Love & the Ethics of Formation - Jeannine Brown and Wyndy Corbin-Reuschling
In this clip, Rosa, Corbin Reuschling, and Brown discuss the psychological, social, spiritual, and other dynamics of our formation into loving persons.
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 right-align with the oppressed and feel empathy and care and grief and lament and the pain that they must be going through in order to kind of 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 it’s speaking out circles back and informs a very different kind of praying. I mean there’s this sort of mutual change that happens and as I pray differently then I might speak out differently, there’s this kind of sense that if we put them together and we don’t normally think of them together it could reinvigorate both sides of the equation.
Yeah, I mean this is right at the heart of virtue ethics, isn’t it? And so your distinction, this empathy thing then I think is really interesting ’cause I’m interested in it and one of the books that I use in my ethics class, there’s a book by William Spohn who was a Jesuit, I mean fascinating life himself and it’s called “Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics”. I love that book. And he talks about kind of, he has the image of the tripod of scriptures so he really looks at scriptures, the narrative, the spirituality, and then virtue ethics and brings these things together.
And makes the claim, two things, y’know makes the claim that without empathy ethics is impossible. I mean, without any kind of ability to connect with the plight of another person, I mean, y’know ethics is, the moral life is impossible maybe is a better way to say that. I mean people without empathy we tend to call sociopaths, right? And their behavior is explained because they have no regard. The other thing he teached makes this distinction between emotions and affection so I think your comment is interesting and it’s something I thought about but I haven’t done much about anyway is that he’s a little bit suspicious of feelings.
Because feelings are legitimate reactions to trigger events. I’m not a psychologist, I’m the wife of one but that’s as far as my expertise goes but they, they’re responses and there’s always an unpredictability even though they can be explained there’s an unpredictability to them. Where kind of 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 that feelings cannot. Which is really kind of, I think kind of a powerful image.
So when I think about the task of pastoral ministry, y’know 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 that, kind of taking us back to your first question in our contemporary context, this means often working against the, something I would naturally be inclined to do which is the heart of the spiritual practices. The time I should pray
is when I don’t want to pray is when I should actually pray. And I think y’know kind of the language of duty, the language of, 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 do it routinely for a long period of time
And do it routinely so that in a way
out of obligation.
and I mean this is the rule of the virtues and this is what I think the grand theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, they’re not just virtues they’re actually practices as well.
Hm, it’s very much a master-apprentice kind of relationship.
It is, yeah.
Where to be tutored, right, 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 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 and it kind of speaks to the gaps in our lives.
Eugene Peterson has a book called “The Long Obedience in the Same Direction”.
Evan: That’s a great title.
The title just, and he also has the long loyalty in the same direction, the long set of obligations in the same direction, there’s something very beautiful about it. 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 a way of ending life in a very different way than you probably ever anticipated but it’s this sort of beautiful picture and I think, I was telling students not too long ago, I think we need to recapture the beauty of loyalty in our cultural context. And that can be obligation, faithfulness, Walter Brueggemann recently called it, what did he call it? Oh I can’t remember, not steadfastness but it was this, fealty. Y’know that or fidelity and fealty. This idea of capturing that as a renewed virtue, whether our context will view it that way or culture will go that direction it is a powerful story. That’s why we celebrate these 50 or 60-year marriages, right? Because 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 antithesis where you hear “be perfect, [speaking in foreign language], as your heavenly father is perfect”. 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 lifelong 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 our congregations if we’re pastors or leaders or how if we’re laypeople and we want to lead in our congregation, how do we lead them toward this communal love that is moving out together? Because there is 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 about in our church context and in our small groups, we’re missing something really important. How do we love together?
Yeah, I was, again, I mean, it’s interesting, one thing that’s interesting to me about the gospels, and I’ll defer to my New Testament colleague, is that, y’know, Jesus, I am, we have the benefit of, kind of having the four gospels, right? And then reading into Acts and we can start the story and we kind of, well, we know where this thing goes. But it is always interesting to me that Jesus sends out disciples, who really had no clue. And in my church context, y’know discipleship is, I gotta fill out the workbook [laughs], y’know I have to fill in all of the blanks, I have to get the right Bible verses, y’know it’s a very
A very early time of the morning, too.
That’s right! That’s right, I mean it’s very pro-grammatic kind of thing and then maybe we can put somebody in leadership if they have completed series four. [Jeannine laughing] And y’know if that seems, I mean that is such a strange, well I mean I get where that comes from, right? I mean, I get our Western style,
There are benefits to that area.
Right, but but I think this idea and this goes right at the issue of how I learned to love the right things, and 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 of, 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 that we make and what we do and our spiritual and moral sensibilities, right? And I, and so I think this, ethic, I mean in ethical language it’s this ethic of being and this ethic of doing. And we are both. I mean we are, yes we’re human beings so when people say oh we aren’t human doers, yes we are. [laughs]
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, right? And 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 hugely missing piece that there is 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 ways that I think are really, yeah.
And it changes our affections, too.
This is, it changes our brains. I’m reading a book called “A General Theory of Love”, that talks about the wiring we have and what love does and changes, how it changes us. I’m not far enough into the book to tell you a whole bunch more than that but the sense of, sort 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.
Yeah that came up in our conversation yesterday at the round table.
One of, 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 and 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 it means to be for a loving family and especially if, I mean, it’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, I mean, y’know 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 people in pastoral ministry, is where the harm, y’know and that is, it’s not easy to repair, is it?