What were you doing fifty years ago? If you are younger than 55, you either were not alive or have no real memories of the time. But a significant number of my readers were alive and remember that summer. As the media later dubbed it, it became known as the “summer of love.” But I also watched some programs that noted that in some cities it was a summer of violence and riots.
Most of us who remember those days did not know that it was the “summer of love” and only came to know it as such much later. A preacher friend of mine wrote in Facebook that he started the summer learning how to kill people as a new recruit in the military. However an experience with God changed that for him and he returned home feeling that he was called to save people as a minister rather than to kill people as a soldier. (If you want to read the story, look up Jerry F. Reeder’s Facebook page.)
I had a decidedly less spiritual summer in 1967. I was the head life guard at a Christian camp just north of Minneapolis. There were regular spiritual experiences and Bible studies, but I was not deeply moved by them. Instead, my experience was much more hedonistic. There is something about being a life guard that is attractive to the opposite sex (even though the movie Baywatch bombed). For the first time in my life, I was cool. I was able to have my pick of the girls and made the most of that opportunity (although it remained G-rated). Even natural disasters, like a nearby tornado, became an opportunity to hug a bunch of scared girls. It was definitely a summer of love for me.
But it had nothing to do with real love. It was much more about physical relationships than self-giving love. In Greek, it would have been different words: eros not agape. The erotic love is not necessarily negative. It was the normal word for love between husbands and wives. But the word Jesus uses in the New Testament is the less common word “agape“, or self-giving, self-sacrificing love. It is the kind of love demonstrated by Christ as he voluntarily gave up his life for us. It is the kind of love that the early church demonstrated as they shared their resources with those in need. It is the kind of love that inspires us to choose against self-interest when it may be better for our neighbors. It is the kind of love Jerry Reeder chose.
I attended a funeral this past week for someone I met 32 years ago. At her service there was a lot of scripture read (by her grandchildren). But the one that stood out most to me was from 1 Corinthians 13. This beautiful poem of love is read often during weddings. It is much less common in funerals. But it was most fitting for Mary Lou West Walker. She personified that kind of love to all who knew her.
What a legacy to leave! During the 60’s, a new chorus was popular among young Christians and it is still heard from time to time in churches: “They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love.” When we come to the end of our lives, what kind of love will most represent us? Will our friends, neighbors and family say the most memorable thing about us was our love?
That is my prayer for you and me.