Someone once asked a scripture scholar if he could summarize the Bible in one sentence. The scholar replied, “I can summarize it in two words: “Life Wins.” I love that! I think of those two words every time I see a green shoot coming up through the muddy earth. Or a flower coming up in a crack in the sidewalk. Yes, I say, in the end, life does win.
But I think there’s a better two-word summary of the Bible: Love wins! I think of those two words when I hear Jesus saying from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Or when I read Edwin Markham’s classic poem called “Outwitted”:
He drew a circle that shut me out—Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in.
For Christmas, a friend gave me a book. (I wonder how she knew I loved books?!) It’s Love Is the Way by Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church—the first African American to hold that position. Some of you might remember that he gave the homily at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Through the lens of his faith, his ancestry (a descendent of slaves and the son of a civil rights activist), and his personal journey, Curry shows how America has come far since its founding, but how we still have a lot further to go.
I appreciated Curry’s slant on love. For example, he says the opposite of love is not hate; it’s selfishness. He claims that selfishness is the most destructive force in the universe; hate is only its symptom. He quotes Martin Luther King who said what we need is a “reverse Copernican revolution.” Far too many of us think of ourselves as the center of the universe. (I’m reminded of that little joke: How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one. All he has to do is hold the bulb in place while the whole world revolves around him.)
But what other factors besides selfishness prevent us from reaching out in love to others? I think there are two big ones: fear and pain. As I watched the assault on the U.S. Capital, I found myself asking the rioters, what are you so fearful of that you would do such violence not only to a beautiful, revered, iconic building, but also to other human beings? When they were interviewed, some of the perpetrators expressed some very real fears. Some fear losing “their” country. Or they fear a new president they didn’t vote for or one they truly believe didn’t win the election. Or maybe they fear “invading caravans” of “aliens” or new laws that might impinge on their rights. Or they might be experiencing the most basic of all fears: the fear of losing control. So they tried to take control by force and violence.
Another factor that prevents us from reaching beyond ourselves in loving ways is pain. If you have a toothache or a migraine, it’s pretty hard to think of anything else besides your own pain. When in serious pain (whether physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual), it’s hard to even notice other people let alone reach out to them in care and concern. So, in order to love, we must first tend to our fears and pain that can get in the way of our loving. As Parker Palmer has said, “Violence happens when we don’t know what to do with our suffering.”
We all have fears that can cripple our love. We’re afraid of people who look different from us, so we seek neighbors that look and think as we do. Or we’re afraid our kids will make bad decisions, so we turn into a tyrant to prevent them from making any decisions at all. We’re afraid of losing our money, so we turn into a miser, a Scrooge. In addition, we all have pain that, if unaddressed, can make loving difficult or even impossible. The pain of past abuse can prevent us from trusting others. The pain of a broken relationship can impede our ability to enter into new relationships. The pain of past misfortunes can turn us into a brooding Ahab.
Curry writes, “Love tells you how to direct the energy of outrageous faith. If hope and faith are the wind and sails, love is the rudder. It’s God’s GPS.” But how do we get in touch with God’s GPS? Says Curry, when making a decision, just ask yourself this question: “Is this just about me or is it about we? Does this decision serve only my unenlightened self-interest, or does it somehow serve the greater good?”
Valentine’s Day is a good day to reflect on the quality of our love. Can we use our fears and pains not to isolate ourselves from others, but as an impetus to connect with them? It’s a good day to reflect on the decisions we are making. Do they go beyond what’s good for me? Do they include what’s good for the we, that is, do they serve the greater good?
As I quoted earlier, the opposite of love is selfishness. Curry writes, “Where selfishness excludes, love makes room and includes. Where selfishness puts down, love lifts up. Where selfishness hurts and harms, love helps and heals. Where selfishness enslaves, love sets free and liberates.”
And so we pray: Loving God, may we, as individuals and as citizens of our country, become better lovers. Help us to make room for and include others… to lift up and help others… to heal and set others free. Trusting in your great love for us, may we work with you to make these words a reality: Love wins! Amen.
Did anything speak to you in today’s reflection? If so, what?
You might want to reflect on the questions in the third last paragraph.
Speaking of love, February is Black History month. Prior to our music video, I’m offering you some special photos to reflect on. Vestiges of racism and oppression can still be seen in some of our architecture—if you know where to look. This series of photos from The New York Times is entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Ghosts of Segregation.” I hope they remind us that we have made considerable progress in this country, but we still have much further to go.
The title of our song today is the title of this reflection: “Love Wins.” It’s sung by Carrie Underwood.
Once again, I thank you for reading my blog!