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Rhythms of Love

August 6, 2010 5 comments

Photo by Filhi bahthi photography via Creative Commons

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, reading, thinking…sitting. Music is n the background. “Celebrate Good Times” begins to play. And suddenly the celebration breaks into my world, my reading, thinking, sitting. My head starts nodding. Soon my shoulders join in. The sounds that were outside me seem to be reverberating from inside me, and my body is moving to the rhythm. Looking around I notice other people responding, moving, smiling. We exchange glances. In a room of strangers, the rhythm visibly connects us for few brief moments.

I’ve had experiences like this in stores, parks, churches and living rooms. The rhythm breaks in upon us and suddenly the room, the people are connected and moving to an unseen current. Music fascinates me, moves me, breaks in upon me. It comes from outside me through a speaker, a guitar, a drum, a singer. But soon it is inside me at the same time. My body, my mind, my emotions all respond, all echo back the rhythm. Somehow I’m connected, caught up in the rhythm.

And oddly, it lingers inside long after the music has stopped playing. The sounds, the words, the feel continues to resound within me. Though I speak about myself, I believe I’m describing an experience that is real for most of us. One moment we’re sitting alone and the next moment we’re caught up in an ocean of sounds that moves us, fills us, connects us.

Not all songs move us in the same ways. Hearing different songs can stir different feelings and different thoughts. For some strange reason, I used to force myself to listen to all sorts of music as some kind of imagined training. In college, I’d sit in the music lounge for hours soaking in all sorts of sounds. I’d join Columbia House Music Club again and again and again. I also joined the “Classical Heritage Society” and the “Jazz Heritage Society.” I’d listen to music I loved and oddly enough music I hated.

I remember picking up John Coltrane’s “Sun Ship” as yet another attempt at my musical education. I never figured it out. There were a few shining moments, but most of the time, I was immersed in chaos. I couldn’t hear one dominant rhythm. Instead, I felt caught up in a swirl of chaos. The music was disorienting.

It made me think of being caught up in the currents of a raucous ocean. Once my dad and I decided to “catch some big waves” by swimming at Myrtle Beach in the middle of an electrical storm. My mom was screaming and pacing up and down the shore while my dad and I were laughing and waving. It was fun but also disorienting. The currents above and below the surface pulled, pushed and turned us all around. When we finally decided to get out of the water, we had a hard time. The undercurrent resisted our every step.

I can only imagine the stress, confusion and disorientation of being caught in a storm at sea. With no land in sight, with no instruments of orientation, it’s easy to see how one could be truly lost of sea. I understand that pilots can experience a similar disorientation in the air. Without reference to his instruments, a pilot may literally not know which way is up. It is now believed that John F. Kennedy Jr.’s lethal crash into the sea in 1999 was a result of spatial disorientation. He thought he was flying up and flew straight into the water.

The currents of air and water and sound waves can propel us forward but also disorient us. We could be going forward; we could be going backward. We may lose our sense of direction.

We are immersed in a world of currents and rhythms. From the beating of our own heart to the fury of storm winds to the pounding of rain, we live in all kinds of rhythms and forces that impact us both inwardly and outwardly. There are also rhythms or currents of ideas, emotions, memories, and symbols that move through culture. The force of these rhythms are just as powerful as the physical force of ocean currents that move above and below the surface.

We cannot step outside of the rhythms of our world. We are all born at a time and place. We are born immersed in families and towns and eras with specific rhythms and struggles and currents. If I am born into a world where slavery is the norm, it will be very difficult for me to resist or act or think outside this force. If I am born into a land at war, I may have no memory of peace and find it difficult to even understand peace. If I am born into a family where divorce is the norm, I may repeat the pattern in my own life or never even marry.

Like the watery chaos of Psalm 46, all of us know the chaos of a world of conflicting ideas and emotions, of undercurrents that impact our dreams and our actions. The music of Scripture breaks into this world of competing currents with a strange alien rhythm. Sometimes when people first read the Bible, it might seem a bit disorienting. It should be. In fact, if it’s never disorienting we may not be paying close enough attention. The Word of the Lord breaks into our world as a challenge to the false rhythms of idolatry and oppression that reverberate on our planet.

In ancient Egypt, we discover the Hebrews trapped in a world of enslavement, oppression, and manipulation. The Word of the Lord breaks into this world as an alien rhythm, challenging the power structures and the whole conception of reality. After leading these nameless, powerless slaves into freedom, the LORD calls these people, His people and He gives them His rhythms that are rooted in love to God and love to man.

In Psalm 1, we hear a song inviting us to meditate or groan aloud these rhythms of love and worship and respect and honor. These rhythms directly challenge the constant rhythms in the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers. The world of the wicked, sinners and scoffers is built in resistance to the love of God and is rooted in self-preservation. It always leads to oppression and devastation. As the Psalmist sings, he reminds us that currents of the wicked produce a crop of chaff, of nothingness.

Like the disappearing world in “The Neverending Story,” the Psalmist realizes the end result of wickedness. Not some kind of naughty pleasure, but rather to destruction of all relationships, of all meaning, of all hope, of all beauty. The end result is absurd nothingness that blows away in the wind. There is only one sound powerful enough to withstand the gale force of oppression and emptiness: it is Torah, the Law of the Lord. The Psalmist proclaims that those who dwell, live, abide in this Law of Love will bear fruit in all seasons.

Yet even as I’m caught up the wondrous promise of the Psalmist, I am aware of my own duplicity. There are times when I speak words of love and life and encouragement. There are times when the rhythms of love seem to resonate in my every fibre. And yet, I know the fruit of selfishness. I hear James speaking directly to me when he cries out, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” I am not the man who lives in Torah day and night. I am the man who aspires to live in Torah but knows the way of hatred and anger and mockery all too well.

Isaiah says that the Lord looks for one true man, but found no one.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there
was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him. (Is 59:15-16)

He enters into our watery grave of idolatry. He entered into the alien rhythms of all world in complete resistance to love, a world that cannot build without breaking, cannot speak without cursing, cannot embrace with killing. Jesus, the Son of God, comes as the one true man. He steps into this world of complete disorientation where no one knows how to step forward and everyone stumbles in the dark. He comes as the true light. In His light, in His path, in His words, we behold the true and genuine rhythms of love. He is the God-Man from Psalms 1 who dwells and lives and acts in Holy Love. He enfleshes Torah, he embodies truth, He reveals the Father. He reveals Love between the Son and the Father. In His Life, His Death and His Resurrection He sets in motion reverberations of life that continue resounding and will eventually stop every false rhythm–even death.

So we turn to Him. We behold Him. We cry out to Him, “Lord have mercy.” It is then that we realize, He has embraced us and His song is beating in our heart. Yes, we are still learning His song, but we are no longer adrift in a sea of chaos. The music of the heavens is pulsing through us. Ours heads, our hands and our feet are beginning to dance.

Jeremy Begbie suggests that music itself is not hope but it is a dynamic of hope because it is sweeping us forward. In Christ, we are caught up in a true dynamic of hope. We are joined together in a song of love the will not fail but will overcome every false rhythm and conquer every lying word.

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.

Mei Yao Ch’en on Spring, Death and Beauty

March 1, 2010 1 comment

(Photo used with permission, "Potential" by jspad)

When I sit down to read, I like to begin with poetry as a means of opening my hears to hear more clearly. Poetry slows my pace, stirs my heart and helps me to focus in the moment. Lately, I’ve been reading Kenneth Rexroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.

Mei Yao Ch’en (1002-1060) writes beautiful poems of loss and death. Mei Yao Ch’en gives voice to real sorrow while still voicing creation’s praise. He captures the wonder and terror of the world in a single moment. Even in death, he is overcome by the unstoppable force of life all around, and must give voice to the glory.

1,000 years later, I am overcome with the life that continues to burst from his heart.

On the Death of a New Born Child

The flowers in bud on the trees
Are pure like this dead child.
The East wind will not let them last.
It will blow them into blossom,
And at last into the earth.
It is the same with this beautiful life
Which was so dear to me.
While his mother is weeping tears of blood,
Her breasts are filling with milk.

Mei Yao Ch’en

(If interested, you can also read some of Rexroth’s translations online.)

How to Defeat our Enemies

August 28, 2009 Leave a comment

In our current culture of vindictive speech and hate-spewing on the left and the right, I think this video (via Cory Doctorow) might offer another model for engaging with humor and kindness.

Categories: Video Tags: , , , , ,

What is a Christian?

August 28, 2009 Leave a comment
they smile with their love (uploaded by t3xtures)

they smile with their love (uploaded by t3xtures)

“The Christian religion consists in becoming inebriated with love.”
Richard Wurmbrand

2nd Commandment as Praise

June 29, 2009 Leave a comment

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deut 5:8-10)

We sing your praise most glorious Lord and Creator of all things in heaven above, on earth beneath and in the water beneath the earth. By your great and gracious word, you’ve taught us that all things were created in and through the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice Father that you created all things in and through Your Son Jesus by the power of your Spirit.

And even as we are in awe of the wonders of this world, we know and reaffirm that all things that exists exist because they were created in and through Jesus. So in and through all things do we lift up holy praise to the Lord Jesus Christ who chose to enter into His Creation, and fully reveal the Father. And we realize that no image in creation can be worship and glorified outside of you. For you alone are worthy all praise and honor and glory and wisdom.

Jesus, the true image, the express image, the icon of God. For in Jesus, we behold the Father by the Spirit. And we are changed. The glory of the Son changes us into His Image that we might become the image of God for which we were created.

We rejoice in this world of splendor. We rejoice in the stars and sun and moon. We rejoice in the lush world of plants and trees and rocks and hills. We rejoice in the birds in the air, the squirrels and rabbits and every living thing. We stand in awe of the majesty of the soaring eagle and the boundless energy of the newborn puppy. We rejoice in the streams and rivers and ocean. In the fish of the deep sea and the myriad of other living things that teem beneath the surface.

You created us with five senses to experience and enjoy the heavens above, the earth below and the sea beneath the earth. We rejoice in the soft scent of mountain laurel and in the drunken winds that carry the aroma of honeysuckle. We delight in the pungent taste fresh tomatoes, the fiery flavor of salsa and the sweet intoxication of chocolate cake.

Thank for the gift of music that washes over our ears with joyous melodies and the bittersweet songs of love and life. To behold the brilliant colors of flowers and fish and birds, fills us with joy and awe. And gazing upon the streams of gold and pink and blue and yellow in the setting sun bring rapturous delight.

We are grateful for soothing feel of warm water and the cool breeze across our skin. What a gift is the embrace of friends and lovers and the healing touch of one person to another.

Thank you Lord for this world of physical experiences, this world of beauty, this world of breathtaking sights and heart-shaking sounds.

In all these wonders, glory: the glory of the Lord shining out from the vast and bountiful world. Everywhere we turn, we are overawed by you Oh Lord and the glory of Your creation.

And the greatest glory of this earth is the man and woman created to bear and reveal your image and glory. In every relation Lord, we rejoice in you.

In watching the father instructing his children or the mother caring for their needs, we rejoice in your constant and unfailing care. We rejoice in Your Spirit that teaches and guides us in the way of truth. In beholding the loving bond of brothers and sisters, we rejoice in you Lord Jesus who is the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

In the love of a man and a women, we rejoice Lord Jesus in your love for your people and by Your Spirit, raising us up together with you and the Father in a communion of love. You have loved and have loved and have loved your people. And you great and wondrous love extends from to generation to generation to generation. We rest in your faithful love, and we rejoice in this world of wonder you’ve given us as home.

1st Commandment as Praise

June 28, 2009 Leave a comment


I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Deut 4:6-7

Thank you Father for rescuing us from the house of slavery. In your great and wondrous grace, you’ve adopted us into your family. You’ve rescued us from the folly of our own foolishness. We were taken captive by our own lusts and desires. We not only turned away from you but we turned away from one another. Our selfish desires led us astray and we fell captive to unforgiveness, self-pity, inglorious imagination. Seeking to be wise we became fools and worship created things and people instead of worshipping you, the Creator of all things.

In our despair and confusion, you remembered us. In our state of war against you and your kingdom, you loved us. Like the only true Father, you came to us in our confusion and rebellion, and you rescued us.

You’ve led us forward into the wideness of your grace, and we are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by your unstoppable love. Overwhelmed by your songs of deliverance. Overwhelmed by the joy of your salvation.

You’ve freed us from the tents of wickedness and welcomed us into the house of the righteous where we feast upon you and your goodness. As the only good and gracious Father, you shower us with ever good thing and all we can do is rejoice. Thank you oh great and gracious Father. May your Spirit teach us to sing anthems of praise to your name. Blessed the Lord, God Almighty, Our Father and Protector and Provider and Royal King both now and forever. We rest in Your embrace.

Psalm 124

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Psalm 124

Stepping out into steady drip, drip, drip of an early morning rain, Victor walks toward home. The cool, crisp air greets him as soft water streaks down his face, reminding him that he is alive. Alive.

The greenness of the grass washes over his eyes, the sweet smell of spring flowers mixed with the earthy smells of mud and trees intoxicates him. He looks around and beholds a new world. A new creation.

Fallen trees and leaf-covered paths suggest a heavy rain had passed through this place. A deluge. But now the devastation of last night’s storm has given way to a gentle sun penetrating the soft, spring rain flowing into rivulets along the road.

Overcome with thanksgiving, he stops walking and lifts up his hands and to proclaim,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.(Psalm 124:1-5)

This Psalm burned in Victor’s soul as he meditated upon the words day after day after day for the past 15 years. Plunged into prison for his faith, he was starved, beaten, mocked, and drugged. Despair engulfed him, darkness choked him, death drew near.

Day after day after day his confession of faith was tested. The enemy came like a flood, swallowing Victor’s faith and and hope and love. Yet the Lord was faithful even when Victor felt the last vestige of faith slipping from his soul.

He thought the world forgot and feared that God forgot. From the depths of Sheol, he cried out to the Lord. “Remember me!”

And He did. In the place of forsakenness, Victor encountered the faithful love of the Lord that lasts forever.

And strangely, in this place of pain and loneliness, he also met a company of friends. As the prison swallowed Victor alive, he remembered Jonah plunged in the bowels of the great fish. As he faced year after year of suffering and hardship, he remembered the Israelites breaking under the harsh whip of Pharaoh.

In heart of darkness, he met King David crouched and hiding in a cave; Jeremiah in a sinking dark well; and Paul being stoned and left for dead. As He descended down in the dark chasms of suffering, Victor came to realize he lived in a great company of saints. In the mystery of God’s encircling love, he rested in this family of the not forsaken.

One vague story haunted him in the dark watches of the night. Again and again his mind returned to the 3rd century story of St. Julian, an old man accused of following Christ. Tormented and crippled by gout, Julian was carried into the court for trial. This frail and broken man stood without waver in the face of judgment and destruction.

Victor dreamed. And as he dreamed, he encountered Julian.

“Get up!” The gruff voice of an old soldier wakens Julian from his momentary dozing. Stiffly and slowly his rises. His shoulder is dislocated and his swollen feet feel like clods of earth attached to his legs. Julian hobbles towards the guard with a secret smile.

Today he is going home. As he walks, his shackles fall away, and Julian is free. He is going home. He thinks of himself like a bird getting ready to fly. And he remembers an old psalm and silently sings:

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped! (Psalm 124:6-7)

Dried blood cracks along deep cuts, and fresh streams wash down his back. Once again a secret smile. Julian remembers another washing.

Long ago in another age, he was plunged into waters of life. As Julian was immersed into the waters of life in death, he remembered and was remembered.

The Lord gathered this poor and forgotten boy into the family of God. The joy of this embrace gave him a song that never ceased. And like a bird from the heavens, he never stopped singing Psalms of thanksgiving to Lord who put him in family.

Today the song bubbles just beneath the surface. For in the great and merciful love of his Lord, Julian now enjoys the honor of another baptism. And in this great cleansing, he feels giddy like a young a boy with the fire of life.

Again and again, the dreams of Julian encouraged Victor and reminded Him of God’s unfailing love. Today as Victor leaves the prison and walks home, he envisions Julian walking home alongside him.

He soaks in the cool rain, the mud-soaked ground, and gentle mist floating over the fields. At the edge of the field stands on old stone house. Crossing the path, he walks toward two people working in the morning drizzle: the wife of his youth and his boy become a man.

A song flies upward from his mouth to the throne of God. As he sings, he tastes the sweet joy of St. Julian.

Tears of joy flood Julian’s face as he climbs the cold, stone steps one last time. The joy inside him overpowers the twisted and broken limbs and for a moment, he walks upright before the cheering crowd. Soon he will be home, but first another promised baptism. As Julian walks into the raging fire, his secret song explodes out from his lungs in a psalm of praise.

Julian’s and Victor’s voices join the chorus of David, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the people of God walking home to the Father:

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

The Weakness of Love

March 20, 2009 4 comments

There are times when the symbols, the dreams, the vision of our world comes crashing down. We look for God.

But He is silent.

Throughout much of the Bible He is silent. We can remember when He spoke the Word of Life that woke our heart to love. This Word came as a fresh spring, as pure joy, as heaven’s bounty. But then in the dire anguish of suffering: silence. Nothing. Where did He go?

We grope. We ache. We wonder. We grieve. We grow weary. We may even curse and shake our fist at the heavens. Or in the blinding grip of life’s struggles, we may simply turn away and look for lesser gods. The gods of technology. The gods of sexuality. The gods of spirituality and religion. We turn to gods of our own making for comfort and satisfaction.

Strangely, these self-made gods have real power. But the power is not freeing. It does not lead us to deeper and truer love. It stirs in us lust for power. Power to control. Power to protect.

I will never hurt again if I can control this situation, this person, the job, this group, this family, this church. We seek refuge in the slavery of other gods, other pharaohs.

Sadly, the gods of our making really do enslave us. Really do cut us off from the freedom of love. Enslaved by the passions, we can no longer love or be loved. We simply lust to consume, and so we are consumed. The gods of our making not only enslave, they eventually kill us. Our families may die. Our friendships may die. Our churches may die.

Everything we once held dear may be sacrificed to the idols of our making. Our beautiful homes are filled with beautiful furniture and broken people. Families, marriages, children that have been offered to the gods of our consumption, to the ravages of passion, to the coldness of convenience.

In the pain of great loss, we may brood and rage and then repeat our deadly rituals to new gods of death and indifference.

Into the darkness of our self made tombs, the shuddering silence pierces us. The Lord extends an invitation of freedom. He speaks to the entombed heart, “Come forth!” He does not invite us to a life void of suffering. We awake to a world where hurts still hurt and pain is still very real. And His Silence is still Present.

But instead of control. Instead of a method or a god to control the pain, we are asked to simply trust. Let go of control. Let go of trying to live pain free and sorrow free. Let go into the promise of God’s faithful love.

This complete love is revealed Word-made-Flesh. Jesus the God and King who embraces our suffering, who bears our sorrows, drinks full the cup of pain and suffering that floods our world. And yet, He continues to love. Hanging from the cross of shame, He looks upon those who are taking His life and cries out, “Father forgive them.”

Some suggest this was weakness. And that our God is weak and frail and the Creator of weaklings. They are right. It is weak but not powerless. There is power in brute force and power in absolute weakness.

Brute force requires someone else to sacrifice for my satisfaction. Brute force will master and control for a short season. But it is no match for the power of absolute weakness.

Jesus reveals the absolute weakness of love.

Love completely trusts the Lover and in so doing becomes all power and all glory and all wisdom and all strength both now and forevermore.

Following the call of Jesus, does not mean learning how to control this world and avoid all pain. It means trusting in the love of the Father. The unfailing love. In this mystery of trust, we might, by His great and wondrous grace, learn to love. We might become the true and complete images of God that have moved beyond the childlike power of creating and controlling to the uncontainable power of loving relentlessly.

Then the call of God and the cry of our soul become one: “Let me love God with all that I am and love other people with all that I am.” May love prevail in thought, words, deeds.

Have mercy Lord. We are weak. Make us weaker still.

As I wrote this meditation, I was think about a quote from a book I read several years ago called, The Heart of the World by Hans Urs Von Balthasar. I think this quote is worth reading and rereading as we traverse along the Lenten byways.

And now God’s Word saw that his descent could entail nothing but his own death and ruination—that his light must sink down into the gloom—he accepted the battle and the declaration of war. And he devised the unfathomable ruse: he would plunge, like Jonas into the monster’s belly and thus penetrate death’s innermost lair; he would experience the farthest dungeon of sin’s mania and drink the cup down to the dregs; he would offer his brow to man’s incalculable craze for power and violence; in his own futile mission, he would demonstrate the futility of the wolrd; in his impotent obedience to the Father, he would visibly show the impotence of revolt; through his own weakness unto death he would bring to light the deathly weakness of such a despairing resistance to God; he would let the world do its will and thereby accomplish the will of the Father; he would grant the world its will, thereby breaking the world’s will; he would allow his own vessel to be shattered, thereby pouring himself out; by pouring out one single drop of the divine Heart’s blood he would sweeten the immense and bitter ocean. This was intended to be the most incomprehensible of exchanges: from the most extreme opposition would come the highest union, and the might of his supreme victory was to prove itself in his utter disgrace and defeat. For his weakness would already be the victory of his love for the Father, and as a deed of his supreme strength, this weakness would far surpass and sustain in itself the world’s pitiful feebleness. He alone would henceforth be the measure and thus also the meaning of all impotence. He wanted to sink to low that in the future all falling would be a falling into him, and every streamlet of bitterness and despair would henceforth run down into his lowermost abyss.
No fighter is more divine than the one who can achieve victory through defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he strikes love and is thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves what had to be proven: that it is indeed love. Once struck, the hate-filled opponent recognizes his boundaries and understands: behave as he pleases, nevertheless he is bounded on every side by a love that is great than he. Everything he may fling at love—insults, indifference, contempt, scornful derision, murderous silence, demonic slander—all of it can ever but prove love’s superiority; and the black the night, the more radiant does love shine.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar from “The Heart of the World”

Gran Torino Redeeming the American Icon

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment

dirty_harryClint Eastwood, like John Wayne, embodied the American icon. From the mysterious cowboys to the gun-toting Dirty Harry, many of his characters embodied traits that Americans readily identify: loners, anti-establishment, rebels, smart, pragmatic and intentional or unintentional redeemers of the downcast. In his recent, Gran Torino, Eastwood plays yet another loner, Walt Kowalski.

At the beginning of the film, his wife just died and he obviously has no relation with his children. Mr. Kowalski, as he prefers to be called, relates better to his dog than to other humans. He lives in a neighborhood that has gradually become home to a predominant minority Hmong population. His unflinching expletives and racial comments seem funny because they are so over the top, much like a Don Rickles performance.

Early in the film Kowalski gets caught up in a conflict with a gang that is harassing his neighbor. And in strange twist of events, this supposed racist becomes a savior for the Hmong family. Up to this point, Eastwood is playing the icon exactly according to the American mythic narrative.

We as a nation would just as soon keep to ourselves. We get in wars only when forced. We don’t want to be a part of some big global cooperative. We’d prefer to go it alone. And yet, we dream that we are really the world’s savior. Whether our mythic values are truly lived or not, Americans consistently reflect variations in our icons.

But then something odd happens. Kowalski is changed by the Hmong family. A Hmong shaman speaks the same words of wisdom that Kowalski’s priest has been trying to teach him. On multiple levels the family enters his life and begins to soften his heart and teach him how to life. Since he knows a lot more about dying.

Spoiler alert: As Walt softens, he can finally enter into relationship with other people including his priest. He is becoming more human. As he begins to live, he offers something Dirty Harry was incapable of offering. He loves. In his love, he is willing to die for the relationship, so that the Hmong family can really be helped instead of a temporary fix through an act of violence and vengeance.

In one act of sacrifice, Walt becomes father to the Hmong boy, judge to the gang, healer to the Hmong family and possibly even a prophet to his own family. Eastwood connects with the American icon but then challenges us to enter into relationship and to learn that sacrifice may open doors that power and violence cannot.

As I dream of what America could be, I am going to keep thinking about Walt Kowalski and the power of modeling the cross, laying down my life on behalf of those I love. And if I follow the rhythm of the gospel, this means loving my enemies as well as my friends.

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