From time to time, I am violent. I do not mean physically violent, gunplay and beatings. The only Love associated with physical violence should be Leave Out Violence, a Canadian group. And by the title, I definitely don’t mean violence within love, domestic violence, more grave evil. For that effect, you can look at Shattered Love, Broken Lives, articles by SouthCoast Today of Massachusetts. By violent, I mean the definition – force, swift and intense, that attracts people, challenges them, perhaps changes them. Let me tell you a story.
In 2003-2004, I was assigned to TA two undergraduate courses, Mathematical Statistics and Regression Analysis. Over the two quarters, I got to know some of the students. At least five looked into the field. One of those undergraduates was Lucy. Lucy is extremely cheerful, friendly, and open. She was rare summer in the U of C, the land of perpetual winter. Not one to initiate, but one to reciprocate and return affection, I was very pleased to deal with her. By the end of our two quarters, we would greet each other with hugs. Lucy continued in statistics, was accepted to masters’ programs in biostatistics, and graduated in June. While I’m happy that she entered the field, I’m happy that at least four other people from those classes are in statistics as well. That’s good, and I take pride in doing my job well, that’s not the violent act.
At the Statistics “Holiday” party in December 2004, Lucy and I attended separately. Earlier, I had served as one of the three dancers to the live band, and we drew a small crowd. I hadn’t seen Lucy in a couple months, and so we chatted a bit. She was in the application process, and I offered her my personal statement as an example. We talked for a while, then said goodbye with an expression of happiness and thanks, a giant hug. I saw the expressions on those who saw us, like one professor. He was shocked, almost alarmed, that we could have a connection like that. Like the dancing, we had gawkers. Violence, indeed.
What is the Violence of Love? I borrowed the title from a book of Oscar Romero quotes, available as a free e-book from the Bruderhof. Romero was a priest, considered fairly conservative, who was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador in 1977. Latin American churches have a reputation for supporting governments, even corrupt and oppressive ones, and most thought that Archbishop Romero would at most protest quietly. Not so. Almost immediately, he began speaking of the murder and torture, exhorting for peace and forgiveness and justice. The Catholic radio station broadcast his sermons each Sunday, except when it was jammed or bombed. It’s surprising that he lasted three years before he was assassinated. There are so many pieces I could use here, but I’ll stick with the quote for the title, from November 24, 1977.
We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for peaceful work.
Setting aside “never” (the Crusades are a little messy), no wonder Romero was killed. We have to transform ourselves, force inwards. It’s not easy; more than anything else, this journal is about my transformation and my failings, my fallible nature. And I’m committed; I have no idea how hard it must be without the willpower. It’s far easier to plod along, find someone to marry and purchase a house in the suburbs and raise two kids and keep steady work and watch football on Sundays. When the TV shows a tragedy, like
Katrina, send a check. That’s something, and it’s better than doing evil. But that safety is not violent.
Worse yet, violence hurts. Occasionally, love-violence can be joyful and beautiful, like the story above. Usually, it’s not. Outwardly, love-violence makes adversaries and enemies. Romero got killed. I’m unlikely to get shot, yet I’m still careful, to not push hard or make people so uncomfortable that they reject the message and me. Inwardly, one has to expect failure and setback and unrequited love and pain and tears. Lots of people, even good Christians, shy away because of the vulnerability. Augustine once wrote that Christians should love God alone, because human love is transient and will expire. Augustine was an idiot. In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis states the counterargument better than I might:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
About six months ago, I introduced a new concept of dignity and love, the AntiMortification, in an strong critique of Negative Obedience. As I’ve journaled through Lent and Eastertime and summer, I’ve always had the goal of defining a positive Christianity. I thought about some summary with bullet points, or a list of recommended actions. That’s too specific. Instead, I’m going to illustrate the idea with a reading and a comment. The reading is Isaiah 61:1-3, read by Jesus in his first public act in Luke – so it meant something. At the Mass before the Conclave, of all the readings available, the Cardinals heard these words – so it means something.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; To place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit. They will be called oaks of justice, planted by the Lord to show his glory.
As for the modern interpretation, there’s Romero. Security forces invaded a retreat house where a youth retreat was occurring, murdering a priest and four young men. Archbishop Romero preached at the funeral, to thousands both inside and outside the cathedral. He is not Pelagian, as many would argue; God has a role to play, both as source and actor. The day of his sermon was my fourth birthday, January 21, 1979. 26 years later, I don’t know how I’ll be judged. And I know I don’t have to be violent all the time; severe force is restricted to severe occasions. But I do know that when I hit that final evening of life, whether today, tomorrow, or in 40 years, I’m hoping that the scales of my justice exist and tilt the right way. With love.
All pomp, all triumphs, all selfish capitalism, all the false successes of life will pass with the world’s form. All of that passes away. What does not pass away is love. When one has turned money, property, work in one’s calling into service of others, then the joy of sharing and the feeling that all are one’s family does not pass away. In the evening of life you will be judged on love.