Balking at Love
We Christians proclaim a message of love.
We celebrate that message in song, sermon, petition and prayer; we reference our God as a God of love and abundant grace, in imitation of whom we strive to complete charitable works of mercy.
And yet we have misgivings.
We retire weekly to our traditional houses of worship, where we reaffirm yet again the commandments of Jesus as well as the description of love provided by Paul; in the midst of our church family, we press the flesh and, perhaps, exchange a sign of peace or greeting.
And yet we are unsettled.
On Monday morning, we return to a world that presents us with endless opportunities to love, not merely because it is filled with people who need love, but simply because it is filled with people.
And yet we flinch.
And yet we balk.
Hesitation and fear may be normal human responses to our mission.
Consider some of Peter’s responses to Jesus’ words.
Yet we have fortified our hesitation and fear with bulwarks of our own devising, bulwarks composed of a network of ideas that we hope will provide a justification for our unease.
Not that we wish to speak of such things.
Not that we wish to speak of such things in clear and direct terms.
Our little rebellion is barely articulate; it is surreptitious and subterranean, rather like the passive resistance of a team that is either at odds with it’s leader or about to oust one of it’s members.
It’s a good thing that God is omniscient.
Otherwise, like the unfortunate team member or team leader, God would be the last to know.
Subterranean rumblings, barely voiced, yet quite real:
To many men, the idea of love taken to excess is inherently unmanly at best, effeminate at worst, thus neatly tying love to two lesser beings in the traditionally patriarchal church: women and gays.
Forgetting, at our peril, that love is the substance of Jesus’ two commandments, and that any "superior" notion of identity that contradicts them is a house built on sand.
To many people, the idea of love taken to excess is too unprincipled at best; too loosy-goosy, too wishy-washy and too permissive at worst.
It is no way to run an army or a business.
Forgetting, at our peril, Paul’s proclamation that “Love accepts all things, hopes all things, endures all things”, and that regardless of any principles or military/industrial models, “if I have not love, I am nothing.”
To many people, the idea of love taken to excess smacks of sexuality, and opens the door to all manner of licentiousness.
Forgetting, at our peril, that in such allegiance we cling obstinately to our own fears and preconceptions at the expense of the proclamations of Jesus and Paul.
And then comes the great dodge, rising above the subterranean rumblings, rising to the articulate level, spoken openly:
“But what is love?”
Standing proudly on our own hind legs, we profess confusion about love.
Donning cap and gown, we debate the historical meaning of love, the evolution of the concept of love, the meaning of love in the Greco-Roman world, the difference between caritas and eros, and, for all I know, the most recent proclamations of Dr. Phil.
And then, as if to give evidence of our confusion, we assign love to the service of articles of belief, where we reckon that it will justify all kinds of aggression, ranging from "tough love" to social exclusion to manipulated conversions.
Forgetting, at our peril, the nature of Jesus' audience.
Forgetting, at our peril, that they never raised such questions.
Forgetting, at our peril, that they never raised such questions because love was presented in clear and simple terms, not as a mystery that had to be deciphered by a legion of scribes.
And while we hedge, and hem, and haw, the work of love goes undone.
While we balk at the task, the business of love languishes.
Can we not start with the proclamations of Jesus and Paul and go from there?
No one ever said that we had to do it perfectly, and I, for one, do not believe that anyone can do it perfectly.
But there is a difference between natural human failing and the resistance that I have described above.
For there is no masculine identity to be protected, no principle to be established, no trains to be run on time that are more important than love.
Our task is to fulfill Jesus’ commandments and bring what love we can to the world, no matter how slow, plodding, pedestrian or incremental the work is.
At our best, in so doing we have enhanced and advanced the civility of the world.
At our best, in so doing we might turn the world, however slowly, into something that more closely resembles the kingdom of God.
I post new articles twice-monthly in “Author’s Corner”.
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for discussion or prayer, please contact me at email@example.com. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
Toward Dawn is a privately-funded outreach, and it neither solicits nor accepts contributions.
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over sixteen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.