More on love and fear

“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

near me


B) I am alone with out you

near me

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.




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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “More on love and fear”

  1. I like this a lot. I think it’s also true to say though, that as the love perfects, sometimes the rules cease being “the rules,” and you follow them because of your love and not because you’re afraid of disappointing someone, or of someone’s getting mad at you, but because you honestly and fully believe it’s a good way of loving someone.

    There are some “rules” I grew up with as a kid in the church which I used to be afraid to break because I thought God might stop liking me or something. Some of them have gone by the wayside as my understanding has changed, but some of them I’ve hung onto even more strongly as my understanding has changed; they’ve become pivotal to how I understand life-and-the-universe. And in that case, to disobey them would be, from my perspective, to betray God and the love I have for Him–and also to betray myself.


  2. Thanks for your thoughts here, Jenn. In Small Group last night we were wrestling with some of these same issues.
    The best question (in my opinion) in the whole study was this: Why isn’t it arrogant for Jesus to say “If you love me then you will obey me.”
    The implication is that if I said that to my wife it would be arrogant, ditto if she said it to me.
    It was this great picture of what small group can be. As a group, we came to realize that to a small extent, we do submit in relationships when the other person has a request we don’t understand. Given that Jesus isn’t broken, falliable, etc. it’s infinitely more sensible that we would sumit to him in the same way, only much more consistently and intently.


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