Learning to Love: The Bible and Ethics in Conversation (Full Interview)
CCT Director Evan Rosa interviews Wyndy Corbin-Reuschling and Jeannine Brown on the nature and application of love in contemporary society.
Jeannine, Wyndy, thanks for being with me. I’m so excited to bring, Jeannine, your perspective on Biblical scholarship and New Testament studies and Wyndy, your perspectives on Christian ethics together for a conversation on the meaning of love and its applications in contemporary society. I think I’d start by saying love is complicated, especially as you look out in the societal context that we’re a part of right now.
There’s a setting, a context of fear, of anxiety and so we receive the teachings, the moral, spiritual teachings of Jesus in a societal environment that is on edge. Where those same moral teachings that we want to see take effect cause quite a stir, and often generate more heat than light. So what I hope we could start with is by talking about this complicated, complex nature of the context that we’re in, and where does love find its place? Wyndy, what do you think about that?
Yeah, I mean it’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? That our popular culture is not devoid of the language of love. From something as simple to, “We love the Thai food “that we just had for lunch with you, Evan,” to love of spouse… Love is a word that is pervasive and at the same time it is pervasive, it is also meaningless. When we come to understand what its nature actually is.
It’s usage is so what, far-reaching?
Well, it just becomes so, and it becomes so thin.
After a while, and the fact that love, we can’t, we don’t often use the word love in connection with relationships and instead with connection with objects, makes the relational dimensions of love hidden in many ways. I think the other thing that seems to be going on currently… I have two observations about what seems to be going on currently. Is one, there just seems to be in times of chaos and confusion that a human desire for simplicity.
You know, “If we could just go back “to such-and-such a time.” Or, “If people would just get right with God.” We take complex issues and we really want to find very simple solutions, so kind of a 1960s trope, you know, “All we need is love.” And I was just finishing reading a book by Margaret Farley called “Just Love”, where she says, “Love isn’t “the solution, love has been the problem, the lack of love in very particular ways that have harmed human beings.”
So I think that, just this desire for simplicity, I think we miss the dimensions that love is actually a practice that occurs in very complex kinds of relationships.
You say love is the problem. One way to read that is the teachings of Jesus to love are so radical that it creates these demands on us that are very difficult to fulfill. Jeannine, I wonder if you could speak to that.
Sure, absolutely. I really resonate with that sense that it’s such a complex topic, and love has become… It means so much things, that when we come to say, “Well, the answer is just love,” which one of those many things are we then talking about? Is it a warm feeling? Is it relational? Is it just this more kind of, it feels like it’s this Band-Aid approach to the problems we have, the fears, the anxieties that are deep, the complex world we live in, if we could just all love.
One thing that I think Matthew’s gospel offers as we think about the theme of love across Matthew is that love is some of the language we get, and we can think about how to define that in terms of Matthew’s gospel, but we also get these other core values of, and we hear them lined up nicely in Matthew 23:23, justice, mercy and loyalty, convenantal loyalty. And those three things feel much more particular than love and for Matthew is seems that, and Klyne Snodgrass argues this in his work on Matthew and the law, that love is sort of that overarching rubic, so these are three of things that help to ground it.
Am I doing what is just? Am I doing what is merciful? Am I following loyally my God and living in relationships with others in loyalty. That just feels to me like it gets more feet on love, or more hands in there, it particularizes it, and that’s helpful.
And that’s a fascinating parallel to Micah 6:8 passage.
And I think…
Evan: To law and justice.
Matthew goes there. I do believe that’s an evocation. There’s an evoking of that text, right? To justice, mercy and walking humbly with our God. Which is that covenant loyalty piece.
It’s so tempting, even with justice, right, to think of love as a theory, and even justice as a theory. So all of the ink spilt, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but all of the discussions that end up to be quite abstract, so the grand theories of love and the grand theories of justice, that, when I read scripture and when I think about the claims that come to me through scripture, there’s a very active component, you know? We’re not taught to ideate about justice, we are…
Jeannine: Called to do it.
Called to do it. And it’s within the context of this, kind of theological context, about God’s intentions for humanity and what this restorative work looks like. And I think we do the same with love.
The grand theorizing, when the painful, I think, part of scripture, and that seems to me that comes to us in the parables, is when people are asking Jesus the greatest commands. Jesus has answers, and the references back to the grand teachings of the faith, but often Jesus seems to give the response to love in the parables. Which makes it painful, ’cause it’s just concrete, so we have somebody like the Good Samaritan and…
Right, who’s my neighbor?
That’s right, that’s right, and I think, so I don’t know, Evan, so maybe part of the answer, I think, to your first question is that I think as humans we seem to both crave simplicity and we kind of like abstractions because abstractions make very few claims on us.
And I would say that
Wyndy: The tension I feel.
The academy as well, of which we’re a part, likes abstraction a little bit too much as well. We need it, it’s part of how we think critically, and yet pulling to the most abstract way of understanding something isn’t the ideal that it sometimes presumes to be. So this kind of grounding it in really particular actions.
What I love about the gospels besides Jesus’ teaching on the parables as illustrations of love is just the way, for example, in Matthew again, justice is actually something attributed to Jesus and then we get to see what’s just about what he is doing? What’s merciful about what he is doing? How is he fulfilling covenant loyalty to his tradition, to the Old Testament, to Judaism? So this kind of sense of we get to see Jesus in particularities and he also has harsh words for varieties of people, right? Especially Pharisees, Jewish leaders that we hear, and so how do we reconcile that with the loving thing to do and say?
So you have to jump in and think particularly even as we look at the scriptures, because they don’t allow us these more abstract places unless we decide that’s where we’re gonna go with this conversation. We’re gonna take what’s in scripture and principlize it out, and then think about it theoretically. And some level of that is necessary to pull out and explore and look across, but I told my students, “Let’s stay at about 30 feet off the ground instead of 10,000 feet.” Between our world and the scriptures.
So we’re just kind of moving back and forth rather than way up there to the abstract place, and then what does that mean for our reading of scripture or meaning for our life in this world? It feels like it loses something on the way down, between 10,000 feet and the ground.
Perhaps that’s because there’s this great call and need for loving action, the experience of love, the giving and receiving of it, in specific, everyday life environments. Those places that abstraction, it feels like, it’s too high off the ground to notice, or it’s too inflated to make it into these areas of nuance and complexity where there’s just this primal call, as Jean Fonday would say, a primal call, just to be loved, and to give and receive it.
One place that I’d really us to probe and press is the call to enemy love. So in Matthew five we have this hard teaching, you might say, of Jesus’, to love your enemy and pray for the one that persecutes you. How do we make sense of that in such, really, in some cases, very dire circumstances for people who are severely wronged, severely harmed, maybe in a societal context where there already is the concept of… There’s oppression, the power dynamic has not tilted in their favor, what do we make of this particular teaching?
Yes, well, the question of what does love mean in that context is such an important one. It has high stakes, so it’s relatively easy to say, “Jesus said that.” What does that kind of love mean? How does that even redefine terrain? My daughter said to me once, “Mom, if Jesus called us “to love our enemies, doesn’t that kind of make them “not our enemies any more?” I think that the language shifting, or the sense of being really clear on what our language is… If we define someone as an enemy, and I think in our current context, it feels like we’re really ready to define lots of people as enemies, or…
Evan: Political opposition?
Political discourse, yeah…
Evan: Moral opposition.
Evan: Boundaries and actual state lines.
And I’m not sure that we should impose all of that, we call everyone our enemy, you know, in that first century context on Matthew’s Jesus, but I think, how do we name those in our lives that we have real opposition with? Or there’s very great difference with. Or there’s fear related to, because we just don’t know the other very well.
Often a way that boundaries get drawn really strongly is because we’re fearful of the other, we don’t know what they’re going to do to us. So maybe I’ll let you jump in here, but that kind of sense of naming, even naming as enemy can be problematic if we simply want to name almost everyone outside of our little group as enemy.
Yeah, the language thing, I struggle with the enemy language, I struggle with it, it is hard. You have this context of Jesus’ teaching and then Jesus’ own example and this what seems to me to be this assumption in scripture that we were enemies of God, that we are also identified as enemies.
So I was thinking, Jeannine, when you were talking about this idea of naming… When people use the large things, like enemy, my suspicions are roused when I hear suffering, that there seems to be degrees and causes that we need to be very particular about. You know, somebody who annoys me is not my enemy, and yet I think in our context, any kind of inconvenience caused to myself, somebody’s against me. Therefore, they are my enemy, which again dilutes what an enemy actually is.
So we dilute love and we dilute…
Enemy, we dilute, right.
Enemy in terms of terms.
Isn’t that interesting?
And the sobering thing for me, thinking about the enemy love, is it’s easy to be uni-directional and immediately think that, “Well, who are my enemies?” Without giving much pause to thinking, “Who counts me as an enemy?”
And so I dunno, Evan, maybe in response to your question about the context of oppression and the ways in which certain people benefit from a set of social arrangements, in many ways I could be identified as an enemy because of sets of privileges that I have that actually diminish the well-being.
Maybe not intentionally, isn’t this the challenge of a global market? Not intentionally, but my purchasing practices, my consumption practices, can be harmful. But I would not see myself as an enemy, but maybe others do, and for me that’s kind of a sobering place to start, isn’t it? To think, “On whose list would my name appear?”
Or your category.
That’s right! Right, and what kind of forbearance, what kind of mercy, what kind of forgiveness is extended to me even in ways I don’t understand? Yeah, but the naming of everything as an enemy really reduces what seems to be the actual impetus in scripture of those who really are against, with intentional and malice…
And that Jesus says love.
So what does that mean, when you in a sense, crossing that boundary, of the one who’s truly persecuting versus just annoying me. What does that look like? And one of the pieces I love about Matthew, so at this point it’s the end of the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says this, and it’s part of the teachings related to a way of understanding the Torah, the Old Testament law.
And Jesus grounds this one, of all the six, in the character of God, “To be like your “Father who is in Heaven,” 5:48, you will love even those who don’t love you, even those who are persecuting you, and God is the example, is the one who reigns, brings rain for crops and sunshine to provide food for just and unjust. That’s the language that’s used in the picture, this sense that theologically God is one who is consistent in action and in disposition.
Love toward all people, through these particular actions that Matthew’s Jesus raises. So you have this call to be like the divine one in our love, but then as we move past that first teaching of Jesus’ in the Sermon on the Mount, as we get to some of the key discourses of Matthew, end of chapter 10, which is the second discourse, we have this call to care for even the little ones.
So we start to have language that is status language, used around this topic, so if we just had that first teaching, it feels like we wouldn’t have enough concrete pieces to understand it. But we have Jesus’ actions, we also have his teachings that point toward care for the little one, which is the one on the margins, the one more vulnerable.
The little ones, the least of these.
Yeah. And then in 25 we have, “The least of these,” which is the superlative language of little ones, mikroi to elachistoi. And that picture really grounds this idea of what does love across boundaries look like. And these may not be enemies, but they’re the ones we’re most likely to ignore. Who can we ignore with impunity in our own context, I always ask.
Because they’re on the margins of our lives.
They’re just not important, they’re ones you ignore daily. Matthew’s Jesus calls us to extend beyond that in solidarity, to really care for them, recognize them, and tend to that power differential or the status differential or the agency differential that might exist between… So that feels like it takes enemy love, which is not the same a solidarity with the least, I see these as two prongs in Matthew. They help to inform one another in terms of the very particular ways, a cup of cold water even to this little one.
And in the community of faith, Matthew 18, the little ones come up again and they’re the ones most vulnerable and you are to not cause them to stumble. In effect you’re to seek them out in reconciliation, in bringing them back if they’ve strayed, and so there’s this call to a really powerful sense of solidarity, without an over against. Without a, “Now I have power over you…” Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 is that most powerful place, it’s, Jesus says, with the least.
You wanna know where Jesus is with, in this world? He’s with the least of these. So this sense of solidarity, moving locations, being with is part of how Matthew defines love, it seems.
This idea of being with, solidarity, I’m also reminded of this big word that gets thrown around a lot these days, empathy. Maybe it’s thrown around rightly so, because there’s a noticeable lack of emotional identification as solidarity.
Emotional identification with the weak or the oppressed, or those who have been wronged and harmed. That seems like an important component to a kind of just love that Jesus calls us to. Wyndy, you’ve written on thinking through the lens of prayer, through the lens of speaking out, having a voice in public, you might say. What are your thoughts on exhibiting solidarity with the least, those on the margins, the vulnerable through Christian practices like prayer and a public voice?
Well, can I?
Evan: Oh please, yeah.
Well, that’s fine, just I was thinking, Jeannine, when you were talking and Evan, in light of the connection that you were making between enemy and situations of oppression. In sociological language, the construction of an enemy has a powerful role in moral discourse.
When I was, way back when, in graduate school, one of my classes was Psychology of Violence, and we read a book called “The Roots of Evil” by Ervin Staub, who’s a social psychologist, and he was studying genocide movements. And you’d write the classic question, “How could this have happened? “How could Hitler have happened?”
He looks at five genocide movements, and then the precursors. There’s a number of commonalities but one of the strong commonalities was a group has to identify an enemy in order to bolster its own sense of rightness and its own sense of identity.
Jeannine: How do we know?
And we see this played out quite a bit, right? And so it may not even be an actual enemy, but there’s always this sense…
Somebody who’s harmed or wronged.
Or that there’s always a sense that an enemy gets constructed. That might not bear any reality to that group actually is, so the classic case that was see was the Holocaust, and the construction of Jewish populations as a particular way, and therefore the rightness of the group is demonstrated to prove, whatever language you want to use, in light of the enemy.
And I think we see that dynamic a lot, so I do think you’re making an important connection because it really comes to a point, what justifies harm against an enemy. And we can have all sorts of justifications, right? And I think Staub is really onto something when one’s own sense of identity is threatened… Reinhold Neiber, who was a social ethicist back in the 40s and 50s had this really interesting language of group pride then.
When a group’s identity feels threatened, an enemy, if one does not exist, has to be constructed, and all sorts of things can be justified then. Against that constructed enemy.
In the view then, enemy is not only a threat but is actually a way of forming identity.
That’s right, yeah, we are not them.
Which is problematic, yeah. So if that helps us as a group to have us more and more solidified, we have a stronger sense of our own identify because it’s against the other. What does it say about, maybe the way, I’d say, the New Testament wants us to think about church, or the community of faith, forming identify around Jesus, around the gospel, and it was formed…
Just the identify of the call of the Christian to be called by God. Defined by God
Jeannine: But not by…
And not defined by an enemy that we envision for ourselves.
So this internal identify of loved by God, called by God and then called to care, beyond those boundaries, called to love beyond those boundaries, how does that really being centrally identified, defined by other as enemy, that seems highly problematic.
And of course genocide is highly problematic so you can see where where that’s under the extreme, maybe, of that us against them, thinkin’ about how we do community formation, identity work in the church seems very important.
I’ll call out too different kinds of boundaries that I think are highly relevant this year, 2016, as we’re thinking about electing a new president this fall, and as we’re trying to deal with the enemy abroad. Again, one that we, for the most part, we cannot see. We see them on YouTube videos and we see tweets from ISIS and other radical Islamic groups. We’re faced with a very difficult problem in America, of bringing those boundaries to bear, whether it’s building walls to keep people out, refusing to accept refugees who are not our enemies but are conflated, confused…
There are strong sensibilities for care and protecting the safety of people abroad and that has to be lauded, appreciated, and there are strong sensibilities for care in protecting those not abroad, across a boundary line. Starting with this example of international politics, the concept of love across government boundaries, situate us, orient us, toward what the scriptures call us to do, what’s the call of Christian ethics, theological ethics in this environment. How can people think rightly about these troubling matters?
Well, first thing I’d wanna say, ’cause I really want to, I love having an ethicist here, it’s really helpful, but the first thing, I think the New Testament invite us to step back and be very careful about in many ways conflating our identity as United States citizens or people who live here.
A political identity.
And identity as a church and allegiance to Jesus, which is always way out there in front of any other kinds of political allegiances, religio-political allegiances. So pulling that apart is so crucial for me in this discourse, so I just want to start there, to say we can’t say us as the church in the same breath we say us as citizens or members of this United States community, does that make sense?
Yeah, I was thinking, one of the trends, and you would know this in the work that you’ve done, is the role of narrative. That Christian ethics, we all have a story, Christian ethics is storied. Even hermeneutics, when you think about scripture and how it’s not this isolated collection of a bunch of Bible verses that it’s telling
Jeannine: A united story.
Some kind of story. So I agree with Jeannine, I think that part of the challenge is to do the self-reflection about which story am I really bound to. The question that I ask often in my ethics classes is, “What difference does being a Christian really make?” And you can imagine if I wrote that down that really is bold and italicized and underlined and in 25-point font or something, that when I come to think about the issues of the world, economics, politics, how really do I bring my Christian claims to bear on here? And I think this is tricky.
I think Richard Niebuhr in his book “Christ and Culture” identified what he called the enduring problem of this relationship between church and state. And so he’s got those five types of Christ and culture, Christ against culture, kind of across the spectrum that he uses to historically understand how the church at any given time has understood its social role, its political obligations, all sorts of things.
But the, I wouldn’t say the faulty assumption, but what is missing is the sense of what the prior question for us as Christians is, “What does it mean to be the people of God?” And what does it mean to be the people of God in a variety of contexts? And so I think your question is an important one because it gets really down to ultimate kinds of loyalties, and to go back to the topic of ultimate kinds of love, right? So to be grateful for being a citizen of a particular country, but I agree, I think the New Testament relativizes citizenship in a very significant way and I think the thing that probably disturbs me is, this is a sweeping generalization but I make nonetheless, that how little conflict Christians feel between their Christian identity and their, what I’m gonna call their nationalism. And I think it in many ways complicates the kinds of situations that you’re alluding to.
And do you think that conflict is not felt enough?
I don’t think it’s felt enough. Or, if it’s either not felt enough, and that could be for a variety of reasons, or for some they don’t think that any conflict actually exists. And this became, for me, I mean, I can think of all sorts of things, so your question earlier about the intersection of prayer… When I was in seminary, I always say that, “Ah, way back when when I was in seminary,” the first gulf war, Desert Storm? What was it called?
Yeah, Operation Desert Storm.
Is that what it was? I was in Denver, that’s where I was in seminary, and had graduated, and was in a wonderful, vibrant church, and this church had a very strong military presence. It had a significant outreach, because of its location to Army officers, or military officers, I don’t know which branch of the military, and I remember the deep discomfort, remember everybody lauded that because it was quick.
And just war criteria, basically one of the criteria for just war is a war has to be winnable. And so, okay, that was maybe a good thing, but the thing that was so disturbing for me, and I think this, for me, was kind of that aha moment, was the glee and the delight that people felt about this victory. And I remember thinking to myself, “To whom am I more tied? “To an Iraqi Christian, whose home maybe “was just destroyed, who was maybe just killed?” So to think along those lines as the nature of the church which is the truly global body was just for me a moment that I think these things really came to the surface.
And it just speaks to the question of solidarity, what is the solidarity to us?
Right, to whom… I was living on the east coast with 9/11, and it was the same kind of tension, feeling the horror of what happened, and yet the rhetoric was, “We come together as Americans.” How I read scripture, and what I think seem to be central practices of the Christian faith, at least should give me pause, it might not with clarity say, “Well, this is what you should do,” but at least it ought to give me pause.
So that’s when I really started to think about these intersections between spirituality and prayer and what we pray about, and again when the U.S. invaded Iraq I was sitting in church, a wonderful, vibrant community, and the pastoral prayer for the day was kind of the psycho-social needs of the individuals in that congregation and I’m like, “We’re about ready to go to war!” You know, no point of reference in our liturgical practices in our prayer life that something significant is happening in our lives.
And maybe lament…
Wyndy: Maybe lament…
Is a feeling we need to re-engage. Richard Beck in his recent blog post is talking about as a pacifist, from what I understand in his perspective, talking a little bit about just war theory, but one of the things he notes is that, Whatever moves ahead in terms of a national decision on these kinds of issues, the grief the church should feel, whatever direction it happens that lives are lost and so just a sense of, do we have glee, when you said that, I just thought of his writing. Do we have a sense of justified, “Yes!”
Or do we have a deep sense of sadness? He said whatever a nation decides to do, the Christians in its nation, I’m really much paraphrasing him, will grieve when these things are enacted. And I think that was, for me, really helpful to say, “Okay, as a Christian, will I grieve “with those who grieve?” You know, the beatitudes. It seems to me that that’s a call.
It seems like the call to love is to find our way into right feeling, or right aligning our feelings and emotions toward those of both the oppressor and the oppressed.
Most importantly, perhaps, to ride a line with the oppressed and feel empathy and care and grief and lament and the pain that they must be going through in order to identify and then perhaps pray better or know what to say in public better. And when we’re operating out of these right emotions, these right responses, we become better suited to have a meaningful impact, to say fitting words of comfort, or critique when it’s called for.
One of the pieces I appreciate about your work of bringing together in your book a number of things that aren’t typically brought together, so prayer and speaking out, is a sense that then that speaking out circles back and informs a very different kind of praying. There’s this sort of mutual change that happens, and as I pray differently, then I might speak out differently. There’s this sense that if we put them together and we don’t normally think of them together it could re-invigorate both sides of the equation.
Yeah, this is right at the heart of virtue ethics, isn’t it? And so your distinction, this empathy thing and then, I think is really interesting, ’cause I’m interested in it and one of the books I use in my ethics class is a book by William Spohn, who is a Jesuit. Fascinating life himself, and it’s called, “Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics.” I love that book.
And he has the image of the tripod of scripture, so he really looks at scriptures, the narrative, spirituality, and then virtue ethics and brings these things together and makes the claim, two things, makes the claim that without empathy ethics is impossible. Without any kind of ability to connect with the plight of another person, ethics, the moral life is impossible maybe is a better way to say that. People without empathy we tend to call sociopaths, right? And their behavior is explained because they have no regard.
The other thing, he makes this distinction between emotions and affection, so I think you’re kind of just interesting, and it’s something I’ve thought about but haven’t done much about anyway, is that he’s a little bit suspicious of feelings. Because feelings are legitimate reactions to trigger events. Now I’m not a psychologist, the wife of one, but that’s as far as my expertise goes, but they’re responses, and there’s always an unpredictability, even though they can be explained, there’s an unpredictability to them.
Where the crux of the Christian life is this idea of right loves. Which he puts at the level of affections, and for Spohn, affections can be tutored, that’s the language that he uses, in a way…
Evan: That’s rich.
That feelings cannot. Which is really, I think, kind of a powerful image, so when I think about the task of pastoral ministry, the task of spiritual formation, is how do we help, how do we ourselves learn to love the right things, how do we help others learn to love the right things, and I think the particular challenge, kind of taking us back to your first question, in our contemporary context, this means often working against something I would naturally be inclined to do, which is the heart of the spiritual practices.
The time I should pray is when I… When I don’t wanna pray is when I should actually pray. And I think the language of duty, the language evolving, those are kind of bad words. Heaven forbid I do something that I do not want to do. That I don’t feel like doing.
And you do it routinely,
I do it routinely
for a long period of time
So that in a way, and this is the role of the virtues, and this is why I think, the grand theological virtues of faith, hope and love, they’re not just virtues, they’re actually practices as well.
It’s very much a master apprentice sort of relationship, to be tutored, for the affections to be tutored is to willfully put yourself under the tutelage of a master and be guided, acknowledging the whole way, I don’t know my way. [laughs]
But let me follow, follow you, and follow your example. And this is, again, this brings us back into some of the particularity of… We receive principles, we receive love your enemy, love your neighbor, love God, but we receive an example, we receive a life, so it’s always in the context of a life narrative, and this is maybe where the storied nature of Christian ethics is on display, that we can learn so much from a life devoted to following that path, a life dedicated to love and following that path, and this is what is so inviting about the stories of profound love and forgiveness, and charity and generosity.
It speaks to us and it calls us to follow. It kind of speaks to the gaps in our lives.
Eugene Peterson has a book called, “The “Long Obedience.”
Wyndy: “The Long Obedience.”
In the same direction.
Evan: That’s a great title!
The title just, and sometimes the long loyalty in the same direction, the long set of obligations in the same direction, there’s something very beautiful about, you were mentioning earlier as we were talking, this idea that sometimes love of a spouse means love in the care of someone with Alzheimer’s, which is a long obedience, or a long loyalty in the same direction.
And we have ending life in a very different way than you probably ever anticipated, but it’s this sort of beautiful picture, and I think to, I was telling students not too long ago, “I think they need to recapture the beauty “of loyalty in our cultural context.”
And that can be obligation, faithfulness, Walter Brueggemann, who recently called it, what did he call it, oh, I can’t remember! Not steadfastness, but it was this fealty, our fidelity and fealty, this idea of capturing that as renewed virtue. Whether our context will view it that way, our culture will go that direction, it is a powerful story.
That’s why we celebrate these 50 or 60 year marriages, right, ’cause we love this long loyalty in the same direction. And I think the scriptures are all about that, and it’s not about this perfection, even at the end of the Sermon on the Mount or the antitheses where you hear, “The perfect?” Telling us as your Heavenly Father is perfect, but whole, loyal, wholly loyal, wholly consistent. It’s about integrity, the inside person matching the outside person so affections match actions and that’s a life-long journey, but how powerful to be on that journey, not just by ourselves, but as Matthew envisioned with the whole community that is moving in loyalty and love in the same direction.
And I think capturing some of that communal sense of how do we help a congregations if we’re pastors or leaders, or how if we’re laypeople and we want to lead in our congregation, how we lead them toward this communal love that is moving out together, because there’s something very powerful about that solidarity, doing it together. We often think about, “How do I love “in my own individual life?” That’s a great question. But if we’re not asking that in our church context, in our small groups, we’re missing something really important. How do we love together?
Yeah, I was, again, that’s interesting, one thing that is interesting to me about the gospels, and also a friend of mine who does some, a colleague, is that Jesus… We have the benefit of having the four gospels, and then reading into Acts. We can start the story, and we kind of, well, you know where this thing goes, but it is always interesting to me that Jesus sends out disciples who really have no clue. And you know, in my church context, discipleship is, “I gotta fill out the workbook.” You know, “I have to fill in all of the blanks, “I have to get the right Bible verses,” it’s a very…
You have to have quiet time in the morning too.
That’s right, that’s right, and it’s a very programmatic thing, and then maybe we can put somebody in leadership if they have completed series four, and that seems such a strange… I mean, I get where that comes from.
A western style
Jeannine: And there are benefits to that.
That’s right. But I think this idea, and this goes right at the issue of how I learned to love the right things, this may be, I’m just speculating, a particular, more of a struggle for Protestants, ’cause of our history, coming out of the Reformation, and Luther’s, shall I say, somewhat of a pendulum swing against, at that point, medieval Catholicism of works.
And I think there is an ambivalence in Protestantism of the nature that there is somehow a relationship between the choices we make and what we do and our spiritual and moral sensibilities, right? And so I think this, in ethical language it’s this ethic of being and this ethic of doing, and we are both, yes, we’re human beings, so when people say, we’re not human doers, yes we are. We are people who act, we are people who make choices, we are people that to a, I think a great degree, have control over the kinds of lives we choose to live.
But of course, the theological piece, the moral pieces, what is it that makes that life good, and true and noble and just and pure. But I think that’s a huge missing piece, that there’s a practice dimension to our faith and sometimes that practice works against our feelings and against our inclinations in ways that are deeply uncomfortable, but the surprise is, lo and behold, we might actually become more loving.
The practice changes us.
More just, it changes us in way that I think… Are really, yeah.
And it changes our… Affections, this is, it changes our brains. I’m reading book called “A General Theory of Love,” that talks about the wiring we have and what love does and how it changes us. I’m not far enough into the book to tell you a whole bunch more than that, but this sense of the ways neurologically we are wired-
And from the earliest stages of life.
To love and also to be impacted by the relational love that we experience.
That came up in our conversation yesterday at the roundtable.
One of my, yeah, one of my friends, Todd Hall, says we’re loved into loving. We love because he first loved us. It’s this vision of love in response, a relational kind of love, one that, a love that follows when it’s called.
And it certainly ups the stakes, doesn’t it then, for what it means to be a loving community.
Which is a key question, “What does it mean…”
What may be a loving family and especially, that’s a terrifying relationship, isn’t it? That how we show love is really contingent on how we’ve experienced it. And I know even in pastoral ministry, talking about God’s love is one thing, creating environments for people to actually experience that love is something quite different, and that, for most in pastoral ministry, is where the harm, you know? And that, it’s not easy to repair, is it?
No. Well, Wyndy, Jeannine, this has been so fun. Thank you for your wisdom and your presence here.
It’s been great to be here.
Thanks so much.
Yeah, thank you.