My friends and I are rebelling this February 14th by watching the movie Brave, where a red-headed archer princess asserts that girls can rule without marrying. Of course, we are celebrating Anna Howard Shaw Day. Born February 14th 1847, this Methodist minister joined Susan B. Anthony and others to lead the women’s suffragist movement in the United States.
Maybe my friends’ reaction to Valentines’ Day is extreme, but it illustrates a larger point. Advertising’s attempts to capitalize on people’s desire for love reach new heights of commercialization at this time of year. Unable to buy romance, we remain unsatisfied, unaware that romance is not the only type of love humans are made for.
Imagine with me how this must make Love feel. If I were Love, I’d imitate Shakespeare’s love sonnets to make my point:
Sonnet: Love, Me
Though I’m invok’d by po‘ms and all refrains,
Still I’m misunderstood by even friends.
An empty word, my name is us’d in vain
To talk of likes or taste, and letters end.
To weddings, under sheets I am confin’d,
Diminish’d to a single organ (heart),
By roses so abus’d, each Valentines
Lampooned with Hallmark cards and Cupid’s darts!
In truth, my scent is sweat, not candle fumes,
My red’s the red of blood, not lipstick’s shade,
My arm’s outstretch’d and faithful is my bloom –
Still strong though happy ever after fade.
Now then, abandon use of all cliché
And give your life to follow in my Way.
What does it mean to follow the Way of Love? If God is love, does our culture’s narrow definition of love affect how we view God?
As three beings in one, our God can love and be loved even without another object of affection. Yet God still chooses to create others to include in this community of love. We humans likewise bear the divine image when we love God and each other fully.
Theologian Stanley Grenz explains how God has structured our societal relationships to mirror God’s exclusive and inclusive love. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea depict Israel as God’s bride, urging the people to keep their covenant of exclusive love. Jesus’ parables and John’s Revelation depict the anticipation of Jesus’ return for his Church, as a fiancée eagerly awaiting the wedding feast. Many worship songs, sermons and writings on Christian marriage recognize this connection.
Yet we often ignore God’s radically inclusive love – portrayed best in Jesus, a single man. How astounding that God would become a person. How revolutionary that a Jewish rabbi would talk to tax collectors and lepers and a Samaritan woman so totally opposite to him. Yet, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Christ’s inclusive influence created a religion anybody could belong to regardless of their race, birthplace or circumcision status. Christ’s body became a new family to belong to: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
Single people too have a unique way of imaging our creator. While a married person chooses a person with similar values to spend much of their time with, single people can spread their time among a wide variety of people completely different from them. While all Christians are called to reflect God’s inclusive love, I often notice single people exemplifying this. I notice it in the white youth pastor working at a Chinese church, the substitute teacher tutoring refugees in English and babysitting for half her church, the man who serves his extended family with weekly airport runs, frequent computer help and fun projects with their kids.
This February 14th, regardless of relationship status, let’s celebrate St. Valentine’s God – a God of inclusive love. In the spirit of Anna Howard Shaw, who sought to radically include women in American democracy, let us bravely seek out ways to include others in our communities – or join theirs. As we learn “how wide and long and high and deep” is the Way of Love we will no longer be unsatisfied, but “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19). I think Love would be okay with that.