“Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor”. So says Paul in today’s lectionary reading, Romans 13:8-14. So, I am thinking about how to love myself so that I do no harm to myself. The trouble is that most of the ways I can think of to love myself actually turn out to be bad for me. Sitting on an easy chair eating chocolate and watching TV turns out to be causing me a lot of harm. Back muscles getting sloppy, becoming overweight and goggle eyed for a start. I begin to doubt whether love and kindness the same thing.
We are constantly urged to be alert and active for our own health’s sake. Use it or lose it, we are told. Exercise those muscles, stretch your brain cells, limit your intake, go for it. Spend more time out of doors, get wet and muddy and just see how exhilarated you feel afterwards. Not very kind, is it?
And loving our children? Well the story is similar. Evidently, Baby Boomers are so long lived because we played outdoors in the dirt, acquiring resistance to all sorts of diseases. We ate a diet with little sugar or fat and less calories than we do now, so we grew up lean. No TV meant that boredom led to inventiveness and creativity in finding things to do. Walking to school strengthened our bone structure.
And what of the children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers? The trouble is that in loving them to bits, we desire to make their lives easy and safe. Detol adverts have a lot to answer for. Anyone would think you were preparing to use the toilet as a serving dish. We run them to school in the car, clogging up the roads and poisoning the environment. We provide them with TVs and gaming machines in their bedrooms to disturb their sleep and inhibit them from playing outside in the rain and dirt. Children are more likely to be harmed by someone within their own family than by anyone outside, so perhaps we should tell them to go out and play on the street with strangers!
And our old people? Perhaps they need to get out more too? All of us need to feel that we can affect our environment, and that does imply a struggle to control it. We should perhaps encourage our elderly relatives and friends to do more for themselves despite the aches and pains. Watching them getting the tea for us with an effort is perhaps a better expression of loving.
And people who live beyond our reach overseas, whose lands provide us with the luxuries that do us so much harm? When they are hungry perhaps they just need us to get off their backs, stop exploiting their lands so that they can grow food for their own families?
Perhaps love and kindness are not the same thing at all.