Peter Fenton

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Love Sees & Love Does

By Peter Fenton

Day 1 of 7: Love is Patient

Thinking about what love does is daunting, but change happens in small steps.

“Love is kind and patient,
Never jealous, boastful, proud or rude.
Love isn’t selfish or quick-tempered.
It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.
Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.
Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.
Love never fails!
Everyone who prophesies will stop,
And unknown languages will no longer be spoken.
All that we know will be forgotten.”

-1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (CEV)

If you’ve grown up in the Church, you may well be able to recite most of Paul’s description of love in this particular passage from muscle memory alone. It’s used in weddings. It’s used in funerals. It’s used in everyday sermons. It’s in your latte-and-quiet-time-recently-engaged evangelical friend’s Instagram bio—if you’re in Christendom, you can’t escape hearing the “love is patient, love is kind” passage.

It’s a commonly appropriated, sort of clichéd passage, but unlike a Jeremiah 29:11 or a Philippians 4:13, reading this passage divorced from the full context does not necessarily lead a person to a very different conclusion than a read fully informed by context (for example, how often have you seen Jeremiah 29:11 printed on a graduation card implying God has a plan for the individual recent graduate? OK, now how many of those graduation cards also pay acknowledgment to Israel’s captivity in Babylon?).

I think this phenomenon may have to do with the fact that the passage does not convey a direct relationship between the actions of God and the actions of the individual (as in, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”).

If we believe a love that spurs action is core to the identity of God, it’s probably worth taking a close look in the Bible at this long description of what love is, and then really considering what practical significance it has in the 21st Century.

There’s meaning to be drawn from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 no matter where you find yourself in your faith journey, and I want to spend this devotional series unpacking meaning that I’ve found inspired by these words on the page. In this series, I will unpack my (ever-evolving) understanding that love humbly listens—and in that listening, love realizes where unnatural boundaries have been forged and works to erase them.

So that’s daunting. Seriously, think about what a task that would be: to humbly listen and, in doing so, figure out where unnatural boundaries exist and then work to erase them. To carry that task out to its end, you’d end up (among so many other things) achieving world peace, reuniting every queer kid into loving relationship with their non-affirming family, dismantling the entire patriarchy and thereby creating full universal gender equality, and eliminating even the slightest structures and behaviors of racism. That’s a lot to fit into a Tuesday afternoon.

Never undervalue the power of a baby step in the right direction. Think of that banner that was in at least one classroom in every elementary school across the United States in the 90s and early 00s: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Hardly anyone learns to recognize the unnatural boundaries that exist within our communities and then starts working to erase them overnight. Making the small decision to listen to somebody’s story is a baby step. Believing their story might be a second baby step. As a person travels baby step after baby step to move in the direction of love, the heart begins to change. All in its own time—which is good because, as we know, love is patient.

“Love is kind and patient,
Never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.”
-1 Corinthians 13:4 (CEV)

Amen.

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