What does love look like to you? Specifically, agape love.
Martin Luther King, Jr. defined agape as this: “Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of people. (Sermon: Loving Your Enemies)
This week, I drove down Lakeline in Cedar Park, passing two public gazebos. They were encircled in yellow tape, to send the signal that during this time of “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” they are not to be used.
My first response, I’ll confess, was sadness. It was just such a sad sight to me. Beautiful wooden gazebos, wrapped in the yellow tape used to denote danger.
“But, wait … don’t you agree with physical distancing regulations?” a voice asked in my head. “Don’t you support this, don’t you want there to be more lockdowns?”
Oh … well, yes. Totally. We can look at the countries that swiftly enacted quarantines and physical distancing regulations, and see that this has worked to lower the transmission.
“So … maybe you should consider it looking something other than sad,” the voice gently suggested.
And actually, it wasn’t that hard. Those yellow tapes will keep the gazebos from being used. Keep them from being a landing spot, like playground equipment, from the novel coronavirus. Maybe keep someone from getting sick, and then passing along the virus to others. And will send a message: Things have changed for a while. The tapes denote danger, because this is really, really dangerous. And as a society, we want to protect each other from this very real danger.
It is, I’ll confess, too easy for me to see all the limitations in a sad way. It’s only been two weeks, and there’s already so much I miss. I miss the church. I miss going to restaurants and movie theaters. I miss being able to hug people from Live Oak.
So I am actively working to change my thinking. I have taken time to be sad, but now I’m ready to reframe. And so when I spot a limitation, a “can’t” or a “don’t,” I pause and ask myself to see that as a sign of love.
That woman walking through the neighborhood, but being careful to not get close to anyone? That’s what love looks like. She may not even know me, but by her actions to “flatten the curve,” she is loving me, and everyone else.
When the grocery stores have us wait in lines, 6 ft apart: this is love.
Canceled concerts? Love.
Closed playgrounds? Love.
What is easy to see as love, the things that don’t require any reframing, are all the times we get together in community.
Last Sunday, 86 households gathered to participate in our Zoom worship. When you realize that many of those households had 2 or more people attending, you see that it was pretty much our normal attendance. That’s amazing!
We’re gathering together online in so many ways – small groups, Sack Lunch with the minister, watching concerts and movies together via technology … this is what love looks like, too.
In 1952, in a paper Dr. King wrote on “Reinhold Niebuhr’s Ethical Dualism,” he wrote, “Agape is at best a regulative social norm. It sets the outside definition of ideal justice as well as tempering whatever realistic means must be employed to dynamite recalcitrant centers of pride and injustice. Love remains a leaven in society, permeating the whole and giving texture and consistency to life.” He added that religious people “must be both loving and realistic…. as an individual in complex social relations (they) must realistically meet mind with mind and power with power.”
We are resetting social norms. In our response to the covid-19 pandemic, we are lifting up the power of communal action. We are rethinking what love looks like.