Friday, December 08, 2006

Integration of Love

I finished the book Love and Responsibility that I started about a week ago. I did not follow all the arguments carefully, but followed the main arguments that were being made. In the last post, I commented on the idea that the opposite of love is use. In this post, I am going to comment on the idea that love needs to be integrated. Before I dive in, I should note that of the books that I have come across on dating, marriage, and love, this will be a book that I will go back to again and again to reflect on the nature of love. The only other book on the subject of love that falls in this category is C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis reflects on different kinds of love, starting from Affection, stepping through Friendship, Eros, and end up at Charity. Part of the exercise of the book was to help the reader understand God's love by noting characteristics of the different kinds of human love. The book can thus be understood to illuminate God's love by reflecting on human loves. Love and Responsibility takes, in a sense, a reverse journey. The focus in this work is to understand how love, specifically conjugal love, should be ordered in light of God's love for the world. Part of the focus of this book is the idea that for love between a man and a woman to exist, it needs as raw material physical attraction and emotional attachment, but those are the raw materials that needs to be integrated with love that comes from reason and the will.

One of the reasons that physical attraction and emotional attachment are not enough because on their own, they would quickly lead to seeing the other person in utilitarian terms. It is important to note that both emotional attachment and physical attraction can lead to the debasement of the human person. While it may be more obvious how physical attraction can lead to the utilitarian view of one's spouse, emotional attachment can lead to the same problem. So how does one integrate the raw material of physical attraction and emotional sentiment toward the other? A related question is what else needs to be integrated with the physical and the emotional? The solution proposed, as I alluded to in the last post, is to love the other person by thinking of the good of the other person. Another term that can be used is self-sacrificial love.

This all sounds so simple, but yet, so difficult to do in any measure. To the extent that this is really possible at all seems to require the intervention of Divine Grace. To my married friends, I will say a prayer for you that while it may be difficult, if not impossible, to truly love the other, that is always the goal that you will be striving for, and through grace, you may experience it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Delay of Winter

Technically winter doesn't start until December 22, but here at Ann Arbor, it would be right to expect the approach of Winter by Thanksgiving. The temperature in the past two weeks, however, has been consistently in the 50's. This week, I surprised myself when I noticed that the weather was too warm. It is amazing how two years at a place with seasons can make you look forward to the nostril burning cold. Not that I would enjoy the cold, at least not in the same way that I would enjoy eating ice cream. Rather, the thing that is off-putting about the current warm weather is it is unnatural. But fear not, I took a look at the forecast again today and the temperature will quickly drop below freezing in two days. At that point, I will complain how cold it gets in Ann Arbor, and I will look forward to the sunny skies of Southern California and the warm weather. That, is how life should be.

I have started reading the book Love and Responsibility by Pope John Paul II, written when he was still known as Karol Wojtyla. Increansingly, I find the sexual ethic that has been taught by the Roman Catholic church to be the most complete and satisfying. I want to be clear here, as I have done else where, to note that just because the Roman Catholic church advocates a particular theological position does not mean that protestants should dismiss the teaching by simply labeling the teaching as "Catholic". Doing so without considering the validity of the argument would be irresponsibile.

One of the first point that Wojtyla touches on in the book is to note that the opposite of love is use. That is, when we love a person, we do not use that person as only a means to an end. Putting it another way, when we use a person only as a means to satisfy an end, we are no longer loving that person but using that person. This point seems consistent with the other writings that I have read from faithful Catholics addressing the issue of sexual ethic in less philosophical, more day-to-day terms. One example that I can think of is the belief that once a couple gets married, the couple can do whatever they want sexually. Since they are married, anything goes. This belief, however, makes it possible for the married couple to use the other as only a means to the end of physical pleasure. The Catholic church is very careful in pointing out that the problem is not that sex needs to be boring or joyless or without physical pleasure. The point is that sex is a gift given to married couples as an opportunity to express their love for one another. It is suppose to be joyous and be pleasurable, but those things are not the end of sex. Rather, loving the other is the end of sex, and joy and physical pleasure are the fruits of that love.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Late Fall in Ann Arbor

The weather has been quite unusual for Ann Arbor of late. Okay, I wrote that as if I had lived in Ann Arbor for years, which I have not, but of the time that I have been here, this is the warmest Thanksgiving that I can remember. No snow on the ground. The sky is clear. The day time high is in the 50's and the day time low is in the 40's. In fact, this seems like the weather in Southern California in the Winter months.

Life continues to be steady on the whole and in some ways boring, but in most ways peaceful, and I am glad for that. Life, I am sure, will bring its share of excitement into my life, for better or for worst. For now, I am content to lay low, to take advantage of the learning opportunities that I have been given, and to contemplate on the gift of life.

About two months ago, the church that I have been going to adopted Rick Warren's "40 Days of Community" book and program, a follow up to "40 days of Purpose". While I personally had mixed feelings about the campaign, it does seem like other people in the church and in the greater community benefited from it. As part of the campaign, the church as a whole read through the book, which is a 40 days devotional. In addition, there were 40 small groups that were formed and the church as a whole took on 40 community projects. All but one of the service projects involved only a handful of people, but one of the project was meant to pull together all of the community. For that service project, the church partnered with a christian fellowship in Detroit. That service project took place on a Saturday.

The Sunday after the church-wide service project in Detroit, there was a church-wide celebration that took place during the worship service and at a luncheon. During the luncheon, I sat at a table with a relatively young couple with three kids, and I observed one of the most beautiful moments in my life. As people were eating lunch, there was an open microphone where people can go and share their thoughts and experiences from being part of the 40 days campaign and especially for their experiences in going into Detroit. At one point, I saw the father feeding one of the three toddlers and someone up front on the microphone mentioned something that she observed done by one of the members of the church that had touched her. Someone at my table than said something that made me realized that the father that is feeding his child is the one that had done something that touched the life of another person. The moment was so simple, yet so convoluted to describe, and powerful nonetheless. While I do not know the father of the young family well, I prayed that God will continue to strengthen that man and his houshold for the days to come.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mid-Semester Report

It's been a while since I've been back in the blog world. I have been a good student, hiding myself in my office and at various nooks around University of Michigan studying away. The leaves on most of the trees have already fallen in Ann Arbor, but some of the more resilient trees are still full with leaves that are a deep shade of golden brown.

It is not clear how often I would resurface here, or if I will have many interesting things to say, but I will be back to Southern California for winter break, so drop me a note if you will be in town and we shall get together!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Mystery of Procreation

A friend forwarded me an article from Wall Street Journal reporting on the views of evangelical christians on contraception. It is not possible to read the article online without being a subscriber of WSJ, but one can find a blog posting referencing the article here.

I think there is a lot of confusion surrounding the understanding of the christian perspective on contraception, even amongst christians. At the same time, what I believe to be the orthodox christian view on the topic of contraception is not base exclusively in christian principles alone. While I have not yet read up on what the other major world religions have said about contraception, my intuition is that if a belief system values human life (e.g. it does not condone human sacrifices), then my conjecture is that contraception would not be encouraged or allowed.

So what is the confusion amongst christians on this topic? One source of confusion is faithful christians mistakenly believe that the ban against contraception is exclusively a Roman Catholic teaching, and as such, someone in the protestant faith can automatically dismiss this belief. While it is true that the Catholic Church is the only major church today that openly disproves the use of contraception, all of the christian denominations before 1930 banned the use of contraception (and yes, contraceptions such as condoms were available long before the invention of plastic). It wasn't until the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Convention in 1930 did a major denomination approved the use of contraception, and even then, it did not give a blank check on the use of contraception.

Another confusion amongst christians on this topic is that people automatically associate the ban on the use of birth control with the teaching that sex is bad. That is also not true. My understanding on the matter of sex is that it is a great blessing given to married people. The teaching isn't saying don't have sex. It simply states that one should not separate the procreative aspect of sex with the unitive aspect of sex. A parallel one can draw is that eating is pleasurable, but it is wrong (or at the very least, unhealthy), to separate the pleasure one derives from eating with the fact that eating is suppose to provide our body with nutrients. To use contraception is similar to the act of vomiting food back out so that one can enjoy the pleasure of eating without experiencing the consequences of eating. While this comparison is not perfect, it does at least get the point across that while pleasure is not bad in itself, it does become bad when one separates the pleasure from the other natural consequences that the pleasure is part of.

It may also be helpful to understand that when someone decides to vomit the food that he has eaten, a possible reason may be that person is eating too much. If the person consumed the appropriate amount of food, then that person would not need to vomit the food out, but would naturally enjoy the nutrients provided by the food. Similarly, to not use birth control implies that the married couple needs to order their sexual appetite.

There is much that one can say about this topic, and I clearly won't exhaust the topic in this blog. What I would conclude with for now is that prayerful couples should think a little bit more about the ethics of sex instead of blindly following the spirit of the age. My speculation is that many pastors today either don't address the issue of contraception at all during marriage counseling, assuming that the couple will use some sort of contraception, or that the emphasize in discussing this is that whatever the couple agree on is good. Both of these are unfortunate. Thoughtful christians could do better.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Are we ready for "World Trade Center"?

At a party that I attended last night, I brought up the fact that the movie "World Trade Center", directed by Oliver Stone, has came out in general release this past Wednesday in United States. I mentioned that a lot of the reviewers, both liberals and conservatives, were surprised at the earnestness of the movie, given Mr. Stone's history.

From the reviews that I have read, I thought that the movie is a good one and that it serves a purpose in reminding people the reality of what had happened about five years ago. I thought this was a relatively uncontroversial point since the reviews of the movie seem to indicate that the movie did not focus on the politics before or after September 11. In the course of the conversation, a friend mentioned that she was against the idea of having the movie released so soon after the event. Her main criticism was that the event is still too close to us in time and is still too raw, especially for the people who were directly impacted by the event. She also made the interesting point that movie as a genre serves to distant people from reality, and by turning September 11 into a movie, the reality of the horror is diminished.

I think she made some good points and I wonder what justifications can be given for releasing a movie such as "World Trade Center" now. And if now is too soon for such a movie to be released, when is the appropriate time for such a movie to be made?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Done with Traveling!

I am glad to announce that I am done with the last business trip for the summer. This past week, I was in Pittsburgh for the second time in my life. I was there for a meeting. After I came back from the trip, I was commenting to folks back at Ann Arbor that I find Pittsburgh to be a much more interesting city than New York or Boston. New York felt too overwhelmingly busy and Boston felt too educated. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has a kind of grittiness that I find comfort in.

There is still six more weeks left before the start of the semester. There is quite a bit of work that needs to be done, but I believe that as long as I pace myself and work steadily, I will be able to get the work done and enjoy the gift that is summer.