug Floyd

“From a human perspective, when you compare [God] to the other gods of the other religions in the world, you have to say our God is really sort of odd. He uses the most common of people, people that aren’t any different from any of us here; he comes in the most common of ways, when by his Spirit an anonymous young woman is found to be with child. And the strangest thing is that he comes at all—he’s not the Above-Us-God, too holy to come down. This God’s love is so immense that he wants to come down. And he has proven his love by the fact that he did come down and touch our ground.”
James R. Van Tholen, Where All Hope Lies (cited from ChristianityToday.com)

Forget About It

July 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Here’s an oldie but a goodie:

Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Fr many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others. – Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

Reminds me of something Maximas the Confessor says in his Four Centuries on Love. He cautions us not to remember the evil words or actions of our friends for in doing so, we will make it harder to love them purely. It’s so easy to be offended. But so much more fruitful to love forgetfully.

Categories: friendship, love Tags:

Thank You Notes – Kelly Floyd

For my inaugural thank you note, I wish to express my deep appreciation for the presence of Kelly Floyd in my life. Kelly is my wife of almost 20 years. Kelly taught me to think more practically. Her questions have often challenged my “ideal theories” and forced me to think in terms of the world we live in right now.

She models constructive confrontation both in the workplace and in her personal relationships. Even though my background is in communication and interpersonal relationships, I’ve learned more about speaking directly from her than I ever did from a class.

While there are more kudos she deserves, I’ll stop for now with those two gifts that challenge and inspire me.

Read all Thank You Notes.

Thank You Notes

I like reading lists such as top movies, top books, and top songs. Chris Tilling recently linked to Nijay Gupta’s list of Top Scholars that have influenced him. After reading his list, I thought about replicating the list with scholar who’ve influenced and shaped the way I ask questions of the Scripture and the world around me.

But I have such a hard time limiting lists. I started thinking about musicians, writers, and teachers who shaped my life. The quick list that flashed through my head included people who lived presently and who had lived in the past, but it also included people I know personally and people I don’t know. personally. Then an idea occurred to me. Instead of posting a list, I am going to start posting short “thank you notes” to people who have enriched my life in one way or another.

As such, this will be a never-ending list and there is no ranking. I will simply post “thanks yous” to people who have blessed me as a way of recording the rich circle of people who’ve graced me with their words, their talents and their presence.

Read all Thank You Notes.

Relationships, Houses and the Tabernacle

April 29, 2008 Leave a comment

doug and kelly house

We can begin to think more about how space and time intersect by considering the Tabernacle.

There are three areas related to the tabernacle: outer court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies. The Israelites can come to the outer court, but only priests can enter the Holy Place. And only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies at specific times and according to specific rules. The Holy Place is veiled from the eyes of those who are not priests, and the Holy of Holies is veiled from everyone except the High Priest.

Now consider a house. We build walls around a set a relationships we call family. Family members can freely come and go from the house, but the house may be locked to those outside the family. We put a solid veil or a door between the outside world and the inhabitants of the home.

The door represents more than a physical barrier. The relationships within the home are veiled to the outside world. Within the sacredness of family, there are guarded memories, conversations, and stories. The space of the house represents a sacred placed for shared relationships or shared time. Inviting someone to pass through the outer veil is an honor. By inviting them into our space, we are inviting them at one level into our shared time.

The dinner table might be likened to the Holy Place. At the dinner table, we eat (break bread) and drink (pour wine). The bread and the wine (or whatever the meal) becomes a point of contact for sharing space and time together.

As we eat and drink in the presence of one another, we begin to discard veils. If wine is present, it can help accentuate the removing of veils/inhibitions. As we let down our guard (our veils), we begin to speak.

Around the meal, we tell stories. We share the highlights of our day. We recall memories. We dream together. We think out loud. The dinner table is place of the gathered tribe where people (both in the ancient past and in our current world), learn identity, connect to a family, learn proper social behavior, learn patterns and rituals that will shape their memories and dreams for the rest of their lives.

The dinner table extends beyond the family (tribe) and is a place of forming treaties between tribes. Thus the dinner table has been a place for negotiating great decisions like marriage, peace, business and friendship.

Beyond the dinner table, there is one other room that bears an even weightier sense of the sacred: the bedroom. The bedroom is an exclusive place of protection for only the husband and the wife. Behind the veil of the bedroom door, the couple removes all veils (both physical and emotional).

The physical veil is easy to remove and comes off on the wedding night. But the emotional veils guard such precious secrets that they take years to removed. And unfortunately, some couples never develop the trust of vulnerability required to begin remove these inner emotional veils.

Removing a veil leaves a person naked and completely vulnerable. Isaiah experiences the intensity of such exposure in his vision of the Holy God. A similar (though much less invasive) exposure happens between a husband and a wife.

This removing of veils binds memories and dreams together in a way that makes the couple both physically and emotionally one. The bedroom can be a great gift of healing and transformation when properly guarded, allowing for deep vulnerability, deep trust and deep shared time.

The husband and wife relationship gives a glimpse of the relation between the person and God. By the Spirit (through Jesus), the veils are removed one-by-one as we grow from glory-to-glory. Eventually we will truly behold Him with unveiled face—and we will be changed, glorified in the light of His love.

Without the Spirit’s grace of gently unveiling, exposing and transforming, the glory of the unveiled soul would be painful and terrifying much like Isaiah’s encounter and the encounter of the Israelites on the side of Mt. Sinai. This unveiling exposes our weaknesses, our sins, our absolute need for mercy and grace. Without mercy and grace, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.

Thus the gift of a home begins to help us understand how space becomes a place which serves time: the sharing of memories and dreams and the essential mystery that forms us as unique persons.

Losing Touch with Old Loves and Old Friends

March 22, 2008 2 comments

Lucinda captures a certain grief in the fading of old relationships with her song “Out of Touch.”

Once in awhile we might pass on the street
We nod we smile and we shuffle our feet
Making small talk standing face to face
Hands in our pockets cause we feel so out of place

This simple song reveals the uncomfortable feelings of relationships that have lost the reciprocity of life. No more shared stories, no more share love, no more shared pain. There is a fading past but no hope of a shared future. Lucinda describes minor details of a meeting between two people who once knew each other to magnify the sense of loss.

Our paths may cross again in some crowded bar
We feel a little lost cause we’ve drifted away so far
Hoping to find the right words to say
We joke a little and then go on our way

The uncomfortable laughter covers our loss. Without the living memories of shared life there simply isn’t much to say. And so,

We speak in past tense and talk about the weather
Half broken sentences we try to piece together

Even the pain of physical death and suicide becomes simply information submerged beneath this cry out into the emptiness of lost love.

I ask about an old friend that we both used to know
You said you heard he took his life about five years ago

As she utters the final lines, I feel the ache of loss inside. I am made aware of friends that I once dreamed beside who have become simply another person in another car going to another place.

We may pass each other on the interstate
We honk and cross over to the other lane
Everybody’s going somewhere everybody’s inside
Hundreds of cars hundreds of private lives
We are so out of touch yeah

And as I grieve the lost relationships from yesterday, I ache for restoration and world where love never fades.

Categories: friendship, love, Music
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