“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”
As I continue to meditate on this amazing verse, I realize how often this plays out, in so many aspects of our lives. When is the last time you were a fish out of water? When is the last time you were thrust into an environment that was completely out of your comfort zone? When was the last time you suspected that there were all these rules and everybody else got the rule book and you didn’t?
Sometimes these are social situations. Perhaps it’s a dinner with people from another culture, or perhaps simply a different economic class. Perhaps it was a religious ceromony you were unfamiliar with. Perhaps it was a part of life you don’t nomrally see: a big governmental beuracracy, or somewhere behind the scenes…
Circumstances I’d rather not expand on lead me to a court at one point in my life. I was so alone.
I’m a pretty intelligent, together guy in most areas. But I was overwhelmed. It was this whole alien thing. There were these rules and expectations and there was this lump in my stomach and this dryness to my mouth but mostly there was just this fear.
There were these rules that I did not know and I was afraid. I was jealous, almost angry, of the regulars. Some of them were security and some of them were lawyers and some of them swept the floors and some of them seemed to be people who just broke lots of laws and often found themselves in that place. Not all of them were happy. In fact most were quiet serious. But they were not afraid. They new the rules.
There are lawyers who love the job that they do. I could never love being in that place as long as I was afraid that I did not know the rules.
Or consider a game. A game that you’re new at. Perhaps lots of people are watching you. And you keep making the same stupid mistake.
I remember when I learend to play chess. At first, it was frustrating, almost stressful. I’d look at a piece and have to do the mental work of identifying the name, then the kinds of directions it moved. Then I’d look at the board and see how I could use this movement to defend my pieces or attack my opponents. And if I couldn’t do that this turn, I’d wonder if I could set myself up for next turn. And if I planned to set myself up for next turn, I’d wonder if my opponent might see it coming or accidentally spoil my plan…
When I learned to play chess I focused on the rules. Bishops move diagonally the winner is the person who captures the opponents king, if my opponent captures most of my powerful pieces it will be very difficult to capture her king. As long as my brain was filled up with the rules, I don’t think I ever could have loved chess. The fear isn’t much in chess: it’s only the fear of losing a game. But it’s enough.
That day when I was at the cour house, I was afraid I didn’t know the rules and I was afraid. When I learned to play chess, there was a point at which I knew all the rules and yet I still could not love the game because I could not easily put them together. I believe that to love a thing, we need even more.
I teach English. One of my favorite untis is poetry. I am a poet. I love teaching kids to express themselves.
When I talk about line breaks, one of the things I explain is that the last word on a line has lots of power. I might have students compare the following two lines and explore what the differences in emphasis are:
A) I am alone
with out you
B) I am alone with out you
I hope (and usually they do) that students notice that A) emphasizes the alone-ness of the speaker more than B). It is not unreasonable to call it a rule of poetry that the last word in a line has power.
It is even more clearly a rule of poetry that a sonnet has 14 lines. This is part of the definition of a sonnet. If it doesn’t have 14 lines, it isn’t one.
Suppose I could teach a student all the rules of poetry. Further suppose that they could learn them so well that the rules become automatic. They are no longer feeling the stress I did when I first learned the rules of chess and tried to keep them all straight in my head.
Would they love poetry? Maybe.
But I know that I love poetry. And the truth is that I don’t think about that rule when I write. I did once. But I’ve gotten past thinking about it. I just do it.
But I think they’d love poetry even more when they figured out how and when to break the rules. When we first learn that there are rules, we have this little tiny fear, sometimes. A student might have a little tiny fear that if he wrote a sonnet of 15 lines, it wouldn’t be a sonnet anymore. This fear would we well-grounded; the student would be right.
But if somebody wrote a poem that looked like a sonnet in the beginning, and if the poem was about how they could never get the final little details of their life right, and if this piece of work was 15 lines instead of 14, the poem would become bigger than a sonnet, in some way. The form of the poem supported the content of what was being said. This person would be free: not because they ignored the rules but because they so thoroughly learned them that they knew when to break them.
Abstract and conceptual artists talk about this sometimes: how important it is to thoroughly learn all the rules so that when you break those rules, you know what you are doing and why you are doing it.
I think we sometimes think Jesus wants us to just be an old-school traditionalists. We say “Look at me, Jesus, I’m following all the rules! I made this ____ exactly like everybody always said I’m supposed to.”
And Jesus, he says “Love me. Just begin with that. If you love me, you’ll learn all the rules. But if you love me, you can get bigger than those rules, you’ll no longer be ruled by fear of what happens.”
On the outside, we may look no different at all. Our perfect love will motivate our decisions in a truer way than our old fears of the old rules ever did. We will become something new, greater than what we were through our love we are in Christ himself.
This post was submitted by Watercooler Wednesday at Randy Elrod’s blog, Ethos.