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Love is Awkward

Rollins Ecumenical Christian Vespers

Dartmouth College

March 31, 2010

Eric Schildge

 

I know that our term of Love is now far behind us… fading into distant memory, but as I read today’s scripture, and contemplated what it was I wanted to say, I couldn’t avoid perpetually returning to Love as the operative theme in this passage, and ultimately, in the resurrection. This is no new revelation… in fact I suspect that very little that is said at these services is really revelatory, but rather a confirmation of those truths that we share and clarification and exploration of the inevitable contradiction and confusion that accompanies a life of faith.

 

If I had one complaint about our term of Love last year, it would be that it wasn’t nearly uncomfortable enough. I know that in both its best expressions in our society and in its most banal, love has been elevated to an emotion and experience so perfect, so illuminating, so liberating, as to leave it infallible and unquestionable. Nevertheless, I think that any love I’ve ever actually experienced started with my feeling very uncomfortable. I know that sounds sad, and maybe a little immature, but allow me to explain. Take the beginning of my relationship with my girlfriend of 4.5 years, Carleigh. I guess you could say our relationship started when I asked her to attend my Senior Prom; yes, the prom, that pinnacle of adolescent awkwardness. But, I actually asked Carleigh because I recognized the inherent awkwardness of the event, and in the interest of avoiding it all together, chose a person I felt absolutely no romantic attachment to whatsoever.

 

Well, as you might have guessed that backfired, and what ensued was one of the most exhilarating and awkward two months of my life. It started out innocuously enough, hanging out together in the evenings, watching movies, doing puzzles, singing Johnny Cash, and eating a lot of Italian Ice (Carleigh’s other love). It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I had something pretty special on my hands here. She must have known something was up when for my eighteenth birthday we went into the city to see a poorly crafted musical based upon the songs of Johnny Cash. She was the only person I invited to come along with me and a few of my family members, and during the performance, I decided to make my move. Now, I’ll have you know, I wasn’t a complete buffoon, and I did have a decent track record when it came to things like this. All things considered, I thought my odds were pretty good going in. Now, you can probably guess the end of this story. I went down in flames… a complete and total failure. Well, that was about three weeks before the prom, and what ensued was what seemed like an interminable period of awkwardness, made all the worse by the fact that I had fallen head over heels in love with her. The story goes on from there, but its probably enough to say that things got a lot more awkward before we both really knew how we felt about one another.

 

Now, I don’t want to directly equate the type of romantic love between Carleigh and me with the Love of God, although I strongly believe the former could not exist without the latter. Many pages have been spent spelling out the difference. However, I do think that the awkwardness I described, accompanies almost any act of love, especially when it is new and unexpected. Let’s be honest. How do you think the disciples felt when Jesus disrobed, grabbed his bowl of water, and started scrubbing? Anyone who has had their feet washed on Maundy Thursday before knows that it can be, at first, an extremely uncomfortable experience. Perhaps some of that would be abated if we too walked around barefoot or in sandals all day for years, but then again, it’s not Jesus washing our feet, either. Suffice to say, washing another’s feet is a very personal act, and having your feet washed involves a feeling of vulnerability matched only by trying to hold your best friends hand at a Johnny Cash themed musical on your eighteenth birthday.

 

I guess the real question, is why does love feel so awkward? I think part of the awkwardness we experience is a feeling of vulnerability. Both giving and accepting love implies an inherent level of trust. Unlike Christ, we don’t know all, or any, of what is to come. Trusting another person enough to love them, or, even more difficult, trusting them enough to allow them to love you, means accepting that whatever the future holds, it is worth the risk. Christ asks us to love one another, with no indication of how that love will be received in our earthly lives. In fact, the disciples could be fairly certain that if showing their love for one another marked them as the disciples of Jesus, then they could be in for a rough road ahead. I think that the same goes for our experiment here. Fundamentally, what we, participants in our ecumenical experiment, are engaged in is an act of trust. Sharing our faith traditions with one another, subjecting ourselves to the sharp, discerning, critical minds of the people seated in this congregation. Sitting down to share, eat, and reflect. It has the potential to be a powerful and beautiful expression of God’s love on earth, but I also suspect that it has the potential to be awkward at times. There has and will be moments of disagreement, of discord, of questions that can’t be answered. People will come and go, and the core committed will experience both the successes and challenges of true ecumenical dialogue and meaningful Christian community. It is beautiful and it’s messy, and it is always a privilege to be a part of it.

 

We are also here to serve one another. If not by washing each other’s feet, then by preparing each other’s meals, listening intently to each other’s reflections, and engaging with one another’s ideas and beliefs, no matter how foreign. In serving one another, and accepting the service of others, we are engaged in a profound act of love. In coming together at this service with open hearts and open minds, we are honest and we are vulnerable. We are demonstrating love for one another, and we are demonstrating to the world through this love that we are Disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

So just remember, if it weren’t so awkward, if it just felt right, if it was just the natural thing to do, then I don’t think love would be half as powerful.

Last Updated: 8/7/11