I am the grandchild of Slovak immigrants.
When I started dating, some of my relatives asked, “Is she Slovak?”
Immigrants cherish their cultures and traditions. Their food, their language, their polkas are all a source of comfort in the new world.
They want their traditions to persist and thrive, so Slovaks staying with Slovaks makes sense to them.
Other relatives had very different question. When they heard I was dating, they’d ask, “Do you like her?”
These two approaches have been in a constant tug throughout human history.
I believe that although we enjoy fairytales about love overcoming great obstacles, it’s often different off-screen. We are more interested in creating obstacles to love. In our world, Cinderella doesn’t get to dance with the prince and beauty isn’t allowed to love the beast.
Fifty years ago this month, the Supreme Court struck down laws against interracial marriage.
Two years ago this month, the court ruled for marriage equality. Both decisions went against the tide and prompted a backlash. It begs the question — is relationship primarily about love or something else?
Putting love first is a significant evolution.
For most of human history, love hasn’t been the essential element in a relationship. Women have been treated as property, unable even to choose their spouse. Royalty couldn’t marry a commoner, interfaith marriages were opposed by religions, people of different races or ethnic backgrounds met resistance, and gay and transgender people were barred.
Relationships were a way to keep people in their assigned places. Everything else was an after-thought.
But love is crucial.
It is the starting point for every meaningful human endeavor, the heart of anything truly spiritual and God-filled. Without it, our lives and our relationships become empty voids.
Our many relationships — including but not limited to marriage — must be centered in love. We have clear biblical examples of what that means and how it’s often been resisted.
Jesus formed relationships with those he was warned to avoid. He was told that God didn’t want him around many people he spent his time with — Samaritans, Romans, tax collectors, women, fishermen, the sick, and the poor.
Regardless, he went out of his way to love them and develop relationships with them. This infuriated the religiously observant people.
But Jesus still loved all of these people, his friends.
His love-first approach wasn’t popular then, or now. I believe that we all have a problem with love and relationship. Our fears, insecurities, and self-doubt get in the way and our ego is challenged.
But loving relationships take us somewhere that we can’t go by ourselves. They bring us into a deep encounter with God who is love. Our loving relationships are God’s means of transforming us.
Love alone can truly transform us. Love beckons us to stop hiding behind our laws and fears and to open ourselves to a deep experience of grace.
Only love can fulfill the law. Love alone is the measure. And Jesus’ followers must live by the same guideline. Their love must transcend and topple all barriers and limitations.
While it’s true that traditional relationship has been about something other than love primarily, it’s time for change. Instead of asking whether two people in a relationship are of the same faith or race or background or anything else, let’s ask if there’s love at the heart of it.
Let’s continue the movement to redefine relationship, the way a rabbi did 2,000 years ago and the way so many others have done with their lives as well.
Let’s make love the measure.