Monday, February 15, 2010

Love: Cupid or Stupid?

Living cross-culturally always provides for insight, discovery and cultural challenge.  Culture is so much an innate part of the basic fabric of our lives that we don't always see it, nor can we be aware of it.  Valentine's Day is a big thing in America.  True - like in Europe - it's a money-maker for restaurants, florists and other commercial activities.  Yet the now-traditional and historically-exaggerated celebration of the Martyr Valentine isn't just about lovers, over-priced roses or reserving a table months in advance.  It's about love, saying it, expressing it, celebrating it.  This year our children have been decorating for weeks, making cards, boxes to receive Valentine's all the familiar kid things that happen in America and yet are so foreign here in France.  So we had a giant celebration with yesterday at home with about 8 cupcakes for each person.  Here in France, it's purely commercial, for lovers, seen as something that cheapen,s, consumerises and cheapifys love.  Yet maybe the international, and multi-cultural visions of Valentine's Day are actually revelatory of the ways in which love has been commodified, capitalized and codified in our cultures.

The Second Testament of the Bible talks about love in a well-known passage written by the brilliant and cross-culturally-gifted apostle Paul.  The 13th chapter of his pastoral letter of encouragement and exhortation to the ancient church in Corinth is so well-known that we don't know what it's talking about. [text].  Love is everything - the force of faith, the source of life, the goal of all - the air we breath.  And yet in our culture it's become something you hide, can purchase, or run from for fear of divorce, deception or disaster.  Love has become some sort of hierarchical marker: if we have it (in a codified way as per mariage or partnering) we're somehow more adult, valid or have a significant role in society.  It's something we fight over in terms of legality, definition and protection.  Yet at the same time it's something we don't often express.  We might fight over it, yet does it shape our foreign-policy?  Is it at the root of our ethical actions?  Is it peripherial or central in the way that we view ourselves?; each other? ; our role in the world?

Maybe making Valentines is trite, stereotypical or consumeristic.  Yet on facebook yesterday I heard several people say that February 14th is a day that they dislike, wait anxiously to end, hope to avoid.  Maybe that's saying what our culture(s) really think underneath all the adornment of our societies, economies and rituals: we're afraid of love, afraid of inter-dependance, life in community, loving and being loved.  We don't know much about Valentine except that he was a priest, faithful to his thought and died for his beliefs.  How ironic that in our western societies of equality, solidarity and freedom, we tend to overlook, forget and deny the power of faithful love that inspires, empowers and ordains such radical living with and for others.

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