This week's theme is LOVE.
Indeed he did (John 5:12, John 5:17).
And the really important part of that is the words "one another." In The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew, in the chapter entitled "Last Battlefields and Neighbor Love," I wrote about the importance of moving from "othering" to "one anothering," from an embattled, competitive mentality to seeking to create a reciprocity of love by being the first to choose the way of Love.
Love is often thought of as warm, snuggly, happy feelings, or romance, or attraction, and all those things can be a part of it. But Love is a choice. It is active. Love is a commitment. Feeling love, or the emotions we associate with love, is fine, but failing to act on those feelings--or to act in spite of our feelings--is not love.
When Paul talks about love, he talks about what love does, how it behaves. It exercises patiebce and kindness, avoids envy, doesn't brag or boast, turns away from rudeness, refuses to serve itself, moves away from anger and resentment, rejoices in the truth, bears, believes, hopes, and endures.
Jesus began this narrative, saying that the greatest love is defined by the action of self-sacrifice.
I posted last year about why the death of Spock is perfect for Christmas. "As we celebrate the coming of Christ," I wrote, "we celebrate not only his birth, but the bringing of salvation--a salvation wrought through sacrificial death. Certainly, his birth takes precedence during this season and his death and resurrection have their times of remembrance as well. So, it could be said that this is perhaps a more appropriate Easter (or at least Palm Sunday) ornament."
Surely, this stands as an ultimate depiction of love. But maybe it's easier to think about sacrificing ourselves in this way because we'll probably never be called upon to do it. We can feel pretty self-assured in our loving nature when we can say to ourselves, "I'd die for someone I love." But how would it be if we gave ourselves in the sense of not getting what we want? Of sacrificing our comfort, our self-importance, our security, or--and this is particularly salient in our current cultural climate--the idea (or illusion) that we are right?
What if loving meant, not doing good things to those for whom we already have warm feelings, but doing good to those who we dislike or disagree with, to those who annoy or irritate us? Jesus calls us, not to just love those who love us, but to love our enemies. It's amazing how much of an enemy we can make of opposing viewpoints, or those with whose words we take offense.
Last night, driving home too late in the cold, I was nearly sideswiped by someone who had decided that my desire to not drive 20 miles per hour above the speed limit was inexcusable. I can't tell you the hostility I felt at such gall, such recklessness. Why would someone endager another human being because they were obeying traffic laws? I don't know how to love that person. I may never know.
It's exceptionally difficult to love in spite of anger--to show patience and kindness to someone who is awkward or irritating, or infuriating, even in very small ways. How can we ever, as Star Trek VI invites us to do, love our enemies? How can we sit down to dinner with the Klingons and not fight? How can we put aside cultural differences? How can we be civil, let alone (gulp) forgive?
Like all real love, it isn't easy. It takes work. But if Love can be born among us, can live fully with us, can endure mocking, shame, disgust, torture, and death, then maybe Love can be born in us too.
This time of year, many of us gather with our families. This can be a particularly difficult place to show love. Maybe it's hard for a parent to not be critical of their adult son or daughter. Maybe it's difficult to hear a passive agressive comment and not lash out. Maybe political, cultural, or religious differences are in tension around the dinner table. But, whatever the difficulties, sometimes love looks like enduring them in all the kindness and peace that we can muster. Sometimes it can be far more difficult than loving our enemies to love our own families.
Even harder may be forgiving ourselves for the hurt we cause and feel.
All we can do, whether for friend, enemy, family, or even ourselves, is remember that Love is a choice we make. Love is doing good to others whether we think they deserve it or not. It's having the heart of a servant and a peacemaker, as best we can muster it. Becase, in the end, none of us deserves love, but all of us badly need it. Rather than focusing on our own need, though, the best way to have love is to engender it.