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(To have this story read to you, please access my podcast episode here.)

Love is an odd topic to discuss in our current climate. No matter where you stand, and on what issue, a lot of personal things have turned into a debate. Some things as personal as our very identity.

But why love? Because it’s clear we’re yearning for it.

Apologies for the earworm, but what is love? Is it marriage? Children? A shared Netflix account? Letting them make kimchi in your home, even though the smell is vomit-worthy?

Let’s look at what Christianity says about love. In the Old Testament, there are 12 words in Hebrew that mean “love” to varying extents. While, yes, Jesus spoke Aramaic and learned from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament is where the definition of Christian “love” comes from. That and there’s only three words for “love” in Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, in the entire canon.

One of the words for love is eros. There is also a Greek god named Eros, who is the god of passion and fertility in case you need a clear definition. While the word eros isn’t used in the New Testament, its spirit is there. Just check out 1 Corinthians 7:8–9,

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

The last few word, “to be aflame with passion,” is the English translation of the Greek pyrousthai. Admittedly, if there’s a single word to summarize several, I’d use it too. In this case it has everything to do with sex, regardless of the word actually used.

In this instance Paul is advocating for people to remain as he is, meaning celibate. A lot of the letters authentically attributed to Paul are attempts, by Paul, to set the record straight on matters of faith and worship in churches he had established. Paul emphasizes that he is the apostle to the gentiles, or people who are not Jewish. And in these circles, they often accepted worship of multiple gods, even adopting them as figures of worship later in life. During Paul’s time in Antioch, for example, there was a large Jewish community that already had gentile participants at synagogues.[1]

Paul writes to his churches to protest things like idol worship, or sleeping with your step-mother, but he does these things with the anticipation of the apocalypse approaching. Paul’s main concern was ensuring as many people made it into God’s kingdom, so that meant giving up acts of passionate love to ensure entry. But it wasn’t Paul’s intent to prevent sex. He encouraged it, but felt it may be frowned upon to not enter Heaven as a virgin.

(The concept of believing virginity, and by proxy “purity,” is a virtue is something I talk about at length in my book What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t) Say About Sex)

Another word for love, that isn’t used in the Bible, is storge. This is a distinct kind of love, usually referring to a familial relationship. As the example in the definition states, it is like the love between a parent and offspring. The concept of this word is present implicitly, but there is no word being used that would correlate to storge.

Agape is our next word, and the first that is included in the New Testament. Agape is similar to storge in that it establishes a parental relationship. It typically is associated as the relationship between “God for man” and “man for God”.[2] It’s used by Paul in Galatian 5:13, every utterance of the word “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 comes from the Greek “agape,” and the same is used in Romans 14:15.

It turns out, Jesus also uses agape. Well…the Greek-literate authors of the gospel accounts have him use the word agape. In Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken as a first century Palestinian Jew, it would have been chav. [3] Chav is a bit more specific in the sense that it’s a love given without the expectation of return. A love, like that of a parent-child/God-man relation, returned is racham.

Mark 12:28–31 has Jesus quote Leviticus 19:18, addressing the “love of God [and…one’s] neighbor”. Matthew 5:43–48 takes the same quote, and adds that followers of Jesus should love their enemies as well. And, of course, the well known John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” All use the Greek word agape where we are seeing “love”.

Our fourth, and final, word is phileo. This term is meant as a love one has for their brother. The name of the city Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, comes from this Greek word. And this is used in the New Testament as well.

In John 11:35–36, Jesus finds his friend Lazarus dead. “Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said ‘See how he loved him!’” In this instance, it is a group of others looking in and commenting they had a relationship like brothers.

Then the problem occurs that, Jesus also expresses “love” for Lazarus as a parent-child relationship in an earlier verse. John 11:5–6 says,
“Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus…he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

It turns out these two terms for “love” are pretty interchangeable. So someone could express a parent-child relationship love, and a love to someone “like a brother”. Side note, Christians also had a ritualistic kiss they used to greet one another. Perhaps this has something to do with early objections to the Christian faith because of rumors of incestuous relationships.[4]

Now that we have some concepts of how love is expressed implicitly in the Bible, let’s talk about the implications of love in our modern world.

Very much like the Greek words, the English term is dependent on relationships. We “love” our friends differently than we “love” our pets. And we love those differently than how we love our parents or how we love our partner. Even if there is a strong, committed feeling of love in one category does not mean the love feels the same coming from another.

All you have to know is there are actual terms for these different kinds of love. A love for your pet, or animals and their well being, is a zoophile. The closest I could muster for a term that referred to a love of friends was “platonic love.” But the interesting thing is, in our modern lexicon, the Greek term philia is used. It’s just…not in the most flattering way.

Terms like hemophilia, paraphilia, algophilia, necrophilia, etc., etc., etc. Let’s not go there.

Love for one’s parents is filial love. Love for your partner(s) is romantic love (we’ll talk about that “s” in parentheticals later). These are incredibly broad, and perhaps generous, terms for the different loves we have. At least for relationships. For argument’s sake, these titles will do us justice for the following exercise.

We have people within our circle that we categorize for the four sections; pet, platonic, filial, and romantic love. Suppose an issue of of money, a small amount arises. Your pet has torn up their third iteration of a preferred toy, a $5 fee but annoying to have to replace once again. A friend approaches you for the fourth time asking for $5 to avoid having their cell phone shut off. They’re going through a hard time, and having a working phone helps them look for work and respond to interview requests. Your parent contacts you and asks for $5 to cover an anticipated overdraft on their bank account because they didn’t plan some impromptu items in their grocery store run. You can’t even remember how many times you’ve done this for them now. Your partner you’ve been financially supporting returns from a job interview excited to announce they were offered the job. They asks if they can borrow $5 to get a cheap bottle of champagne to celebrate.

Assuming that all four scenarios present themselves, and that you are capable of providing money in each situation with no financial hardship to yourself, would you give five dollars in each situation?

Now, assume you are only capable of providing $15 in total. Who doesn’t receive the $5? Cut it to $10. Who gets help now and why? If you only have $5 to spare, who is the only one of the four that gets it? That is, if you decide any of them get it at all. And for a matter of specifics, we shall assume you are aware of the four different needs all at the same time so we can rule out a “first-come-first-serve” non-answer.

Now assume it’ s a minimal time commitment; your pet wants five minutes of your time to go to the bathroom outside. Your friend is on a run and only a mile from their house, but asks to charge their phone to make it the rest of the way home. They only need five minutes to charge it. Speaking of electronics, your parent stops by because they want the text on their tablet larger so they can read on it. You know exactly how to do it, and it takes less than five minutes. As you’re about to start watching/reading/listening to some of your favorite media, your partner approaches you to do a quick information dump of a topic that’s been very exciting for them to learn about. It’s a rant you know you shouldn’t expect to get a word in, and they do this often. You just listen and they’ll excite themselves back into their project.

Same question as with the money; who gets your time? If you only have 15, 10, or 5 minutes to spare, who gets it and why?

Now a more interesting question; how is your relationship different with each when they have medical emergencies? Do you take your pet to the vet, sit with them before, during (if you can), and after? Or do you bring them in and leave them in a kennel with the vet? If you do, is that by choice? Meaning you could be with them because you didn’t have to work or some other commitment that would have objectively caused more harm by you not taking part physically, but you chose to leave them in a kennel with the vet. If you’ve had to put a pet down, have you been able to stay with them as it happened?

Between the friend, parent, and partner, when all three are in the hospital, who gets a visit from you? Who has you sitting in a waiting room for a procedure to end or for them to wake up? Who are you sleeping next to in their hospital bed?

If your pet has a seizure, do you sit with them and attempt to calm them until it passes? If a mental health emergency arises for your friend, parent, or partner, whom would receive your time? No boundaries; who would be graced with your attention?

Ultimately, the idea of love can be brought down to a simple concept, as suggested by Erich Fromm in his book The Art of Loving (1956, 2006, Harper Perennial). “Love is the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth.” And, as Fromm details, it is a mutually beneficial relationship.

“If you love without calling forth love,” he says, “…then your love is impotent.” A teacher is also taught by their students. Actors are stimulated by their audiences, musicians as well. A salesperson gets excited for a sale, amplified by the excitement from the purchaser. “Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love…One loves that for which one labors, and one labors for that which one loves.” [5]

A concept that arises through all of this is our idea of responsibility. As children, we might view “responsibility” with ire and frustration; our youth slowly disappears, we lose the time we had for our desired activities, and now we have to take on the tasks others had done for us for years prior. However, responsibility is actually a representation of our pride, our love. It is a duty outside of ourselves and others. A personal response to the explicit, or implicit, needs of others. [6] Perhaps it starts with us learning to put our favorite toys away so we know where to find them, but then becomes a trip to the grocery store to pick up wine and an arrangement of flowers for our partner after a hard day at work.

I should be careful, using such examples. While this scenario I’ve presented may reflect many persons’ ideas of how love is expressed, it is, admittedly, from a biased, hetero-normative idea of a love relationship. More so, it is one of a man expressing love for a woman. Philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir would take issue with it. Noting in the introduction to her colossal work the Second Sex (1949, 2011, Vintage/Random House) that love is different in meaning for men and women, those differences are the reason for the disconnect between the genders.

de Beauvoir explains that love is, for men, an occupation and for women it is life. She writes:

Jews are ‘different’ for the antisemite, [black persons]* are ‘inferior’ for American racists, Aborigines are ‘natives’ for colonialists, proletarians are the ‘lower class’ for the privileged…Things become clear, on the contrary, if, following Hegel, we find in consciousness itself a fundamental hostility towards every other consciousness; the subject can be posed only in being opposed — he sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other, the inessential, the object.

This idea, ultimately, becomes the underlying concept in de Beauvoir’s work; following the notions of Descartes (that of subject being a mind thinking things, object is something with spatial dimensions but can’t make choices) man is the subject and woman is the object. Subjects act, objects are acted upon.

How this applies to love is easy to see; men are “sovereign objects” in love within our society. Women, to men, are capable of receiving love, but only in a sense similar to a preferred sports team, working on their car, or writing their next philosophical play might receive their love. Women are viewed as an integral part of mens lives, but only a ‘part’. Standards are different for women (of course), who are expected to love as a means of their living; loving is life. It is a “total abdication for the benefit of the master.

Love, for women, means forgetting themselves as people. French poet Cécile Sauvage wrote “When the woman loves, she must forget her own personality. This is a law of nature. A woman does not exist without a master.” [7] Once again, advocacy for abdication.

“The day when it will be possible for the woman to love in her strength and not in her weakness,” de Beauvoir writes, “not to escape from herself but to find herself, not out of resignation but to affirm herself, love will become for her as for man the source of life and not a mortal danger.” [8] For de Beauvoir, love meant being free, and acknowledging your partner is free as well.

de Beauvoir’s work also sought to discredit unhelpful, and even harmful, concepts of love. Ideas like thinking love will complete us, even though it is used to escape agency rather than fulfill it. Believing love is “everything,” when we become slaves to our passions, trapped in boredom, believing we lack choice over how we behave. Even the notion that love is in our destiny; desiring an amicable coalescence that inevitably results in possessiveness, or submissiveness, to force the love. In both roles (object and/or subject), there is still an attempt to control or manipulate the other. Such a notion is “disrespectful at best, oppressive at worst.”

“Authentic love must be founded on reciprocal recognition of two freedoms;” philosopher Skye C. Cleary writes in the Huffington Post. “…each lover would then experience himself as himself, and as the other: neither would abdicate his transcendence , they would not humiliate themselves; together they would both reveal values and ends in the world.”

Contemporary writer and philosopher Bell Hooks has also recognized the disparity between the genders. “Many men in our culture never recover from childhood unkindness,” she write. “Males and females who are violently humiliated and abused repeatedly, with no caring intervention, are likely to be dysfunctional and will be predisposed to abuse others violently.” She further solidifies her position on the imbalance in power between the genders (as well as socio-economic circumstances), stating “Domination cannot exist in any social situation where a love ethic prevails.” [9]

Understanding the concepts of love in a person-to-person dynamic, philosopher Alain de Botton writes,

Love stories begin not when we fear someone may be unwilling to see us again but when they decide they would have no objection to seeing us all the time; not when they have every opportunity to run away but when they have exchanged solemn vows promising to hold us, and be held captive by us, for life…We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue. [10]

de Botton urges that love means we grasp onto qualities in the focus of our affection that will help to correct our own weaknesses. “Love reaches a pitch at those moments when our beloved turns out to understand,” he writes. “…perhaps even better than we do ourselves, the chaotic, embarassing, and shameful parts of us…Love is a dividend of gratitude for our lovers insights into our own confused and troubled psyche.” Expanding onto the concept of love from ancient Greece, he says “Love was the excitement of coming face-to-face with virtuous characteristics.” [11]

Further, de Botton urges an understanding of how marriage should be a focus of concern as well as an understanding of the risk of loving someone, or something, so deeply. He calls it “extremely dangerous,” with the potential to ruin both partners’ lives; an experience that could result in mutual destruction. There is an idealism, a wishful thinking, in finding a best friend, lover, co-parent, and/or business partner in one other person. Marrying anyone, he offers, “comes down to a case of identifying which varieties of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.” [12]

Part of that is the appeal, he suggests. The emotional appeal of marriage is putting oneself and the subject of their affection in a circumstance that could result in mutual destruction. And while being married is associated with conservatism and timidity, getting married is reckless and romantic. Instead, we should determine our readiness for such a commitment (should we desire one) if we understand, in a number of significant areas, that the subject of our affection will be “wiser, more reasonable, and more mature than we are.” A commitment like marriage should be one of continued growth; one where we learn from our partner, have things pointed out to us, and model ourselves on the best pedagogues and deliver our suggestions without shouting or expecting the other simply to know. Only if we were already perfect could the idea of mutual education be dismissed as un-loving.” [13]

From a scientific perspective, love is a whole lot less…romantic. The feeling of love is, without question, a chemical reaction in our own brains. Initially with a rush of dopamine, one that is released for the expectation of rewards (think drug addicts and their continued self-abuse through illicit drug use), we start by paying increased attention to the subject of our affection. Our infatuation with our beloved comes from the release of adrenaline and norepinephrine, increasing heart rate and blood pumping. Norepinephrine is typically released in the wake/sleep cycle, focusing attention and increasing memory storage. Bursts of the hormone can result in feelings of euphoria, but also contribute to panic attacks. It increases the levels of dopamine released, resulting in a similar biological response to the introduction of drugs to our systems.

Falling in love also deactivates the amygdala in the brain. The amygdala is the oldest part of the brain, from an evolutionary perspective. Frequently referred to as the “lizard brain,” it is responsible for our “fight or flight” response, as well as emotional regulation. Love also deactivates our frontal lobes, responsible for judgement and logic, which some doctors believe lets us attempt to perceive a future where we procreate with the individual.

When we reach a level of “attachment,” that is when our brains release oxytocin, or the “love chemical,” from our hypothalamus. This is the same hormone released while hugging, kissing, achieving orgasm, or breastfeeding. It nourishes social bonds in mammals, ergo helping create stronger connections in relationships.

Likewise, mens genitals are also structured in a way to help strengthen those bonds. In other primate, or great ape, families, the male penis has “barbs”. These used to be on ancient, human-like animals in the form of lumps along the shaft. While part of it is to stimulate the female of the species, it also removed (or removes) sperm from other males that might have had intercourse with the partner. That and it makes them not want to procreate with others after the male in question sleeps with her. The more important aspect is, with the loss of the barbs in certain species came a loss of sensitivity and longer sexual encounters. With prolonged exposure to oxytocin during sex, that is supposed to lead to a stronger commitment. With out species, that makes sense as it takes our offspring a year just to walk, forget feeding themselves, understanding danger, or a general sense of self-care. In other words, love is an evolutionary adaptation in order to help our species survive and thrive.

These concepts explain a lot, but our species is no longer in the “survival mode” that our ancestors found themselves in, even just a few hundred years ago. Gender is no longer understood as a binary, but is instead on a spectrum. Rather than purely female-male relationships, there are same-sex relationships. There are relationships with non-binary individuals and those who identify in the female-male gender concepts, or both individuals may be non-binary.

In spite of gender identity, relationships are also no longer strictly on a one-to-one ratio. Polyamory (Greek “poly” meaning “many,” Latin “amor” meaning “love”), or consensual non-monogamy, is a widely accepted form of relationship. Roughly 4–5% of people alive today are in some type of polyamorous relationship, while 20% have attempted some type of non-monogamous partnership. Simone de Beauvoir, while having a romantic commitment to Jean-Paul Sartre, often working together with him on his and her own works, had an open relationship where they both had several lovers.

Loving our significant other(s) is the default, and easiest, position, but when we are speaking of love we are conceptualizing other reasons we experience love. We love our children, perhaps as an extension of loving our partner. Within that realm is also the love of oneself, building off of Fromm’s idea of nurturing our own and another’s growth. We also love our families, our friends, and our community. We may love things like film, music, literature, sports, etc., but these are typically used as a resource to bond with others; whether in our family, our friends, or community. The fandom of different aspects of entertainment often consider themselves to be a community. We see this in public displays of unity, like Red Sox fans singing the “bum-bum-bah” of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” or perhaps Rocky Horror Picture Show fans who shout “her dong!” during the performance. Of course I would be remiss to note audiences in religious services taking part in prayer, song, or responses during their observance of their faith.

Within each community, every religious organization, sports event, movie appreciation, or concert-goer, inevitably has some layover with minorities who are in need of extra love, attention, affection, or all three. For clarity, giving equal amounts to those unaffected by subjugation as to those who have been placed in a disadvantaged position is not equal. If I give five dollars to Jeff Bezos and another five dollars to a homeless woman trying to care for her child, the money will not be received the same way. Mostly in that it only takes an almost insignificant amount of emotional and personal investment to have a larger impact on those who have been given little or none.

Bezos might refuse the money, already having 200 billion (and counting), and would find the money a pittance. It’s more an inconvenience to be gifted such a small amount, requiring significantly more to have any type of notable impact on him personally. Meanwhile, the woman might be able to afford to eat, have clean water, feed children. Even if she chose to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or any other mind or mood-altering substance, I would feel no shame in allowing someone a brief reprieve from what is likely a terrifying circumstance. With an overabundance already from the climate and economic circumstance we find ourselves in, we are facing record setting homelessness, the incalculable death of minorities, and more economic gains for the likes of Bezos.

And, if you couldn’t tell, capitalism plays a large part in all of this.

de Beauvoir remarks in the third chapter of the Second Sex that the idea of the nuclear family , that of a woman staying home to rear children while the man goes to work, is one that came from the concepts of capitalism. While it plays on the idea of a family that consumes, a woman's role in the nuclear family is the ideal one of capitalism; someone doing the hard work for little to no compensation, often sacrificing any leisure time for themselves. As stated before, it is expected to be their entire being to “love,” and to do so while serving the patriarch of the family. Even if they are working, women do more unpaid labor in their home than men globally. In the home, the same is true, averaging 4.5 hours while men do only half that each day.

Freud, writing in the 1800's, communicates a number of ideas based firmly in 19th century capitalism. He writes that “self-love is narcissism,” a libido towards oneself. Love and self-love are mutually exclusive. His ideas around repressed desires or memories were easily taken by his nephew, Edward Bernays, and used to sell more capitalism to the United States. No joke, Bernays named the book, Propaganda.

Slavery in the United States, starting in 1619, was the capitalists dream. People were traded as literal commodities. Their living environments were often in hastily constructed shacks with little to no furniture. They were expected to work from sun-up to sun-down six days a week, with food that was rarely suitable to eat. Not even for animals. Not to mention the whole “cruel overseer” who would beat them for not submitting. Today? People of Color are berated and shamed for “not submitting” when police shout multiple commands at them. If they’re shot, if they’re killed, they’re told “they should have followed orders.” They are told how they should respond to violence by people who don’t know the antagonism People of Color face each day. They are unfairly targeted, arrested, and face jail time, often making them illegible to vote and in a system that the 13th Amendment says is okay to enable slave-like conditions for work and pay. After centuries of slavery, literacy tests after years of forced illiteracy, being told they’re 3/5 of a person so the whites of the south get an upper hand in elections, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, public beatings, images of them hanged on post cards, blackface in entertainment, Civil Rights marches, the school to jail pipeline, and on, and on, and on, how are People of Color supposed to feel like they matter? That their voices matter? That their needs will be met by an overwhelming majority of people who have benefitted from the back-breaking labor of their ancestors, while understanding none of the heartache?

Our economic culture is one that is based on each individual seeking their own advantage. This is why Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from his classmates at Harvard, settling out of court because of the massive gains he made from running the site. Elon Musk stole the idea of the Tesla car from its creator and his team. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb. In fact, even when it was close to a complete concept, he stole the idea for the incandescent light bulb (the one that didn’t burn out or explode shortly after being lit up) from Lewis Howard Latimer. A black man.

In pre-capitalistic societies, people exchanged goods based on tradition or personal bonds of love or friendship. That changed when capitalism entered the picture, determining an objects value by the exchange on the market. Meaning whether the individual had an item, labor, or a market of services, the person did so in exchange for its market value. [14]

But this capitalistic idea presents an “all-else-being-equal” scenario. White colonialists didn’t spend 400 years in slavery. White slave owners received reparations when their slaves were freed, but we have a problem repaying the descendants of the slaves who built this country. The slave owners’ descendants (the ones of their white wives, not from their black slaves) who served in World War II were able to take advantage of the GI Bill to buy houses or open businesses. Meanwhile 1.2 million black Americans were denied this right. Jim Crow laws. “Separate but equal”. Schools in the United States were segregated, putting black students in schools, often with improper funding, that didn’t provide the same education or resources that white schools received. And because of segregated housing, this still stands true today. Not to mention how the housing market put a differential of 21–42 points on black applicants mortgages, resulting in a significantly higher interest rates than for whites in comparable housing. Does this sound like everyone is getting the same opportunities?

White citizens couldn’t imagine sending their children to school hungry, yet they do because of the poverty they were forced into. Schools started offering free meals to students, but there have been efforts to stop this program (notably from the Trump administration). It’s hard enough to imagine going to school (or work, or anywhere) without food in your stomach, but children have been doing it for ages. Some students have accrued debt at their public schools simply for receiving something everyone needs to stay alive. Those same students, if the debt isn’t paid, can be put in foster care. When their classmates throw fundraisers to payoff their debts, it’s treated like a feel-good story without bringing to light the reality that children shouldn’t be worrying about paying money to have their basic needs met. Not to mention outright denying them food for debts as meager as 15 goddamn cents. And let’s not forget that a Pennsylvania school sent a letter out to parents saying, not only would their students be put in foster care if lunch debts weren’t paid, but they refused payment from a CEO who attempted to take care of the debts.

For those in the pro-life realm of thought, I ask if these lives matter. If all lives matter, do the lives of these children? After all, the ones coming from poverty are the children whose parents you shamed outside of Planned Parenthood, claiming that each life is precious.

And here is where we address the biblical issue of love.

(As an aside: the Bible never mentions abortion; it was practiced to such an extent in antiquity that the Greeks ended up making a plant species, popular for its prophylactic effects, go extinct. And abortion isn’t murder.)

When the idea of love comes to the mind of most Christians, it would be surprising to not hear them mention John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The image of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross is undoubtedly a powerful one; here is someone who is the only son of the one, true God, knowingly giving up his life for all the short comings of mankind. So long as we acknowledge his sacrifice, and accept him as our savior (and not blaspheme against the holy spirit), we’ll have a place with him in Paradise.

What’s not focused on is, in what’s claimed to be an act of love, a man(/god) gives up something monumental, his own life, for literally all others. That is the weight believed to be on the act of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each utterance of love in the New Testament, using agape, connects to this idea; one of serving others, or doing something for the sake of others.

Galatians 5:13 asks people to, “through love become slaves to one another.” In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” He claims love is patient, kind, and, in the vein of Simone de Beauvoir, is not envious. He continues,

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Romans 14:15 has Paul saying, “If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.” Here Paul is asking for his church members to consider others, and to consider that they are intervening with the intended receipt of atonement from one who gave his life for them.

The use of agape in Mark 12:28–31 (and its parallel in Matthew 5:43–48) speaks of loving God by giving him your everything. Heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then it is commanded we love our neighbor as ourself. And as a quick note, loving your neighbor (something taught at great length in the Hebrew Bible) means not just the person in your own community, it also meant the alien (Exodus 12:49, Deuteronomy 10:19 also showing an understanding of empathy).

Using the term philia, in John 11 Jesus acknowledges his brotherly love for Lazarus. And in turn, brings him back to life. His love acted as a motivation, as did his love for Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus demonstrates his love as an act of service to others.

As someone who has been brought back from the dead by his own father, nothing tells you someone loves you quite as clearly as them bringing you back to life.

If I may be permitted, I’d like to offer some words from Martin Luther King, Jr. I know it’s a typical white person move to pull out MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and say “now let’s all get along.” Instead, I’d like to offer the words of a man imprisoned. A man who, in the words of John Lewis, caused “good trouble.” A man who, in spite of advocating for non-violence (while not chastising rioters), still was executed in public.

From his sermon in opposition to war, found in Strength to Love,

When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the doors which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: ‘Let us love one another, for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. [15]

Building off the notion that Jesus put forward, as he did to the young rich man, that wealth and personal belongings do not help, Kentucky poet Wendell Berry writes in Another Turn of the Crank,

[Rural communities] are people who take and hold a generous and neighborly view of self-preservation; they do not believe that they can survive and flourish by the rule of dog-eat-dog; they do not believe that they can succeed by defeating or destroying or selling or using up every thing but themselves. They doubt that good solutions can be produced by violence. They want to preserve the precious things of nature of human culture and pass them onto their children…they see that no common wealth of community of interest can be defined by greed. [16]

Mary Anne Williamson also made a connection between the wealth of the United States and how capitalism has failed its citizens. She even appears to disavow the very lawmakers who claim to follow Jesus.

The backlash against welfare abuse in America today is not really a backlash against welfare abuse, so much as it is a backlash against compassion in the public sphere. While America is full of those who would police our private morals, there is far too little questioning of societal morals. We are among the richest nations on earth, yet we spend a trivial amount on our poor compared to that spent by every other Western industrialized nation. One fifth of America’s children live in poverty. We are the only industrialized Western nation that does not have universal healthcare. [17]

We are heavily indebted to those within minority communities. Those who have had the boot of America, of white nationalism and misogyny, pressed firmly against their throat for nearly half a millennium. They don’t need us to tell them about our “difficult lives,” because, though someone’s life may have been difficult or disadvantaged, it was not because they were white and/or male.

So how do we pay back our debt? Long term (and, let’s be honest, short term too) isn’t up to me, but I have an idea of where to start.

Shut up and show up.

Now’s not the time to assume you know what women or People of Color want or need (unless you are a part of those demographics). Part of showing love means communicating. And 90% of that should include listening. But don’t use your 10% to talk about how “on their side” you are. St. Paul also said, in 1 Corinthian 13, that love doesn’t boast.

As Paul Tillich writes, “The first responsibility of love is to listen…we cannot learn to communicate deeply until we learn to listen, to each other but also to ourselves and to God.” Our brothers and sisters are pleading for help, and they’re asking for us to support them. They’re asking for understanding and compassion, and that means being present. Being attentive to their needs, as any partner would want to be towards their beloved. If we are to give generously, as Jesus requests of the young rich man, then our attention is an important resource. [18]

This doesn’t just mean verbalizing a vote of support, it means showing up when it matters. If love is a verb, being involved in demonstrations is a must. Showing up to town hall meetings to support those voicing oppression is a must. Voting, not just for progressive candidates, but against those who wish to further suppress those already disadvantaged. How can we look into the eyes of the proletariat, of the enslaved, and confidently say we are on their side when we then turn and vote for politicians and policy makers who wish to keep them shackled?

And if all this sounds overwhelming, and emotionally draining, first I would say “imagine living it every day of your life, and having it lived in your ancestors lives for eons before you were born.” But second, and lastly, a reminder that you are not capable of loving others unless you can show love to yourself. As Fromm writes,

If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, it must be a virtue — and not a vice — to love myself, since I am a human being too. There is no concept of man in which I am not included…the love for my own self is inseparably connected with the love for any other being…love of others and love of ourselves are not alternatives. [19]

Mr. Rogers taught us that “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” Bell Hooks agrees; “Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self-love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love.” [20]

Love is serving others. Love is action; an active noun. But love is a balance, a loss of the power dynamic. It is one where the parties involved “surrender the will to power.” It demands a communal command of societal circumstances, rather than balancing the power into the hands of a select few. “Community heightens the capacity for fellowship with one another,” Hooks argues. [21] Without a community, without listening, without action, how are we to let the marginalized among us know that, not only are we capable of loving, but that they are worth loving?

*Clearly this is not the word used here, but, as a white person, I am incredibly uncomfortable using the word de Beauvoir uses here. I don’t mean to change the meaning or power behind her message, but I don’t feel it’s appropriate to use terms that can carry weight I’m not prepared to say I can adequately represent or understand.

  1. James D.G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making, Volume 2: Beginning From Jerusalem,Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2009, pg. 297
  2. H.G. Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon: Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, Benediction Classics, Oxford, England, 2010, pg. 4
  3. More a note about the link cited: I’d found the exact same definition on three un affiliated sites on the comparison between agape and chav. I felt it was safe to post, especially since it went on to explain the information that followed.
  4. Michael Philip Penn, Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2005, pg. 109–110
  5. Erich Fromm, the Art of Loving, Harper Perennial Press, New York, NY, 1956, 2006, pg. 24–26
  6. Ibid.
  7. Simone de Beauvoir, the Second Sex, Vintage/Random House, New York, NY, 1949, 2011, pg. 699–700
  8. de Beauvoir, the Second Sex, pg. 724–5
  9. Bell Hooks, All About Love, William Morrow/Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2018, pg. 39, 100/219, Hoopla version
  10. Alain de Botton, the Course of Love, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 2016, pg. 15
  11. de Botton, the Course of Love, pg. 21–22, 101
  12. de Botton, the Course of Love, pg. 39, 164, 181–2
  13. de Botton, the Course of Love, pg. 39, 216–7
  14. Fromm, the Art of Loving, pg. 120
  15. Hooks, All About Love, pg. 81
  16. Hooks, All About Love, pg.101
  17. Hooks, All About Love, pg. 119
  18. Hooks, All About Love, pg. 146, 152
  19. Fromm, the Art of Loving, pg. 54–55
  20. Hooks, All About Love, pg. 153
  21. Hooks, All About Love, pg. 133, 196

MA Theology, BA Music. Author of “What Happens After Life?”. Mental health advocate with PTSD

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