Patterns of Love
Rev. Doug Floyd
Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks, tells the story of painful, broken relationships and human loss. His son Jakob has suggested that when he hears the album, he hears the brokenness in his parent’s relationship. Bob denies that the album is personal and instead suggests it is a reflection on Anton Chekov’s short stories. Either way, the listener feels the desolation of broken relations.
In his song, “Idiot Wind,” the singer belittles a former love in such an exaggerated manner that it is both humorous and tragic.
“Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe”[i]
These words diminish both the singer and the lost friend. I am also struck by how this same exaggerated language can be used to describe past members of a community after things have gone sour. Sometimes we feel a need demonize those who broken relations and seemed to turn against us.
Violence is even possible. In my youth, I remember hearing a pastor say that at a former church, things had gotten so bad that he took to carrying a gun to church.“Idiot Wind” captures the kind of pain that would drive a person to say and even do harmful things toward people they once cared about. The song continues,
“I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin’ ’bout the way things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin’ me see stars
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes
Blood on your saddle”
This image of a violent death gives voice to the shattered pieces of a once shared relationship. And throughout the song, we hear the refrain,
“You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe”
When relationships shatter, it is easy to think the very worst of former friends and lovers. This struggle to love is nothing new. We see it all through Scripture. The New Testament offers a close up picture of the early churches struggling to maintain the bonds of love. In 1 Corinthians 11:21, Paul writes about the love feasts,
“For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.”
Ben Witherington suggests that the rich are reinforcing separation from the poorer members.[ii] It is likely “that the wealthy are eating in the klinē (dining room) while the poor are eating in the atrium and that two sorts of food are being served, as was customary at ancient pagan banquets, he concludes, “the result is a split in the congregation between haves and have-nots.”
In Galatians, we see a split between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. In Colossians, some are using their spiritual experiences or practices as a way of lifting themselves above the rest. Throughout the New Testament, we see challenges that are racial, economic, doctrinal, and more. In his letters, John says that some have left the community and turned against the community.
Whether in church or in love or all of life’s relationships, humans fail to love well. Both marriages and communities can begin with such joy and celebration only to end in betrayal, anger, hurt, and loss. As the song “Idiot Wind” continues, the narrator begins to recognize his own weakness and failure.
“It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped”
The love that once drove him to pursue the lover haunts him even though he feels disgust.
“I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory”
Broken relations create a division within us. It as though the present self turns against the past self. The once beloved memories now cause pain and regret. We can be torn between love and anger. This division only expresses itself in separation but can perpetuate broken relations with new people. It can lead to a loss of trust, and for those who have suffered in church, it can cause them to leave church permanently.
In Ephesians, Paul gives us a grand vision of the church as Christ’s body in this world. It is a place of racial healing where Jew and Gentile form one new man. It is the place where we experience the grace of God and the resurrection life of Jesus together. It is the place where we come to know the depths of God’s love. The first three chapters of Ephesians are practically all doxology. Paul sings the praise of God who has called us and fashioned us into this communion of love. Then Ephesians 4 through 6, Paul exhorts the community to live out the practical requirements of their high and glorious calling as the body of Christ. He emphasizes that this body is a work of grace, rooted in God’s loving communion. In verses four through seven, Paul writes,
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
In his death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ has taken hold us and lifted us up. By the gifts he has distributed, we are growing up into a loving communion that looks a bit like the Father, Son and Spirit. Even as Paul declares this is a work of God’s grace, he explains that we actively participate by “walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Eph 4:1). Love and living within a community takes time and it can be difficult. It requires forgiveness and grace. At the end of today’s lesson, Paul writes,
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:15-16).
In chapter five, Paul will apply this same way of thinking to husband and wife, to families, and to the friendships within the community. We must grow up into the love of Christ in all our relations.
The song “Idiot Wind,” never reaches this place of maturing but it does point to a change in the narrator. He comes to realize the blindness both lovers have toward one another. He sings,
“You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry”
In our hurt, we have both failed to see the glory and wonder of the other. Then final refrain echoes,
“Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We’re idiots, babe
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves”
He realizes that he is at fault in this broken relation as well. He and his former lover are both idiots for not preserving the sacred bond of love. There is a sadness in the ending, but the door is still open for healing. Earlier in the song, he sings,
“There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door
You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars
After losin’ every battle”
Dylan wrote this song before his gospel albums, but even here he seems to be wrestling with this enigmatic figure of Jesus who appears to lose every battle while actually winning the wars.
In the end, it is the love of God that prevails. As I think of growing up into this loving body, as I think of Paul’s call to humility, gentleness, patience, and love, I am thinking of the lone soldier on the cross. For Christ is working in us to will and to do his good work.
Think of the image of the cross in the middle of all your relationships. In the middle of past, broken relationships, in the middle of joyful and painful relationships in our families, our churches, and our culture. His grace is enough. After appearing to lose every battle, He wins the war. His love can heal and restore in ways we do not grasp.
We can look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith and we also cultivate habits of thinking and acting that help us to live in love with others. In the opening lines of Ephesians 4, Paul exhorts us to practice certain habits of life that will help us to grow up into the love of Jesus. He writes,
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1–3).
He speaks of humility, gentleness, patience, and love as virtues that help us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is not a comprehensive list of virtues and in other letters, Paul will assemble similar lists with slight variations. These habits of life that we practice and grow into, help us to form and maintain loving relations even through difficult times. These virtues can even play a role in reconciliation.
Let us keep these habits of humility, gentleness, patience, and love before us.
Of humility, Joan Chittister writes, “People who are really humble, who know themselves to be earth or humus— the root from which our word “humble” comes— have about themselves, an air of self-containment and self-control. There’s no haughtiness, no distance, no sarcasm, no put downs, no airs of importance or disdain. The ability to deal with both their own limitations and the limitations of others, the recognition that God is in life and that they are not in charge of the universe brings serenity and hope, inner peace and real energy. Humble people walk comfortably in every group. No one is either too beneath them or too above them for their own sense of well-being. They are who they are, people with as much to give as to get, and they know it. And because they’re at ease with themselves, they can afford to be open with others.”[iii]
Jesus teach us to live into your way of humility.
Gentleness or meekness is not passivity, but power under control. It has nothing to prove to anyone. Thus, the gentle ruler can listen, can be still, can serve, can care. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29).
Jesus teach us to live into your way of gentleness.
Patience is the art of waiting for the fullness of time. The Psalmist exhorts us, Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:14). We wait along with the ravens who “neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.” (Luke 12:24). We wait alongside the lilies who “neither toil nor spin: and yet are more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory (Luke 12:27). We wait for our brothers and sisters who may get on our nerves, but will one day be transformed in glory.[iv]
Jesus teach us to live into your way of patience.
Lastly, we are called to bear one another’s burdens in love. In spite of our burdens, our sinfulness, our failures, our struggles, Jesus has loved us with a love that is greater than we can even comprehend in length and height and depth. In His love, he has blessed us and filled us with the fulness of God.
Jesus teach us to bear one another’s burdens in love even as you loved us while we were still your enemy.
Come Lord Jesus, teach us to rest in you and live out the reality of your humility, your gentle rule, your patient trust, and your love that passes through the grace to life everlasting. Amen.
[i] All sound lyrics are taken from https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/idiot-wind/.
[ii] The Corinthians were assuming that, as at a pagan feast, it was proper in celebrating the Lord’s Supper to separate or distinguish between wealthier and poorer Christians. Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 248–249.
[iii] Chittister, Joan. Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (pp. 64-65). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
[iv] As CS Lewis writes in the Weight of Glory, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”