Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Bishop Speaks of Love Redefined

The Bishop Speaks of Love Redefined

Last Sunday my wife and I recognized our 50th anniversary of a life together. It is a wonderful time to reflect on our journey, to gather with our family, to be blessed in the worship of the church, and surrounded with the support and love of the community.

It was not a blessing of our marriage. It was a blessing of our relationship.

A friend of mine once started a sermon by saying: “I have some bad news. A terrible case of burnout has forced a sabbatical, if not full retirement of the word Love. It is in grave danger of becoming meaningless, and it needs a rest.”

I agreed with him, but before we completely jettison the word, let's try redefining it. Let's try to make love more than feelings of euphoria or just a word which is applied to almost everything from marriage to pizza and almost any thing else which one might imagine in between.

In the early 70's, a chaplain at the University of Maryland wrote a song. I do not remember the words, but I can still recall the title. “Love is a Verb.” The point of the song was to help people stop thinking of love as a feeling, and to begin to see it as a relationship.

That which we do with one another is what love is about. The way we trust, the way we are open, the way we show our vulnerability, and the way we accept the good and bad of our partners – this is what love is all about.

In one of Flannery O'Connor's short stories “Good Country People”, she describes an angry, bitter young woman. Originally she had been named Joy, but as her hatred for the world increased, she changed it to the most ugly name she could come up with. The young woman called herself, Hulga.

Hulga had a wooden leg. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to see how much the wooden leg had shaped her life. She was ashamed and embarrassed, hurt by what life had done to her. She did not find herself to be loveable, and therefore she was unable to love anything or anyone else.

In the story, a man comes to town, charms Hulga, and eventually talks her into having a date. As the story unfolds, cynical, tough Hulga finds herself trusting this man enough to do the unthinkable. She performs an act of love. She takes off her wooden leg and shows him where it is attached.

It is a strange story with an even more strange ending, but it points to something which is true for all of us.

First, we all have wooden legs. The things which we carry around, our inner wounds, those parts of ourselves for which we are embarrassed, ashamed of, memories, secrets we can never share; failures which we keep to ourselves.

Second, every now and again, in a loving relationship, we can come clean. Like Hulga, we can show another person our wooden leg, and share where it has become attached.

When we do that, we have the key to love. Love is that relationship of vulnerability and acceptance where we can be reacquainted with joy.

This is not making confession – it is not a matter of dumping the trash can on someone else.

It is about living with someone in a manner of care which is honorable, kind and lasting (even as long as 50 years or more).

There are chairs at the table, not withstanding our wooden legs. Love one another and your love will spread to others.

Do not worry about being perfect. The Jesus job has already been taken.



  1. Congratulations – both on your 50th and on writing a wonderful missive on love as a verb. I’ve always defined intimacy as communication without defensives – wooden legs and all. Incidentally, your wedding picture is outstanding, a beautiful Bride in white and a hansom Groom in Navy dress whites.

  2. Thanks for redefining love. It is most deeply always about transformation but I suppose surface loving is better than hating. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for quoting my personal literary saint,Flannery, and my favorite story of hers. Love is always verbal!

  4. Congratulations on your 50th wedding anniversary. I appreciate your definition of love and the witness that the two of you have made to Christian marriage. Praise God.