Retaking Valentine’s Day!

I recently read of a guy who went to buy a Valentine’s card and asked a clerk to help him pick out one. She looked and finally held one up. She read it to him, “To the one and only love of my life, Happy Valentine’s Day!” The guy replied, “Great, I’ll take 4 of them!” It sounds like he might have commitment issues, but at least he was ready for Valentine’s Day.

St. Valentine’s Day is nine days away! I hope every love-bird is getting ready for the big event. I know that I’ll be making a trip to Hallmark and try to get just the right card for Cindy. Her other perennial favorite is for me to purchase cut flowers from Fresh Market and arrange them myself. It’s all in the effort, I guess, but isn’t it always with love?

St. Valentine has been purported to be the patron saint of lovers for centuries. Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine. However, the history behind the actual person and his actions is cloudy at best. Some say he was a priest who secretly married couples during the reign of Roman emperor Claudius II. Claudius had outlawed marriage so that he could draft more single men for his army. Supposedly after his arrest Valentine sent notes to Christians that were signed, “From your Valentine.” There are stories of his officiating at his jailer’s daughter’s wedding, too. According to tradition Valentine was beheaded by the emperor on February 14, 269 A.D.

What makes all this so interesting is that February 14 is the same day that had been dedicated to Roman love lotteries for over 800 years. Love lotteries were a Roman matchmaking scheme whereby eligible singles in towns and villages drew names of the opposite sex so that they could be paired for a specified time period. These love lotteries were held on the day before February 15, which is, of course, the 14th, the day dedicated to the Roman god Lupercus, so that couples could be matched. I guess they didn’t need eHarmony or match.com.

Needless to say, 800 years of a coupling custom was hard to undo even when the empire became mostly Christian. After all, love is what makes the world go round. Therefore, whether there was ever a guy named Valentine who sent love notes or not is immaterial to the greater worship of love. So, conveniently, Valentine, or the story of Valentine, was canonized and made a saint so that Christians could usurp yet another pagan holiday and turn it into something good.

Ironically, the suspicious origins of Valentine’s Day caused the Roman Catholic Church to drop it as an official Feast Day in 1969. In reversal of the church’s co-opting of a Roman mating ritual, our contemporary pop culture recaptured the original intent of February 14 – a day with an emphasis on Lupercalian tokens of love. The irony is that what was pagan-turned Christian has now been co-opted by the candy makers and greeting card companies, plus a host of other suppliers. So maybe we’re not sure if it’s love that makes the world go round or money.

Valentine’s customs through the so-called Christian centuries have been celebrated in a variety of ways. In the Middle Ages, for instance, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentines would be. They wore these names on their sleeves for a week. It’s where we get our notion about people “wearing their hearts on their sleeve,” meaning that it’s easy for other people to see or know how they’re feeling.

Here’s how I feel about Valentine’s Day, saint or not. I’m all for showering our true loves and loved ones with expressions of affection. It never hurts to let people know that they are appreciated, valued, and loved. As a matter of fact, it’s time for the church to take Valentine’s Day back from the culture. When it comes to love we don’t need to prop up some semi-historical figure like Valentine when we can do better. There’s no better example of love than Jesus Christ. If we love people like Jesus loves then chocolates will be in order year-round! Go get that perfect card!

Valetine's Day

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A Love Story for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is upon us, but because we have a Cabinet meeting, Cindy and I will celebrate this coming Saturday. Cindy and I have been married for 37 years, and they have been great because she’s great, and God is even greater! She has put up with me and my quirks for a long time! I love her more today than ever! The glue that holds us together is our shared commitment to Christ. We knew that from the beginning.

That’s how we met actually. She and some Christian friends from Winthrop College were staying together at Rev. Jerry Robinson’s Presbyterian manse in Clover, SC. He and his wife had unofficially adopted Cindy’s roommate. Somehow I got wind of the news that a group of single young Christian ladies from what was then an all-girls college were going to be together. Ever an opportunist and a recent high school graduate, I thought driving 90+ miles to Clover from Edgefield, SC would be a welcome event for a guy wanting to hit it off with some older college girls. It would be tutelage for my upcoming arrival at USC. So off I went.

I’ll never forget walking into the house. There were these wonderful young women, but nothing special, no fireworks, no signal flares in the sky. They were nice, great even, but, then, this raven-haired quiet beauty walked around the corner of the refrigerator in the parsonage kitchen, and immediately I was struck. I will never forget it! I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but that’s what happened to me. Her eyes were like homes of silent prayer! I could sense her heart and it was pure. You could read her like a Nathaniel in whom there was no guile. She wasn’t prissy, pompous, or a put-on. She exuded a simple elegance. She wasn’t “frou-frou,” but, “Wow!” what a depth of beauty. Right then and there I was in love with Cindy Godwin.

The first words out of my mouth, however, pretty much doomed me. I said it with all sincerity, but everybody else immediately thought it was a horrible pick up line, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” She declares that she said something back to me like, “In your dreams!” before dismissing me as a very poor example of mature Christianity.

Over that weekend, I backed off and tried not to be too direct in my approach. We talked in the Tudor-windowed sunroom, and shared in great conversations about God. I pushed her in the swing behind the parsonage. Then we freaked all the rest of the girls out when we went to a pond and I paddled her around in a canoe. After all, she was sort of the untouchable one in their group, like a Bride of Christ, and here she was letting this much younger whipper-snapper paddle her around. Beyond that, I also remember their suspicious stares as we walked the trail at King’s Mountain National Park and we both slipped into British accents as if the Continentals and the Redcoats were at it once again. I haven’t been able to do a British accent since. It was magical. We clicked. There was an overwhelming sense that we had always known each other.

I was in love. She wasn’t, at least with me. Her friends, I’ve been told, gave her the once, twice-over, and more, that I was too young, too much of a ladies’ man (I had dated the younger sister of her roommate – big mistake). Anyway, I was forlorn but not forgotten. Oh, I kept dating, which probably didn’t help my stature in Cindy’s eyes, though in all honesty I was looking for someone like her if she wasn’t going to give me the time of day. We saw each other at lots of shared retreats between the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship chapters at Winthrop and USC. We went to Inter-Varsity’s “Urbana 1973” with friends. The next 2 summers I got the job as Youth Director at her home church, Kingstree United Methodist. We were the closest of friends. I accepted our non-romantic plight, but was deeply in love with her. Our paths continued to cross as I spent lots of hours at her Mom and Dad’s, then as she graduated and took a teaching job in my hometown some three hours away from hers. We literally could not keep from seeing each other. We were partners in the faith, the Lord’s work.

Once, and only once, in that time of working and sharing together, I dared to try to take our relationship to the next level. We were sitting in her parent’s den and I reached out to take her hand, and, “Wham!” she slapped me. Her words were fraught with poignancy, “It would take thunder and lightning for me to ever go out with you!” In other words, she wanted a miraculous sign from God or it wasn’t going to ever happen. I wish I could say that I moved on, but I couldn’t. I occupied my mind with my mother’s illness and kept doing my job at the church. I was 19 and Cindy was 22. She was a school teacher on summer break and I was still a kid. She says now that she saw me grow up when I was dealing with my Mom, and she admits that she missed me when I was away – a first step. We shared lots of prayers during that summer of 1975.

Then one afternoon we were sitting on her parent’s front steps sharing Scripture and talking about a passage from Ezekiel that I felt was a description of God’s call on my life to be sold-out for Jesus. I told her of my call to be a minister and what that life would be like. Then I repeated to Cindy something that I had never said to anyone else but had often said to her because she was/is so special, “You’re set apart.” I really meant, “You’re set apart, too,” like me, probably in different ways, places, and with a different person. To my everlasting delight and amazement at God’s profound grace she said to me, “Set apart for you.”

 What? I almost couldn’t believe it. This woman that I loved was returning that love. She wanted us to be partners in ministry! And, guess what, when she said, “Set apart for me,” it started thundering and there was lightning! Yeah, I know, a summer thunderstorm in the lowcountry of South Carolina is a common phenomenon, but, let me tell you, it was a marvelous confirmation from God. We walked in the rain basking in the glow of the Holy Spirit.

We went back into the house soaking wet. We had never kissed or been on a date but I asked her to marry me. She said, “Yes!” Then we hugged and had our first kiss. Telling her parents and sister took some courage. Her Dad was great. Her sister was reluctant. Her mother was so sick that she lost 13 pounds in two weeks! We got married 5 months later on December 20, 1975. I was 20 by then and she was 22. I graduated a semester later from college and off we went to seminary in Boston.

It has been a wonderful and sublime journey ever since. She is my Valentine, my heart, my love, the greatest gift God has ever shared with me, save Jesus. We have been blessed by three precious children, children-in-law, and 4 grandchildren. God is love and makes our best hopes come true in ways that are beyond our imaginations. Happily-ever-after’s do happen. I know so! Hang in there and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love & Marriage: Mutuality of Purpose!

In the little bit of television that I get to watch last night was one in which the shows featured their annual Valentine’s Day entrees. Whether through sitcom or sermon this is a perfect time to focus on relationships – with each other and Christ. Both remind me of Lucy and Schroeder from the “Peanuts” comic strip. Schroeder is the toy-piano Mozart playing intellectual type and Lucy can be a bit difficult, but she’s had a consistent crush on Schroeder. Anyway, in one of the comic strips she walks over while Schroeder is playing and tries to get him to think about her and love. She asks him, “What is love?” He gets up from the piano and looks out into space and says, “Love: a noun or a verb meaning having a deep affection for a person, place, or thing.” Then he sits back down and starts playing again. Lucy then looks off into space and says, “On paper he’s great.” Unfortunately, this is too often true about our interpersonal relationships, and our relationship with Christ. On paper we’re great. How about our actions?

The Call to Action legislation says that we can fix our denominational problems through restructuring. I’m wondering if our real dilemma is a spiritual issue that all the tinkering in the world can’t fix. We need to bathe this whole process and the upcoming General Conference in prayer so that a spiritual renewal takes place. Perhaps if we do that first then all the structural pieces will fall more easily into their proper place. Paper answers cannot solve a spiritual problem. Love in action is a better place to start!

The speaker at a woman’s club was lecturing on marriage and asked the audience how many of them wanted to “mother” their husbands. One member in the back row raised her hand. “You mean you really want to mother your husband?” the speaker asked. “Mother?” the woman said. “I thought you said ‘smother.’” In a true marriage smothering doesn’t take place. There is a free mutuality of purpose and a partnership of respect.

Unfortunately there have been lots of people who seem to totally misunderstand what marriage really is. Such a man lived in Redlands, California. His name was Glynn “Scotty” Wolfe. Wolfe was married 29 times. Worse, this guy was a Bible-thumping Baptist minister! As far as I can tell he still holds the Guinness’ Book of World Records title as the most-married man. He died in a nursing home in 1997 at age 88, just 10 days before his first wedding anniversary with No. 29, Linda Essex-Wolfe, the world’s most-married woman with 23 husbands.

Even though they lived apart – she in Indiana, he in California – their 11-month marriage lasted longer than some of their others. Wolfe’s shortest was 19 days, while Essex-Wolfe once ended a marriage after 36 hours. Both of their longest marriages lasted 7 years. Wolfe left one wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed, and divorced another because she used his toothbrush. When he died Wolfe’s body lay unclaimed at the San Bernardino County morgue. Big surprise! No one wanted to pay the cost of burial. Since no one stepped forward to claim him, Wolfe was cremated by the county and put in a collective grave.

Wolfe attracted worldwide attention the year before he died when he wed Essex-Wolfe. The National Enquirer introduced the pair in his hometown of Blythe, California. At the time, he was married to a 17-year old girl from the Philippines. “As soon as I saw him, I knew I cared for him,” Essex-Wolfe said. “He was a charmer. He married a lot of beautiful women, a lot of young women.” They spent only one week together before getting hitched in front of cameras for a British documentary about marriage. Unwilling to leave her hometown, the bride flew back to Indiana the next week. Unwilling to venture into the cold weather of the Midwest, the groom remained in California. They stayed in touch by writing letters.

Scotty Wolfe was married 29 times, but he died alone with no one to give him a proper burial. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. The man didn’t understand either commitment or very little, it seems to me, about true love. If we don’t do better than Scotty Wolfe in loving our spouses, other people, and especially Jesus then we can forget about solid relationships! The Call to Action for me this week through Valentine’s is a Call to Love in Action!

A Trace of Grace

Someone has said it well, “A trace of grace works better than a pile of guilt.” My conclusion is that this is surely one of those things easier said than done. I know better thanks to a mother who was patient and eager to forgive. My father was like most dads I guess. His love was very conditional: if you made good grades, had the right friends, performed your tasks, and behaved like you should then you were okay with him.

When I thought as a teenager that I was doing some new misadventure or sin that my two older brothers had never done Daddy would pull me aside and remind me that it had all been tried before. He spoke good theology to me: “Son, There isn’t anything original about original sin.” What I got from that was the affirmation that though I thought I was unique in my contrived plans, I really wasn’t. Either he or my brothers or somebody else had already done it, so he offered that I should save myself and everybody else the trouble and follow the straight and narrow path. When I tried it anyway, as we are all bound to do at some time or another, he came down pretty hard.

 Mother had expectations just as high, but her love was unconditional. She authentically and simply loved. One of my biggest tests of her love was one of my many adventures. I was between fourteen and fifteen and didn’t have a driver’s license. Mother and Daddy were gracious enough to go ahead and let me start practice driving and fix up her old car. I relished taking driving trips with Mother down back roads. I took great pride in “souping” up her old car. I did all that I knew to do or afford to make that 4-door 1967 Chevy into a hotrod. But I still didn’t have a driver’s license.

Nevertheless, one weekend “Red” Rainsford was spending the night over at our house. On a lark, when Mother was at work and Daddy was busy, too, “Red” and I sneaked out, got into my car and I started driving. Here’s when I should say that no one else should try this when they’re underage! We first drove the eighteen miles from Edgefield to Saluda. Then we kept going as our bravado increased and drove the next twenty-something miles to Newberry. It was at Newberry that we made a fateful turn.

We got on the interstate, a fairly new experience in those days, and, therefore, one we thought was worth trying. We headed north on I-26, passing exit signs for places we had never heard of until we got just inside of Spartanburg. My conscience was bothering me about what we were doing. I was concerned that my parents might be worried sick. So we stopped. I tried to call home, but nobody answered. In a last ditch effort to assuage my guilt I called my Aunt Florence. I asked her to call my Mother and tell her that “Red” and I were fine and would be back in a couple of days. I hung up too quick to get any sage advice.

We kept traveling up the interstate and it was getting dark. By this time we were somewhere between a plan to find out where the interstate ended or go to Chimney Rock State Park above Lake Lure, North Carolina. My middle brother and some friends took me there several years before so it was vaguely familiar as an okay destination. Then the highway made the decision for us about finding the end of I-26. You may not remember the days when the interstate ended just below Saluda Grade between Tryon and Rutherfordton, but it did.

 We took a right and I drove through Rutherfordton, no license and all, and then headed north on NC 64 if I remember correctly. We ended up in Chimney Rock some where around 2 a.m.We saw a roadside campground and we pulled in. In my false bravado I told “Red” that he could sleep in the back seat of the car. The console prohibited that for me so I stepped outside and tried to sleep on the ground. It was warm even for the mountains, but I still couldn’t sleep. You know what kept me awake: my conscience! I kept thinking about my poor Mother in particular, worrying. She didn’t deserve that, so after maybe an hour I got back in the car and we headed home, arriving somewhere around9 a.m.Mother just hugged me. She hadn’t told Daddy. He thought we were at the Rainsford’s. In her grace I learned a lot about unconditional love. When she finally told Daddy what I had done years later, he still got upset that I would dare do such a thing. I was even more grateful for Mother’s grace. Indeed the Scripture is correct: “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

The word for me today is that though I will certainly make mistakes whether as a District Superintendent, a husband, father, friend, and in the roles of life – God is ever more gracious and will hear my plaintive cries for mercy. I should forgive as God in Christ has forgiven me. Nobody is perfect so I’ll do my best to live Jesus’ love and let that guide my thoughts, actions, and reactions. I’m glad for a wise Daddy and even more grateful for a loving forgiving Mother. Thank you, Jesus! I hope that I’ll be more like Christ today.

Valentine’s Day and True Love

St. Valentine’s Day is two weeks away! I hope all the love-birds out there are getting ready for the big event.  St. Valentine has been purported to be the patron saint of lovers for centuries. Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine. However, the history behind the actual person and his actions is cloudy at best. Some say he was a priest who secretly married couples during the reign of Roman emperor Claudius II. Claudius had outlawed marriage so that he could conscript more single men for his army. Supposedly after his arrest Valentine sent notes to Christians that were signed, “From your Valentine.” There are stories of his officiating at his jailer’s daughter’s wedding, too. According to tradition Valentine was beheaded by the emperor on February 14, 269 A.D.

What makes all this so interesting is that February 14 is the same day that had been dedicated to Roman love lotteries for over 800 years. Love lotteries were a Roman matchmaking scheme whereby eligible singles in towns and villages drew names of the opposite sex so that they could be paired for a specified time period. These love lotteries were held on the day before February 15, which is, of course, the 14th, the day dedicated to the Roman god Lupercus, so that couples could be matched. I guess they didn’t need eHarmony.com.

Needless to say 800 years of a coupling custom was hard to undo even when the empire became mostly Christian. After all, love is what makes the world go round. Therefore, whether there was ever a guy named Valentine who sent love notes or not is immaterial to the greater worship of love. So, conveniently, Valentine, or the story of Valentine, was canonized and made a saint so that Christians could usurp yet another pagan holiday and turn it into something good.

Ironically, the suspicious origins of Valentine’s Day caused the Roman Catholic Church to drop it as an official Feast Day in 1969. In reversal of the church’s co-opting of a Roman mating ritual, our contemporary pop culture recaptured the original intent of February 14 – a day with an emphasis on Lupercalian tokens of love. The irony is that what was pagan-turned Christian has now been co-opted by the candy makers and greeting card companies, plus a host of other suppliers. So maybe we’re not sure if it’s love that makes the world go round or money.

Valentine’s customs through the so-called Christian centuries have been celebrated in a variety of ways. In the Middle Ages, for instance, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentines would be. They wore these names on their sleeves for a week. It’s where we get our notion about people “wearing their hearts on their sleeve,” meaning that it’s easy for other people to know how they’re feeling.

Here’s how I feel about Valentine’s Day, saint or not. I’m all for showering our true loves and loved ones with expressions of affection. It never hurts to let people know that they are appreciated, valued, and loved. As a matter of fact, it’s time for the church to take Valentine’s Day back from the culture. When it comes to love we don’t need to prop up some semi-historical figure like Valentine when we can do better. There’s no better example of love than Jesus Christ. If we love people like Jesus then chocolates will be in order year-round!

Happy Valentine’s Day to Gabby Gifford, Mark Kelly and the Rest of Us

>I’m thinking about Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ and her husband Mark Kelly’s marriage as Valentine’s Day approaches and the O. Henry-esque “Gift of the Magi” decision that they are making about his Space Shuttle flight. I’m wishing them both Godspeed along with every couple across the world who have been through life’s gauntlet. With Cindy’s recent surgery and Narcie’s continuing saga I know that I’ve seen great love from my son-in-law Mike and I hope I’ve been an okay nurse to my dear wife. Here’s wishing a safe flight to Mark Kelly and Rep. Giffords.

Every disaster connects us, doesn’t it? For instance, cross my fingers, the Space Shuttle “Columbia” disaster contained a lesson for all humanity. There were Americans on board, of course, but there were also connections to India and Israel. Diversity in race and gender was also present. Space exploration has been a great human leveler. It combats our xenophobic national pride and from the vantage point of space we embrace the whole planet.

Astronaut Sultan Bin Salman al-Saud from Saudi Arabia once said after a shuttle trip: “The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.” The losses of seven souls on February 1 were not just American, Indian, or Israeli, but a diminishment of all humankind.

John Donne of England said it well, however antiquated, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

In every death, whether of innocence or life, the ripple effect amplifies the tragedy to universal proportions. This is what makes Adam and Eve’s actions in the Garden speak for all humankind and perpetuate self-will over God’s will. Original Sin may explain our human condition en masse, but it also finds its proof in the everyday actions of you and me. Is there anything original about Original Sin anymore? Each of us has done our voluntary part to carry on the bent to sinning with which we were born.

But, just as there has been a ripple effect of sin, there is the ripple effect of love. St. Paul said it something like this in Romans: Through one man Adam sin entered the world; through one man Jesus Christ comes grace. The ever-expanding example of love begun in Jesus reflects God’s best hope for humanity. In Jesus we see the victory of selflessness over selfishness.

The crew of the Columbia exhibited this same selflessness. Every journey into space is a selfless cry for a cosmic view of humanity. By its very nature, space exploration should imply an effort to better all people. From space we get a God’s-eye view of the world that comes closest to God’s own motivation to leave behind the safe confines of eternity and become bound by time and space in incarnation. In the selfless sacrifice and risk-taking of the shuttle crew we glimpse the God-like motivation to lay aside personal gain for the good of all.

James Gillespie Magee aptly describes this selfless heavenly vantage point:

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,

I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew –

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high unsurpassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

I’m Headed to Hallmark!

>

St. Valentine’s Day is this coming Sunday. I hope all the love-birds out there are ready for the big event. St. Valentine has been purported to be the patron saint of lovers for centuries. Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine. However, the history behind the actual person and his actions is cloudy at best. Some say he was a priest who secretly married couples during the reign of Roman emperor Claudius II. Claudius had outlawed marriage so that he could conscript more single men for his army. Supposedly after Valentine’s arrest he sent notes to Christians that were signed, “From your Valentine.” There are stories of his officiating at his jailer’s daughter’s wedding, too. According to tradition Valentine was beheaded by the emperor on February 14, 269.

What makes all this so interesting is that February 14 is the same day that had been dedicated to Roman love lotteries for over 800 years. Love lotteries were a Roman matchmaking scheme whereby eligible singles in towns and villages drew names of the opposite sex so that they could be paired for a specified time period. These love lotteries were held on the day before February 15, which is, of course, the 14th, the day dedicated to the Roman god Lupercus, so that couples could be matched. I guess they didn’t need eHarmony.com.

Needless to say 800 years of a coupling custom was hard to undo even when the empire became mostly Christian. After all, love is what makes the world go round. Therefore, whether there was ever a guy named Valentine who sent love notes or not is immaterial to the greater worship of love. So, conveniently, Valentine, or the story of Valentine, was canonized and made a saint so that Christians could usurp yet another pagan holiday and turn it into something good.

Ironically, the suspicious origins of Valentine’s Day caused the Roman Catholic Church to drop it as an official Feast Day in 1969. In reversal of the church’s co-opting of a Roman mating ritual, our contemporary pop culture has completely bought into the original intent of February 14 – a day with an emphasis on Lupercalian tokens of love. The irony is that what was pagan-turned Christian has now been co-opted by the candy makers and greeting card companies, plus a host of other suppliers. So we’re not sure if it’s love that makes the world go round or money.
Valentine’s customs through the so-called Christian centuries have been celebrated in a variety of ways. In the Middle Ages, for instance, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentines would be. They wore these names on their sleeves for a week. It’s where we get our notion about people “wearing their hearts on their sleeve,” meaning that it’s easy for other people to know how they’re feeling.

Here’s how I feel about Valentine’s Day, saint or not. I’m all for showering our true loves and loved ones with expressions of affection. It never hurts to let people know that they are appreciated, valued, and loved. As a matter of fact, it’s time for the church to take Valentine’s Day back from the pagans. When it comes to love we don’t need to prop up some semi-historical figure like Valentine when we can do better. There’s no better example of love than Jesus. Let’s love people like Jesus and chocolates will be in order year-round!

Valentine’s Day, Ready or Not?!

>St. Valentine’s Day is this coming Saturday. I hope all the love-birds out there are ready for the big event. St. Valentine has been purported to be the patron saint of lovers for centuries. Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine. However, the history behind the actual person and his actions is cloudy at best. Some say he was a priest who secretly married couples during the reign of Roman emperor Claudius II. Claudius had outlawed marriage so that he could conscript more single men for his army. Supposedly after Valentine’s arrest he sent notes to Christians that were signed, “From your Valentine.” There are stories of his officiating at his jailer’s daughter’s wedding, too. According to tradition Valentine was beheaded by the emperor on February 14, 269.

What makes all this so interesting is that February 14 is the same day that had been dedicated to Roman love lotteries for over 800 years. Love lotteries were a Roman matchmaking scheme whereby eligible singles in towns and villages drew names of the opposite sex so that they could be paired for a specified time period. These love lotteries were held on the day before February 15, which is, of course, the 14th, the day dedicated to the Roman god Lupercus, so that couples could be matched. I guess they didn’t need eHarmony.com.
Needless to say 800 years of a coupling custom was hard to undo even when the empire became mostly Christian. After all, love is what makes the world go round. Therefore, whether there was ever a guy named Valentine who sent love notes or not is immaterial to the greater worship of love. So, conveniently, Valentine, or the story of Valentine, was canonized and made a saint so that Christians could usurp yet another pagan holiday and turn it into something good.
 
Ironically, the suspicious origins of Valentine’s Day caused the Roman Catholic Church to drop it as an official Feast Day in 1969. In reversal of the church’s co-opting of a Roman mating ritual, our contemporary pop culture got back the original intent of February 14 – a day with an emphasis on Lupercalian tokens of love. The irony is that what was pagan-turned Christian has now been co-opted by the candy makers and greeting card companies, plus a host of other suppliers. So we’re not sure if it’s love that makes the world go round or money.
 
Valentine’s customs through the so-called Christian centuries have been celebrated in a variety of ways. In the Middle Ages, for instance, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentines would be. They wore these names on their sleeves for a week. It’s where we get our notion about people “wearing their hearts on their sleeve,” meaning that it’s easy for other people to know how they’re feeling.
Here’s how I feel about Valentine’s Day, saint or not. I’m all for showering our true loves and loved ones with expressions of affection. It never hurts to let people know that they are appreciated, valued, and loved. As a matter of fact, it’s time for the church to take Valentine’s Day back from the pagans. When it comes to love we don’t need to prop up some semi-historical figure like Valentine when we can do better. There’s no better example of love than Jesus. Let’s love people like Jesus, and chocolates will be in order year-round!