Choosing Love

“What is this? A new teaching – with authority!” Mark 1:27

On Tuesday last, St. David’s members gathered in Newtown for the premiere of “A Case for Love,” a documentary film featuring our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. The film moves across the country asking: “how would you describe ‘unselfish love?’” The question is posed both to people on the street and to famous people including religious leaders, politicians, actors, and TV personalities (almost all Episcopalians).

But the film’s real essence reveals itself in 14 portraits of ordinary people in ordinary places.

What I found so compelling was that while the famous people were interesting, each one thoughtful and considered, it was the featured “you and me” people that packed the punch. We hear from a retired U.S. Marine making his way through debilitating PTSD, who credits his marriage and enduring bonds with fellow servicemembers for his healing. We visit a couple in rural Minnesota raising three adopted boys cast off from the foster care system. We meet a couple caring for their adult son, a former NFL player with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). We witness the story of a former sex worker running from an abusive home, who finds her way to Thistle Farms and a new life.

I had a graduate school professor who once said: “hope is specific.” We know it when we see it and we feel it in ordinary circumstances amongst ordinary people. The same is true for love. It’s a big word and when used in the abstract its meaning becomes diluted. But we know it when we see it, especially in ordinary moments among ordinary people like you and me. None of the people featured in the portraits were asked on camera “how do you understand ‘unselfish love?’” We were just shown what it looks like – in all different expressions, iterations, specifics, and circumstances.

When leaving the theater, I asked several parishioners, “who was your favorite?” Everyone had a different answer. For me, it was the Marine. Interviewed standing with his wife in front of a Vietnam War memorial, he describes for the camera his suffering after returning home from deployment, including the suicide of one of his closest fellow Marines. “I’ve learned that love isn’t a feeling,” he says, “it’s a choice.” Slowly he claws his way back to health, choosing to choose love with every step.

This Sunday we will hear about Jesus in the synagogue on the sabbath, sparring as he did with the scribes. A man who is out of his mind comes at Jesus, challenging him and yelling insults. Instead of defending himself, Jesus heals the man by casting out his demons, giving him peace, and restoring his life. Jesus chooses to love, in a specific moment toward a specific person when the stakes are particularly high. All who witness the exchange are amazed and moved. “What is this?” they ask, “A new teaching – with authority!” Jesus taught love by choosing the loving act in every situation he found himself. People followed him because they knew love when they saw it, and they wanted more. They wanted to know how to live that kind of life, how to choose the loving act in their daily lives.

At the end of “A Case for Love” the filmmakers invite us into “A Month of Unselfish Love” Challenge. They’ve even got a downloadable journal to follow along with. I invite you to take on this challenge whether you watched the movie or not. It’s okay to start small if a month feels overwhelming. Begin with this upcoming week and pay particular attention to choosing love, in ways big and small. How do you respond when a person comes at you? What kindness, quietly extended, would have a big impact on a stranger? It’s long and creative and prayerful work, but it is a lifetime of these small, in-the-moment choices that make a life well lived.

The Rev. Devon Anderson
Interim Rector