Saturday, April 12, 2008

There Is No Greater Love

Continuing with the "found stuff" theme... A scrap of paper found its way into my attention the other day-- something I'd seen before, and so maybe that's why it caught my eye and held it a bit this time around. I don't know. It was a flier for some sort of Bible study or sermon, titled "No Greater Love Was Ever Shown." It talked about the words of Jesus Christ, that the greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. (John 15:13) I didn't read further than the title, however, until now. I was struck by the words in the title and found myself ruminating on potential interpretations. That's what we humans do, afterall, particularly when it comes the Bible. Perhaps we are constantly interpreting words, images, feelings, etc., though rarely are we consciously aware of it.

A few days earlier I had been riding in the car with my wife. A song was introduced that reminded me of the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. The discjockey took some time to commemorate the occasion, noting it had been 40 years as of this particular weekend. Then the song started-- it was a version of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" that was sung acoustically by Shawn Colvin. The gravity of the occasion, coupled with the tender singing and accompanying guitar, and the lyrics of this inspiring song moved me to tears. I sat, stone faced, listening to the lyrics as tears welled up and crept over my cheeks.

My wife noticed me crying and checked to make sure I was okay. I explained it was the song. "I love this song," I said, my voice cracking. But being asked to vocalize what I was feeling made me realize it was more than just the song, or the anniversary, or the lyrics, or the performance... And it was more than I could talk about in the moment.

I wept, but not just because I was sad. Not just because I was moved emotionally. There was an overwhelming amount of profundity going on, much of it escaping any vocabulary labels I tried to stick to any of it. But I tried to talk through it anyway-- much like I'm trying to write through it now. I will keep trying, keep reaching for the perfect words, knowing that the words fail. But I will not give up. To try is to walk with God.

So I've heard.

Anyway. Levity-- deal with it. I thought about the amazement that this American brother of mine brought to us. The Dream. And so much more. What an orator. A hero. A martyr. A leader. The lyrics in the song, although they "fudge" the historical data a bit, capture the moment of Dr. King's death like so:

Early morning
April 4
Shots ring out in the Memphis sky

Free at last
They took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of Love
One more in the name of Love

Even now I am writing this with a lump in my throat. Such great strength of character it takes to speak one's truth, and to sustain one's message of hope under the strain of great adversity-- all the while protesting non-violently. He was struck down by a violent act. His message-- The Dream-- lives on.

More than that-- if there can be more-- is that this was another incident in a string of graphic, horrific assassinations that brought the 60's to a close-- JFK, MLK, RFK... so much trauma, it left our nation deformed by the ill effects of post traumatic stress disorder. This is the world I was born into.

More specifically, in the spring of 1968, our country was embroiled in a very unpopular war in Viet Nam. The war was something that MLK had spoken out against very robustly and adamantly. And after he was struck down, my parents were faced with the real life possibility that their lives and their love might be surrendered to the fray of this conflict as well.

My dad was enlisted with the Navy at the time, and it was looking more and more like his ship would be setting sail to engage in the conflict. In the face of this, my mom and dad decided to try and start a family so that, in the event that my dad was called upon to serve for his country, if he were to give the ultimate sacrifice and die for his country, at least my mother would have a child by which to remember him. Out of this love and sacrifice, I was born.

There is no greater Love.

To rethink the decision, it would be easy to label it as foolish, if not naive. How would a single mother survive without her spouse in their fledgling marriage, their nascent family? How could she provide for their child if father were to perish? It was still early in the women's movement of the time, and there weren't numerous career opportunities for women, let alone those with children and without a spouse. So although the decision to have a child in the face of this great danger was a beautiful, hopeful, faithful act, it flew in the face of reason.

As luck and fate would have it, my father would have his ship decommissioned from engaging in the war at the eleventh hour, and so there was never any threat to his life or the struggles of his family due to his untimely demise in the service of his country. For this I am very grateful. But I'm also very grateful for the decision to have faith in something greater than oneself that both of my parents displayed in bringing me into existence. Under the duress and uncertainty of their situation, they chose to hope for something better-- a child to live on through the impossible.

That was me.

Mere months after MLK was brutally killed, a decision was made to try and bring another life forward into this world. And for that I am thankful.

There's no greater love.

No greater love was ever shown... what did this mean, I pondered. Was it the epitome of all love, that which Jesus showed in giving of his life for his friends? Or-- could it be-- that there is no greater Love? There is that which is Love, and then there is everything else. In showing love, one shows the greatest gift that there is to be given. Is that the greatest lesson of Love?

Not that the example spelled out in the Bible is less than perfect. Or that any other display of love is greater. Could it be that Love is the ultimate, perfect, all-encompassing answer? Reminds me of another song lyric, only this time John Lennon's: "Love is the answer. I know it is. For sure." Could it be that what the Lord almighty teaches is Love, in any shape or form, is what we are all meant to do? And that nothing is Greater? Could this be the message, the answer, for which all humanity seeks?

Again. I'm just sayin'.


Gerri said...

Heavy stuff!...and no easy answer. It does give one a lot to think about. The written word is always open to interpretation, which is what makes it so interesting and powerful.

Suzy said...

Yes, this is beautiful. Love is a wonderful and powerful thing. I am lucky for being able to share my love with you and for the love that you learned from your parents. We are truly blessed to have such wonderful and loving people in our lives.

Deb said...

Beautifully written. Once again you have eloquently entwined things I never would have put together. I guess because my life feels so improvised at this point, I admire the way you slow down and reflect on life and, now, LOVE. Keep writing and I'll keep reading.

As I See It said...

You have the ability to put into words and write what the majority of us cannot do. The rest of us can and do have these thoughts but we admire and praise someone like you. It is not easy to put the words down on paper or graphically explain our thoughts....see..I'm having a hard time just with this. Anyway,you are so blessed. Keep writing (and drawing,too). Its good therapy for all of us good readers. Makes us feel good.