living through death

"The only way that you can accept life is if you can accept death.” –Leo Buscaglia

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Paul Tillich: Why Love Is a Constant Spinning

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Yesterday I wrote a post about a deep affinity between the deconstructive philosophy of Jaques Derrida and the activism of Thomas Merton. I concluded by suggesting that “love is a constant spinning,” by which I mean that love is always sensitive to the changing dynamics of the love situation, both in ourselves as the lover and within the object loved as the beloved. If love is to be authentic it needs to be seeking that which is real in the other from the place of what is real in our self. Love is a union of what is real. It cannot live in the house of pretense, superficiality, or caricature.

The reason that love must be a constant spinning—that is, a constant unresolved sensitivity to the concrete love situation—is that reality, be it the reality of the other or of our self, does not easily and obviously disclose itself to us. We live by way of mental concepts and images that, to varying degrees, are “relatively adequate,” to use David Tracy’s phrase. This relative adequacy stands in tension with the absolute drive within love to unite with reality.

The single most important text for me when it comes to this idea of love being a constant spinning is Paul Tillich’s words on Christ’s love and the overcoming of the absolute and relative tension in reason. If he’s too abstract for you, try the couple paragraphs that follow him. He says,

The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law; it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete. The paradox of final revelation, overcoming the conflict between absolutism and relativism, is love. The love of Jesus as the Christ, which is the manifestation of the divine love—and only this—embraces everything concrete in self and world. Love is always love; that is its static and absolute side. But love is always dependent on that which is loved, and therefore it is unable to force finite elements on finite existence in the name of an assumed absolute. The absoluteness of love is its power to go into the concrete situation, to discover what is demanded by the predicament of the concrete to which it turns. Therefore, love can never become fanatical in a fight for an absolute, or cynical under the impact of the relative. Systematic Theology V I, 152.

The phrase “love is a constant spinning” is an attempt to mirror what Tillich is saying here. It is an attempt to unite the absolute and the relative tensions in human thought and action. Love is absolutely a constant spinning. As long as life is moving, love never lands. It is always sensitive, always moving, as life itself moves.

Years ago dear friend and mentor of mine captured this insight in a way that has never left me. His name is Jim Bjork and he was a friend to countless young people as well as a potter. His pottery provided him with seemingly endless analogies between is craft and a life well lived. So if I may borrow a page from his book, what I’m getting at is that, like a potter who is endlessly attentive to the clay spinning on her wheel, to its texture, speed, shape, even smell, love is endlessly attentive. The novice who see his own ideas more clearly than the clay upon which he works will end up both personally frustrated and having to deal with a pile of mush. The difference is, of course, that eventually the potter’s wheel stops, whereas life moves on. Have a look at the video below for a beautiful look at the work of an attentive potter.

From this I hope it can be seen that, in both Derrida and Merton, their refusal to accept settled answers is not evidence of a superficial relativism, but rather it is the logical response to a deeper absolute, the absolute of love.

Petersen Pottery Company Spinning Nantuckets from Petersen Pottery on Vimeo.

Written by Alex

March 14, 2014 at 9:28 am

A Cold Morning

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A Cold Morning

It seems like all of a sudden the crisp bite of winter has made itself known. Here was the view during my morning studies today.

Written by Alex

December 5, 2013 at 2:08 pm

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An Unexpected Visit

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As I was running down a lonely gravel road today, I heard from behind me what sounded like an approaching waterfall. Just as I was noticing this, wind began to blow grass and dust past me from behind. I stopped and spun around only to be stunned by the realization that I was now in the middle of a quickly rotating mass of air. It was about 25 feet across and surging all around me, blowing the grass and dust into a ring of frantic activity. It was marvelously unexpected. I must have looked like a dazed five-year-old standing there in the middle of the road slack-jawed and wide-eyed.

Slowly the vortex began to move off of the road and out into a bean field, contracting and expanding as it went. Not wanting to let the experience go, I ran after it through the knee-high beans. Now the presence of the funnel was even more obvious for it flattened the beans nearly to the ground as it spun over them with enough force to occasionally rip off leaves and send them spinning a hundred feet or so into the air.

I clumsily dashed about for a bit trying to capture the most intense center of the little devil, but eventually I realized I wasn’t likely to experience anything better than I already had already been gifted with, so I stopped. I stood there for maybe five minutes or so watching it work its way across the field, snatching up bean leaves and twirling them skyward. Above me the sky was blue, dotted only with the occasional puffy cloud. Grinning from ear to ear, I pulled some bean stalks out of my running sandals and walked back to the road.

What a strange thing, this life.

Blondeau-Sun Through Clouds

Written by Alex

August 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm

The meaning of salvation

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I was asked by a friend recently what I mean when I make use of the term “salvation.” At the time I was rather surprised, not at the question, but rather that I had been caught talking about salvation. It’s one of those terms that recovering evangelicals tend to shy away from due to its tight association with what they’ve come to see as a fairly cheap idea of “getting saved.” But as I reflected on it, it became clear to me that my dissertation work is really aptly characterized as a project on salvation, or soteriology (in big-word-talk).

ImageSo what do I mean by salvation? Here’s a brief attempt for your consideration: Salvation is that event or process in which one is both made fully aware of the limits of life, and yet, rather than turning back into some form of intoxication, denial, or rebellion, one experiences oneself as “accepted” or “held in being” in such a way that the limits of life cease to create anxiety, and therefore compulsion. Salvation is thus freedom to embrace one’s limits and the courage to engage life to its fullest. The one who experiences this salvation most radically is the one who is able to choose their own death for the sake of life. I think here of, for example, Thich Quang Duc. Surely, such acts could be done in the confidence of some reward in the hereafter, but this is not what I have in mind. I am thinking rather of the sober acceptance of life’s limits with no further guarantee beyond it. It is the freedom to live into the true, the good, and the beautiful for their own sake and not to be deterred by our existential fears, e.g., the loss of money, the good opinion of those you care about very much, personal comfort, or even life itself.

This, I think, gives fresh meaning to the old question: “are you saved?

Written by Alex

May 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

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Scene From a Checkout Line

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As one who lives in an area with a growing population of poorly understood Somali immigrants, this excellent post by Mark Love seemed most worthy of being passed on. It is clearly written by a man who has been disciplined to look beyond his own immediate interests—which is the first step toward relationship, the first step in every act of love. John 4:1-26

via Richard Beck

Written by Alex

September 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm

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Finding yourself

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Written by Alex

September 10, 2010 at 9:42 am

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Augustine via Tillich on truth and ultimacy

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“There were people whom Augustine met who said: Why truth at all? Truth as such is not necessary. Why not stick to probabilities? Why not restrict oneself to pragmatic answers, answers which work? Augustine replied that this was not sufficient, because it leads to a complete emptiness of life. Without something unconditional or ultimate, the preliminary meanings lose their significance.”
— Paul Tillich on Augustine

Written by Alex

May 20, 2009 at 11:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized