I am not normally a fan of self-help routines. I can't help thinking of Al Franken's pre-political role as Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live, doling out daily affirmations that we are all good enough, smart enough and (say it with me) "doggone it, people like me!"
As a minister I'm supposed to be ready with encouraging words -- something to uplift, inspire, encourage; something that would look good in needlepoint, or perhaps make a pithy title for a ministerial memoir or maybe even a blog.
The truth is I abhor schmaltz. I don't think I'm alone in this feeling. There are some sentiments -- particularly religious ones -- that come across like maple syrup cotton candy. This is expecially true when Christians tend to think of love. Flowered posters with 1 Corinthians 13, tie-dye camp shirts with "LOVE" superimposed on a cross and let us not forget the most famous expression of Christian love -- John 3:16 -- that it is by God's love that Christ entered the world: all speak of a deep and profound love and yet oddly cheapen it. Love is commodified, bought and sold with a fish where the trademark symbol should be. It's easy to be cynical about this kind of love, but it's no less than St. Paul and St. John who echoed simply "all you need is love."
Beatles or Bible, that sentiment rings true. In the last three weeks there have been heinous words espoused from any number of pulpits that in another time might have stirred militias into genocidal rage. Just this last weekend a man in Carroll County, Georgia had his house set on fire because of his sexuality. Whether or not the YouTube hate-speech "sermons" fueled this attack, the problem remains. The historical reality is there have been a number of things throughout human history that have been touted as "truth" in an effort to justify the extremity of an argument. Races and genders have been called inferior, though rarely white male ones. Persons of mixed ancestry have been called half-breeds and worse, relegated to lower tiers in caste systems seen and unseen.
In the wake of these most recent verbal attacks (and God knows how many others that have not yet found their way to the Internet), one must wonder what is the oppsoite of hate-speech? What would love speech sound like? What would it look like and who would speak it? Would it have the voice of James Earl Jones or Maya Angelou? The innocence of a child, or the warmth of a mother?
I don't mean empty sentiment or self-affirming schmaltz (no offense to Stuart Smalley). This is the kind of love Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of, the kind of love that wears away at those who hate, the "love that builds up and is creative." What manner of love is this?
What if we re-considered that 1 Corinthians 13 passage, the one we've heard at a thousand weddings, so much so that it's drubbed into our cultural canon. What kind of speech would that be?
Patient speech. Kind speech. Speech that does not envy or boast. Speech that is not proud. Speech that does not dis-honor others. Speech that is not self-seeking. Speech that is not easily angered. Speech that keep no record of wrongs. Speech that does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. Speech that protects. Speech that trusts. Speech that hopes. Speech that perseveres.
This "love-speech" isn't sugary or vapid. It's deep and profound. Visceral. Mysterious. It's the kind of love that holds another as more important than yourself. This love is not easy. It takes more than looking in a mirror -- it means holding up a mirror to your neighbors and your enemies, to battered wives and drug dealers, immigrants and terrorists, transgendered persons and politicians and speaking words of love.
It takes most relationships a while to get to the point where one person may say to another "I love you." Perhaps it is unreasonable to assume that we can all so quickly say those words with deep affection to people we don't know or whom we feel threatened by and yet I cannot help but believe that our planet would be better off if we practiced speaking words of love. It is messy and it takes work. The words may not often come easy and yet in the act of love we risk something greater -- that we ourselves might know love and be transformed.