How Do We Love One Another
Reverend Tom Capo
I often use the phrase “Beloved Community.” Do you wonder what I mean by that? Have you ever asked yourself “how do I act if I am part of a beloved community?” I’m curious about what each of us means by this term. I believe we are all on the same page with community—a group of people gathered together for a purpose. But what about beloved? Are we talking about infatuation, puppy love, conditional love, parental love, soul-mate love, divine or spiritual love, patriotism (love of country), tough love, self-love? No matter how many definitions or synonyms you might find—and there are a lot—chances are none of them completely captures the full meaning of love.
I have come to believe what the great psychoanalyst Erich Fromm says about love: “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.” In other words my friends, love is not a feeling. Although it is so very easy to assume that it is. Really, love causes a feeling; love is a decision you make, and decisions you continue to make, in order to create an experience that is described as love.
Unitarian Universalist minister Reverend Elizabeth Espenshade wrote of love:
“… We cry out with the pain of this broken world and ask why?
With all our capacity for love, why can't we wrap this world in love and bring healing? We confess that we are not always able to express the love we know is inside us. We feel constricted and hesitant, afraid that our love will be rejected or misused.
We pray for forgiveness, that we may learn to forgive others and accept their forgiveness of us. May we let go of fear so we can move on, opening our hearts to one another. We pray for empowerment that we may learn to love more fully. Let our love shine forth from this sacred place so that others may know, that here, they will find freedom, acceptance, community and love …”
Let me share a story about a choice and commitment. This story comes from an article by the co-founder of charityfocus.org, Viral Mehta (Parabola, winter 2011-12).
“They called it a “kindness internship.” My fourteen year old cousin and his best friend had decided, of their own accord, to spend much of their summer creating spontaneous and mostly anonymous opportunities to grow in kindness. So at summer camp, my cousin was on lookout. He’s popular kid, and being kind is not always “cool,” so that made his reflection afterward all the more poignant: “I noticed that there was one kid who no one was really talking to. He had a serious kind of disability, and some of the kids were kinda scared to approach him. So I went up and introduced myself. And you know what? He taught me some amazing dance moves!”
Sharing his presence was a wonderful thing to do in and of itself, but his perspective was even more remarkable. Someone asked him, “What if he wasn’t able to teach you anything? Would you still have done it?” “Well, everyone is good at something. You just have to listen long enough.” It’s a profound lesson coming from an early teen: assume value everywhere. In orienting myself this way, I take responsibility for tuning in to what others offer and open myself to other perspectives.”
Lebanese artist, poet, and writer, Kahlil Gibran, wrote of love:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love.”
How I decide and commit to those whom I love, again and again, shapes the quality of love around me and in the world. In the Christian Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me. What you did to the least of these, my brethren, you did also to me.” I think this is the kind of love that has the most meaning for me—the agape I try to show to others, in particular those who are on the margins of society, those in most need, This is the behavior I am choosing, I am committed to; this is the kind of behavior that creates an experience of love for others.
Agape love–unconditional love--or what novelist, poet, academic, lay theologian, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis calls it, charity, is the love that brings forth caring regardless of the circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, a virtuous love. This unconditional love sees beyond the outer surface and accepts the recipient for who he/she is, regardless of flaws, shortcomings or faults. It’s the type of love that everyone strives to have for their fellow human beings. Although obviously you may not like every human being, heck you may not like everyone in this room, you decide to love all people, including everyone in this room, simply because they are a human being. Agape is also a committed and chosen love. It is the love demonstrated by your behavior toward another person. It is a love that is selfless. Mother Teresa is a good example of someone who expressed this kind of love. Listen to her words: “I try to give to the poor people for love what the rich could get for money. No, I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God.” While some people associate this kind of love with the love of their god, in practical terms this love is really about giving to another person with no expectation of self-benefit or reward or even acknowledgement; you don’t have to be like Mother Teresa to do this. It is a person’s choice and commitment to give to others, and whether the love given is returned or not, the person, continues to love. But what about loving someone you don’t care for? The person who cut you off on I 88? The co-worker who lied about you and cost you that promotion? Remember in 2013, Ariel Castro, who kidnapped three women and tortured them in his house for a decade. Agape for Ariel Castro? He doesn’t deserve it. But that’s the point, this kind of love is given regardless—it is given to someone just because they exist. Agape is a commitment to choose to love without conditions. No wonder it can be the most difficult love to give.
Chinese Philosopher Mo Tse wrote of love:
When all the people of the world love,
“Then the strong will not overpower the weak.
The many will not oppress the few.
The wealthy will not mock the poor.
The honored will not distain the humble.
The cunning will not deceive the simple.”
Philosopher and Metaphysicist Frithjof Schuon wrote: “True charity…gives nothing without giving inwardly something better; the art of giving requires that to the material gift should be added a gift of the soul; this is to forget the gift after having given it, and this forgetfulness is like a fresh gift. Intrinsically, that virtue alone is good which is in a certain way unconscious of itself and, as a result, becomes neither “egoistic charity” nor “proud humility.” As an old proverb has it, “Do good and throw it into the sea.” When you commit to loving action, over and over again, you will be giving a piece of your soul if you give your love and then forget what you have done. Do good and let your love be thrown into the sea that is DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, enriching us all. And we will then throw it out into the sea of humanity, enriching our world.
American author and motivational speaker, and a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California, Leo Buscaglia, often referred to as “Dr. Love” wrote: “Don’t brood. Get on with living and loving. You don’t have forever.” My friends heed Dr. Love—you don’t have forever to express your love. Act with love in your heart in this community, commit to that loving action again and again, and then take that loving action out into the world. Go forth with the decision, the judgment, and the promise that is love.