Sunday, February 11, 2007

What is Love?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). I could quote a lot more scriptures here, but suffice it to say that the whole witness of scripture asserts that there is nothing more important than love. But what is love? What does it mean to love someone? Can the word be defined? Is it a feeling or an action? We preachers like to say that “in the Greek” there are three words for “love” – all with different meanings. That is true.

My favorite movie – Love Actually (2003) - explains this concept very well. Here is Hugh Grant’s opening monologue. “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed. I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin towers none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually is, all around.” That rings true for me. I’ve been in many an airport around the world – both arriving and departing. I’ve wept many tears while saying goodbye or hello to family and friends.

Okay, so here’s what the movie does: A number of characters lives are woven together in seemingly separate stories to define the full meaning of the word “love.” Jack and Judy are body doubles in the film industry. They meet on the set and then film several sex scenes completely naked. This is, oddly enough, business for them. Then, close to the end, Jack walks Judy home, and asks her out on a dinner date. She accepts, and he jumps down the icy stairs in joy. Message: Love is greater than sex.

Then there’s David, the newly elected British Prime Minister. He falls in love with Natalie – a “plump,” average looking girl from the “dodgy” end of Wadsworth. Message: Love transcends positions of power, stature, or social class.

Daniel is a man who has just lost his wife to cancer. She had a 10-year-old son, Sam, from a previous marriage. During the movie Daniel and Sam grow closer than any father and son could. Their embrace at the end of the movie gives a stunning visual of the expression, "love can make you fly." Message: Love is greater than the biology of family (ask anyone who’s adopted).

Sam, on the other hand, has a huge crush on Joanna – a girl at school with the same name as his mom. He does everything to get this girl's attention, including learning to play drums. After all, Ringo Star married a Bond girl. Message: True love is for children as well. Even a crush is love. No one is immune from the “total agony” of love.

Sarah is an interesting character. For two years she has had a crush on Karl, the “enigmatic chief designer” at the ad agency. He is interested in her, but she has a problem – her brother is in a mental institution and calls her day and night. She has no time for romance. In the end, she picks her brother. Message: Love as loyalty is sometimes greater than love as romance.

Harry is Sarah’s boss at the office. He is married to Karen, and has two children. They’re just an average suburban family. Except that Mia, his sexy secretary plots ways to seduce him. He buys her an expensive necklace, but his wife finds out. She feels betrayed, hurt, and angry, but in the end she chooses to stay with him and be a loyal mother and wife. Message: Love is greater than seduction – loyalty to family trumps all.

The next character is Jamie – a writer who finds himself “alone again” in a cottage in France. The housekeeper is a Portuguese girl named Aurelia. She can’t speak English, he can’t speak Portuguese, and neither of them can speak French. They fall in love without ever communicating a single word. Message: Love is ineffable – it transcends language.

Billy Mac is a hilarious character. An ex-heroin addict pop star trying to make a comeback. On Christmas Eve he shows up at his manager’s apartment and confesses that he’s the “love of his life.” Message: Men can also love each other. That’s something our culture isn’t real comfortable with because people don’t see friendship as true love – but it is.

Lastly, Mark is in love with Juliet, his best friend’s wife. This scenario is a little troubling, and it raises some moral concerns. Mark suppresses his feelings for her by giving her the cold shoulder. He calls this “self-preservation.” Eventually she finds out, and after he confesses that he will love her forever, he walks away and says, “Enough. Enough now.” It is a great scene because it sends a great message. Can you love someone you can never be with (like your best friend’s wife) and keep those feelings in check? Message: Love, as an attraction, cannot be ignored, but however strong, sometimes cannot be acted upon – it has to be unrequited. This falling in love with people you cannot have is part of the "total agony" of love. But it is still love.

Love has so many facets, so many twists and turns, so many pathways. Like John Lennon said, “All you need is love.” Your thoughts?

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