A common criticism I make of myself is that I am in love with the idea of love. Take every female character except Scarlett Johansson (skinny-dipping, yoga-teaching, would-be adulteress doesn’t quite sum me up) out of He’s Just Not That Into You, and that’s me. It’s pretty embarrassing to see your common thought patterns effectively labelled ‘REALLY UNHEALTHY AND IRRATIONAL- WILL ONLY LEAD TO EXCESSIVE COOKIE DOUGH CONSUMPTION’, but I’m making public that confession because I’m probably not alone. Even my narcissism doesn’t quite stretch to thinking Hollywood decided to explore neuroses over which I have a monopoly. Not yet anyway. Making romantic love an idol seems to be a sure-fire way to get egg on your face if you have people skills like mine, or feeling jaded and truly alone if you get far enough into a relationship for some crisis of candour to call a halt to the champagne and strawberries honeymoon feeling. There’s a reason RomComs nearly always end at the point of a couple getting together: there’s reassurance and ego-boosting in the recognition of mutual attraction. There’s fewer feel-good vibes in negotiations about who cleans the loo and who goes to the supermarket for drain unblocker. Which, if you think about it, is kind of depressing- our dreams centre around one Kodak moment in our mid-20s, and the rest is… tumbleweed. So being in love with the idea of a drop-everything-to-run-into-each-other’s-arms-from-opposite-ends-of-the-platform moment (or eros for short) does warrant me sighing irritatedly at myself. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to be in love with love- true sex-is-beside-the-point-because-I-love-you-for-your-emotional-baggage-and -when-mascara-is-all-over-your-face-and-even-though-I-don’t-have-to-like-you-right-now-cos-sometimes-you-are-an-absolute-idiot-but-I-will-still-stick-by-you- that sort of love.
Paul writes: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ For the longest time, I assumed this was a bit of a pre-emptive telling off to be used at weddings. I thought it was a proverbial stick to later hit each other over the head with: “if you really loved me you wouldn’t tell me to hurry up because we’re going to be late what with love being patient and all” or “you totally have to trust that I didn’t finish the Ben&Jerry’s because love believes all things so nerrrr”. If wedding guests were less enamoured with the beautiful language, this would probably make them awkwardly gulp- because who is any of those things throughout one day let alone a marriage? But Paul is saying love is and does these things, not us, and that our job is to open our arms up to love. The patience, gentleness, contentment come by wrapping ourselves in love, and not before. Try making yourself patient, and doing it without being proud of yourself for managing it and contemptuous of everyone else who doesn’t cut the mustard. Making virtues out of laws works as well as chocolate teapots.
So I think Paul is billboarding love so that we are grabbed heart and soul by it. He’s dealing with a church fraught with sexual immorality, incest, factions, power games and ego. So we can put it this way: I get it- the attention, the applause, the sub-identity- I get that it scratches an itch you all have. But aren’t you tired of being afraid of losing your reputation or your position as top-dog? Is the jealousy and in-fighting glazing your eyes with cynicism? Do you miss what brought you together in the first place? Can you remember what it felt to know the purity of the truth that God is love? Allow me to remind you of its unique beauty, and let’s see if afterwards you still want to be climbing greasy poles and posing on pedestals, instead of kneeling at the foot of the cross.
If I’m not enraptured with love as Jesus embodies it, then I will inevitably set my heart on something else- like being right all the time, being likeable (in Facebook terms, and in that old-fashioned sphere called real life), or eating seventeen superfoods a day. And all that is prone to tarnish, to have me sharpen my claws at the threat of ‘competition’, or make me your local Waitrose’s resident Faustus. Quite frankly, I choose to be in love with love instead.