Because what’s more important than love?
The English language is limited in so many ways. Everyone’s heard that the Inuit have nine million different words for snow. Less well known is that the Greek language has several words for love. (Depending on the source, it could be as many as eight – though that list includes some Latin as well as Greek – or as few as three). Why would you use the same word to describe your feelings for a quite fabulous classic Beetle and for your most beloved person? Clearly an emotion or act with so many nuances needs more than one word. These are the most common.
Eros, the most familiar and most seasonally-appropriate, is of course romantic love, passion, desire. (Between people and other people, not people and classic Beetles. But doesn’t its profile look very valentine-shaped?)
Philia is love between friends (brotherly love, like Philadelphia) but also loyalty to our family, friends, and institutions (our jobs, for example, or communities of which we are members).
Storge is a parent’s love for a child, or love between family members. (Note to fellow word nerds: that's a soft g, so it's pronounced store-jay.)
Xenia is hospitality. Kindness to strangers and guests.
Agape is the most interesting to me. The Greeks considered agape the highest form of love, a love that is selfless and unconditional. It now typically refers to God’s or god-like love for humanity. Contemporary versions of the Bible translate agape as “love.” Every Christian wedding ever has included Corinthians 13:13, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (Translation from here.)
But in the King James Version of the Bible, Corinthians 13:13 doesn’t say love. To settle arguments between Catholics, Protestants, and Puritans over whose version was best, King James recruited scholars to translate directly from the original texts that make up the Bible. They referred to Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and English versions to ensure a translation that was as true as possible to the intent of the originals. Some Latin texts used “caritas,” or charity, for agape, and in context and according to the meaning of charity at the time, it worked (though prior English translations had used “love” for agape in Corinthians). King James, ever the traditionalist (and peacemaker), sticks with caritas. “And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
And in a contemporary secular world, in a blog about community, written by a blogger who is all about relevance, this is relevant because why?
In An Experiment in Love, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. writes “Agape means understanding, redeeming goodwill for all men… It is the love of God operating in the human heart. … Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. It doesn’t stop at the first mile, but it goes to the second mile to restore community. It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community. … If I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love.”
So agape is an ordinary virtue, not just a godly one. An ethical choice we make to treat others with an attitude of charity and empathy. An active extension of goodwill to create and preserve a civilized community. To use a contemporary phrase, it is leading with love.
And I couldn't bear to leave out this additional quote from Dr. King: “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”
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