A Kind of Love That Never Ends

This is the sermon I preached on February 14th at Spring Friends Meeting.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a romantic holiday, which celebrates love. A lot of couples will celebrate today by sharing gifts, eating out at a romantic restaurant, or getting away for the whole weekend. I have a hunch that 1 Corinthians 13 will be read or recited a lot today between couples and in churches around the country in honor of today. You may even see it quoted on church signs or posted on social media today. I am fairly certain that I am not the only person preaching on this chapter today.

I am glad that this chapter will be read a lot today. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful piece of writing. My favorite part of this chapter is verses 4-8: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

These verses are often recited at weddings. It is really beautiful to reflect on what romantic love could be like. If a couple followed these guidelines for love, it would certainly build a great foundation for an long-lasting, romantic relationship.

Yet, people often take this chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth completely out of context. Paul is not talking about romantic love at all in 1 Corinthians 13, not even close. Paul does not care at all about the romantic lives of the Christians in Corinth. He is talking about a greater kind of love.

In Chapter 12 of his letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul is talking about the variety of spiritual gifts that Christians may possess. His overall point for Chapter 13 is about how we can only use our spiritual gifts in the most effective way if it is done with love. The Greek word that Paul uses in this chapter is agape. Paul does not use the Greek word eros, which is translated more as romantic love. Instead, agape translates to mean benevolence and good will. Christians have translated agape to mean God’s unconditional love. For example in the King James Version, agape is translated to English as charity, instead of love, unlike the New Revised Standard Version translation that I just read from.

Even though Paul does not talk about romantic love in this chapter, I still want to talk about this type of love on Valentine’s Day. For me, to only define love in one way, only in the romantic sense, robs us of a deeper love that Paul is talking about. A love that Jesus came to teach us about himself: An unconditional love from God that is given to us just because we exist. No matter who we are or what we have done, God still loves us, each of us.

On Facebook in recent days, I have seen friends my age reminiscing about what Valentine’s Day was like in elementary school. Valentine’s Day back then meant that everyone received a card and some candy. Ideally, back then, no one was singled out to get more cards or candy, nor left out of the exchange at all. For me this example illustrates what I believe God’s love is like. God loves each one of us the same way.

With the knowledge of this love comes responsibilities that we must bear. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is reminding us about these responsibilities that this love entails. We need to treat each other like the children of God we are, reminding ourselves of Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is not an easy task by far. I often fail to love others, especially the people who I disagree with on matters I hold dear.

This is perhaps a great reminder to have right now. Currently, we are struggling among each other in the yearly meeting and also we are in the midst of yet another bitter Presidential election season. In this time of intense disagreement, let’s keep asking ourselves: How do we seek that of God within everyone we encounter?

At the same time, more is required of us than just passively loving each other despite our differences. It is a good start, but it is not nearly enough. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly implores His followers to show solidarity with the oppressed. We need to take heed of this call to action, especially with the numerous injustices currently happening within our wider community, like mass incarceration, police brutality, eroding of voting rights, mass deportations of undocumented people of color. I could go on listing the social ills affecting our society. Most of these injustices do not directly affect us, as a congregation largely made up of privileged white people. This is precisely why we need to be working in solidarity with those affected by oppression at the same time challenging the status quo.

The scholar and activist Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” We need to be showing up in solidarity with the oppressed to fight for justice, whether that means attending Moral Monday protests, educating others about injustices in our community, or helping people learn their own rights. To take action will look different for each person, but we all need to be doing something.

Whatever we do, we must continue to be mindful that we are affirming the dignity of the oppressed, not using them just to pat ourselves on the back. In the same vein, we need to lovingly challenge people in power, not demonize them. We should not be doing this work if at the end of the day we still feel superior towards the oppressed or smug towards people in power. This work should be done in partnership to achieve liberation for all. The Aboriginal activists group once said: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” God is calling us towards a collective liberation. Are we heeding this call?

On this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember to love each other unconditionally just as God love us and further challenge ourselves by asking: How are we seeking that of God within each person we encounter? How are we showing up for justice in our communities? Where is God calling us to challenge the systems of oppression affecting our neighbors?

Because this kind of love never ends!

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Pregnant and Still Pro-Choice

Now that I got the old stuff out of the way (see last post), I can move on to my current thoughts and reflections which due to my current condition revolve around pregnancy. And I am speaking a topic on which people hold passionate opinions and am sharing how my opinion has been shaped by this new experience so I am a little nervous.

My grandma Margaret was a staunch and die hard Republican. She campaigned for Nixon back in the day. When I was studying at Georgetown, her friends commented that I’d one day be running against the likes of Hillary Clinton not imagining that any granddaughter of Margaret could NOT be a Republican. However, I clearly remember my grandma talking about her discontent with the Republican stance on abortion. My grandma often grumbled about male Republicans making decisions that impact women and that it’s a woman’s body and a woman’s choice.

I’ve been thinking about my grandma’s frustrations about men making policy decisions on issues they have no experience with because I am currently pregnant. And while I don’t think you have to be pregnant to have a stance on abortion, it has been an experience that has given me a new perspective on abortion. I am currently 20 weeks pregnant. Before getting pregnant, I had thought that pregnancy might make me question my pro-choice stance. I thought I would be overwhelmed by the miracle of a life growing within me and the different milestones reached (which I have been). What I hadn’t counted on, though, was all the ways the pregnancy would impact my bodily well being.

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Source: Wikipedia

I appear to be one of those woman that gets hit hard by morning sickness, otherwise known by anyone who has experienced it as every day pregnancy sickness. In my first trimester, I had nausea all day and I often violently threw up all that I drank or ate in the evenings. I went days where I spent up all my energy at work and found myself lifelessly living on my couch afterward (in between trips to the bathroom).

To fully set the stage for how awful this is, I will unapologetically share in detail. Imagine that you find yourself bowed in front of the toilet peeing yourself (even though you just went) because your body is so violently trying to empty it’s insides while everything you ate and then some (think acidic bile) projects out of you into the hated bowl. Then repeat multiple times a day multiple days in a row. Then imagine your hormones are all over the place and while you feel you ought to be happy at this blessed occasion that you’ve been dreaming of, you’re actually miserable, depressed, and fatigued (probably in part due to dehydration as not even the liquids can stay down). And the things that you know might help your mood (seeing friends, being social, getting out of the house) seem impossible due to the fatigue, nausea, and necessity to remain close to the toilet. All the while you learn through your pregnancy app about all the ways your body is and will continue to change to accommodate this precious life inside you.

For me, it was a physically violent and emotionally draining experience. And I experienced all this with my consent. I want this life to be born and to be its mother. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to go through all this if it weren’t my choice. As a result, it is now staunchly my view that it is simply and plainly violence against a woman to force her to go through pregnancy when it is not her choice.

(I know that was a lot of details and build up to say just that one simple statement but there it is.)

(Also for any women reading this struggling with morning sickness, I stumbled across this blog post at Double the Batch and all the comments and they gave me a lot of much needed comfort.)