Tag Archives: love

Love Better

From Writing and the Spirit:

In church, Olga said she believed that when people prayed for her, the prayers were effective because the people who prayed loved her. A light flashed in my dim brain and I saw that prayers given in love will always be the ones most acceptable to God.

Because God is love, God exists in a dimension of love, and for us to communicate in that dimension, we have to enter that dimension and speak in that dimension’s language.

Similarly, the more able we are to approach our writing with an attitude of love, the closer we will be to the dimension where the spirit that moves us resides, and the better we’ll be able to translate its message.

In the book of Matthew, Christ says to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that spitefully use you and persecute you.” He explains that if we only love our friends and do good to those who treat us well, we are no better than the worst of humanity. So the more and better we love, the closer we’ll get to being like God, to becoming perfect.

If we need to become perfect before we can make perfect art, then the key to perfecting our art is to grow in our capacity to love, and to exercise that capacity.

In light of the above and Saint John’s injunction that “perfect love casts out fear,” let’s suppose the Beatles were right in singing “Love is All You Need.” Then let’s exhort ourselves to love even the antagonists of our lives and our stories. And let’s allow the power of that love to help us create fearlessly, without worrying about the judgment of readers, editors, reviewers, or the folks who sit next to us in church.

With our hearts and minds lightened by love and the absence of fear, the spirit can easily move us.

Love Everybody?

I try to write a Church for Writers post at least every month, and this month I meant to offer some thoughts about the religion of evolution. But then a man entered a nightclub in Florida and killed and wounded almost a hundred people. And the next day, a radio personality commented: “We need to start acting kindly to each other. If everybody did just that, the world would be a safe and happy place. And though we can’t make other people be kind, we can behave kindly ourselves. That much is easy.”

Her comments were quite appropriate, I thought, and right in accord with Christ’s command for us to love our neighbors. And though I was touched by her passion and innocence, I need to note that being kind to everyone is not so easy.

Before I go on, I should point out that in my vocabulary, to love our neighbors and to be kind to people are practically synonymous. Psychologist and author M. Scott Peck defines love as a willingness to sacrifice, which could translate to being kind even if it hurts.

Kindness may be easy when people treat us well and don’t get into our way. But when they attack or demean us or frustrate our plans or desires, being kind to them is hard. It’s something we need to work at. Something most of us need to learn. And kindness to the degree it becomes sacrificial love is, for many if not most of us, mighty hard.

Following my first divorce, I began to detect that I was not good at loving people. So, being an avid reader, I began reading up on the topic of love.

I could recommend quite a few books, but I’ll start with Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love . Kierkegaard maintains that when Christ instructs us to love our neighbor, he is issuing a command, not making a suggestion. And Christ clarifies the command with the parable of the good Samaritan. In this context, to love our neighbor means to love without distinction. Everybody. Even those who believe or act in ways we find odious. Even those who may have done us grievous wrongs.

Being truly kind, not just friendly, is hardly easy. But it’s possible, if we put our hearts and minds to it.

Please try to love without distinction, and consider reading a book on love, and pray something like this: “Lord, teach and help me to lover better.”

The rewards of love are many and miraculous.

Please subscribe to this blog and read about them, maybe next month.

The San Bernardino Massacre

I’ve been missing church a lot due to Zoë’s weekend softball tournaments. But with the fall season concluded, I attended a service last Sunday, about ten days after the San Bernardino massacre. As we also live in Southern California,  I supposed the message might include some thoughts about coping with fear or anxiety.

The sermon did feature advice about finding peace, but I thought if I were preaching, I would address fear and anxiety more directly. Then I thought, hey, I’m due to write another church for writers post.

So here goes:

Mostly as a parent, I have learned that the best and maybe the only way to change anyone’s behavior is to change my own behavior. If someone is argumentative, I can forgo my inclination to argue. If someone acts moody, I can attempt to model equanimity.

Similarly, if fear or anxiety threaten my peace, I can counteract them by actively pursuing peace. And I know of no better way to pursue peace than by turning away from my selfish concerns and turning toward love.

Soren Kierkegaard, maybe the wisest philosopher of modern times, considered Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors a command for us to love without distinction. Repeat, love without distinction.

Granted the difficulty of acting in love toward everybody all the same, we can certainly move in that direction.

Recently I attended a talk by the principal of the high school Zoë hopes to attend. He is a retired U.S. Army general. When asked how he intended to safeguard the students, he replied that the most effective way to prevent violence is to treat every person, regardless of whatever, with dignity. In the vocabulary of Christ, I believe this means to love our neighbors.

So my best advice on how to confront fear or anxiety or to cope with an increasingly violent world is the same as my best advice about parenting or writing. Here goes:

In all pursuits, the most effective action I can take is to love better.

My most common prayer is, Lord, please help me learn to love better.

As Walt Whitman wrote: “Love the earth and sun and animals. Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks. Stand up for the stupid and crazy. Devote your income and labor to others … And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear …”

 

I’m and artist and so are you

An Artist?

“We are God’s art, created in Christ Jesus to do works of beauty, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

“So God created mankind in his own image… male and female…” Genesis 1:27.

We are made in the image of the master artist, the creator of all creation, to create works of beauty.

Though we may not be called to quit our day jobs, run off to Tahiti and paint our impressions of the islanders, we are meant to view our work and our lives from an artist’s perspective.

Whether our goal is to provide announcements for a church newsletter, to make of our home a refuge from the storm outside, to save stories and lessons from our lives, to create happiness by loving well, or to compose a novel or film masterpiece, we are called to approach those projects with attitudes guided by the motive of creating works of beauty.

John Keats, in “Ode On a Grecian Urn”, wrote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.”

Real beauty, whether in the eye of the creator or the beholder, is an expression of love.

Christ insists, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works [works of beauty] and glorify your father who is in heaven.”

We are created in the image of God so that we can make art of and through our lives so that our art can draw people to God. And because God is love, we can draw people to God by helping them love better, which is best accomplished by loving them better.

In my novel The Good Know Nothing detective Tom Hickey and his sister Florence, who works for evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, are on a road trip when she asks:

“Tommy, do you want to know why I fell for God?”

“Sure.”

“It’s all your fault,” she said.

“How so?”

“See, when you really know love, when you find yourself being truly loved, you can’t help thanking God.”

A tiny sob issued out of her. Then she scooted closer and kissed her brother’s cheek. Tom sat speechless, wondering if his heart might explode.

Florence rode with her head on her brother’s shoulder. As distant headlights approached, she said, “The thing is, when you truly thank God, you sort of feel him smile. Then you fall for him. That’s all.”

 

Charity, part 1

I think a lot about charity.

Today I’m not thinking about charity as a synonym for love, as in : “And now abideth faith, hope, charity…” (King James); “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love…” (NIV).

Rather I’m wondering how much of the money that I have (or don’t have but can borrow) should I give away, and to whom.

My church, in both subtle and bolder ways, asks us to tithe. Though I understand the need for funds and appreciate what I see the church doing with the money, still I wonder.

I’m not concerned about whether God expects Christians to tithe or whether we should consider the practice an Old Testament anachronism, because I believe that giving is good and 10% is a reasonable number. Whether the 10% should be of our gross income, our adjusted gross income, our net income, our net income after college tuition or whatever, all that feels secondary, at least for now.

Today, all I can handle is this question: given that we should attempt to give 10% (or at least 10%), should it all go to our local church, or should we have the discretion to parcel it out according to our judgment.

Unless I’m severely mistaken, the position of most churches, including the one I call my church as I have attended for about six years, is that the tithe needs to go to the local church of one’s attendance. Now, I have a hard time believing that this position is strictly based upon Biblical wisdom or prayer. It’s my suspicion that these churches are influenced by their agendas to survive and perhaps prosper enough to support missionary work and benevolence.

I certainly won’t criticize such worthy agendas. But I’ll point out that my friend Steve, who directs a charity that assists the homeless, another worthy agenda, believes that directing tithes elsewhere than the local church is not only fine, it’s smart and admirable. And as the representative of a college whose mission involves promoting honest Christian art, I could easily argue in accord with my agenda. But I won’t. At least not today.

And rather than contend that us writers of modest means should or shouldn’t devote all of our hard earned 10% to the local church, I’ll only offer my opinion that, especially for us writers, the quest for truth should override every other agenda.

 

This post also appears in The Scoop, our monthly e-magazine, in the section called stuff you probably won’t hear in church, the point of which isn’t to criticize or expose but to offer a Christian perspective from outside the System. Please visit us. Subscribe and get The Scoop.

•• Time travel with detective Tom Hickey, at: kenkuhlken.net

 

Love

Some time ago, during one of those periods when I have been obsessed with the goal of learning more about love, I came across M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, in which he gave a definition I found plenty enlightening. He argued that love is not a feeling but is rather a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another’s spiritual growth. More simply: love is willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another.

From Peck’s angle, love is an act of will that may or may not connect to a particular emotion.

C.S. Lewis wrote about “the four loves”: eros or romantic love; storge or affection such as family members may exhibit for each other; philia or a strong friendship bond; and agape or unconditional love, as God exemplifies and would have us apply toward others.

As Lewis points out, all the loves except agape can readily be abused, poisoned by the desire for self-aggrandizement. What appears to be one of those loves may actually be no more than pure self-love in disguise. We pick our friends for how they can serve us, our lovers for the lust they may satisfy. Love for our parents or kids might depend upon what their accomplishments and status do for our image.

William Blake’s “The Clod and the Pebble” exposes the authentic and the counterfeit (for those who read this poem in my earlier post, it’s well worth rereading):

“Love seeketh not itself to please,

Nor for itself hath any care,

But for another gives its ease,

And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.”

So sung a little Clod of Clay,

Trodden with the cattle’s feet,

But a Pebble of the brook

Warbled out these metres meet:

“Love seeketh only Self to please,

To bind another to its delight,

Joys in another’s loss of ease,

And builds a hell in heaven’s despite.”

Though I deeply respect and admire the insights of Mr. Peck and Mr. Lewis, I can’t accept as a complete answer either “love” as willingness to sacrifice regardless of feeling or “love” as a catch phrase for a number of different emotions.

What Soren Kierkegaard refers to as “the subjective” tells me that love is a unity though it may express itself in different variations, and that the willingness to sacrifice based upon motive not partnered with emotion can’t be counted as love.

In First Corintians, St. Paul asserts that: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Simply, whatever I do without love is meaningless. I could sacrifice in order to bring about the salvation of the whole world, but the action wouldn’t be worth doing.

I won’t speculate whether St. Paul meant that actions taken without love will backfire or that, even though they might help others, they won’t draw us any closer to God or heaven. His meaning may be far beyond my comprehension.

But I will speculate about the application of love, whatever it is, wherever it comes from, to our work as artists.

Suppose we get blessed with the opportunity to see an exhibit of Van Gogh originals, or to hear fine musicians play “Ode to Joy”. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will notice that the creator of the painting or symphony has applied something more than great skill, that the artist’s love has entered into the creation and remains there as long as the work exists.

When I read Dostoyevski or Dickens I often glimpse through the words the love that inspired the author to write those particular words. And we encounter love not only in the greatest masters. I recently finished the Harry Potter books and found in them an abundance of love.

So, my advice is, if we intend to create anything beautiful, by which I also mean anything true, we had best apply ourselves to the acquisition and practice of love.

Otherwise, if I attend the best writing programs and learn all the poetic skills, I will offer only noise. If I devote myself to craft and produce dozens of novels that entertain millions of readers, I have given nothing of value in exchange for the fortune I may have acquired.

I had a remarkable friend, Sylvia Curtis, the mother of Eric Curtis, whom you could meet in Reading Brother Lawrence. One day I as I entered Sylvia’s apartment she met me with a scowl and demanded, “What’s the purpose of life?”

I said, “Uh . . .”

She said, “To know love and to serve God.”

Later she admitted that definition came from a Catholic priest in an orphanage where she had done time.

Please note that “to know love” comes first.

Truth

In John 18:33–38, while being interrogated by Pilate, “Jesus answered, ‘For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’

Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’”

Maybe if Jesus could’ve pitched a zinger, a sound bite he knew would reach Pilate where he lived, he would’ve responded. But most likely no such zinger is within the province of language.

Imagine Jesus answering, as did the poet John Keats about 1800 years later: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.”

So Pilate asks, ‘What is Beauty?’

Suppose Jesus answers, “Love.”

Then Pilate counters, “And just what is love?” Which leads Jesus back to Truth, beginning an endless loop.

Or Jesus might’ve answered, as according to John 14:6 he did to his disciple Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”

To such a claim, Pilate could reply, “That’s not an answer.” Which would be a valid point, as Jesus seems to imply elsewhere.

In John 8:31-32, “Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed him, ‘If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'”

Here he has revealed that knowledge of the truth requires the actions of perseverance, discipline, and application of a fund of principles.

Probably since the concept of truth entered language, folks have argued it’s meaning. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a summary of 20th century approaches. If you’re up for a challenge, give it a read.

Of the philosophers I’ve consulted on the topic, Soren Kierkegaard offers revelations that most appeal to my admittedly highly subjective mind.

What you’ll find below I have clipped from a philosophy website and edited a bit for the sake of conciseness and clarity.


Subjective Truth

Kierkegaard distinguishes between objective and subjective truth. Considered objectively, truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, correspondence with an independent reality. The statement “cats often meow” is objective truth. Considered subjectively, however, truth seeks achievement of the right attitude, an appropriate relation between object and knower. Thus, for example, although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete devotion.

For Kierkegaard, it is clearly subjective truth that counts. How we believe matters much more than what we believe, since the “passionate inwardness” of subjective adherence is the only way to deal with our anxiety. Anxiety, a condition central to Kierkegaard’s world view, is the appropriate reaction by seekers of truth to accepting that they must make the journey entirely on their own, relying on nobody or no set of dogma. Passionate attachment to a palpable falsehood, Kierkegaard supposed, is preferable to detached conviction of an objective truth or common belief.

This could translate, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere.” But Kierkegaard’s standards for sincerity are exceedingly high. They bring us around the circle to John 8:31, where Jesus advises those who seek the truth to practice discipline, perseverance and the application of the principles he teaches. And I’ll maintain that such application requires uncommon humility and deep, courageous honesty.

For now, at least, I’m going to end this exploration with a highly subjective conclusion: Truth is that which alerts us to Beauty by drawing us closer to openhearted, generous, selfless Love. 

Find Ken Kuhlken’s books at www.kenkuhlken.net

Kierkegaard and Good Ol’ Charlie Brown

Even during the rare times when my mind is able to fully engage, I might read a paragraph or page of Soren Kierkegaard and find my only reaction is “Huh?” I might read the page over again and again and at last give up, wondering if the translator was suffering from dementia.  But, if I put down the book and ask myself to translate subjectively, beginning with the premise of the section or chapter and asking how could this premise, in my experience, possibly prove true, usually an answer comes.

The Works of Love chapter, “Love Believes All Things” maintains that (in my translation) we who aim to follow Christ should believe that Lucy won’t pull the football away just as Charlie Brown kicks at it. Even if she pulls it away seventy times seven times, we are required to believe that next time she won’t.

What’s more, Kierkegaard has the audacity to argue that if we believe all things, even that Lucy could change, we will never be deceived. “Huh?” I muttered, then laid the book down and wondered how could this be true?

I don’t know whether Charles Shultz read Kierkegaard, but I imagine he knew of St. Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthian’s 13:7. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Without claiming Charlie Brown as a Christ figure, I will submit that Charlie is no dupe, that he remembers quite well what Lucy has done in the past and realizes what she may do again. Yet he also recognizes that no matter the number of times Lucy has snatched the football, the next time she might either snatch it or hold it still. After all, she is human, and humans grow and change. So he chooses to believe in Lucy.

Either at some point in his development or in accord with his nature, Charlie has chosen to love. On account of that choice, love has become part of him. So he believes all things. And he is not deceived. He knows he may turn a flip and land on his back. She may laugh and berate him. But he would rather suffer pain and humiliation than risk forsaking love, which chooses to believe. Sure, he could walk away, but he is neither a quitter nor a coward, and Lucy has offered him a chance to believe, to act out of love. I applaud Charlie Brown.

So would Kierkegaard, who writes: “… knowledge does not defile a man; it is mistrust which defiles a man’s knowledge just as love purifies it.”

Ken Kuhlken’s Reading Brother Lawrence, the account of a trip to the Kingdom of Heaven, recently came out as an ebook.

How to Love Whom?

One of the benefits of reading Soren Kierkegaard is, he compels us to learn to read differently. He won’t allow us to skim, or to overlook the depth of loaded words.

So, the command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” becomes a study of the words shall, love, neighbor, and of the phrase as yourself.

Consider as yourself, a critical phrase in my attempt to apply the wisdom of Kierkegaard. Especially when wrestling with his assessment of the obedience God requires, I need to remember that when God commands me to love even my ornery neighbor, he commands me to love myself as well.

Still I wonder, what does it mean to love myself? We who believe God is love can give a ready answer: we should love ourselves (and others) in the manner that God loves us. Then we who believe God loves us ought to ask, in what way does he love us?

He certainly doesn’t gush or fawn, or let us forever get away with our pranks. The tough love theory–don’t let your feelings stand in the way of applying or allowing consequences for harmful or dangerous actions–might provide a reasonably sound description. Except miserable consequences often appear to arrive in spite of our best efforts at obedience.

We are advised that God treats us with such deep concern for our welfare that his every response to our pleas and needs is meant to draw us closer to an eternal realm where the fullness of joy awaits us. Unless we fully accept that premise on faith, during hard times we may feel rebellious and abused, certainly unloved. And we may descend into self-condemnation, which is surely not the route to healing melancholy.

I’ll submit that those of us who often or occasionally battle melancholy ought to consider applying all the faith we can muster to the notion that everything that befalls us, God allows for a beneficial reason. And we should also attempt to better understand the way God’s love works. Because such understanding is a key to our ability to love ourselves and others.

According to my current understanding, the tough love equation factors into God’s love. But, as Kierkegaard points out, so does Jesus’ answer to Peter, that we should forgive our brother seventy times seven times.

While reading Works of Love, in the chapter entitled, “Love Believes All Things”, I saw that to forgive seventy times seven times means forgiveness could become a useless concept. Because if we do love well, we will decline to judge or take offense, and so will have nothing to forgive.

That chapter is a treasure.

Ken Kuhlken’s award winning novel Midheaven recently came out as an ebook.

Looking for Loopholes

Someone encountered W.C. Fields on his deathbed reading a Bible.  When the person asked if he had gotten religion, Fields replied,  “I’m looking for a loophole.”

Most of us prefer looking for loopholes to facing hard truths.  Not Sören Kierkegaard.

When he writes about Christ, he not only takes Christ’s words at face value, he takes them to heart and applies them to reality no matter how severely they may insult or outrage.

Works of Love is essentially a treatise on Matthew 22:39: “… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The book’s premise is, when Christ commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is commanding us to “love without distinction.”

Note my repetition of “command”.  The verse reads, we “shall”, not “should,” love our neighbor.

As the parable of “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) clarifies, our neighbor is whomever we encounter in need. Since all human beings are in need of something, that’s quite a chore.

“The Good Samaritan” also clarifies that the way we are to love is through action.

A couple years ago, Pam left Zöe and me.*  I won’t presume to challenge, justify, or even pretend to understand her reasons.  But I will note that it’s no cinch trying to do justice to raising a wonderful daughter as a single dad with only a modest income and with two demanding jobs.  Sometimes, I was inclined toward resentment.  Kierkegaard helped plenty.

Each time Pam showed up, I would remind myself that regardless of any resentment I might feel, I was obligated to act toward her in a loving way.  In other words, to treat her with kindness, generosity, and concern.

Hold on, I thought, she did me … Loophole.

Yeah, but if I treat her well, aren’t I condoning … Loophole.

A most unexpected and peculiar revelation came out of this practice.  I began to see that resentment fades in light of a call to action.  I suppose resentment inspires counter-resentment, which prompts an escalation of resentment, and so on.

But even beyond the interpersonal dynamic, I began to experience a strange release from resentment, a sense of freedom that felt like a gift or blessing.

Score one for the theory that the truth will set us free.

* Here’s a story about Zöe and her mom and dad in lighter times.