The Love Paradox

face in square reflections
Image credit: <a href="">Sweet Cheeks Willie</a>

John 15:9-17

I loved you just like God loved me. Stay in my love.

This is how you stay in my love: do what I say. I do what God says. That’s how I stay in God’s love.

(I’ve told you all this so my happiness can be your happiness. Be completely happy.)

And this is what I’m telling you to do: Love each other, the way I’ve loved you. The ultimate love is to give your life for your friends. If you do this, you’re my friends. Not just my employees with no vested interest in what the employer is doing, but friends with a personal stake in, and a first hand knowledge of, the business.

You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you. Now go and do what’s worthwhile, something enduring. On my account, God will give you what you need to make it happen. Do it for the love of one another.

It’s been said, “Love is a verb.”

In this passage, it is both a noun and a verb. It’s received and stayed in (perhaps even basked in) as a noun, and it is given as a verb. It is something both felt and done.

On either end of the love transaction, though, in this passage, what is paramount is that love is something that, both in the giving and the receiving, requires a personal stake.

You can be good to your employees. You can be a good employee. But you can only love a friend.

You can be in a business for the money, or to make a living. But you can only be in love when you’re committed to a project or a person with your life.

Noun or verb, Jesus says love as a personal stake means two things:

First, you can only really be happy – completely happy – when you’re in love. Which is to say, you can only really find that which truly fulfills you when you’re willing to risk giving yourself away.

Second, the project or person worthy of that kind of personal devotion isn’t something that you decide upon. There is no “going away to find yourself.” Rather, it’s something (or someone) that chooses you. It is not finding, but allowing yourself to be found that matters.

Real Life, Now

the "Leave it to Beaver" Cleaver house
Photo credit: <a href="">Loren Javier</a>

2 John 4-6

I was elated to see that some of your members are really living, just as God intends for us. But friends, I’m asking that you love each other. I’m not asking anything new here. It’s what we’ve always insisted on from the start. Love, by doing what Jesus says. From the start, this has been the whole point.

Some people are really living. Some people are really loving. Some people are doing what Jesus says.

Even in the early church, so often held up as the paradigm to get “back to,” some people are really getting it. Others are just going through the motions. They’re not so different. “Getting back” to a mythical “golden age” (whether it’s the 2nd century church to which this letter was written, or the mid-20th century post-war, baby-boom church with Sunday School classes bursting at the seams), only means going back to a time when some people get it and others are going through the motions.

The point is not to recreate an ideal past. The point has been, from the beginning, to “get it” here and now.

The point is not to pine nostalgically for glory days, but to really, truly live today.

The point is not to wish for love’s labors lost, but to love by doing what Jesus did in the present.

That’s the point. Always has been. From the start.

Love and Truth, a.k.a. The Binity

an elephant in the room
Image credit: <a href="">David Blackwell</a>

2 John 1-3

A letter from “The Old One” to the chosen church. Love you, people! And not just me, but everyone who really knows you. The truth is is with us and always will be.

Grace, relief, and peace are ours, from God and from Jesus, God’s child. Truly, it’s God’s love.

The Old One’s two primary concerns for the church are love and truth. If your church (or your business, or your family, or your community) have these things, chances are you’re on the right track.

By love, we’re talking about real, genuine caring for one another. We’re talking about really knowing who the people in your community are, not just who they appear to be as they talk about the weather. Love goes deeper than camaraderie around the water cooler or the coffee pot. It means when you know someone is in need, you do something about it, rather than treating it like just so much information. It’s raising what Robert Putnam and others have called the information-action ratio of your community. Or, as Boston used to sing it, “It’s more than a feeling.”

By truth we’re not talking about just propositional or factual accuracy, but genuine transparency of who people are and what state of relationship we’re in. Which means not hiding who we really are or what’s really on our minds, or pretending to be someone we’re not. It’s a matter of being authentic. And it functions on both the individual and communal levels.

Get these two things right, and your community is probably healthier than most.

Get these two things right, and you’ve probably got a God thing going on.

(Get them wrong and you end up in the picture, above.)

Does God want Children, or an Army?

Assyrian Reliefs
Photo credit: <a href="">Elissa SCA</a>

1 John 5:1-5

Everyone who embraces Jesus as the chosen one is a child of God.

Everyone who loves the parent loves the child. So we know that we love the children of God by loving and obeying God. We love God by obeying God’s orders – which is not so hard. Whoever is God’s child vanquishes the world. Which is to say, our affirmation of Jesus vanquishes the world. Who, but those who embrace Jesus as God’s child, will vanquish the world?

For all John’s talk of love, this passage has a decidedly unloving tone. Us against the world, and we will be victorious. Some will make the case that the meaning here is spiritual. It’s not. It’s militant. The Greek all but invokes Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, even as it claims to kinship with Jesus, the Prince of Peace. That’s a serious problem.

The second problem in this passage is that it’s logic is completely flawed: loving the parent doesn’t mean squat about one’s attitude toward the child. I can think of instances in which the parents are perfectly lovely people, but I’d rather not be around their children. You can probably think of some, too. And it applies in the other direction as well. You’re not guaranteed to like the parents just because you like their kids.

If anything, this passage is a reminder of how easily devotion can cross the line into fanaticism. Devotion, at its best, is a deep commitment to a cause or person, or even a religion. Fanaticism is that perversion of devotion that narrows everything into black and white, for and against, us and them, (capital-T) Truth and blasphemy. Devotion seeks to deepen and build and bind together. Fanaticism flattens, consumes, and divides. Devotion yearns to see more clearly. Fanaticism blinds and confuses.

You can see where this is going. The quest for love is one thing. The quest for victory is quite another.