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The force of ethnic tabus should have repealed Mechab, should have driven him away, should have formed an unassailable barrier between Mechab and this man.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

Christian Action springs from a communion of love

October 8, 2007 1 comment

“Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Von Balthasar lays out a vision of Christian action based upon the revelation of Jesus and fully revealed in his self-emptying devotion on the cross. This action is rooted in a completely free communion of love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

Christian action outside this revelation of love becomes pure ethics and is drained of the relational content of love’s revelation. Without this relation, action can become subject to necessity because it is not free in love. Think of Jesus action in the cross. It proceeds from the love of the Father and returns to the love of the Father. His action is an incarnation of Lover and Beloved. Just as the Son lives in this pure relation of lover and beloved with the Father, He reveals this love to a world at enmity with God.

His incarnation reveals God’s intention to relate to His people as Lover and Beloved. Von Balthasar references the Song of Solomon to emphasize that Lover and Beloved are complete within their mutual reciprocation of love. This love is not dependent upon producing children but is free of necessity and complete in itself.

The love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit is a complete love that needs nothing outside the relation to bring completion. Creation does not make God’s love more real. God’s love does not necessitate creating. The love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit is complete (completely fulfilling and fulfilled).

There is no unmet longing within God. While human happiness necessitates a longing beyond ourselves, the love of God is free of necessity. This is difficult for us to grasp because we do not live in this reality. As result, without something new outside the circle of reciprocal love, we might tend to think this love, this relation will growing tiresome, boring. That reveals our own incapacity for complete love that is free of necessity.

With this idea of a completely fulfilled love within the relation of the Godhead, Von Balthasar continues to lay out a picture of love that has no motive, no unfulfilled eros, no longing beyond the mutual reciprocity of love. For images of this among humans, Von Balthasar turns to Mary when she pours out the costly vial on Jesus’s feet. Her act is pure response to love, thus it appears as useless to outside eyes. (This useless outpouring of love makes me think of Chuang Tzu’s useless tree.)

Christian action springs from the freedom of a loving communion between Lover and Beloved. Enveloped in the ongoing communion of lover and beloved, the Christian moves from love and toward love. Only now can Von Balthasar begin to discuss dogmatic theology and offer his definition that “Dogmatic theology is the articulation of the conditions of possibility of Christian action in light of revelation.”

Thus all Christian action is a secondary reaction to the primary action of God as Lover and Beloved. Taken up into this communion by the Holy Spirit, the Christian simply responds and acts in this self-emptying love as most fully revealed in the cross. In the cross, God reconciles his enemies. When the enemy is not even on speaking terms, God acts to bring reconciliation.

In Christ, He enters into the gulf of sin and suffering that ripples across our world. Entering into the very gulf of death created by such violations of love, God both both judges and offers complete rectitude by taking the division, the suffering, the separation into Himself. The cross is both historical (occurring at a fixed point in space and time) and ahistorical (anticipating the revelation of love’s ultimate triumph when all creation is reconciled to God).

Thus the Christian acts (incompletely and partially) in love at a fixed point in time and space while still anticipating the triumph of love in that action (complete and absolute). Von Balthasar calls this action parousial. The act of love that anticipates the sudden revealing of complete love in all creation.

The Christian also acts in faith. While not ignoring the faults of others in the world around him, the Christian is to look with eyes of faith at Jesus’ action in the cross. By the grace of the Spirit, the Christian is taken up into the communion of suffering found within the cross. Only in the place of the cross, does the Christian begin to behold the knowledge of the love of God. Thus loving action cannot be separated from a loving communion that is rooted in self-emptying love.

Von Balthasar offers many points for consideration and reflection: a love without necessity, loving action that is both universal and particular/historical and ahistorical, action rooted in the communion of self-emptying love, and a knowledge rooted in loving communion as revealed in the cross.

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Free Lecture about Martin Luther King Jr.

January 12, 2007 Leave a comment

Take a few moments this weekend to reflect on the embodied ideas revealed through Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. I got an email from the Teaching Company for this free MP3 download about MLK’s life and ideas. For those who are perptually wanting to learn and and relearn the things we should have learned years ago, the Teaching Company is a pretty cool resource.

Here’s a  littl excerpt from the site about the lecture:

Join Professor Dalton on this intriguing examination of Dr. King’s personal quest for freedom. You’ll explore how this courageous Baptist minister interpreted Christ’s concern for spiritual freedom and applied the nonviolent teachings of Christ and Mahatma Gandhi to race relations in the United States in the 1960s. Hear how Dr. King also developed the connection between freedom and justice that ultimately inspired history-making events such as the Montgomery bus boycott and Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a public, segregated bus. These events, and others that Dr. King inspired, paved the way for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision declaring Alabama’s—and thus the nation’s—segregation laws unconstitutional. (download here)

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