All we need is love. Love is all we need. So say the Beatles. So say we all. One must ask then just what this love is and where one might find it; for if anything is scarcer in America today than jobs, it must be love. For sure protestations, of love fill the airwaves, but love like gainful employment seems to be evaporating almost as fast as our polar ice caps. Perhaps it is all the hot air exploding from our mass medias like so much smog from a clean coal plant, or perhaps not.
You must forgive a newly-minted, middle-age grump his sarcasm but with so many weak profusions of this gassy love speak it is hard to be much inclined to love. When a corporate honcho swindles billions, gets caught, and exits the courthouse pleading for our love and acceptance; it is hard to be so loving and accepting. When a priest abuses his position in order to rape and pillage a Midwestern school for the deaf, then finds himself in a comfy retirement because some bishop who would be pope states that love and forbearance are the Christian things to do. It is hard to love and much easier to hate, to hate with a passion that burns clean and pure.
So whence shall we find the love with which to live and to live well? Surely it is not to be found in the syrupy confections of a Hollywood movie theater or in some tinny box of a recording studio. Forgive please my dismay, but one more Bella and it may be hard to keep all those tummy butterflies that pass for love from exploding into my tub of buttery fluff. Surely it cannot be found in the Colorado Springs offices of the Superior Majority or the Virginia offices of America’s doomsday prophet. No this tough love is hard to treat with anything less than the disrespect Prophet Pat gives any country hit by calamity, as it is, this kind of love that buttresses those who enjoy standing on public squares yelling, “Fag, Kike, Nigger, Dike.” They aren’t racist homophobic assholes mind you, just people who love their lily- white country. This may be some bizarre case of Tourettes, but is nothing like love. It cannot even be found in the streets of San Francisco, though you might lose your heart there. There at the corner of Haught and Ashbury, you will hear many definitions of love, all correct if contradictory. But if 35 years of living teach anything, it’s that love is never, ever free. There is always a cost to count and a price to pay. The only people who give their stuff away, for free, are drug dealers and con men, and that, of course, is only for the first hit.
So where is love? What is it like? One answer I have found comes in a story told by an Anglican bishop about an event he read about occurring in his neck of the woods, and that side of the pond. It had been a stormy and rainy week, but the clouds had parted and the sun had come out when a father and a daughter decided to go for a walk. The father was enjoying the time with his daughter and the daughter, well, was enjoying stumping in puddles. Then the unthinkable happened. One of these puddles turned out to be deeper than anticipated and the daughter disappeared in the muddy waters. Realizing that the child had been swept into the storm drain, the man took off at a sprint to reach the nearby opening in time to catch her. Later as father and daughter spoke with the gathered crowd of concerned neighbors and excited media types, the dad was asked how he managed this miraculous feat. The answer from this soldier turned dad turned hero was the culmination of lifetime of discipline and concentration. “I pushed out every negative thought and worry and focused solely on the task at hand: finding the exit, finding his daughter’s limp body, and finding a way to get her out.” In this moment of crisis there was nothing extra for fears about desired outcomes. This to me sounds like a good working definition of love: concentrated, focused action. Sure there are emotional components and moral requirements to a life filled with love, but this sort of concentration action is at the center of it. Put most simply, it is focused action by one individual on behalf of another individual with some said or unsaid goal.
Many have discussed what is means to be human, what it means to be a person. I prefer not the individualistic expressions of my home in the West, but have found a better working definition in the writings of some outside the self-centered West. There is an old African proverb which says, roughly speaking, that “a person is a person through other persons.” This means that to be human means to be in more or less harmonious relationships with others. The African ideal of Ubuntu, a term hard to translate accurately, states that “I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.” Here we have a good approximation of that what we have been talking. And just here we can faithfully extend our working definition of love. It is not so wispy approximation of self and the self’s worth on its own merits as some many of the imposters we have unmasked, but is and can only be found in the life of another. In this matter I have been greatly challenged by that Bishop of reconciliation who has argued that “what is needed is to respect one another’s point of view and not to impute unworthy motives to one another or to impugn the integrity of the other. Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree or disagree and yet continue to love another, to care for one another and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other.” One must note that is not some sloppy acceptance, some unmerited gift that minimizes conflict and validates the other’s feelings and beliefs. To slide into some unthinking miasma of thinking that says everyone is right and there is no wrong is not to love but the opposite, to care less. No love means being able to agree and disagree with honor. To look one’s attacker in the face and say as the one evangelist has said, “You may cut me to pieces, but every piece will say, ‘I love you.’” A love that dies to self is the only true love.
When one talks like this, one finds that the sappy self-fulfilling and manipulative self-serving types of love need not apply. Further when one talks like this, one might even be reminded of the words of that famous Roman bishop who strove for a way to explain this Triune God he served, and was only able to describe such a God in terms of love. God is love personified and lived within himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. He holds love, both actual and ideal, in tension in the community of Himself. He is lover, beloved, and the love that passes between them. This points us to a startling conclusion, at least for those of us Westerners who grew up suckling the hind tit of individualism. Love cannot be found in the self alone. It can only be found in the loving community of individuals who have come together not for selfish gain, but in order to find a more perfect union. This harsh land is wild with danger and fraught with challenges in tension of the I and the Thou, this graded differentiation of self and the strange murky other. As we have remarked before, there is a cost here to be paid: the complete abandonment of self to the good of the other. It is here that we hear the call of the cross, the call of the disciple: come and die so that you may truly live and love. Love, true love is only to be found in the tension of that strange Lover, His Beloved, and the Love which passes between them. It is a love of consequence, a love which dies and it reborn anew and in this death and rebirth all begins to be put alright, all things are being made new. It is a strange and perilous journey to a faraway land, but it is in this new community of the faithful that love is found, and it is in this community that we come to realize the fabulous rightness and innate wrongness of Prophet John’s words, love is all we need, the spirit and the bride say come.