Love is an Action
Episode 10 – May 6, 2018
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“Fuel the Fire”
Reading No. 1
LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
“Unending Love” by Rabindranath Tagore (Selected Poems)
Love for the World
Part of each episode of the Living Presence Podcast will feature a section where we lift up people and places who can use our alliance, our attention and some hope. (If you are from a United Church, this would be similar to “Prayers of the People” or “Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession”).
The idea and our hope are that listeners from all over can send in the people and places they would like to bring to our attention, and I would love it if YOU would consider sending something in to be aired. You can either a) record something with the voice recorder app on your phone and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org OR b) call 289-903-0019 and leave a voicemail OR c) Leave a written comment and I will read it on the air.
THIS WEEK WE LIFT UP:
- The victims, their families and friends, and first responders, from the van attach in Toronto on April 23
- The victims of the flooding in the Fredericton area of New Brunswick
- The family, friends and victims of Erick Davila who was executed by the State of Texas on April 25
- The family, friends and victims of Juan Costillo, who is set to be executed by the State of Texas on March 16
Ok guys, back to the Christian Scriptures. We’re still in Eastertide and back to the Gospel of John. Yay John! The passage that I just read live from a gas station is part of a larger group of readings known as the “Farewell Discourse”. We’re sitting with Jesus and the disciples right after Jesus has washed their feet. He’s already gone through the reasons he needs to die and how that’s going to happen. And now he’s basically checking off the list of things he needs the disciples to know. Grab a pen and paper dudes – take some notes – this is the important stuff you’ll need to understand in order to carry on with my mission.
Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Just a little side note: I’m not sure if there are any other Harry Potter geeks out there, but this is the one scripture passage J.K. Rowling quotes in the series – in the 7th and final installment, the Deathly Hallows.
Jesus goes on to make some more comments about friendships…he contrasts them against the slave and master relationship which would have been well known and well understood at the time. They are not his servants – they are his friends. The relationship is reciprocal. It is not only a one way exchange…”You did not choose me! I chose you.”
Every time I hear this passage I think…
We have an interesting understanding of and relationship to friendships in Western Culture. We don’t really prioritize them as much as we do other relationships, such as romantic relationships or family relationships. In general, we understand that Romantic relationships need to be nurtured and cared for. Family relationships need attention. But friendships – we don’t really think of them as needing cultivation. They’re just supposed to…happen. And if they fall apart, well, you can always make more friends, right? I know when I first had kids and started missing my friends (most of whom were child-free at the time), I felt like I was being selfish in wanting to create the time to see them when I had so many other responsibilities nibbling away at my time. In fact, I still feel guilty when I carve out space in my schedule for coffee with a friend. Friends are nice and everything, but we’re taught that as adults, they’re not really foundational to our sense of well-being. In a culture where being busy is a symbol of status, we are often too busy to nurture our friendships.
This understanding of friendship is not universal. There are many areas of the world where friendships are given a great deal of priority. In Jesus’ context, he is speaking of what’s called a fictive kinship kind of friendship. Fictive kinship is a strong friendship without blood, marriage or political ties. It is reciprocal and could imply that one would, in fact, lay down their life for their friend. It is a friendship with intense loyalty attached.
So, Jesus says the disciples are now his friends. They are not exactly equals – the way John writes it, the disciples can be close to God if they are close to Jesus, and the way they can be close to Jesus – the way they can be his friend – is by following his commandment.
And what is his commandment? It feels like Jesus speaking through a piece of old vinyl that’s just skipping over and over on the record player…
LOVE ONE ANOTHER!
Just do it! Love one another as I have loved you! Love one another with a remarkable unfailing love that is risky, that is challenging, that has a cost…
I recently returned from spending two weeks in Winnipeg, where I attend learning circles at The Centre for Christian studies. One of our learning circles this term was about Living into Right Relations with Indigenous Peoples – six days of exploring, being challenged by and attempting to reconcile Canada’s history of colonialism and cultural genocide. The church – the UNITED church – had a huge role in this, as we were one of the denominations who ran residential schools on behalf of the Canadian government.
One of our required readings was Richard Wagamese’s book, Indian Horse, the film adaptation for which, happens to be out in theatres right now. I cannot stress enough how much I recommend reading the book and seeing the film. A small group of us went to see the movie together. I told my husband the film is great in the same way that Schindler’s List is great – it is so well done, but the subject matter is such that I don’t need to see it again for a very long time. For clarification, Other films I place in this category are:
- The Sweet Hereafter and
- The Killing Fields
So, Indian Horse was great, but I don’t need to see it again for a while. And then I thought, “Wow. What a point of privilege that is – to just be able to say, “Yeah. What happened in the residential schools was awful. I’m going to choose not to be confronted with it for a little while because it’s just too much.” Sometimes I just shake my head at myself…
Because for those who survived the residential school system, that movie can’t just be shelved and returned to when convenient. That’s not the way trauma works.
The trauma that was inflicted upon children and their communities by those who profess to follow Jesus’ example – and who, I’m sure, expounded on the virtues of love to their students. In one particularly jarring scene, a new student is beaten by one of the nuns in the presence of a priest, with a portrait of Skinny White Jesus staring on, looking weary and somewhat forlorn. I can only imagine. I’m pretty sure Jesus would be weeping at the abuse of children who’d been kidnapped from their parents in His name. Weeping and raging in fury.
So, how on earth does an instruction to love people the way that Jesus loved, to a point of completely putting oneself on the line, turn into leaders of the church whipping small children?
Our legacy has much to answer for. There is still much that needs to be answered for that cannot be confined into history books, because it is not only history…
And so…what now?
Osvaldo Vina is a professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Perhaps unshockingly, Professor Vina sums the whole thing up far better than I ever could.
The love God showed toward Jesus he showed toward his disciples so they could show it to each other. When they love in this way, their love becomes impregnated with divine qualities. It is not just an emotional, cozy feeling, but a conscious decision to put yourself on the line and risk everything for the other. This kind of love will make sure that justice is done in the world. You will venture yourself from the safety of your community into the broader society to see that it is transformed by this sacrificial love that Jesus modeled for us. Justice is the shape love takes in society.
Those are some really beautiful and inspiring words, but how do we make them happen? What are we willing to put on the line for this just love to pour forth? In the context of Right Relationships, what does this mean?
On a systemic level, there has been some talk within the United Church of either returning land, or the proceeds from the sale of closed churches, back to the Nations Indigenous to the area. That is a financial cost to a denomination that is continuing to decline and in numbers and resources. But many feel it is the right thing to do.
But on a personal level, what do we do? How do we demonstrate our love in real, tangible ways. For those of us who are not Indigenous, I wonder if sometimes putting ourselves on the line in love can be simply an act of solidarity – of calling out misconceptions and hate, especially if it’s from people we’re closest with. We can examine the ways in which we continue to benefit from the displacement of Indigenous peoples. We can take the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation commission seriously, and work towards implementing those with which we have influence.
In York Region, we can find out why the Chippewas of Georgina Island are protesting the proposed York Region Sewage Solution, and join in their efforts of asking for more research to be done on the effects the plant may have on the waters of Lake Simcoe.
In other contexts, this kind of love is not a love felt on the sidelines. It is a love of participation. Of getting our hands dirty. I see this love demonstrated in those who, every week, visit men and women who are incarcerated and forgotten. I see it in those who wander the streets of Toronto on the coldest nights of the year making sure those who don’t have a place to call home are safe. And I saw a glimpse of it with our community clean up this weekend.
Love is an action word, and, letting J.K. Rowling sum the whole thing up, “Love it the strongest power there is.”
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada