Too much Romance?
A reader recently complained that I had been going on and on about romantic love as if it were the finest expression of love there is. There’s probably some justice in the complaint—I may have been going on about it too much and I may have left the impression that love when it takes the romantic form has taken its finest form. I think it would be silly to say something like that for some exhibitions of parental love and friendship can’t be measured much less beaten by comparison.
I read something recently about young people “leaving the church” that has me reflecting on the matter. I’m neither knowledgeable nor wise enough to know all of the reasons why they do or even to fully understand a single reason why some do but I can make educated guesses as well as the next person. I’m satisfied that one of the reasons young people (and older) leave the church is that we religious people have made it clear that only religious activity (thought or action) is true living and the rest is “secular,” to be tolerated as necessity but it's not “real” living.
Going to Bible class is one true expression of real life but going to a birthday party is…is…just doing what people do; preaching a sermon is “sacred” and typing out letters for your boss at work is “secular” and loving brothers and sisters in Christ is true love while love of your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is…is…something else.
In short, I think many of us religious people sever creation from life with God, if our actions or relationships aren’t immediately related to “churchy” things or a “churchy” setting they aren’t really of interest to God. He puts up with it but he has no real interest in it.
I think this is religious drivel!
I would insist that everything we are and do is of interest to God; that what we read, what we watch on TV or in the movies, who we relate to and how we relate to them, what we do with our money and time and energy—all that and everything else is of interest to God. I’d insist that romantic love which is a central concern of multiplied millions is of concern to God and is a part of real living. Christians will insist that God gives them the power to make money and that their income is to be viewed in light of God. These are gifts of God and we’re to respond to them in that way; they are among the means and methods by which we honour God and bless his world.
A man who will not provide for his family, Paul assures us, is worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8) so when someone is digging ditches or running a little company we’re not to suggest that they’re merely “marking time” until they go to worship and Bible study or engage in evangelistic outreach at which time they’ll involve themselves in “the work of the Lord.” The bulk of our lives are lived outside the assemblies we attend and the bulk of our service to God has no connection with our corporate/congregational activities.
I think this ill-conceived division of life into sacred and secular diminishes our capacity to live wholeheartedly and we give people the impression that human loves are somehow second rate. When ministers of the Word speak to construction or office workers or parents fulfilling parental responsibilities and urge them to do more to get involved in “the work of the Lord” they usually have “churchy” activities in mind and this diminishes all else as “perhaps necessary but…”
So if we offer “churchy” things as real life and everything else hardly worth bothering with we rob people of satisfaction as well as inspiration. I’m sure I’ve done a lot of that in my earlier years and I’d like now to be able to redress the balance. The love of a boy for a girl, a man for a woman, a husband for a wife, a wife for a husband, a parent for a child, a child for a parent, a friend for a friend—all these and more spring from one centre, a human heart. They vary in ways—of course!—but there is a basic commonality in all of them; there is commitment generated by various elements and a commitment that is to show itself appropriately depending on the relationship. They’re all love taking one form or another, springing from varying elements but where they’re entered and experienced by someone who cares to honour God, they’re “Christianized” and none of them is to be despised or thought superior.
It makes no sense to say a parent’s love for a child is superior to a boy’s love for a girl. In some ways it’s comparing apples and oranges. The father’s love for his boy is not “romantic” and the boy’s love for the girl is not parental. The relationship (under God) will determine the appropriate responses. Instead of sniffing at young “romance” maybe we should grant it more attention, encourage joy in it and help young people to offer it back to God as the gift that it is.
Certainly there are things we call “romance” that are a wicked spectacle and those that are shallow and self-serving—of course! The same is true of friendship and parenthood. We must accept that there is a spectrum on which these things occur. Young children shouldn’t be hurried into “romance” and children of thirteen and fourteen shouldn’t be encouraged to have boy/girlfriends. There must be some common-sense at work in all our reflection and counsel—that's as it should be!
But none of that has anything to do with living with a religious “bah humbug” mentality toward the romantic lives of people, young and old.
Finally for now, this “love thing” may be reduced by atheists to nothing other than chemical reactions and the “love word” can be used by the sheerly sensual as a cover for sexual greed or domineering parents when they try to live their lives again through their children. Nevertheless, love’s presence in the world—love at its struggling best—defies the cruelty and lust and selfishness of the world. In light of all the bad it can be easy for many to think the entire planet is wrong—wrong through and through, that there is nothing in it of worth or merit. Then comes love; the love of a parent for a child, a girl for a boy, a grown man for a woman who is everything to him, the love of a stranger for another stranger and all of the sudden we see a light in the darkness. God is at work in the world after all and he makes himself present not only in "churchy" stuff.
Charlie Chaplin, the famous comedian, wrote a song called, This is My Song. It has always struck me as a tremendous argument for the presence of God in the world. I “Christianize” it, of course and like many others before me I would say that you can look at the cross and think, “How can there be a good God over the world when there’s such an instrument of torture in it?” Then we look at Jesus who is on the cross and can ask, “How can there not be a good God over the world when there’s one like him in it?” One Jesus Christ offsets the world’s absolute gloom. If he has been/is in it then we can't simply write WRONG across the entire human enterprise. Something else (Someone else) is at work!
Chaplin’s lyrics don’t work very well in the early part of the song so I’ve substituted others that I think carry Chaplin’s aim better than his. The young woman who made a hit of the song many years ago, Petula Clark, thought the words were too insipid and sweet and at first refused to record it and Harry Secombe who made a hit of it again, some weeks later, had some words altered. I’d send you to either one of them on YouTube but neither have the lyrics I think the song deserves though they sing it well. [Why don't I simply give you lyrics and skip my own croaking of the song? Because Chaplin's melody has tremendous power and the changed lyrics help but here's Secombe's great rendering of the song. Click]
One of Chaplin’s lines addressed to love says: “The world cannot be wrong if in this world there’s you.” I believe that! GK Chesterton marvellously tells us that when we see a young man and woman in love, committed to one another in honour, we’re seeing another Adam and Eve. Begin your reflection from there.
Click here is you wish to hear the re-worded earlier stanzas.