Thursday, February 18, 2010

You never give me your money

Alabama land

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about anger. I’ve been thinking that I feel angry a lot more than I acknowledge even to myself. I’m very good at convincing myself that what I’m feeling is not in fact anger, but something else entirely. I’ve also been thinking about love--I’m even more confused about it. I’ve been mystified about what love actually means since high school, at least, to the point where I checked out a bunch of theology texts the summer after I graduated to figure it out once and for all.

I didn’t. No one has.

It’s the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But nowhere does Jesus actually tell you how.

I understand the concept generally. Allow the Holy Spirit to flow through you. Act nice. I even went and reread 1 Corinthians 13 today. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not arrogant, it does not act unbecomingly, it does not seek its own, it is not provoked. It keeps no record of wrongs. It does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Here’s where it gets hard: “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Really? All things? Bears all things? I recognize some abstract concept of ultimate love in there, and that I can’t even begin to touch its hem, but should I even aim to try? Should I try to bear all things? Here’s where the central doctrines of Christianity run smack-dab into modern psychology, and I’m not sure Christianity comes out on top. I’m not sure I should bear all things. Some things shouldn’t be borne. (The abused wife trying to “love” her husband into salvation comes quickly to mind.) The question is: which things?

A family member, nameless to avoid incrimination, has been reading widely in different religious traditions. He said: Christianity tells you to love. But Buddhism teaches you how to love.

His answer is the best I’ve found--the doctrine of mindfulness, as expounded by Thich Nhat Hanh. The way we love is by being fully mindful in the presence of others. Aware of who they are, what they are saying, what they are doing. Of being fully present in each moment with another person. Fully present with God when alone.

That’s just as hard. And it still doesn’t confront the self-sacrificial elements of Christianity. Should the abused woman just be mindful as she’s beaten senseless?

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down a life for a friend,” said Jesus. Obviously that’s the greatest love. But is it realistic? Is my own heart the problem? Is it not big enough? The Christian would argue if I would allow the love of Christ to flow through me, I could bear all things. I just don’t see it working.


Whatsnewell? said...

Very thoughtful piece......I think the "endures all things" is contextual to each person. My experience has been that God never gives an individual a burden greater than they can bear, or endure, individually. When I think of the evil that is done to feeding them feet first into a shredder as Sadaam Hussein did, I can't imagine how that individual could have endured that. I can only speak anecdotally, of course.

Melissa said...

I've been reading some awful things about the Congo, too. Google "autocannibalism" if you want to have nightmares. It sometimes just doesn't feel like love, simple love, is enough to fight all of the evil in the world.

Marie said...

I feel cheesy even writing about this, but the movie we watched at church was called "Furious Love," and it was all about how love stands up to darkness. They even interviewed a guy who had seen some of that stuff in the Congo. I'm not totally endorsing the movie, but it had some crazy/interesting moments, and it was trying to answer the question of "how strong can love be?"

Melissa said...

I can't believe you know about that stuff in the Congo. It's so awful--I imagine furious love is the only kind that could stand up to that kind of darkness. And I don't mean that facetiously. It's impossible not to sound flippant when dealing with such immense pools of evil, but as much as I doubt, I do believe that love is the only way to fight back.

Audra said...

I'm glad you are blogging for lent again. I look forward to your honesty, dread what doubts it may produce in my own life, and enjoy meditating on the problems you present. I love you cousin. You are wonderfully made.

Melissa said...

Thanks Audra--sorry I didn't respond earlier to your comment. I'm really happy you're reading again this year, and it's certainly not my goal to create doubt for anyone. I always find myself asking difficult questions, though, and if I can't be honest about those, then what good is my faith? I know God is big enough to take all of our questions.

Red Sonia said...

Great thoughts! One thing that I stuggle with is how one really loves oneself as much as a neighbor, because I think loving oneself can be hard. I also wonder about the comments about abuse. For an abused person, allowing oneself to be abused is not loving oneself or the abuser. I have to believe that spouse beaters do not like themselves for it and that the beaten are not loving (self or other) if they can stop it and don't. To watch someone to do harm to another (including self), when you have power to stop it is not love. (I am sure I am way oversimplifying something increadibly complicated). Thanks for asking tough questions and being in it!

Melissa said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Sonia. I used the example of the abused wife, because it's so clear that she's not loving herself. When it gets tricky is when it gets grayer--for instance, if a disabled elderly relative wants to live in your house with you. I tend to feel like the Bible tells us that's something we should do, and love self-sacrificially, but what happens if that makes you miserable? I was definitely not taught to self-protect as I was growing up, as much as I believe that's essential. It still hasn't been defined for me as something that's inherent in love.