Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentime's Day

That's not a typo. Someone on facebook asked why people say it that way (she should have added " . . .in Northwest Georgia"). She could have also asked why they say Altimers disease and Walmark.

Valentine's Day should make one cogitate about love. Love is idolized, but most of the talk about love I hear is sentimental and well-intentioned but also a defense of ill-considered or even immoral behavior. We can justify anything by "love" it seems; crimes of passion, abandoning our children, adultery. This is the love of self and feeling and body, not the heart and mind and the spirit. It is the love that makes Hollywood movies where the couple that will be are always with others who have to be cheated on or discarded because of unworthiness.

Most Christians know the eros, phileo, agape distinction; it's a cliche now, but it underscores one of the areas where English is deficient in comparison to other languages, which is rare. Even Spanish makes a distinction between amor and querer.

A contemporary Christian song says, Love is a verb. And that is the most profound thing I can say about love. Love has feeling or emotional byproducts, but the core of it is action done to or for another.

This morning I taught from Mark 13 where it is asked of Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment." Having warm and fuzzy feelings toward God and one's neighbor is clearly not what Jesus meant; working up emotions would really do no one any good, would it? Jesus gave us the commandments but didn't tell us how to operationalize them. "What does loving one's neighbor look like?" is the question, not "what does it feel like?"

I have lots of warm and fuzzy feelings towards lots of warm and fuzzy people, so I'm not knocking feelings. But I can also be a cynic about how we lower the value of love and use it as an excuse. I'll never forget seeing a woman on TV talk about her child she abandoned in a grocery store as a baby--just walked out and left the baby. She was going to be reunited with the baby, now a grown woman, after all those years. Despite what she'd done, she said, "I love my child." I was angered. She meant she had worked up warm feelings toward the prospect of having a child, not that she had sacrificial love toward a particular child she had given birth to and left to let others care for, or not.

I say all this because as I type "Casablanca" is on. Hollywood presents it as the height of sacrificial love, and perhaps it is the best Hollywood could do. But I am reminded of something Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss, said about America--"We can do better."

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