Love the Sinner

Nashotah House, in the many years I taught there, was very saintocentric. Our daily lives revolved around Saints’ Days, many of whom I’d never heard. Not having grown up Episcopalian, I wasn’t accustomed to all the obscure people recognized as worthy of having their own day. I was, however, surprised to learn that the church did not venerate the two most well-known secular saints: Patrick and Valentine. Perhaps having its origins as an all-male institution, St. Valentine’s Day was considered a dangerous concept to commemorate? But no, he wasn’t even on the calendar of saints in the Book of Common Prayer. While the rest of the world was celebrating love, we were generally getting ready for Lent.

The truest holidays mark the observations of subtle shifts in nature. With our indoor, virtual lives, we’ve lost track of the fascinating rhythms of the natural world. The birds begin to pair off and mate, so the etiology goes, around this time of year. So to baptize that pagan erotic longing, St. Valentine was brought into the picture. So the story claims. Religions have always found love somewhat of a stumbling block. On the one hand, it is the highest ethical good—the greatest moral regard you can have for another person is love. (We try not to tell them that, because it might betray too much, however.) On the other hand, love can lead to physical intimacy and there things get a little dicey. Religions of all descriptions attempt to regulate sexuality. It may be a fearful thing, so perhaps we should put a saint’s face on it. Could act like cold water on the natural fires of biological creatures in February.


So instead, Valentine’s Day has become a secular holiday. Kids send one another cheap cards indicating their enforced regard for one another. Guys carry flowers awkwardly through the streets of Manhattan. The clerk at the chocolate shop, even several days in advance, sends you out the door by saying “Happy Valentine’s Day.” It’s the secret we all know. Ironically, the church has backed away from Valentine. Perhaps, if our religious institutions took seriously what it means to be human, and promoted love as the highest good rather than political conformity, we would truly have cause to celebrate. But don’t mind me—more likely as not, I’m just gazing out the window, watching for birds and the hope of spring.

In the Name of Hate

Saint Valentine’s Day: a minor holiday that no one gets off work or school, but which has both naughty and nice aspects to it. A day with long pre-Christian associations (sorry St. Valentine), the celebration has become an icon of love in the Hallmarkian holiday world. It is a welcome change to the weariness of winter that drags on around the northern hemisphere, reminding lovers and curmudgeons alike spring is on its way. A holiday of hope.

At the same time, an editorial in Saturday’s New Jersey Star-Ledger raises the ghosts of less pleasant times. The Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans is attempting to sponsor state license plates honoring General Nathan Forrest, first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. While pointing out that Forrest eventually distanced himself from the movement, state officials want to acknowledge his contribution to their state’s history. License plates advertise to the nation as a whole what states uphold as their most attractive traits. In a world where the Klan is still seething under the surface, with active groups in nearly all states, it is not hard to see that hate can not lead us forward. It has failed in the past and it has no hope of success in the future.

Among the most distressing, if not revealing, features of various hate groups is their outspoken adherence to “old time” Christianity. Religion is but one tool in their arsenal, but what makes it so deadly is that even “peaceful” religions such as Christianity have a violent heritage. The Bible can be used to justify genocide as well as rescuing the widow and orphan. Christianity has a long history of being used for political, often hateful, ends in America. It is a trend that is dressed up in its Sunday best for glib talk-show hosts and windbag politicians who claim that “old time” values (read “white privilege”) are what America needs. Do we really need more hate? It’s Valentine’s Day. Let’s give it a break on the rhetoric of hate for at least a day. Who knows? It may become a habit.