By Mark Azzara
My Dear Friend,
On Friday, when the Supreme Court issued its gay marriage ruling, there were all kinds of placards outside the court proclaiming that everyone is now free to love. When I saw those signs I remembered what happened to me years ago. Twice within a matter of months two friends asked me, “What is love?”
I thought the question was pretty straightforward when I heard it the first time, but then I tried to answer it and discovered that I couldn’t. When I heard it the second time, I knew it was really God challenging me to come up with an answer. And the fact that I made my living off words as a journalist was an added impetus to take up that challenge.
I can’t tell you how relieved I am that the Supreme Court has decided the gay marriage question. Perhaps now, after decades of legal wrangling, we can finally get around to addressing the real issue. I have an idea of what the real issue is, and I plan to write a letter to you (perhaps as early as July 13) in which I will identify and address it. But I can’t do that now.
I can’t sit here and simply tell you what I think the real issue is because I would be guilty of preaching or dictating. Before I speak I must listen — to you. We must begin by engaging in a conversation. And since “love” seems to be at the heart of this issue I think that’s where we should start. So let me ask you the same question: What is love?
I invite you to respond, regardless of what side you’re on regarding gay marriage. I won’t write a letter to you next week because I don’t want to distract you from the need to thoughtfully look at and define this word. You thus have two weeks to respond. Take as much of that time as you want. Seriously. I urge you to do what I must do — take time to think before writing. Don’t just dash off any old answer that pops into your head.
Ask yourself, perhaps even look up, how the word “love” is used in the Bible and in American society. Is it possible there are multiple definitions of that word? Does the answer depend on one’s age, economic or life circumstances, cultural upbringing, history, religious beliefs and/or gender?
The legal wrangling has simply been a public example of how we, as human beings, prefer to shout at one another rather than listen. So this invitation also is really an opportunity to practice the lost art of listening carefully to what others say, in the hope of learning something. I certainly hope to do so.
I may try to engage with those who answer this question in the comments section, but only to help flesh out the answers. And I certainly hope you will engage one another as you read and ponder all the answers, and reconsider your own response in light of the others. If, after reading the other comments, you want to re-write your answer, go ahead.
I can’t wait to hear from you, but I’m also being honest when I say I have no way of knowing what you’re going to say. Some of you may think you know where I’m heading and what I’ll say. Don’t go there because you’re probably wrong. Since I don’t know where the conversation is headed, how can I know how I’ll respond to it?
A conversation about love may alter what I believe to be the main unresolved issue in the gay marriage debate. My opinions regarding gay marriage have changed in the past year — yes, just the past year — so I acknowledge the possibility that they may be altered again. And if they aren’t altered it’s because I will have a response to those who will engage in this discussion.
I encourage you to spread the word. Tell your pastors and parishioners, coworkers and neighbors, friends and even enemies what’s going on here and invite them to join the conversation. Seriously! As I said, we need to have an honest conversation, if only to remember how it’s done. I think we will all learn something. And God knows we need to.
All God’s blessings – Mark
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