Indebted Love: Part B

“The essential characteristic of love: That the lover by giving infinitely comes into – infinite debt.” Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 2006, p. 172.

     I truly enjoy Star Wars. To clarify, I enjoy the “real” Star Wars (episodes IV-VI). I even read the books and bring my lunch to work in a Star Wars lunchbox. Not even kidding. One of my favorite relationships throughout the series is Han Solo and Chewbacca. The life debt Chewie swears to Han began as the fulfilling of a cultural institution, but grew into a genuine relationship of Love. If I can have a bit of license, I think Chewie’s life debt is a fantastic illustration of healthy Indebted Love.

      When Han prevented Chewie’s clan from being enslaved by the Empire, Chewie took a life debt to Han. Now, this doesn’t mean that Chewie is Han’s slave. Nor does it mean that Chewie’s life debt is fulfilled if he saves Han’s life. What it means is that without Han, Chewie would not have a life, so he willingly (see Intentional Love post) gives his life in service to Han.
     Articles on Star Wars state that the idea of a “life debt” is fictional and does not exist in the real world. I would suggest that it does exist and we call it marriage. Kierkegaard continues to expand on this idea when he writes that “for his own sake the lover wishes to be in debt; he does not wish exemption from sacrifice, far from it” (Ibid, p. 174). For instance, is there anything that can be done, any act that can be committed, that will fulfill the vows of marriage so that one is no longer married? No! That makes no sense and renders marriage useless.
     Any relationship based in Love must be based in a willingly taken on indebtedness. Perhaps, instead of saying indebtedness, it may be more accurate to say selflessness. Selflessness, truly understood, is being joyfully indebted to another whom we Love. This does not mean we sacrifice self to another. If that were to happen, then “we” couldn’t be in the relationship, could we? In fact, a relationship would not exist at that point. Kierkegaard addresses abusive relationships by submitting that staying in them would be tantamount to enabling, which is one of the least loving things we can do. However, we are not to give up on the other.
     One seemingly inescapable conclusion of this line of thought is the inability to remarry after a separation. While I do not have an argument to defend staying single after a separation or divorce, I would offer this: Would people be as quick to rush into Love relationships based on indebtedness if they knew the ending of that relationship limited their access to relationships later? If we were obliged to suffer the consequences of our relational choices until death, would we act any differently? Would we be more free to love? More free to make mistakes? What if, as Kierkegaard wrote, we were to live relationships of Love “imprisoned in freedom and life” (Ibid, p. 176)?

If a Wookie gives you a Valentine, you take it!
(C) Nathan D. Croy

 

Intentional Love: Part A

     I only know of one way to write about love: personally. Everything in my life, from my personal philosophy to my professional practice, hinges upon my understanding and definition of love. So much so, that when I refer to love throughout the rest of this blog and in my other writings, it will be capitalized. This is to set it apart from the general population’s use of the word “love” to describe how they feel about everything from their family to various carbonated beverages. “love” has become a shadow of its former self and if I can restore the concept of Love to its former glory for just a few people, I will consider my life a success.
     I was sitting with a friend at restaurant and we were discussing Kierkegaard’s book, Works of Love (aka Ethics of Love). The server walked over, saw the book on the table, and asked what it was about. We both froze for just a moment because the book is such an intensely in-depth study of the concept of Love as it applies to various settings; it was difficult to say what the book was precisely about. In a moment of panic I did the best I could do and said, “It’s a book that tells you how to know if you’re really in Love”. That seemed good enough for her, probably because she wasn’t that interested in the first place, but for me the answer seemed very hollow. I decided that, right then and there, I would have an answer the next time someone asked me about Love.
     Love, as defined by Kierkegaard, is an infinite debt to another, willingly taken on (Works of Love, 2009, p. 172-173). When asking ourselves, “What is the most Loving action in in this situation?”, there are three basic facets of Kierkegaard’s definition that must be considered: (1) Intent, (2) Infinity, & (3) Indebtedness. This post will address the Intentionality necessary for true Love. The next two will address its Indebtedness and Infiniteness.
     Part of Kierkegaard’s definition is that the infinite debt of love must be “willingly” taken on. In order for this to be the case, we must Love others on purpose. This may sound like a trivial point, but it is most certainly not. How often in popular dialogue do people talk of “falling in love”? People do not fall on purpose. Falling implies a lack of intent or awareness; as if love was something they happened into or was sprung on them by surprise. While attraction and the emotions result may in fact happen unexpectedly, that is not Love. It is more likely that is hormones. Or beer goggles. Or both.
     Love, true Love, requires an intentionality of commitment that regardless of what the other person does, who they become, or how horribly they fail, we will continue to be in relationship with them. Please do not take this to mean that people should stay in relationships that are abusive. There will be another post about why staying in an abusive relationship is the least Loving action possible. For now, it should suffice to say that it is almost never acceptable or Loving to remain in abusive relationship.
     The point that must be adhered to is this: once I enter into a relationship of Love, I cannot truly leave. Therefore, entering into Love relationships must be done with the utmost Intentionality and forethought possible. The initial condition for Love is a commitment, made willfully and intentionally, to the best of our ability. Anything less will inherently doom the relationship to temporality; even if there is no separation.
There is a great deal more to be said on this particular topic, but it’s not within the scope of this blog. Please click this link to be redirected to a Forum topic titled “Love”, as I would like to encourage more dialogue on this. Also, leave a comment on your thoughts about intentionality as it relates to Love.

Dynamically Static.

     A book was just recently published about tough questions kids ask about Christianity. During an interview about the book, the author spoke on how he wanted to help parents not have a “deer in the headlights” look when their kids asked something and they didn’t know the answer. He rushed to say that no one has all the answers, but we should be willing to find the answers with our children.
     I think the entire premise of this book is what is wrong with Christianity today. The book, due to its format, is a static description of what we think the answers are at this moment in our history and culture. While there may be some absolutes (see: “Just Love”) that we should all agree on, there was a time when some of the principles we see as bedrock now, were absolute rubbish; and vice versa. Christ illustrated this throughout scripture when he condemned the pompous and proud Pharisees. They were so sure they had all the answers, they were no longer willing to be wrong. Their answers had become their god, so God could no longer be their answer.
     An alternative to static, rigid, unchanging answers is that, instead, we teach process. However, this manner of education is a double edged sword and we must be aware of this as we wield it. What I suggest is that we discover what the core process(es) of Scripture are. According to Scripture, loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is the greatest commandment, and the second is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. For all the laws and prophets hinge upon those two commands. Both of those commands hinge on our ability to love. That seems to assume that we should be figuring out what it means to love and how we know when we are being loving. In other words: What do we do and how do we know we’re doing it?
     The laws of Scripture have never been, nor will they ever be, the path to salvation. Scripture says this, not me (Rom. 8:3-6). The process that is at the core of Scripture is to love. If this is the case, then when our children ask about the Trinity, the covenant, politics, abortion, gay marriage, or anything else, why not join them in discovering what the most loving thing is? In order to do this, however, we must be honest with ourselves and brace for the day when we follow this process and it leads us to doubt what we believe to be right or wrong.
     My parents generation fought against racism. Their parents fought against sexism. Their grandparents fought to against slavery. Our generation is fighting for equality. But here’s the thing, and it’s something we must not forget as we age: Each generation thought the previous was backward and needed to change. Each generation thought they were right. And each generation, for the most part, thought the one that came after them was forgetting their values. When we begin to walk this path with ourselves, our children, our parents, we may not always like where it takes us. But if we spend the time to discover what it really means to be loving (something I’ll talk about in my next post), and judge our actions by that standard, we will begin to live out the lives and actions to which Christ called us.  
     What do you think? Is it better to have “the answer” and tell our children what is right, or should we take the chance of them coming to the “wrong” conclusions and being mislead? There are risks to either choice, so which risk is the most severe?

Anxiety or Fear?

“I define anxiety as the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as a self.” ~ Rollo May (Psychology & The Human Dilemma, 1996, p. 72)
    

     Who would have thought that amongst the dust bunnies and forgotten Army men there existed a demonic force that no one would dare challenge. At least, no one under the age of 5. It would disappear when adults looked for it. Later, a movie with Fred Savage taught me that they really just turned into clothes, but I was unaware these powers existed at the time. The emotion was palatable in the darkness of night and, if I listened closely, the sound of breathing would be the only thing to comfort me. Once, it sent a minion out and as it scurried across my floor I screamed. Not ashamed to admit it, I screamed like a little girl. Father came rushing in, scanned the room, looked at me, and asked what happened. My mind rushed to create a logical explanation, otherwise the existence of the minion may be completely in question. What, in the real world, is black and scurries soundlessly across the floor and is about the size of a coffee mug? There’s only one obvious answer and you’ve probably beat me to it: Tarantula.

      I explained to my father that a giant tarantula had scurried across my floor. He looked at me, and managed to hold it together for a good thirty seconds before his expression of concern cracked and became laughter. He explained that it was “probably” just a mouse and he would buy some traps the next day. Fine by me. Mouse traps would probably work on giant tarantula’s, right? Of course!
      So, here’s the question: What was 5 year old me feeling? To whit; is there a difference between anxiety and fear? In The Courage to Be, a book often referenced by May, Paul Tillich draws clear, and perhaps arbitrary, distinctions between multiple forms of anxiety. However, one thing they both agree on is this: Anxiety is the fear of “no thing”. Kierkegaard calls it, “the dizziness of freedom” (i.e., potential). For me, that is distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear has a clear and distinct source: A lion about to pounce, a car swerving into my lane, emotional distance of a spouse. To quote Tillich, “Fear and anxiety are distinguished but not separated. They are immanent within each other: The sting of fear is anxiety, and anxiety strives toward fear.”
     The concept that “anxiety strives towards fear” is crucial. As a 5 year old lay in his bed, imagining monsters waiting to destroy him, a mouse running across the floor was the object upon which I projected my anxiety. Today, I’m trying to learn how to sit with my anxiety, but I doubt I’ll ever master that ability. People aren’t designed to exist in a nearly constant state of anxiety. If you don’t believe me, get some history on your neurotic friends; you’re going to find a great deal of anxiety. I always want to know why I’m feeling anxious, not simply that I’m feeling anxious. However, I have gotten better at realizing when my anger is misplaced fear/anxiety and it helps me realign my priorities and consider my actions in a new context.
    In other words, there have been times where my wife, my friends, my coworkers were just mice going along their way when I projected the fear of under-the-bed-monsters onto them. Then, trying to make sense of my irrational fears made real, I tried to think of a logical way to explain my anger with them: they must be tarantulas (things that I know exist and/or have seen/experienced in the past). However, understanding what I have projected onto others, my own transference and countertransference is a crucial step in being able to begin to know if how I perceive other people is more or less accurate. In other words, are my feelings for the other person based more on our interactions or on my presuppositions and projections? If the former is the case, then I can begin developing a genuine and authentic relationship. If it is the latter, then I am in a relationship with myself more than the other and most attempts to work on difficulties in the relationship will be for naught because the difficulties may lie more in myself than the other.
     What do you think? Are the terms “anxiety” and “fear” merely synonyms or are there real, meaningful differences?

(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2013

“Never the twain shall meet.”

     I heard an article on NPR about the change in courting behaviors in youth. The piece ended with with a quote that gave me pause. The author said, “For me one of the most moving comments I heard over and over and over from 18 to 25 year olds was ‘We’re the most connected generation in history, and yet we are the worst at real love’.” The people of my generation are desperately longing for something real, yet they are constantly inundated with the means to distract themselves from their own longing. It’s as if they are separated from themselves and their own desires. Now, it would seem, the children of my generation are being isolated from themselves and others via electronic communication that lacks authenticity. More than that, it lacks risk.
     In Works of Love, Kierkegaard defined Love as an infinite debt to another willingly taken on (2009, p. 172). An infinite debt like that also requires infinite risk. The “other” will always have the option and the ability to leave me. If I attempt to take that freedom away, either through abuse or manipulation, in order to assuage my own fear of abandonment, then I am clearly acting out of selfishness instead of Love. Please, click on this link and listen to the report. How do you think we can bridge the gap between the seemingly unavoidable inauthenticity that arises when technological interactions usurp genuine face-to-face interactions? Is this any different than writing love letters? Is it the technology/means in and of itself, or is it the way it is being employed?


(c) Nathan D. Croy