Agape: Love of God, Love of Neighbor, Love of Time
There's a great book I've been reading lately called Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari. Hari has suffered life-long depression. Most doctors throughout his life told him that depression is a problem with one's brain chemistry, and the only way to treat it is by finding the right medication. Hari set out on a journey to discover if that is really true, if his only chance for glimmers of hope in his life was to find an almost magical combination of drugs that could trick his own brain chemistry into "normal" order. What he discovered is that there are many contributing factors to depression, and various social scientists have been hypothesizing for decades that many (if not most) people suffer from depression for multiple reasons, hardly any of them having to do with a patient's biology. In his travels and research, he was able to name 9 things that most people in the "developed" world have lost connection with, and the loss of these connections leave all of us more prone to depression and other mental illness and disorders: Meaningful Work, Other People, Meaningful Values, Childhood Trauma, Status and Respect, the Natural World, and a Hopeful or Secure Future. His thesis is that by reconnecting with these essential human resources, all of us can improve our quality of life, regardless of whether or not we have specifically been diagnosed with some form of depression.
It turns out, the author is a somewhat controversial figure. But the science in the book appears to be widely accepted.
This is one of the reasons why we are studying Agape all summer. The most commonly used word for "Love" in the original Greek New Testament, Agape is described by Jesus as God's greatest commandment to God's People: Agape the Lord your God with all you are. And there's a second commandment like it: Agape your neighbor as yourself. Pour out your love in service and kindness toward God, yourself, and your neighbor as yourself.
In recent years, I have been amazed to discover how social scientists are discovering more and more each year that this Agape Way of Life is scientifically proven to be essential for healthy human living. Lost Connections describes the ways that we have put materialism and independence ahead of our commandment to Agape, and we are all suffering mentally and emotionally because of it. Years ago, a team of British economists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, wrote a book called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. The book proves statistically and mathematically exactly what the title claims; the more equality found in any given society, the more healthy and thriving the society. To state the inverse of that: the greater inequality in any society, the more everyone suffers equally. To put it theologically: When we cease to demonstrate Agape toward others, we don't know how to demonstrate Agape toward ourselves, we fail to demonstrate Agape toward God...and we all suffer because of it.
It all seems to be connected. Not only is Agape our central commandment as human beings...but there are consequences for choosing other ways of life over The Way of Life...consequences in our natural world, in our every day lives, and in our eternal souls.
in the last weeks of our study, we have seen how Agape has the ability to transform entire towns and neighborhoods. We have reflected on how Agape changes us as individuals from the inside out. This week, we begin looking at how Agape changes our relationship with Time itself. As Hari points out in his book, if we are unable to envision a Hopeful and Secure Future, we are more likely to be shortsighted in our decision-making, more likely to disconnect from meaningful longterm projects in exchange for immediate pleasure, less likely to love and serve our neighbors and more likely to keep our time, treasure, and energy for ourselves.
This Sunday we will be treated to a variety of Folk Music from musicians in our own congregation. The music, our service of communion, and our time spent together will help us to envision a future that is open, full of possibility, empowered by the practice of Agape throughout all space and time. We hope you will choose to join us to make space...to set aside time...to allow the Eternal God of Creation room to speak, to dwell, and to act among us.