Love Poet

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If the Song of Solomon were the only sacred text available, what would religion be like? Last week the poem of Solomon explored the microcosm of human sexuality. Today that poem reveals the macrocosm of love.

What does that mean? 

To paraphrase Ray Anderson, “the acts of love are the hermeneutical horizon for the being of love.”  In other words, we know what/who love is by how love acts. From this framework emerges a rather beautiful theology. Below are a few of my observations:

1. Love compels us.  Our world has some jacked up ideas about love. One is that love obligates us to do the right thing even if we don’t want to do it. This malware script is constantly played over and over in marriage counseling. How else do we keep a marriages together when unloving people forsake love? Solomon and his bride show no sign of obligation. They behave this way because love so grips their heart that it pleases them to please the other. It compulsory, not duty. It’s a reflex not a plan.

This can be seen in religious systems too.

Doing the right thing the wrong way is the same as doing the wrong thing, like the religious man’s prayer of superiority (Luke 18:11). Much of religion falls into this category. It seems right on the surface, but below its anything but love. Sadly, people ascribe this malware script to their faith, thinking God is staring down with a stink-eye waiting to punish sinners. Our poem flips the script and illuminates a God who is passionately desiring unity with us. This kind of love evokes reciprocation on our part. When it doesn’t, it’s because we just can’t believe God is that loving.

This couple is not waiting for the “shoe to drop.” Nor should our theology.

2. Love and trust go together.  The complete giving of oneself takes an immense amount of trust. However, without this kenosis (self-emptying) love never emerges. Protect your heart–remain a spinster. Trusting is a big risk, but its the only way to love deeply and freely. We confuse the order of love and trust. We’re convinced we will love first and build trust later. That order stifles love’s power leaving a person with a scorecard instead of a loving experience.  We trust first and get “all-in” or we will have no share of love. Theologically, the Christ story depicts a love that is all-in, to the point of death. That kind of love is reflected in this story.

3. Lust only exists when we aren’t free to love. Lust is wanting a part of a person but not the whole of a person. It’s dehumanizing because it makes an object out of a subject. Physical attraction is not lust. We will be sexually attracted to countless people in our lives. If both parties are free and available for love, then attraction can lead to consummation. Satisfying the attraction when one isn’t able to take on the whole life of the other stifles love. Those in relationships are simply not free or available for another because love creates a natural boundary. Lust is the “over-desire” (epithumia) not the desire, it exists when love is not free to bring the consummation of attraction.

Theologically, this holds true as well. Idolatry is the forsaking the consummation of love for something temporarily satisfying. We turn good things into God things and objectify the Subject. Consummation is subject to subject.

4. Horizontal and the Vertical. Human love is the practice arena for divine love. Religion always messes this up by elevating the love and worship of their deity so high while simultaneously treating those around with contempt. Paul said we could worship with the voice of an angel but if we have not love for others we are just noisemakers (1 Corinthians 13:1). This is the litmus test of all real belief. There are no enlightened road-ragers. There is no genuine love of God if we compete with others instead of promoting them. James called this “dead faith” and it’s the biggest hypocrisy in the world. If your church hates certain groups of people, your worship is pointless.

Solomon and his bride “self-empty” and promote each other. They are compelled to do it. It’s not a chore. This is how Mother Theresa and countless others self-emptied for the most needy. When service replaces duty, our soul is meeting love. We love God by loving others.

5. Unspeakable Power.  The last observation I’ll offer is the indescribable power that love produces. Physical attraction in the prime of youth and beauty are a gravitational pull of love depicted in this poem. The power of love to overcome any gaps in union cannot be underestimated. Love is a magnetic force that overpowers it’s subjects until unity is shared. It’s power can bring anything together. To the degree that any division resides within our soul, any amount of “us vs them”, to the same degree love is being resisted.

“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is ONE.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) This “shama” is not an argument for monotheism. It’s the biggest statement of complete unity ever phrased by human lips. Our differences are to be celebrated and serve the purpose of expanding the love between us and the divine.

So yes, the love poet can teach us about God. Yes a human story of sex and love can open up into a theology that brings every tribe, nation, tongue (and religion) into a single frame. Every bit of pain, suffering or evil perpetrated in the world stems from a void where love is intended to dwell. The longing for love that we all possess proves there is a consummation. 

This is love. Unity is the flow of God. We see and experience it everyday. The Song of Solomon proves that the love between us here and now is just a sliver of the love that exists as Ultimate Reality.

Thus the love of God need not be known only as a theological ideal, but it is experienced by our love shared with others.

 

 

Sex Poet

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We’ve been reading between the lines of Solomon’s wisdom literature. Today we take a voyeuristic look at what’s behind his graphic poetry in Song of Solomon.

Solomon and his bride depict a free but connected sexuality that has not been damaged by the two powerful belief systems of our modern times: fundamentalism and secularism.

1. Fundamentalism. Sex remains today a cultural taboo because fundamentalism has convinced us that sexuality is wrong, depraved, inappropriate or at least a deeply private matter. Human sexuality not really celebrated in fundamentalism, but only tolerated within the narrowest of confines. This vein runs so deep, that even sexual attraction has become synonymous with the sin of lust. This is a poor interpretation of “epithumia” (Greek) translated as “evil desire” but actually means “over desire”.  Fundamentalism has lied to the world by telling us that our sexual desires are sinful and need to be eradicated if we would please God. Self-governing our sexuality is wise, but vilifying it corrupts the gift.

The damage this does to humanity is incalculable. Sexual energy and the experience of our sexuality is no more a sin than the capacity and desire for food. (For more readThe Food Network and Porn ) The sex=sin equation is highly effective and plays into the narrative that religion uses to keep people afraid, repentant, and dependent on a purification system. Sexual shame fills pews and creates a living hell in marriages.

2. Secularism. Many who won’t subscribe to the fear tactics of religion have given full vent to their sexual appetite. While free from the trap of fundamentalism, they fall headlong into the trap of secularism. Timothy Keller said that appetites are not good gauges. Our humanity is diminished if wisdom does not counter-balance our appetites. Sexuality, just like food, has a beautiful and meaningful purpose in our lives, but just because we want something and are free to have it, doesn’t mean we should.

The damage this does to humanity is incalculable. Appetites grow and morph over time. The result is that without wisdom, we lose our humanity as we objectify one another and erode our capacity for true intimacy and knowing. Sexuality has become a commodity that is parceled out piece meal into a culture that can no longer tell the difference between a subject and an object. While free from fundamentalism, this is anything but the liberation it promises. Free sex is never free. Casual sex is an out of tune soul and creates a living hell because is neglects love.

The Song of Solomon represents the highest goal in human sexuality. The wisdom tradition offers the vast freedom of “anything goes” so long as it falls under the law of love. Sex apart from the wisdom and law of love is degrading, dehumanizing and selfish. Love (eros kind) apart from the sexual intimacy can hardly be called love at all. (Sexual intimacy need not be intercourse) Love is not surface level and sexuality should not be either. Love doesn’t hold anything back. Love gives itself completely away. If we have sex without love, we are just acting creaturely or biochemically and not fully human. We disrespect our bodies, our self, and our Maker.

Now we have lens to read Solomon’s poem. We should not blush, apologize nor spiritualize this amazing book of poetry. It proves that porneia (sexual sin) is harmful not because it reveals too much, but because it reveals too little. If this was our only spiritual book, our faith could be amazing.

Ideal sexuality emerges from the bedrock of love. Love makes each person totally free and totally empowered. Love expands in the presence of others, longs for, and needs others to manifest itself. Love accepts us as well as the other. Love is the third, larger thing that both parties fall/merge into. It has no bottom, but is diminished when only one person withholds. Thus, sex is the bi-product of love, not vice-versa. Order is important.

These lovers showcase the best definition. It elevates sex by marital commitment. It proves they take the whole person’s life, not just their body. These poems illuminate that graphic sexuality can be beautiful. Yes, honoring sexuality requires some discretion, but it must not be completely hidden or else something is lost?  If these poems were a movie, would it offend you? Would it be a sin to watch? Would you rather your kids kill one another playing Fortnight than to see it? How easily we have traded true love for foolish piety.

These poems are here to wake us up to the power of love. The bride offers wisdom to her young entourage which essentially says: “You need to know that love like this exists, but don’t awaken this kind of love until it pleases.” In other words, let love do what love does. When it grips you, don’t resist it. If it’s love there is no need to play it safe. If you can’t tell the difference, then stay put, stay single, stay hopeful and ever learning.

When I was growing up, church taught me not to have sex instead of how to love. This gave me license to “not have intercourse” with the girls I dated. Little did I know that all the “outercourse” in the world only taught me to objectify the women I was supposed to learn how to love. Most people’s sexual pasts are even more jacked up than this, so is it any wonder our world is in need of some serious sexual healing?

Well, its possible. Not by rewinding the clock. Not by some revirgination ceremony but by finally learning to love. (Where are your accusers?) All the broken, depraved, selfish, and dehumanizing sex can be redeemed in love. Victims of abuse need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Love and trust go together, and next week we will explore how we sadly confuse the order of these two things as well.

(For more see Getting Better When You Can’t  or Divine Sex )

 

Politics and Perspective

Politics only exists because there is a differing perspective.

Politics only exists because there is a different perspective. Yes, you needed to hear that twice. If all people are in alignment there can be no disagreement.

Of course, everyone is different. We look different. We are different ages. We’ve all had vastly different experiences. Even our siblings with similar upbringing can be complete opposites.

Some of us are strong, others weak. Some wealthy, some poor. Some possess intelligence, others are simple. Some of us are healthy, some are sick. We are old and young and in-between. Some people actually like Taylor Swift’s music.

We all start life viewing only from our perspective. Some will sadly end life that way too. Along the way, it is the differing perspective that opens us up and shines a light into our blind spots.

Differences create friction which is supposed to exfoliate our thick outer layer. Diversity is designed to cure our myopia.

Voting used to be the way we communicated to our political leaders our hopes for our country. Instead, voting has become a team jersey and a weapon to be used upon those sporting the enemies colors. In our “booth” we are empowered to pick who we will hate. We leave feeling patriotic, even heroic after we gulp down the elixir of a forced binary choice.

Today, the most political vote is with our wallet. The informed voter is not the one who sides with a team, but the one who is willing to vote their conscience at each swipe of their card. Real political money comes from our love of comfort and few of us will vote against that. The news machine (fake or otherwise) is the photographer distracting a toddler with a squeaky toy. We anesthetize ourselves with our 50″ light show.

Politics sells the illusion that we are all divided. So long as we pick a team, we all keep losing. Back and forth the baton of power is passed, while both sides are fleeced with either ethical and tax violence.

If I sound cynical, its only because I’ve seen another way and I’m impatient for its arrival. There is a way where both diversity and unity exist in harmony. It’s the only model where both sides resolve into a perspective greater than each perspective. A shared vision that we can all embrace.

Compromise does not get us there. A higher consciousness does. Once awake, our vote becomes the very next choice we make. Our vote is the next conversation we have. Our vote is our next purchase. Our vote is how we treat our bodies, our communities, and our cosmos. Our vote is whether we will plunder others for resources or divest ourselves for the sake of others. Compete with each other or complete each other.

Our vote is whether we will love one another as we have loved ourselves. It requires no registration, no patriotism, no partisan politics, only a wide angle lens. All of us share equal power.

May we awaken to our real lives and vote not only today, but everyday.

 

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Wise Man Says: Enjoy your Toil

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Over half of the U.S workforce is unhappy at work. Friday afternoon and Monday morning are completely different experience for most people. For the vast majority, work is a means to an end, and NOT an end in itself. Our work seems like endless, repetitive toil, which is perceived as devoid of meaning.

In many countries in our world, there are fewer jobs than workers. In these deeply impoverished places, not having work is a far greater problem. This realization keeps Americans getting up each and every day. “At least I have a job.” is the mental stop-gap that keeps people showing up to jobs they don’t particularly enjoy.

It is still true that having a higher education typically correlates to higher income jobs, but book knowledge doesn’t open the doors it once did. In many cases, “Who you know” can get you much further than “What you know.”

The recipe for success has been proven many times: attitude+service=opportunity. These are not skills to be “taught,” they are dispositions that must be “caught.” Pick any job in the world from “Sign Twirler” to CEO,  the person who really gets into their work with an attitude of service and gratitude will always outperform those who merely execute the metrics of their work. Attitude and service are the rails upon which promotion, higher-pay, and greater opportunity arrive.

These vital ingredients are not aspects of any role at work, they are characteristics of the soul. Success in this world is predicated upon what happens inside. Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, corruption exists virtually everywhere. Make no mistake, achievement is not the same as success.

Jobs give us a sense of purpose and identity. Having a purpose is great, but gaining an identity from work is the very definition of the loss of self. If this confuses you or you disagree, then chances are very good that you are a “climber” in search of an identity. Your ambition drives you on to attain higher levels of attainment (which you have confused as success). If each level up validates and shapes our self image, then our soul is sick or out of tune. Work was not intended to name us.

Early in Solomon’s life, he also was a climber. Unlike most of us, he had the resources to accomplish anything, and he did. He built everything the mind could imagine. He denied his heart no pleasure. All of it was great, but it came with a sobering reality: It was all just vanity, a chasing after the wind. There was little to be gained by all his wisdom and toil, his death was as certain as the fool’s death.

If you knew you would die in 48 hours, would you spend your time at work? Like the Blues Traveler song: “It won’t mean a thing in 100 years.”

We will all be forgotten. Even those we remember remain mostly unknown. Our work might endure, but not for millennia. While our minds and hearts yearn for greatness, timelessness, and even immortality, there is something about the scope of our life that we must reconcile. We have but a “few vain days under the sun.”

Solomon learned that the greatest gift of God was not found in the “big stuff”, the ego projects, or in raising our flag of self-importance, those are vain wind grabbing efforts.

“Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he (God) has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (place of the dead), to which you are going.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9-11)

The wisdom to enjoy our life and toil is not insignificant. Solomon repeats this theme several times within this book. He also goes on to say that our ability to enjoy our toil, is a gift of God.

To unpack what Solomon is saying we must reflect upon the curse of Genesis 3:17-19. In the Jewish creation narrative, God punishes Adam and Eve. “in pain shall you eat… by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” 

Enjoying our toil is the gift that overthrows this curse.

The design is that we would all work, all the days of our lives. To take joy in our toil means that we have found acceptance in our lot, and this reverses the curse of work in our lives. Acceptance is a gift given to us each and every moment, but we so often prefer resistance.

I used to pump portable toilets. That is where I learned this lesson. I found joy in my toil. I gained a heart to serve. I accepted my lot with great joy though with much toil. Then and only then, did my life begin to change.

The gift has never stopped giving as joy in my toil has never stopped. This wisdom from Solomon allowed me to see opportunities and enter them with the same heart of service. As I have done that, God has prospered every endeavor of my life.

If life is not what you had hoped it to be, as long as there is today, then there is time to change. Solomon’s wisdom reveals that the outside always conforms to the inside, NOT Vice-Versa.