Forget flowers. Chocolate? Nah.
Valentine’s Day is about one thing: national resistance in the name of love.
Make no mistake. St. Valentine was hard core. He lived during the 3rd century, under the threat of persecution. Legend claims that the Roman emperor prohibited young men to marry. He believed that married soldiers would be distracted by concerns for their wives and children.
St. Valentine rebelled against this national edict in the name of God, indeed, in the name of God who is Love. Valentine wore a purple ring with an engraved image of Cupid. The ring was a sign to Roman soldiers that he performed marriages.
The Roman emperor soon discovered Valentine’s act of national resistance. He executed St. Valentine by beheading.
Valentine’s head was apparently preserved in an abbey in Winchester, England. How romantic …
St. Valentine came from a long Jewish and Christian tradition of national resistance based on love. Following Jesus, it resists unjust and unloving national policies. But it’s also a love that refuses to demonize those who enact those policies. Rather, like Jesus teaches, it’s a love that embraces all people, including those we call our enemies.
It’s also a love that takes risks. From the lives of Jesus and St. Valentine, we know that when we resist unjust national policies, the powers and principalities will come after us. And when they do, we can respond to them with love.
According to Jesus, love is not primarily an emotion. Loving our enemies isn’t about mustering up enough positive feelings for them. Love is an action. It’s going the second mile. It’s giving the shirt off our back.
For St. Valentine, it meant showing love to the Roman soldier who guarded his jail. The soldier’s daughter was struck blind. Valentine could have responded with resentment – “Serves you and your daughter right, you jerk!” But instead, he responded with love by healing his enemy’s daughter.
But Valentine was eventually killed. So, did he fail in resisting the Roman Empire? No. After all, Jesus was killed by Rome, too. In resisting Roman policies of oppression, they showed the world the way of God’s love.
The Christian faith is not politically passive. It’s politically active. It does not mimic the hatred and violence that permeates human cultures. Rather, like Jesus and St. Valentine, the Christian faith responds by entering into that hatred by resisting it in the name of nonviolent love.
In the same way, we are called to resist unjust and unloving national policies of our day. In the tradition of St. Valentine, we would do well to follow the Rev. William Barber in resisting national policies that:
- Demonize Muslims and immigrants.
- Promote “racist and unconstitutional gerrymandering.”
- Attack “the life-saving Affordable Care Act” without having any policy to take its place.
- Promote voter suppression
- Undermine democracy by refusing to allow the power of the presidency to be questioned.
Valentine’s Day isn’t about emotional sentimentality. It’s about love that resists injustice. But more than that, it’s a love that is determined to show the world another way – the way of justice and healing and radical care for all people.
But how can fight for justice while loving our enemies? This is really difficult, but there are some helpful tips. First, Jesus teaches us to pray for them. It’s hard to hate someone you are praying for. Second, separate the person from the policies. This helps us to resist hating the individual. Stop referring to Trump as the “Big Orange Monster.” That divisive language gets us nowhere. Instead, we would do well to focus on unjust policies. And third, turn the other cheek. Whenever a political opponent demonizes you, realize that it isn’t really about you. It’s much more likely to be about their fears and insecurities. Let the insults run like water off your back. Speak to the fears and not the emotions behind them. Finally, work on your sense of humor. If you are a Republican, laugh at SNL. If you are a Democrat, some of the things Trump says can be kind of funny. Kind of… maybe … Anyway, the point is, it’s important to take our search for more a just and loving world seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously.
So, happy Valentine’s Day. May you resist in the name of love.