It has been many weeks between posts for me, but this is not for a lack of topics. So much has taken place just in the few weeks we have called 2011, many such events life-changing for millions of people. I have been filled with want of so many things to say, but then something else would happen and it only added to my desire to write something grand in order to capture it all. Today being Valentine's Day, I opted to write a post as a means of personal catharsis. Valentine's Day and I do not have a great track record together, something I'm sure will one day make a great script for a Hollywood caliber rom-com, but at present it is at least a source of annoyance. Yes, I know I am giving in to cliché (and hyperbole) by treating this day with as much disdain as I tend to; so I have challenged myself to look deeper, and to find a meaning in this day that has nothing (or at least very little) to do with candy or cupid. So, this is my attempt:
The legend of Saint Valentine(s) is one of mystery. February 14 is no longer recognized as an official Saint's Day in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints (since 1969), but Valentine is still listed in the register of those proposed for veneration. One of the oldest versions of the story tells of a priest who was murdered by Claudius II for performing weddings for Christian couples, which was at the time illegal. The expression of religion as a legal issue may be one of the oldest struggles of power, and in this story we also see how expressions of love are also regarded as threats to maintaining power. While this is not a post solely focused on the topic of gay marriage, or even LGBTQ rights in general, I do find it compelling to comment however briefly to others who would identify as Christian and deny others the choice of love and commitment. Quite simply, one way to read the story could give space to compare the histories of ancient Christians defending their rights to marry against the Roman empire with the current story of anyone claiming her or his right to love and be in relationship with whomever one chooses. I know that such simple arguments do not resolve such issues, but it is interesting to note how we seem to forget what persecution feels like unless it is happening to us (however ‘us’ may be defined). As a straight, Christian ally and as one who is aware of the many privileges I am given by my society but that are denied to some, I cannot sit idly by and watch as others are judged ‘in the name of God’.
Rereading the hagiography of Saint Valentine really gave me pause, and caused me to think of the possibility of celebrating Valentine's Day as a day of radical love. Different than romantic love, or even sisterly/brotherly love, radical love requires a lot more. From the Christian context as I have come to know it, radical love is the stuff of Jesus - the overwhelming, sometimes jarring way of being with others that does not allow anything but justice to rule. It is a love that brings us in to touch with the parts of our selves that make us uncomfortable, and supports us as we love our whole self regardless. It is a love that then also allows us to look at others who may make us uncomfortable and see them deeper, past behaviors and differences (physical, intellectual, ideological) into the part of their selves that is shared between us all. Perhaps not everyone shares my feelings and belief that there is a common core among us. But I have found it almost impossible to believe otherwise, after encountering so many beautiful people who have undoubtedly taught and continue to teach me how to love in myriad ways. Radical love is the stuff of the gospels, yet in some 2000 years we have hardly gotten it right. On Valentine’s Day we are encouraged to say and buy and do whatever we must to express our love for another. But what would it take to make happen such an outpouring of radical love that this world in which violence and anger and fear are normal might actually be changed? Cornel West offers the following words: justice is what love looks like in public. This is a public display of affection I wish we could see more of.
West’s words have given me strength in many a struggle, as I have watched and heard and felt the pain of suffering through injustice. They renew my hope. LGBTQ justice; immigration reform; healthcare; reproductive rights; war & torture; racial justice. How I approach these topics, issues and causes (among others) is through the lens of love. I may identify in particular ways and claim various labels – woman, educator, Christian, liberal, Southerner, American, progressive - but I want to be defined most by what I do. And I am a great lover. I have often been called a bleeding heart, and of all the labels someone else could use to describe me, this is one I now choose to adopt positively. I would rather my heart be open, 'bleeding', vulnerable and willing to risk, rather than the alternatives.
Anna DeWeese, 28, received her Master of Arts degree in Systematic Theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 2009. She is Project Coordinator for the CARE for Teachers program, a program of the Garrison Institute's Contemplative Teaching and Learning Initiative. She also teaches for the Interfaith Community in New York City, a non-profit religious education organization for blended-faith families.