It’s Valentine’s Day, to be honest not a celebration that I have ever really approved of. I see it as yet another commercial venture to encourage us to buy and consume more – especially chocolate. I struggle with it a lot because it seems to me that the love we celebrate on this day is the very antithesis of the love of God. It started out as a religious celebration commemorating the life of St Valentine, one of the early Christian martyrs but today is more a celebration of romantic, erotic love and another opportunity for the consumer culture to have us all out there buying lots of chocolates, roses and other gifts that we don’t really need. I was overwhelmed as I walked through the supermarket yesterday by the array of red flowers, red chocolate boxes and red cup cakes that were strategically placed to jump out at me as I entered the store. This is not what love is about.
The bible tells us God is love and Jesus tells us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and love our neighbours as ourselves. This is a very different love from that touted on Valentine’s day.
I struggle because most chocolate is not ethically produced and there is no way we can love our neighbours, those who produce chocolate, when their lives are lived in misery. An article in Huffington post states:
According to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents or outright stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work in Ivory Coast and send some of their earnings home. The terrible reality is that these children, 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are under fed, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.
But chocolate is good for us and it is easy to ignore its dark underside, especially on a day like this. And love is good for us. My husband Tom sees this as a day to affirm his love for me and for others, something that I always deeply appreciate. And God is a God of love. Affirming love for God, for each other and for God’s world are extremely important, but that means being concerned for those who live in misery so that we can enjoy cheap chocolates today.
So what do we do about it? Here are some suggestions:
- Start the day by reading Paul’s wonderful description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Read it in a few different versions (available at Biblegateway.com)
- Read some of the wonderful love poems of Christian saints. My favourite is Fall in Love by Father Pedro Arrupe. I also love this reflection on How to Love God by Mother Teresa
- Be generous with your love. The New American Dream suggests rebooting Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day, seeing it not as a day to receive gifts of love but to give them. They suggest saying “yes” every time you are asked for a donation, a handout or a request. Give a $5 tip for a $2 cup of coffee. Bring in lunch for your co-workers. Certainly something to consider.
- Be generous with your gratitude. I think this is also a good day to show gratitude to those who love you and whom you love. Make phone calls to friends you have not spoken to for a while. Tell them how much you appreciate them.
- Purchase only ethically produced gifts and chocolates. Are you supporting conflict chocolate…yes, conflict chocolate, like conflict diamonds but with more caffeine.? How to Buy a Conflict Free Valentine’s Gift, gives some good suggestions on how to make more informed choices. There are many fair traded chocolate companies out there that we can support, and many of them are small locally owned companies, like Theo chocolates here in Seattle that we visited on Valentine’s day several years ago.
- Reach out to those who produce your chocolate and other favourite Valentine’s gifts. Watch The Dark Side of Chocolate with a group of friends and consider ways to make a difference in the lives of those who suffer for our indulgences.
Let me know what you plan to do this Valentine’s day in the spirit of the love of God?