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February 3rd Love and Voilence

1Cor 13: 1-13, Luke 4: 21-31

It was while we were, like so many others, confined to base during the prolonged heatwave, that Helen and I decided to join the 21stCentury and buy a smart TV. This enabled us to greatly expand our viewing options, for example, by subscribing to Netflix. As we scrolled through the bewildering array of options, it occurred to me that if you were trying to find something to watch that was neither about love, nor violence, you would be hard-put to find anything at all. In fact, most shows seemed to have both in abundance.

There is in fact one show that does qualify by featuring neither passion nor mayhem. It is found on SBS and is called "Slow Journeys”. In one of them you can sit all day and night and watch the Ghan take its inexorable journey from Adelaide to Darwin.
The domination of love and violence in popular entertainment proves that both are at the core of human fascination. Even people I see as quite meek, mild and peaceful admit to loving the shows about "murder and mayhem”. Why, even the genteel Father Brown does not seem to be able to avoid getting embroiled in a dark and murderous world!

Our first serious Netflix immersion was the British police drama The Bodyguard- lots of hideous violence, family love and, of course, a dose of extramarital lust. All of the essential fascinating ingredients are there.

Today’s bible passages embrace the twin themes of love and violence. St Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is, of course, all about love; at least in Chapter 13, but you don’t have to go too far back to Saul of Tarsus to discover a man breathing threats of violence against Christians on the road to Damascus- the same man who stood and minded the garments of those who stoned Stephen to death. It’s all there in the Acts of the Apostles- the heady mix of love and violence.

In the Lucan passage, we are invited to witness Jesus, a beloved child of the village of Nazareth, starting to make his name as a brave and gifted preacher and teacher. He is recognised as the son of Joseph, and initially seems to draw parochial admiration from the locals- that is, until he challenges their self-serving attitudes and illusions about the favouritism they seem to claim as God’s special people. Theirs is a swift turning from love to violence, as they try to take him and throw him off a cliff. Love, and violence- so passionate, so explosive, so seemingly intertwined.

What explains this strange seeming symbiosis- two basic human drives that both contradict and compliment each other?

Violence in the human DNA is not that hard to understand. We have evolved with a very powerful survival instinct- "kill or be killed’, "fight or flight”. It’s either them or me”. Love also lies at the heart of the human experience- a drive that moves us to reach out to one another and; at best, place the welfare of the other as our highest motivation. We can see love and violence coming together in the protective instincts of a parent who will stop at nothing, even their own demise, to protect the life of the beloved child (which makes stories like "Sophie’s choice” so dramatic, so compelling, so heartbreaking).

At another level, love and violence seem to get tragically entangled when anger erupts in the sanctuary of the family. The home, the sacrosanct and quintessential place of love, becomes the arena of living, dying nightmares of violence. This poem by Maxine Beneba Clarke appeared in last week’s Saturday Paper:

the monsters are outand the women of Melbourne we’re leaving early again

sending are you home yet? texts glancing over shivering shoulders keeping

friends on the line until the key’s in the lock oh sisters

we forget jill had only just got off a safe call

eurydice texted to say she was almost home

masa went out for a walk and all well aya she caught the bundoora train home

so here we are holding vigil again two-dollar-a-pack-at-coles tea light candles

flames flickering rage-high shoulder to shoulder bleeding against the sobbing

summer light but most of the monsters have the same face as our sleeping four-year-olds

the monsters gave us valentines some of the monsters have the other key card

to our shared bank account the monsters are out the monsters are out

and oh how we flame against the sobbing summer light

but when we’re done mourning some of us go home to die

In Australia, about 70 women a year die when "love’ becomes violent.

How then can we come to terms with this complex and sometimes dangerous interaction of love and violence, or are we doomed to get flung this way and that in an unpredictably erratic vortex of natural drives?

Two things might help.

One is Carl Jung’s insights about the shadow, the place in our psyche where we push and contain thoughts and actions that run counter to what is socially acceptable of our society and era. For many of us, for example, to express anger was frowned upon, if not completely forbidden. So angry impulses went into our psychic prison. Showing affection in public to members of one’s own gender is taboo in some societies while in others, such as Dubai, a woman may not even so much as hold a man’s hand in public.

Jung teaches that our shadow repressions can come out in dangerous ways when for some reason they can no longer be contained. So, for example, a prominent and highly moralistic politician or religious leader might get exposed for participating in very sexual behaviour they had formerly denounced.

So, it can be that where love roams free, violence stalks in the shadows, a threatening force that may erupt and destroy the good and the helpful.

In order to come to terms with possible shadow eruptions, we need to be realistic about who we are as humans, never underestimating the power of basic drives such as love and violence. We also need to do the work of integrating our shadow selves into our conscious experience. When this is done successfully, we are less likely to be ambushed by nasty surprises.

There is also valuable insights in the scriptures. St Paul’s euglogy to love in 1 Corinthians 13, calls us to higher order thinking. Here we are invited to understand that love, at its best, is not so much an innate drive as an active, positive orientation towards others. It does not rely on warm feelings, as a child or immature adult might do, but acts like a grown-up, who knows that sometimes they have to rise about maelstrom of competing passions. The Gospels too, teach us that the way of Jesus is the way of love that does to others what we would have them do for us. It is a mature decision to rise above crass self-interest and serve the best interests of the other.

And so Jesus, again and again, teaches and shows what higher order love is. When questioned what he means by loving one’s neighbour as oneself, he tells the now well-known story about a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves. When violence threatens the Jewish traveller’s life, the Samaritan’s loving action, circumventing ingrained prejudice, is the answer to the question about what it means to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Higher order love is the ability to turn outward from oneself toward others. The love that reaches out in the ways that Jesus and P does not deny the power of anger or violence, but absorbs it, and reinvests that energy for the common good.

Being human means we will always live in the midst of disquietening paradox. "In the end, says philosopher Zan Boag, "our lives will comprise an amalgam of positives and negatives, highs and lows, skips and trips. Much will be shaped by luck, be it genetic or geographic…, but no life will follow an inunterrupted trajectory upwards…. However, what makes us fully human is the ability, and the willingness to walk a mile in another’s shoes.” (NewPhilosopher #23)

Love and violence. As ubiquitous, as essential, as ever-present and as dominating they can be in our everyday lives, in the end, only one is eternal. Only one survives the cleansing and purifying fire. Only one is worth seeking and holding.

As St Paul says, "Love never ends”, and "Love is the greatest virtue”, therefore, "Make love your aim…”

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