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Getting Back to Basics: First, Love

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Zazzle valentine

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.

 

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

8 thoughts on “Getting Back to Basics: First, Love”

  1. Linda, what a beautiful message for everyone. Thank you.

    I am so sorry you have experienced such loss. You are not alone. I feel you.

    I lived in Francis for a few years ago, I regret not overcoming my social ineptness and introducing myself when I lived close by. I have admired your writing (your soul!) for many years. Thank you for sharing your insights. I absolutely love your interviews with the spotlighted artists. Thank you for those as well.

    Having lived a few places across this beautiful country of ours, all I can say is our church is populated with imperfect people that fall to temptations. Gratefully, we are all capable of repentance.

    Gratefully we are all loved.

    Sending you my love.

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  2. WOW! I am 55 years old and was born and raise in the LDS Church and that is NOT the god I was taught about. I have come to that conclusion in spite of what I was taught, but old thoughts and feelings die hard.

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  3. Dear Emily B – Thank you for the kind words and good reminders. Yes, indeed, compassion for even those who are burrs in our saddles is the only (but difficult) way. Perhaps I should spend some time re-reading CS Lewis's "Screwtape Letters."

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  4. I totally, completely relate to this. I’m not sure it ever gets less lonely, but I find more and more that that is not important so long as I am walking with Jesus. God plus one equals enough. And then, surprise! I begin to notice other intrepid travelers around me. We’re all one family but we have to find our mini-tribe. Can I join yours?

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  5. I'm not very active on FB. (I follow just my husband and kids.) But for the field on religion, I have written: "God is love. Don't make it complicated." It's too easy for me and for others to use religion to build of the kingdom of our own egos. Daily, I have to put my ego in the back seat (selfish, controlling, fearful) so that love can steer my thoughts and actions. Compassion, empathy, patience and other Christlike virtues (that are just all love parsed down to its components). Thank you for mining these quotes and contextualizing them in a powerful way. Hugs to you, Linda. All my best to you as you continue to process your grief, choosing beauty over ashes (which is really challenging, nearly impossible without divine assistance).

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  6. Karen – Thank you so much for your kind and generous response. Yes, ego in the back seat! (which brings back memories of mothering kids behind me in car seats who would yell and demand and otherwise act their age.) My own ego still yammers from the back seat, but God and I are trying to drive the car. (Now would be a perfect moment to break out into song…."Jesus, take the wheel….!") "God is love. Don't make it complicated." Words to live by!

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