Saturday, March 28, 2009


Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.

                        Ecclesiastes 4.9-10

The End

After dazzling the world with their prodigious talent and stirring up every imaginable sort of controversy, The Beatles entered the studio one last time to record “The End,” a deceptively brief, simple tune that ingeniously captured the whole of their art and philosophy. They left the world this message: “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.” Take a moment to let your mind wander through the entire Beatles catalog—from “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Help!” to “Eleanor Rigby” and “In My Life” and on to “Come Together” and “Let It Be”—and you realize every stylistic road they traveled inevitably led to “The End”. Likewise, every mode of enlightenment they explored inevitably brought them back to their spiritual foundation as Anglican catechism students. For what is “The End” if not a superb distillation of Christ’s doctrine of selfless love?

“The End” frames Jesus’s commandment to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22.39) in the context of an earlier statement: “Give, and it will be given to you… For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6.38) We give love with confidence it will be repaid measure for measure, if not by those who receive it, then from another source. Faith in the divine principle of reciprocation profoundly alters our search for companionship. Instead of rushing to and fro looking for love, we continue to love others as love looks for us. Ecclesiastes 11.1 says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” The love we give today—the compassion, forgiveness, and sacrifice we invest—determines the quality and quantity of love we receive in the future. In the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make.

A Never-Ending Beginning

The quest to love and be loved doesn’t conclude with finding “that special someone.” Love is a never-ending beginning, a dynamic process of discovery that starts over and over each moment a new factor emerges. Changes within and around us relentlessly challenge us to adapt, to reset our expectations, and to reassess our responsibilities. Companionship, whether with life partners, friends, or family, is seldom a static, predictable undertaking. Often the needs of the other demand we forego our needs and give more than we desire for his/her benefit. We keep making love, producing it at great personal expense sometimes, in order to take love when we need it.

Love is hard work, and the world runs rampant with people who selfishly prefer lazy loneliness to the intensive labor of companionship. They’re the ones who bail out the minute a partner or friend asks for more patience, understanding, or mercy than they can easily give. “I didn’t sign up for this,” they say. “It’s not working out.” And in all fairness, many times we’re misled into relationships that turn unhealthy when fiction created to lure us there breaks down and ugly facts come to light. But there are just as many times when “It’s not working out” is no more than a cowardly way of admitting “I don’t want to work this hard.” Being together means being in it together—working through difficulties, uncertainty, and unwelcome surprises. But if we uphold our commitment to those we love, Ecclesiastes 4.9-10 promises our faithfulness will be rewarded.

For Better

Two are better than one, Ecclesiastes tells us, because they accomplish more together than on their own. They’re there for one another, ready to do the heavy lifting when the other stumbles. The writer continues in verses 11 and 12, observing, “If two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.” What’s fascinating here is the focus on hardship, suggesting companionship is primarily meant to sustain us rather than fulfill cravings for romantic or friendly bliss. Before we recoil in horror—What? No happiness?—let’s ask how any relationship can be happy unless both parties care for and protect each other. Bearing the other’s burdens, shielding him/her from harm, and tending to his/her growth and contentment are the hallmarks of happy companions.

Proverbs 17.17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Borrowing from traditional marriage vows to stay together “for better or for worse,” companionship is designed to capitalize on worse for better. It exemplifies God’s stubborn love and unfailing concern for us. In exhorting the Early Church to lead lives that please God, Peter stresses this, saying, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4.8) True companions overlook one another’s faults, forgive one another’s mistakes, and compensate for one another’s weaknesses. This is how God loves us. This is how we love one another. This is how we stay together.

Two are better than one.

(Tomorrow: Mysterious Ways)

Postscript: Love Online

I’m delighted to recommend two blogs, both of which contributed to the inspiration for today’s post. First, though, I also must apologize for my absence this week. Professional commitments got the better of me and although I sat down a number of times hoping to produce something worth your time, the thoughts and words didn’t come. (Even today’s post shows signs of strain.) But I’m back on the job and look forward to resuming the daily schedule starting today.

Mariah and Byron Edgington are a marvelous couple who visit and comment here frequently. The care and acceptance expressed in their responses reflect the tender joy that courses through their blog, Caffection! Married to My Best Friend. The title says it all. They believe the best, happiest marriages (straight and gay) are built on nurturing the relationship between two best friends for life—lovers who are committed to one another at all times, i.e., “Co-affection” or “Caffection.” Their posts are always refreshing and inspiring. I encourage all those desirous of enriching their relationships to make Caffection! a regular reading habit.

The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor far exceeds its intended purpose as the online extension of the congregational life of a vibrant parish in Albany, New York. Edited and predominantly written by Fran, whose personal blog FranIAm and regular comments here are a constant joy, the St. Edward blog is an embarrassment of riches—meditations in keeping with the liturgical calendar, essays probing theological topics, and superbly chosen illustrations. One of my favorite things about it is “Poetry Tuesday,” a weekly poem by local parishioner Donald G. Harmande. Don and I have become good friends via email. As I’ve got to know him better—particularly learning of his cherished marriage to his late wife—I’ve come to appreciate the spirit of love and wonder in his words. Drop by St. Edward’s and bask in its gentle light.  

Monday, March 23, 2009

Running Behind...

... while away on business. Will catch up ASAP. Check back at the end of this evening, when I hope to get the posts back up on schedule. I so appreciate your patience during these schedule conflicts!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Craving Good

Taste and see that the LORD is good.

                        Psalm 34.8

Acquired Tastes

My partner and I are avid Francophiles. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time in France, to the point we think of Paris as our second home. Having ceased being tourists long ago, we spend our time at favorite restaurants and cafés whose staffs know us well enough to recommend locally favored dishes and drinks most visitors might shy away from. So, for example, when the cheese course arrives, we’re given the “stinkier” varieties Parisians prefer instead of the mellower ones typically offered to American diners. If we’re there during the cooler off-season, we’re as apt as any Frenchman to dig into a plate of choucroute, a pile of sauerkraut and sausages, paired with an Alsatian wine that undercuts its sweetness with a hint of pepper. 

These are acquired tastes not familiar, in some cases not even pleasing, at first to our Yankee palates. Yet we’ve learned to appreciate them—and grown to crave them—less for their flavors than their exemplification of Parisians’ uniquely pragmatic way of making the most of what they have. A plate of bitter cheeses, for instance, dramatically intensifies the sweetness of desserts that immediately follow. The acrid taste of pickled cabbage in winter is more desirable than the reduced flavor of hothouse summer vegetables. In other words, Parisians have disciplined their taste buds to encompass the entire dining experience, not merely within each meal but across the seasons. A smelly cheese is good because of what comes next. Sauerkraut is good because it avoids compromise. Along very similar lines, I believe God’s goodness is also an acquired taste, and I think it mirrors many of the same principles employed by French cuisine.

A Veritable Feast

When David sings, “Taste and see that the LORD is good,” he’s staring at a veritable feast of God’s goodness. Psalm 34.4 says God answered David’s prayers and freed him from fear. Verses 5-7 remark how God beautifies Hs people, saves them from trouble, and discharges angels to protect them. Verses 9 and 10 rejoice that those who worship God want for nothing. The fifteenth verse proclaims God’s attentiveness to us, and after repeating a number of these blessings, the song ends with verse 22: “The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.”

David is a magnificent songwriter, but his skills as a food critic could stand some improvement. He’s not thorough in his description of all that dining on God’s goodness entails. Take verse 19: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” He breezes by the stinky cheese course (“many troubles”) to rave about the dessert. In passing, he mentions bitter seasons of heartbreak and despondence in verse 18, saying God stays close to us and saves us. Yet he never explains why making the most of lean times is preferable to mediocre varieties of richer, tastier things ripened in season. David lacks connoisseurship. He misses why appreciation for less savory tastes and times heightens the contrasts and joys of sweeter, more delectable ones.

Constant Craving

A pastor I truly admire as a shepherd and one of the finest preachers I know regularly greets her people with, “God is good all the time,” to which they respond, “All the time He’s good.” That’s a bold statement, particularly from the leader and members of an urban, extraordinarily diverse congregation—often after of a Prayer for the People that includes victims of domestic and gang violence, homelessness, substance abuse, and other harrowing realities. Believers fed on freeze-dried platitudes and sugarcoated optimism might choke on such a sweeping declaration. They’re desensitized to the purpose and promise concealed in life’s sorrows and stress. They’ve lost sight that unsavory experiences are meant to generate constant craving for God’s goodness and sharpen our senses to relish it fully in season. Those of us sacrificing favorite foods for Lent surely understand this principle in a very real and powerful way.

Learning to appreciate God’s goodness teaches us to make the most of what we have now in anticipation of what we’ll feast on later. In Matthew 5.6, Jesus promises, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” Craving good is a habit all believers should practice. But we can’t allow our hunger and thirst for what’s right and best to encourage us to settle for blander diets or unseasonable substitutes. Taste and see that the Lord is good all the time. Yes, all the time He’s good.

Choucroute in winter is preferable to bland hothouse substitutes for summer vegetables, just as bitter tastes in chilly seasons prepare us for sweeter flavors in warmer times.

(Tomorrow: Together)