THIS week, tickets have gone on sale for the next Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature, taking place once again in Bloxham School (21-22 February). Its theme, “The Power of Love”, was not chosen arbitrarily; nor is it a marketing attempt to scoop up anyone disappointed on St Valentine’s Day. The purpose is to emphasise love as the prime mover in human lives, and God as its source. There has been no time in history when love was not vital to human thriving at the personal, national, and international levels, and its lack lies at the heart of most of the cruel or selfish acts that people commit, both individually and collectively.
The festival coincides loosely with the release of deliberations of the Living in Love and Faith project. Our hope is that the project has stayed true to its intention to widen the conversation beyond the physical expression of homosexual love, which has so obsessed the Church in recent decades. In the end, though, love, as we are sure those involved in the project acknowledge, is only faintly discernible by committees and focus groups. Its variety and subtlety are best appreciated when mediated by artists and poets.
It is fitting that the festival’s venue is a school — though regrettably when the students are on holiday. Love is not a curriculum subject, and it is assumed that children will learn it from infancy at home and with their friends. Beyond this, they have art, literature, cinema, theatre, and so on, to make up any shortfall in direct experience. Our concern is that this generation of children — the sons and daughters of the first generation of digital parents — are at too great a remove from the written word to be able to tap into the great insights recorded by former generations. This is a concern, too, for a Church that continues to communicate the realities of God’s love primarily through words.
The language of love is stored in the literature of love. If people are unfamiliar with the vast library of love — exuberant, painful, tortured, racy, ribald, fulfilled, biblical — then where is their articulacy in love to come from? The Instagram generation communicate through images with great fluency and wit; but the fleeting attention that snatched photos command is unlikely to contribute much to the depth of wisdom needed to translate love into a wider context. Much is at stake. Thanks to hormones, there is little to fear about the persistence of romantic love, although even this is undermined by the ubiquity of idealised sexual beings online. The point of concern is the bridge between individual love and love of all, which is expressed politically, financially, and practically. This bridge seems to be taking less traffic these days, and when individuals look across to the other side — to the world of politics, government, and business — what they see makes them less inclined to cross. If love is not at the core of our communal lives, we will find ourselves in a world of anger and division.