At the outset of many of my blog posts, I often have to find new language to excuse myself for what might seem like the obvious points made in the ensuing diatribe/exposition/rant/study/musing/etc. I’m afraid this one’s no exception. Revelation, I find, does not always involve the unveiling of brand-new information – in fact in my experience, this is very rare. Instead of unveiling, it usually involves the shedding of light on something. An area you knew existed but had only thought about to an extent, is suddenly opened up to you with a whole new realm of possibilities. This is revelation. As I see it, anyway.
It’s no mystery that Christians might have a thing or two to say about love. 1 Corinthians 13 is probably the most-read chapter at weddings. Some might hear the undertones of 60s hippie mantras about ‘peace and love, man’, but the kind of drug-enduced emotional surges such people might have called love is not what I refer to. Others might think of what else Hollywood has had to say on the subject, and with the hundreds of thousands of movies out there, most have had very little to say other than that it can be soppy, has to involve sex, and is fairly free and easy. I know they don’t all say all of these things; but most do say some of them.
Not talking about that kind of love either. To turn to a strange and surprising guru for this one (Christians don’t worry, Bible coming in a minute), in a live recorded concert, John Mayer got talking about wanting to live more for love. Now I don’t know what he had in his head, but he too did say “I don’t mean like a Roman candle firework Hollywood hot-pink love, I mean like ‘I got your BACK’ love!” Eliciting a huge scream from the crowd of course.
But the dude has a point, whatever he ultimately meant by it, or whether he was just saying it for the cheer. Love isn’t just there for making someone feel good once in a while, and in our self-driven culture, often making yourself feel good too, but it’s there to have someone’s back; to go the extra mile; to actually do a ‘greater good’ once in a while. That’s something like the kind of love I have in my head as I write this.
There’s precious little of it around these days. For all the great many words poured forth in poetry, song, prose and script concerning love, I find this in a sense surprising, but I can see what’s happened. Love has in many cases been cheapened. Furthermore I believe that other values have been brought to fundamentally override love. In our society especially, we have seen the exaltation of rights and choice for the individual to an extremely high status. These two factors I would say have been the greatest enemies to the operation of true love in our society and have led to a lot of brokenness and upset at all levels.
I know that is a large blanket statement. I’m not always a fan of such things. But sometimes you have to be bold with what you believe otherwise you never make an impact, and you need to have somewhere to start even if you need to refine what you say.
Of course choice in and of itself is not wrong – part of my core belief system as a Christian is in the fact that we were created free beings with real choice. Neither are ‘rights’ wrong (if you get my meaning) necessarily, but I believe they have to be framed correctly. So we see in history that the emancipation of, for example, the blacks of America from prejudice and racial hatred, was finally won through a great ‘civil rights movement’.
But I say that an argument for rights has to be framed rightly, and by this I mean that such rights as we saw the likes of Martin Luther King fight for were framed in a fundamental understanding of the love of God and of the created order, where all of humanity really was created equal. We could spend time extracting this from the language of Genesis 1 and 2 but that would take more space than most sane people want to see in a blog. It’s there. I can go into it if people want.
Not all rights arguments have been framed like this. Many more have been argued along with the cry for ‘choice’ to be maintained for individuals, and this is where I believe we get into untenable territory. Maybe someone can explain to me, but when one person’s desire to choose one thing directly conflicts with my desire to choose another thing, in what way is choice a stable basis for rights arguments? On the surface of it many of the more controversial rights bills of late might have seemed to have displayed choice as something entirely affecting the right only of the individual able to choose and affecting no other individuals’ choices around them, but even then the surface is pretty thin. Where abortionist protagonists argue the right of the mother to choose, one may riposte that the baby’s right to life trumps the mother’s right to choose whether the baby should live. Choice in the baby’s case is most unfairly squashed, in the mother’s case highly exalted. There’s no logic to it. (Suggest choice happens at a good time around when conception might or might not take place.) People are now able to freely shirk responsibility, because they have the right through choice. And, my main point here: love no longer has the upper hand. Choice and rights do.
I wonder if the sense that the individual has this sacred right to choose lies at the heart of some of the many divorces that we see so pervading society. I don’t know. I know these things can be complicated and sometimes irreversible because of a great many hurts; but equally I don’t wonder that self is exalted over others when freedom of choice and rights are exalted over love. And so we can decide that an affair is okay, or divorce is alright. It’s at least possible.
I wonder too if we could say that the ‘freedom’ and ‘right’ to choose could be expressed rather as the freedom to make the wrong choice and not feel or be made to feel guilty about it. No one should be calling my moral shots; no one should be holding me accountable; I’m an individual, I can do what I like.
So let’s boil it down some more: It’s self-interests versus the interests of others. It sounds like what might come out at the weekly readings at your local parish from a dry wheezy voice – “we should look out not just for our own needs but the needs of others”. But this concept, birthed as strongly as it is in the Bible, in particular the New Testament, is as radical an idea today as it was then, perhaps more so with the way our culture has gone, and when really lived out, has the power to transform society from the bottom up. Mother Teresa didn’t do what she did because she chose to and had the right to. She did what she did because she loved. When asked what would achieve world peace she said, “Go home and love your family.” What a great starting place! No one can deny the tremendous difference that a life like hers made to countless thousands.
So in order to love we sometimes have to be prepared to forsake our choices and even our rights. Love isn’t always a mushy feeling. Sometimes it too is a choice – and I would say, is the right choice! (See what I did there? Right…rights…choice…choice… anyway…) If I want a night in but my other half has been itching to get out all week, what do I do? I give her what she wants. Because I love her, and want to show her that. If I were to use my ‘right’ to ‘choose’ that I should stay in, it would break down the relationship.
I think we all know this on some level, but it is worth thinking how far it can apply, and how much it could change about society if we lived it out. I want to start applying it merely to the way I drive and treat other road users! I can’t always be the nicest driver, but nothing is helped by moody driving. Giving way to someone in front might make the person behind a bit grumpy, but they can’t exactly say I did the wrong thing. They’d probably only be getting grumpy because they would feel they had a right to be somewhere as quickly as possible. If they lived by love too, wouldn’t the world be a happier place!
Well, we’ve got a long way to go. Once again I feel that I’ve said everything every which way I can, except what I really had on my heart, which remains that much more elusive and somehow inexpressible. I only hope the reader can glean that bit more by thinking further about this. It burns on my heart as something real and profound, and I know it’s how God wants me to live and I want to make it my mission to live like it til my dying day; somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. But He made this place and knows the power of that which will make it the way He wants it to be again – love.
I promised some Bible. It’s all over the New Testament. There’s 1 Corinthians 13 where it is expressly shown what love is. It doesn’t seek its own (it’s like Paul saw into our own day); doesn’t keep a record of wrongs (ditto); and so on. Readers can check it out. But back in 1 Corinthians 8 you can see how the principle of love also works more subtly over rights in making decisions in the church.
Paul and Jesus both in their own ways said that the commands to love at the center of the Law. Jesus picked out two and put them in this order: Love the Lord your God is the most important; love your neighbour as yourself is the next most important!
John’s letters are full of it, so much so that he says, you know what, “God IS love”. It’s His whole being! And it was to frame the whole church attitude of individuals toward one another. Apparently as he aged they used to wheel him around and he would simply preach “my little children, love one another!” Far from being the words of a doddery old man who has forgotten how to say anything else, he was laying down a message so fundamental that it could be all he preached on and that wouldn’t matter. It was the basis for stable society: love.
Jesus said that we would be known as His disciples because we love one another. You know what, if we Christians are the only ones who can really get this concept of living by love, let’s do it! The world is trying everything else, and then trying everything again, to achieve peace and order, and I don’t believe they will ever achieve it. They will continue in circles until they stop and see a bunch of people who have made love the highest mandate, living harmoniously and transforming society around them through their love lifestyle; then, maybe, they’ll want to come under the shadow of that lifestyle. I hope so.