Bishop Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is full of surprises.
- Not only did he become a world-wide phenom for preaching about love at the royal wedding...
- And not only is he leading revivals (yes, Gospel-singing, raise-the-roof revivals for the "Frozen Chosen" Episcopal Church!)...
- And not only is he calling all people of good will to follow in the way of love shown by Jesus...
He redefined the opposite of love.
At the Episcopal Church's General Convention, I was privileged to attend one of Bishop Curry's revivals. Not surprisingly, Bishop Curry talked about love. Jesus' love. Love that engages us with the other. Love that creates relationship and looks out for the other's well being.
The Opposite of Love Isn't Hate
Knowing Bishop Curry's penchant for surprises, when he brought up the question about the opposite of love, I figured he wouldn't choose the obvious answer of "hate." And he didn't.
Why? Hate keeps us engaged with the other. Hate keeps us paying attention to the other. Hate, in its own way, keeps us in relationship with the other.
Hate obviously isn't a good thing, but since both love and hate keep us engaged, hate is not the opposite of love.
The Opposite of Love Isn't Indifference
I thought Bishop Curry would say the opposite of love is indifference, but he didn't mention indifference.
If love creates relationship, then indifference severs it by ignoring the other.
Indifference shuns, sets aside, sees through, and pretends the other doesn't exist.
However, since those we ignore do actually exist, it takes a certain amount of mental effort to keep shoving them to the margins of consciousness, to move around them like a piece of furniture placed in the middle of a narrow hallway.
So, paradoxically, even then, we're still engaged. We're still in relationship with the other. It's just a silent, awkward one.
The Opposite of Love is Selfishness
Instead, Bishop Curry expanded that the opposite of love is selfishness: a self-centered, all-about-me attitude and lifestyle—at the expense of the other.
Selfishness exploits others and the Earth for personal gain.
Bishop Curry used the TV show Survivor as the metaphor for selfishness. The show is based on outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting teammates and other contestants to be crowned the lone survivor. To do so, cast members end up using their relationships with each other to get further in the game until it is no longer advantageous to keep someone around. This exploitation of relationship—a fundamental need—creates hurt and betrayal and leaves people feeling alone, never knowing who they can truly trust.
To be isolated and alone is one of the worst punishments a human can endure.
We are animals whose social nature, Bishop Curry said, goes beyond other animals in the animal kingdom. All animals breathe, eat, sleep, and reproduce. But human animals do more than that in order to connect with others (it's understood that many animals, in fact, engage far more than is "necessary" for the propagation of the species). That's why solitary confinement is considered such a severe punishment.
We care for, tend to, cook for, read to, fluff pillows for, buy for, and listen to others. We donate, serve, advocate for, and protect.
We do so because we love others. We want to show them they matter, so we extend ourselves, sacrificing time, effort, energy, money, attention, and sometimes our very lives for another.
Conversely, selfishness takes, uses, manipulates, exploits, and drives love and others away, leaving us marooned on an island of our own design.
Why Does it Matter?
According to Bishop Curry:
Selfishness exploits the other; Love sacrifices for the other.
Selfishness maroons us on islands; Love gives us the stamina to swim to the far shore.
Selfishness creates the self as the center point; Love looks to Jesus as the center point.
Selfishness is the hallmark of our time, the "pattern of this world." We are a culture swimming in fear, judgement, survival-of-the-fittest competitions for wealth and resources, and a manic need to prove oneself better than others.
But as proclaimers of the Gospel, we know there's an alternative. To follow in the way of love. Follow in the way of service. Follow in the way of sacrifice.
Follow in the way of Jesus.
What would it look like to swim against the culture of selfishness? What would it mean for our congregations to be identified by love?