Ten Lessons of Love

July 27th, 2015 / 12 Comments

I spoke at The Table church about what has been happening in my life and at Northwest Nazarene University in recent weeks, months, and years. I tried to share my testimony in terms of ten love lessons I have been learning.10 Lessons of Love cover

The full talk/sermon was recorded as a video (thanks, Hal Paul), and you can click the powerpoint photo on the right to watch it. Instead of giving the full manuscript, I offer here the ten love lessons with very brief comments related to each.

I believe that telling this story can be a powerful act of love, because it can help bring healing and transformation. And this leads to the first lesson of love:

1. Healing and transformation are hallmarks of love. But healing and transformation are not possible if we ignore conflict and injustice.

As I see it, love involves our talking frankly about conflict and what we believe is unjust. Ignoring conflict and being silent about what appears to be injustice is a form of tearing down not building up.

I speak from my own perspective. All perspectives, including mine, are limited. I do not know the whole truth. But admitting that we do not know the whole truth and seeking to become better informed are themselves acts of love.

Healing and transformation are not possible if we ignore conflict and injustice. Click To Tweet

This is the second love lesson:

2. Love includes being humble about what we believe we know and a willingness to learn from others.

Despite the many grievances I and other faculty have had against the president’s leadership over the years, I had done my best to interpret his words and actions as charitably as I could. And this brings me to my third lesson in love:

3. Love tries to give a charitable interpretation to someone else’s word or actions… until repeated negative actions from that person makes charitable interpretations unwise, because they undermine the well-being of friends, family, and oneself.

Numerous events prior to these and during this period finally forced me to decide that, for the well-being of my colleagues, my family, and me, I could no longer always give the actions and motives of others a charitable interpretation.

Throughout the previous weeks, months, and years, I have come to understand that keeping all of the matters a secret may not be best. Secrecy couched as “confidentiality” often does not promote my good, my colleagues’ good, the university’s good, nor good for the whole.

Secrecy couched as “confidentiality” often does not promote the common good. Click To Tweet

This leads me to my fourth love lesson:

4. Transparency and openness, not secrecy, is usually the way of love.

I am not saying that all information should be available to everyone at all times. But too often, those in power want to keep information from others.

For a number of reasons, I came to believe I was being treated unjustly, especially when it came to my being laid off in March of 2015. But because we each as individuals can get a distorted view of what is fair and just, I asked many people inside and outside the campus community if they thought I was being treated unfairly.

Transparency and openness, not secrecy, is usually the way of love. Click To Tweet

This brings me to the fifth lesson of love:

5. Love seeks the common good, which means assessing what overall well-being requires. Good assessing requires becoming well informed, often by listening well to others and allowing others to shape our perspectives.

I listened, and listened, and listened to many people. I sought counsel from people on campus, especially faculty and staff, because the campus community understood the situation best. But I also talked with many people off campus. Overwhelmingly, these people said that I had been unfairly targeted and treated unjustly.

The faculty no-confidence vote in the president shows that the overwhelming majority of faculty was not happy with the president’s leadership. My situation was just one point of dissatisfaction for the faculty.

The sixth love lesson I have learned in the last four months is a lesson I have known for some time but saw demonstrated more powerfully than I could have imagined:

6. The power of loving communities to work for well-being is far greater than the power of an individual.

The loving responses to my own situation in particular and the goings on at NNU have been powerful. These positive responses have come in many forms, as people have spoken or acted in ways for my good and the common good.

The power of a loving community can be exponentially greater than the power of individuals trying in isolation to work for the common good. I have no doubt that this same kind of work in community will be necessary for transformation and healing needed in the future.

The power of loving communities to work for well-being is far greater than the power of an individual. Click To Tweet

7. Developing the habits of love – a.k.a. “character formation” or “becoming virtuous” – helps a person deal with turmoil and difficulty. Those habits can help us as we decide how to love in each moment.

I have much to learn and much to develop when it comes to being a loving person. I want to love as Jesus Christ loves. But although I am not where I would like to be, I have matured in some areas and developed various habits of life.

Throughout the difficulties of the last years and especially the last four months, I realized that my past efforts to develop a life of love have established certain habits of mind and habits of heart that have been helpful now.  My ability to love well in difficult times comes in part from my efforts to love well in less difficult times. Again, I am not perfect. But I have learned in a deeper way the power of developing in my own life the habits of love.

8. Encouragement, words of affirmation, and displays of support can be powerful expressions of love!

I could talk all evening about the ways that you and so many others have loved my family and me. As I wrote this sermon, I most felt like crying when I reflected on this lesson of love. I am SO, SO, SO grateful for what so many have done for my family and me!

The ninth lesson of love is one I learned as I heard from various people who seemed to believe that questioning the decisions of those in authority was an act of disobeying God. The ninth lesson of love is this:

9. Obeying and trusting authorities can be acts of love. But when those in power act in unloving ways, they are not doing God’s will.

We should have proper respect for authorities. But we should also assess them and their leadership through the lens of love. If leaders act in unloving ways or their decisions do not promote the common good, we need not agree or endorse those decisions.

Obeying authorities can be loving. But when authorities are unloving, they do not reflect God’s will. Click To Tweet

10. Forgiveness is an act of love when it wishes well to those who have done harm. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or ignoring the harm. But it does not seek revenge.

Let me repeat tonight what I have said on many occasions in the past: I forgive those who have harmed me. I do not seek revenge. I will not be bitter. I will not repay evil with evil, but I will repay evil with good. I forgive.

Let me conclude with a few words about the future:

There is much work to be done to help my colleagues have a better working situation, to help make NNU a better place, to help the Church of the Nazarene think better about what it means to think carefully and creatively about faith. There is much work to be done in the wider Christian community to understand what it means to love in a world that is changing rapidly and asking big and complicated questions.

I plan to contribute to helping my colleagues, the university, my denomination, Christendom, and the wider world outside Christian communities. I am not leaving the Church of the Nazarene, but I am expanding my vision for ministry to include in greater ways those outside the denomination.

When I first spoke publicly after being laid off, I ended my talk by saying, “No matter what happens to me, I plan to live a life of love.”

Those words remain true today. They are my goal for what happens now and my plan for the future. I have learned new lessons of love these past weeks, months, and years. I appreciate your allowing me to share those lessons with you.

No matter what happens to me, I plan to live a life of love. Click To Tweet
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Comments

Todd Holden

The principles of the noble lie seem to apply to this when leaders keep secrets. It is not out of love but out of arrogance that the principles of the noble lie seem to me to come out of this.

We are all prone at times to be tempted to arrogance, that is why love is so important. Love reminds us that we are less when we do not love. But when we choose to love we can be and accomplish beyond what our minds can think, dream or imagine. God is so good like that!

Thank you for the beautiful reminder of how love transforms us into the beings God always intended that we be in His image!


Dean Cowles

Wonderful and well said my friend. Your love grows and so does the thousands of us who love you and Cheryl dearly and deeply.


Mark Ballard

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. There are a lot of good ideas here, as anyone who knows you, even cursorily, would expect. As you know, no list of 10, nor list of 1000, can speak to all of the characteristics, or exceptions.

Being a critical listener, and a critical person in conversation, I will assert: As you know, it’s important to emphasize that sometimes secrecy might be the most loving path, as I suspect your extensive counseling training has informed you.

I think the concepts you outline are worth consideration, and have sufficient merit and weight, apart from an appeal to whether or not they are a god’s will.

Alice Walker, in giving commentary about the many critical responses her Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Color Purple” received, conveyed a beautiful concept that has remained with me. She said she never felt like she needed to respond quickly to what she perceived were attacks on her work by others. She said something like: Writers can be patient, because we write. And after fuller, patient consideration, eventually we can write what we perceive should be written in response.

NNU, more than any other educational institution, and specifically the English department, taught me to love to read, to begin to think critically, and to pursue the process of writing, to put words into open display, words that can be vetted patiently over a long term.

In reading your well-constructed, concise, and clearly–conveyed thoughts, it is great to see your beautiful mind and gratitude.


Matthew

I really appreciate your vulnerability, sharing these lessons learned. While all are helpful,l number 7 stuck out to me. This last Saturday I heard the testimony of a man that had been in a serious motorcycle accident and had been suffering from depression prior to the accident. He spoke about how if he had not been specifically developing positive practices before the accident the recovery would have been much more difficult. Thankfully he has recovered nearly fully and has become a greater witness to his faith in Christ. Though I only know a little of your story, I can see the similarities between your story and the story of the man who I heard speak. It reminds me that I need to be continually working on myself and my faith life.
I am thankful for you witness and your willingness to share what you have learned through your recent struggle. You truly have a gift for teaching and I pray that you will continue in this vocation.


Eric S

The way you have centered your post on the president’s decision on love is a great Christian response. The kind of response we are called to do as Jesus exemplified. I think your first item “Healing and transformation are hallmarks of love.” After events happen in ones life, we move forward with the healing process. After looking back we can see the love poured out through friends and family. Your second sentence is an important factor in healing. If one does not confront the issue which caused the harm, personal healing cannot begin and then bitterness and hatred sink in which leads to unhealthy behaviors.


Kyle Seibert

Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability in this post, Dr. Oord. It truly reads as a loving reflection that truly seeks the overall well-being given where you find yourself in the moment as a result of past actions, choices, situations, etc. but others and yourself. I find myself drawn to several themes from your ten lessons. First, your notion of love takes seriously the difficulty and complexity of the world. Your construction of love is not one that simply says coexist, tolerate, or settle. Instead, it includes real hard work along the way to truly empathetically/sympathetically promote overall well-being.

I am also interested by some of these tangible/on-the-ground/gritty life lessons on love and how they relate to some classical language that your theology attempted to avoid and/or improve upon in its construction. I’m thinking specifically about your discussion of virtue ethics and habitual actions. You avoid these presumptions in your construction, yet perhaps arrive at similar ideals or end goals? Similarly, you reference the “common good”- most notably with your use of “overall well-being.” This, too, is an ancient idea that has been taken up anew in some more recent literature. These convergences are fascinating, given the radically different premises.


Esther Buck

I appreciate that you are sharing your story with us – also in class. I am grateful to experience you as a professor who not only talks about love, but who testifies his struggles with being loving in his own life. Studying in Germany, I know that it is not self-evident that a theologian lives his concept and reveals vulnerability- thank you for showing me this!
I really enjoyed this week of class because I experienced our many and lively discussions as loving and respectful – every concern and any question or remark was taken seriously.
Lesson 1 stuck most out to me – it seems to me that naming injustice is often seen as disturbing love and peace. But no, it is only disturbing status quo to get to love and peace. To do this loving without harming, I bet, is a very difficult task…


Lian

Wow! Wonderful and challenging article for me. I really appreciated the thoughts and sharing these lessons to learn. It is magnificent and majestic to see your beautiful mind and thoughts for sharing others.
Specifically, I am really interested the lesson NINE, “Obeying and trusting authorities can be acts of love. But when those in power act in unloving ways, they are not doing God’s will.” However, “If leaders act in unloving ways or their decisions do not promote the common good, we need not agree or endorse those decision”. For me it is absolutely right. It is a good example that we must to carry this idea faithfully in our public ministry as well.


Christephor Gilbert

After reading this post and watching the corresponding video of the presentation at the Table Church (and thank you for your witness to love in action), I was struck by what a lesson it is for me, and the potential is there to take this and apply it to concerns within my denomination, specifically around relationality, seemingly un-attainable moral standards (sometimes even double standards), and a history of privilege and oppression that continues to be passively reinforced in education, polity, and practice. I especially appreciate the point that eventually (following lessons 3, 4, and 9) speaking truth in love becomes the most loving thing that you can do. Sometimes it feels as though, as a person in process toward ordination, that I am coached to “sit tight and be quiet” until after I have gotten my first call. An idea that you can’t effect any change from the pulpit if you can’t get into the pulpit. In some ways, after experiencing the theological framework of Essential Kenosis, your teaching and truth, and the idea of lesson of love that run parallel to a life of love, I now have a more concrete way to speak my truth and my concerns in a way that could result in prophetic witness and not me becoming a sacrificial lamb! I can contribute to the understanding of the common good, especially in light of lesson 5, which affirms that the common good can only be known by God, but through deep listening we can harness the power of multiple social locations and contexts to get to the widest understanding of that common good. Thank you again for your witness!


Dylan

I wholeheartedly agree! While I can’t necessarily say I agree with all points of your theology, I do indeed like this list, Professor Oord, and my heart goes out to you in your troubles as well as your colleagues. I commend you wholeheartedly for taking this loving approach to your situation; it can be very difficult, especially when we’re upset, to breathe deeply and say, “I won’t let my anger control me–I’m going to respond with love.”

Kind of like not going to the Dark Side of the Force, no?

I do have one question, however, about the balance between transparency and when it’s time to keep the peace and be silent: suppose you have a friend whose behaviors are causing you harm–suppose they’re emotionally taking advantage of what you think is your lovingkindness. Suppose, however, you also know that to raise your concerns will also cause them emotional harm, because while they say they value honesty–they’re also vulnerable. You’re hurting now, and want relief, but to seek that relief will inherently cause the other person pain. What, then, would be an appropriately loving response?

I guess my point is that sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to know what the “most loving” option is, especially if to end present suffering means suffering in the future for yourself or someone else.

I suppose my last comment isn’t worth terribly much, but I want to take this opportunity to thank you again for your class. You truly brought a ray of much-needed light (and theology!) to LSTC!

Shalom to you and yours!


B. V.

Love is not motivated by fear. Ever.

I thought of this truth often, as I read your Ten Lessons of Love. For instance, when you say: “transparency and openness, not secrecy, is usually the way of love,” this insinuates that love sometimes involves great risk—the risk to be open and to possibly get burned. As you mention, this does not mean that we need to be open about everything all the time (I think of the “wise men” avoiding the conversation with Herod). But keeping information hidden out of fear—the fear of losing one’s power, as you suggest—is not a loving act.

I also see the theme of listening embedded into several of your Ten Lessons. You place high emphasis upon listening in your demonstrations of love, and I believe this is justified. Love involved sharing truths that God is revealing to a community, and often these truths are revealed through personal testimonies and different perspectives. I find that God reveals different things to different people are varied times in our lives so that we will be in relationship and build our lives together, rather than separately. God designed sharing (sharing both tangibles and intangibles) as a way to help build loving relationships.

I also appreciate that you spoke about love directed toward authority. Knowing how best to love those in authority—and how to love yourself while under someone else’s authority—can be a complicated mess, indeed. It is difficult to understand the most loving action in many cases, but especially when you are faced with an almost overwhelming message coming from a place of power that the most loving action is something that does not resonate in you as truly loving. This sort of internal conflict happens a lot in our world, in different ways. I don’t think it is ever easy, and it leaves a mark upon those who are faced with the challenge of walking it out and making these decisions.


Denise

Of the “Ten Lessons of Love” presented in this blog, #10 resonated with me most strongly. Having been placed in a situation somewhat like Dr. Oord’s several years ago, I have found it difficult to forgive those who harmed me, especially one person in particular. (This person was in an interim vice presidency, and took the opportunity to promote her friend at my expense. As in Dr. Oord’s situation, this person was not retained in the vice president’s position, perhaps in part because of how she handled this situation). As I struggled to make sense of my circumstances (which still seems to me to be evil), I consulted with mentors whose perspectives I trusted and ultimately decided against filing a formal grievance. Looking back, I am satisfied that my decision was the most loving response I could make, although it was so tempting to seek revenge. It is still hard to completely forgive those who were complicit in the action that brought harm to me, but I’m at peace with the knowledge that I decided not to repay evil with evil.


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