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The demands of love

When we are responsible, we have to care about others. Steven Garber wrote:

They are people who "get it" – as in, I wonder why she doesn't "get it." Or, he "gets it," doesn't he? There is something about heart and mind together in that assessment. They are people who are more than smart, because they understand that it is possible to get all A's and still flunk life. In biblical imagery, they are people with ears that hear, and eyes that see. They are people who know that to know – in a deeply biblical sense – means to be responsible, and that to be responsible means to care.

This caring is "difficult, demanding and dangerous," as Nick Shere wrote:

We may need to kill, but – ironic though it sounds – if we kill, we must kill with love, kindness, care and sorrow. And we must never, ever look upon the life of another with hatred or without compassion. Love is not easy, safe or simple. It is difficult, demanding and dangerous. To love is to surrender safety, and safety, just now, is very precious indeed. But this danger does not make love any less necessary, and I would say the risk of becoming what we hate is a far greater one then the risk of universal love.

It is neither guaranteed to us nor is it something we can choose at will. It is "a fundamental condition of our lives" that can increase or decrease, that can be gained or lost, but that we must contend with. Greg Epstein:

Love is not just some voluntary, extracurricular activity that we can pick up and put down when we please. And it's not some set or fixed biological reality totally predetermined by our genes to make us miserable or blissful, or both at the same time. The degree to which we have love is a fundamental condition of our lives, like the degree to which we have housing, clothing, money, education, or access to crude oil fields.

Just like any of the other fundamental conditions of life, if we don't have love, we may be able to get it with hard work – and if we do have it, we shouldn't get too haughty about it, because we can lose it at any moment.

Love is not essentially or always self-sacrificial, but it may be called upon to sacrifice. Wendell Berry wrote: "Love is not, by its own desire, heroic. It is heroic only when compelled to be. It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded." Ford Madox Ford wrote: "I am not going to be so American as to say that all true love demands some sacrifice. It doesn’t. But I think that love will be truer and more permanent in which self-sacrifice has been exacted." Thus, Elizabeth Gilbert: “...every intimacy carries, secreted somewhere below its initial lovely surfaces, the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.”


"To See What You See: On Liturgy & Learning & Life." Steven Garber. Printed in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. Edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2003. p. 10.

Nick Shere, "Love must guide us on our path to justice and action," Brown Daily Herald, Monday, September 24, 2001.

Greg Epstein. Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. William Morrow, 2009. p. 81.

Wendell Berry. "Word and Flesh" in What are People For? San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990. p. 200. Quoted in "A Wedding Sermon for Nathan and Sandie" by Steven Garber, printed in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. Edited by Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2003. p. 119.

Ford Madox Ford. The Good Soldier. Originally 1915. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1995. p 80.

Elizabeth Gilbert. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. p. 5.


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