Thursday, September 3, 2009

Give 'Em Something to Talk About

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

                        John 13.35 

How About Love?

I’m predisposed to like Bonnie Raitt. She exudes a kind of old-soul pragmatism I find appealing in its skill to cut to the chase without getting twisted up in superfluous emotions. In fact, a number of her songs are written from the viewpoint of someone so self-contained and experienced petty nonsense flies right by her. Raitt’s 1991 single, “Something to Talk About”—her biggest hit to date—draws on this perspective. Its freewheeling tone and tempo set the song in the voice of a more seasoned lady speaking to a younger or perhaps less worldly man. Evidently they’ve been friends for a while and their relationship has set tongues wagging with suspicion they’re lovers. At first she dismisses the idea. But then she detects there may be some validity to the rumors. The talk makes her buddy nervous, as if he’s concerned it will reveal his hidden desire for her. She welcomes the chance to take their friendship to a more intimate level, however, and tells him, “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about, a little mystery to figure out. How about love?” In one fell swoop, she brings love into her life and defuses the rumors by confirming them. How smart is that?

People Talk

It’s absurd to imagine we can conduct ourselves in such a way we’ll never become grist for the gossip mill. People talk. And most of the time, their reason for talking has more to do with them than us. They talk to prove how much they know. (“Well, I heard…”) If we can’t prevent being talked about, we can influence what people say by giving them something to talk about. Basically, that’s Jesus’s point in telling us “everyone will know you’re My disciples if you love one another.” When we’re known for our love, what’s said about us is affected in one of two ways. Either people discuss how we love others as ourselves, or if someone suggests otherwise, they and their comments carry no credible weight.

Christ and His disciples work in an atmosphere crackling with gossip and character assassination. This is common in repressive environments like theirs—where everyone issubjected to intense scrutiny by the religious right—as well as among oppressed groups like the Jews living under Caesar’s thumb. People who feel unworthy and powerless grab at anything they can to prove their legitimacy. Knowledge is power; it confers authority—if it’s authentic. Speculation boomerangs on the talker. People stop listening to the gossip and start talking about the gossiper. Jesus explained how to handle talebearers in His Sermon on the Mount: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5.11) Here, He instructs us to be known for love so those who limit their conversation to facts can only speak well of us. “Give ‘em something to talk about,” He says, “a little mystery to figure out. How about love?”

Good Gossip

Is anyone more fascinating than one who loves without condition and restraint? A person who’s known for his/her love generates good gossip by raising questions about where so much love comes from and how it’s constantly expressed. Here’s a quick story to illustrate this. A friend whose dating history is rather spotty introduced her new boyfriend to several of us. Beyond being handsome, he was also outgoing, unaffected, and genuinely fond of our girl. He became the hot topic before we could get home to call one another about him. Surely something’s wrong somewhere, we thought, because everything about him seems right. So far, everything indicates we were wrong—not only for talking, but also for doubting—and we still spend more than usual time discussing him. With the cynicism behind us, though, our conversation revolves around what a fine, gentle, loving guy he is. He mystifies us and we feel honored to know him.

When people talk about us, what do they say? It’s worth noting, because it’s a good measure of how well we’ve mastered Jesus’s instructions. It’s often said love is a decision, not an emotion. Yet in light of Christ’s commandments, there’s nothing to decide. Love is what we do. It’s what we’re known for. Choice isn’t an option. We love equally and unilaterally, without selective preference. If we truly seek identification with Jesus, our first order of business is to love as He loves. Deciding we can love some more and others less (or not all) also gives people something to talk about. But what’s said won’t reflect Christ. In John 3.16, Jesus states His impetus for living and dying as one of us: “God loved the world.” As His disciples, we understand each of us comes into this world for the same purpose and reason. God loves the world. We embody and express His love accordingly. Loving everyone, from our closest friends to our worst enemies, we fulfill Christ’s laws of love and squelch false rumors. People won’t have to be told we follow Jesus. They’ll know. That’s something to talk about!

Give ‘em something to talk about. How about love?

(Tomorrow: Noble Attempts)

Postscript: Can’t Resist…

The Raitt tune’s been pounding in my ears the whole time while writing this. Although it’s not about discipleship, the chorus very well could be. For those who need a refresher, here it is.


Cuboid Master said...

As my dear grandmother used to say, this post is a "real dandy," Tim. Truly, the best way to express our love for Christ and His All-Loving Father is through the simple act of loving. The most amazing miracle of His injunction to "love one another" is that we benefit from expressing love. It's this awesome boomerang effect of "I love you therefore *wham* I receive the bounty of loving right back!" Shazaam! That is not our intention in loving, but it is among the results. Love begets more love. Nothing heals the hurting soul more than reaching out to love and serve. You inspire me so much, dear Tim. Best of all, you demonstrate how it is possible to be a devoted servant whilst *never* skimping on laughter and fun! Christianity should be joyful. Thanks for showing us how, Pastor Tim. Now, to get you a glorious electric-blue crushed-velvet long alb and a white starched collar to show off your eyes...but I digress, ha-ha. Hugs to you and Walt!

Tim said...

CM, it's a source of perpetual amazement to me how every time we honor Christ's teaching to serve others it somehow benefits us. The principle is so basic to everything we do and say as Christians we sometimes get a little too comfortable and casual about it: "Oh yeah, if I give love I'll receive love. Got it."

But if we stand back and look at the magnificent complexity this simple idea generates, it's unbelievably beautiful. We love with no anticipation of return (despite knowing it will come) because we can never know where or whom it will come from. Somewhere in the world at this very moment someone we don't yet know is being loved so he/she will have love to offer us when our paths meet. And the reverse is true. Right now we're being loved so we'll have love for people we haven't met. And they'll take our love and give it to someone we may never know.

That's why Jesus makes love for one another the identifying trait of discipleship. It's our extraordinary privilege to keep His love for the world alive and flowing over the planet.

Thanks for commenting, CM--as always you touch my heart and make me smile. (And the blue velvet alb sounds smashing!)

Peace and joy,

Annette said...

For me, this is all it's about. It's that simple. If we love, we are keeping every one of His commandments.

My family has a blog and we do a weekend challenge every week (it's about health, etc.). This week it was my turn to post the challenge. I did, and because of your post, I challenged everyone to commit a random act of kindness this weekend, and post how they felt on Monday (not what they did). Because if we love and act on that love, we feel happy. If we are happy, we are healthier, and the circle continues.

Thank you for the reminder, as always to keep Christ in the forefront in all we do.


Tim said...

Annette, what a terrific idea! If it's okay with your clan, I may do that from time to time here.

And what a wonderful challenge. (That's probably the first one I'd want to start with, too!) Please circle back next week some time and let us know what happens. I'm sure we'll all be inspired and delighted.

Loving others is how we keep Christ first; you're spot-on about that. That's how people know...

Big love back to you and yours. Have a terrific weekend!