It’s well past February 2nd – commemoration day of the Ground Hog, that imprecise harbinger of Springtime. For me this year Punxsutawney Phil has been an especially Grumpy Gus.
Early February is often a tough time period for me. Feb. 3rd is the anniversary of my father’s death. I was 20 at the time, and even now the tragedy of it seizes my heart. Already this month three vibrant friends died. Two were a brilliant couple who died in a car accident while on vacation in Hawaii, leaving four young adopted children at home in Utah parentless (again). The third was one of my closest ward friends – the exuberant life of any party – who died of Covid after more than 2 weeks on a ventilator. She was generous, enthusiastic, and welcomed me when I was a newbie to Utah. She loved, rode and sold horses. She also sold high end real estate and looked like one of the movie stars strutting the sidewalks of Park City back when Sundance Film Festival was live and not virtual. She taught me unique turns of phrase like “just a bubble off of plumb”. She endearingly called me “Lindabelle”.
Then, while I’m marinating in grief, I hoped to hear “the good word of God” from a popular speaker tasked with addressing the youth. He did little to shore up reasons to stay connected to our Church when he jovially dissed other faith traditions and managed (I thought) to minimize Black History Month and the timing of the Revelation on the Priesthood.
I appreciate the apology. I have hope that he and other representative speakers will do better.
But the cows have left the barn.
Some attitudes are so prevalent – in the patois and the pride – that what I felt God calling to me (from my nourishing Protestant Christian background) when I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sometimes unrecognizable to me in LDS contemporary iterations. I don’t like having to forewarn or detox my non-Latter-day Saint friends and family when I invite them to church gatherings.
This is when February offers a mid-month reminder of the big picture: Valentine’s Day.
Yes, it’s a holiday commercializing romantic love. It’s a little too lacy, a little too cloying. For those folks who don’t have “sweethearts” it can be yet another reminder of feeling “less than.” In a contemporary version of a religion that exalts marriage and the family as “an” if not “THE” ultimate goal, it can be excruciating. (Just ask this noble guy.)
But if you focus on the love part – the Divine love, the unconditional love of God (and don’t mess with me about this), there is consolation, belonging, redemption, acceptance, encouragement, and joy that throbs and beats at the heart of the Gospel of Christ.
Love really is Christmas and Easter, birth and rebirth, welcome and hope. Even when our fathers and friends die, and we are left bereft. Even when we have heard “speculative theology” that has somehow missed the (quite literal) Life-blood message of love and has replaced it with the misunderstood idea that Obedience is the First Law of the Gospel (despite Elder McKonkie’s theorizing in Mormon Doctrine).
Perhaps we need to wrestle with this passage as “chicken or egg” conundrum:
Matthew 22: 38-40:
…Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
And why would we do this? Here’s 1 John 4:10,16:
This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins….So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Even Google will tell you if you ask it how many times the word “love” appears in the Gospel of John:
The word “love” appears 57 times in the Gospel of John, more often than in the other three gospels combined. Additionally, it appears 46 times in the First Epistle of John. In the Gospel of John, love for Christ results in the following of his commandments.
Note that last line: “Love for Christ results in the following of his commandments.”
Love makes an infinite loop. We do not slavishly keep commandments because someone in authority told us to. We keep commandments (those two succinct ones mentioned in Matthew 22:38-40 which include anything God requires of us) not because we’re afraid of God; not because we want rewards like a vending machine spewing coins; not because we want to live with our family again in the next life. We do it because we love Him, and He first loved us.
My favorite scripture is in Romans 8:35-39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
(And here I might add – Covid, disease, car accidents, depression, war, loneliness, terror, fear, financial ruin, etc.)
This is no flimsy, commercialized, frou-frou love we’re talking about:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I have spent all my life trying to work that message of love into my bones. I want love, respect, and compassion to seep out of me like sweat. I can’t say I’ve mastered that. I still believe God called me and wants me to stay in this Church working toward those ends.
I just wish it didn’t feel so lonely sometimes.