This week, Campbell UMC is watching “UP” together and our worship service is drawing from themes out of the remarkable movie. When I asked my daughter what she thought “Up” was about, she said without hesitation, “It’s about love!” And you know, she’s a pretty smart girl.
How many impulses can be attributed to the underlying human inclination to be in relationship with another person? To be known, to be affirmed, and to be thus connected to another human being is our life’s core purpose. The fulfillment of this purpose is experienced as being loved.
The flipside, by the way, is to know, to affirm, and connect to another person. The inclination toward relationship is mutual, and when the energy flows outward, we understand what it means to love. To love and to be loved, it seems to me, motivate just about everything we do.
These impulses flash in both positive and negative ways, though they arise from the same source. Consider Carl Fredricksen, the old man in “Up” whose wife Ellie dies after a lifetime of wonderful happy years together. They dream of adventure, imagine traveling to exotic locales and eventually building their home at the top of the near-mythical “Paradise Falls.”
Carl’s impulse to act at the beginning of the movie is a desperate longing for Ellie and a deep regret that their imagined adventures never happened, and it leads him to obsessively preserve their house and all of their possessions – even their mailbox. When the mailbox is knocked over by a construction worker, Carl’s frantic desperation (grief) causes him to physically attack the worker as he attempts to repair it.
This violence is completely out of character for Carl, who has been seen up to this point as a quiet, solid, and dependable man. But the impulse for his action is his powerful love for Ellie, a longing that has for so many years been easily fulfilled that he cannot redirect it after her death. It makes him do something he would never ordinarily have done, and he even seems surprised by it.
Russell is a boy who is trying to get his “Assisting the Elderly” badge for Wilderness Explorer Scouts, and so knocks on Carl’s door to ask him if he needs any help with anything. Russell is looking forward to the ceremony in which the badges are awarded, when “all the dads come” to be with their sons. We quickly learn, however, that Russell’s dad is out of the picture, and the longing that Russell feels is for the paternal relationship that he so deeply desires but does not have.
Russell longs for affirmation. Carl longs for adventure. And so, in their meeting and the development of their relationship, Russell becomes Carl’s adventure as Carl becomes Russell’s affirmation. Each knows the other and is known, each affirms and is affirmed, they connect deeply with each other and their relationship is a beautiful picture of love.
Jesus saved his last few words with his disciples for, “Love one another.” Paul says that the entire law is contained in the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 1st John 4 reveals that God’s very identity is somehow comprised of love. There is no more significant idea for children of God than love; everything else starts there – grace, peace, justice, forgiveness – without love none of these even make sense.
Love is supposed to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Or so Paul would have us understand. But what in the world does that mean?
Maybe it means, in part, that there is a “no-matter-whatness” quality of love. To bear, to endure all things – I get this. But to believe all things? …to hope all things?
All things? Really?
Maybe it means there is an attitude of openness in love. Not naïveté (believe anything you hear), but faithfulness. Knowing that, in a loving relationship, whatever happens is going to be okay. So you’re open to it, not afraid, ready for it.
In all things, I will have faith. In all things, I will have hope. Because of the love, you see. Because I am known and it’s okay, because I am being affirmed, because I am connected to another person in a positive, uplifting relationship. And at the same time I risk knowing another, affirming another, and connecting to another to uplift them and build them up, too.
That may be why love is the greatest of these.