Out of the Zoo: The Trials of Love

Annie Thorn is senior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie makes some connections between Valentine’s Day and the Trump impeachment trial—JF

Valentine’s season was in full swing last week at the Harbor House, the honors program residence at Messiah University. On Monday, a few of us drove to Dunkin to get heart-shaped doughnuts. A few days later, I shoved ten festive helium balloons in the backseat of my truck and brought them home as a surprise for my housemates. As boys delivered flowers to their significant others, we quickly realized that a vase was not an item on most of our college packing lists. On Saturday, my housemate Amber got out sparkling grape juice and made chocolate-covered strawberries. We made paper roses out of old books and giggled at the strange illustrations printed on some of the pages.

In the midst of all our Valentine’s Day shenanigans last week, something more serious was underway about two and a half hours south of Messiah University, in Washington D.C. In the midst of our crafting and baking and celebrating love, the United States Senate was in the middle of an impeachment trial. Around 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, we found out former President Donald Trump had been acquitted. When I heard my housemate Chloe say that only seven Republicans voted against their party, my heart sank to the bottom of my chest. I wondered how my helium balloon could float so freely when the air felt so heavy on my shoulders.

Valentine’s Day is meant to celebrate love. As Christians, we tend to throw that word around a lot. But do we really know what it means? Do we really live it out? The kind of love that God requests of us cannot be expressed through flowers or chocolate, or even ten helium balloons. In scripture, God instructs us to love him and to love other people–but not just the ones that are rich or popular or fun to be around. He tells us to love the outcasts, the poor, the people who make us angry and those who creep us out a little bit. He commands us to love our enemies. I must admit, I am not very good at this–especially when it comes to politicians I don’t like. Because I am a sinner in need of God’s grace, the words that slip from my mouth can be hurtful, inconsiderate, and rude. Sometimes I don’t think about the consequences my words and actions will have on the person I am supposed to love. I have to remind myself, again and again, that God has commanded me to show everyone dignity and respect and love. No exceptions.

Yet at the same time, loving someone does not mean we have to approve of them. It does not mean we have to agree with the words they say, what they do, or how they treat people. It does not mean we close our eyes to the injustice that they perpetrate. Sometimes love requires rules, rules which have consequences if they are broken. For instance, if an older brother encourages his sister to burn the house down, would not both children face punishment? Would not the older brother, who is supposed to set a good example for his younger siblings, lose some privileges? Love requires us to offer dignity and respect, but it also mandates justice. It commands us to be warriors for the oppressed, to fight for what’s right. We must have a complete picture of what love is: respect and justice, grace and truth.