Monday, January 30, 2012

The Problem of Love and Frozen Banana Stands

The problem is love.

What is the solution to the problem of love? Scripture shows us some solutions as offered by man since the fall.

Onan's solution is the favorite of the modern day. Onan was called to raise up progeny for his dead brother (see Genesis 38). This call to give of oneself for the good of another, this call to will a gift of self, this offering of self-sacrifice, is love. But Onan, like your contraceptive using Catholic neighbor, like the fornicating teens you see bleary-eyed at noon on Sundays at the breakfast cafe, like the Yuppies downtown who want Cappuccinos more than kids, spilled his seed. He went through the motions but made sure his "act of love" was certain to be sterile. Onan would have been hailed as morally responsible in our era, an era that encourages consumerism and self-indulgence rather than producer-ism and self-giving.

Onan is the archetypical metro-sexual, the first modern urban man. We'd put him on all the talk shows.

God struck him dead.

Fast forward to Matthew 25, the other end of the Bible. Here Our Lord gives the Parable of the Talents. Three stewards are given talents to invest while the Master is away. Two of them invest and reap a double reward. One takes his talent, digs a hole in the ground, and buries it. Here we see an early Gollum, a proto-Scrooge; here perhaps we see even ourselves. He tells the Master he buried his talent out of fear. Well, in avoiding fear he inherits fear and is sent to hell.

I have often wondered what would have happened in this Parable if one of the stewards had said, "Well, Lord, I took the talents you gave me and invested them in a frozen banana stand on the beach. I worked day and night, put up flyers, rented billboards. I even dressed in a full-size banana suit and passed out from heat stroke, but the only ones who came were the paramedics and even they didn't buy any bananas. I'm really sorry, Lord, but not only are your talents gone, I also mortgaged my house and they're taking that away from me too." Would he have received a "Well done, good and faithful servant?"

The answer is yes.

You're only sent to hell if you bury the talents, not if you invest them and lose them. In fact, it is impossible to invest them and lose them.

Somewhere in between Onan and the Talents we are told why. Isaiah 55:

So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

Now I've had a few talents in my day. I've buried many and invested many. No frozen banana stands, but I've started and run a singing telegram business, a dinner theater production company, and (most foolishly) a touring troupe that evangelizes through drama. In each case I've learned that the business world is unpredictable, you will be required to work harder than you ever thought possible, you won't be investing just money but every aspect of your life and every fiber of your being, and if you look for your reward to be worldly, you will be miserable and unhappy.

It's kind of like love.

For a long time in my youth, I read a lot of psychology, including much of Freud, the collected works of C. G. Jung, and a lot by folks like Rollo May and others who took a kind of philosophical approach to the human soul. The one thing they're really all writing about is love. For Freud, love was "libido", which was simply sexual desire. For Jung, "libido" was psychic energy, or interest in anything. May talked a lot about Eros, by which he meant something more than just lust.

What they all saw was the Problem of Desire. How do we get what we want? What if what we want is something we can't get or should not have?

Of course, historically, the Stoics and the Buddhists have solved this problem by rejecting Desire, by digging a hole and burying it.

The Modernists, by contrast, have gone in the other direction. They have looked not to the Parable of the Talents, but to the story of Onan mixed with the first part of the Prodigal Son - Masturbation meets Dissipation - or "follow your desire but frustrate the end toward which your desire is drawing you" - which is, if you think about it, Puritanism and Paganism wed.

All of this is quite interesting, but nowhere in history or philosophy or religion do you really find an answer to the problem of Love ... until you get to the Cross.

Christ neither rejects desire, nor does he indulge it. He takes upon Himself the self-centered twisted evil of our fallen desire and crucifies it. He offers Himself for us, feeds Himself to us, and shows us how to love, shows us that love and pain, love and self-giving even unto death, will always go together, will lift us out of the holes we dig for our talents and ourselves, will lift us out of our graves.

The Law that is written in our hearts gives us the channel or the boundaries in which to pour ourselves. While many a middle-aged married man thinks an affair with his 22-year-old secretary will solve the Problem of Love and make him happy, this would instead be a spilling of seed. While many a sensitive youth thinks that staying out of trouble and hiding behind a screen name will save him, this would instead be a burying of talents.

Instead, the old guy is called to love his missus, the old gal he's with, though this may be as appealing to him as Onan's call was way back when. The young guy is called to get off the internet and maybe get his heart broken in the real world, and learn that even if you love your banana stand, you're going to get hurt.

In short, the only mature psychology is the psychology of Christ.

The only answer to the Problem of Love is the Cross.

1 comment:

Kevin F said...

Kevin are you writing a book yet?