Out of the (little black) Box

Hey. Watch this real quick. When you’re done tossing your pink frosted cookies, come back and we’ll chat:

Love Story, or beginning of epic slasher flick?

Ok. Thanks for coming back. Now, where do we begin: a)terrible acting, b) shameless commercialization of love, or c) icky gender roles and the notion that women are afraid of loud noises?

I’m going to go with ‘all of the above’ and say D) The dangerous notion that love can fit into a little black box.

Advertisers have their way with us, you know. It is frightening how much they shape our notions of what we should be. Commercials influence our body image, our means of measuring success and happiness, and our notions of what a family should look like.  Even those of us who don’t spend big bucks on jewelry and roses have some version of the little black box stuck in our head–a lingering, adolescent understanding of what love ‘looks like,’ and who it’s for.

I’m all for telling people we love them. I’m even for having it marked on the calendar every once in awhile. But I’d love to see us stop reaching for the commercial love meter every time a special day rolls around. Today, we should all write our own kind of love letter, celebrating that which is real and right in front of us, and may not quite fit into the little box.

Because for me, real love is the guy who will clean up kid barf and change two sets of sheets, because you are so sick in the next room you literally cannot move. Real love is the guy who knows exactly how you like your steak cooked, and buys your favorite bourbon. Real love is a fast food dinner at midnight, in a hospital room, because you just gave birth on your 7th wedding anniversary. Real love is the guy who calls you when your favorite cheesy 80′s song comes on the radio, and holds the phone to the speaker while singing in the background. Real love is the guy who yells at you to pick up your shoes, for the 800-th time. Real love is the age-old argument about who did, or did not, see Josh Malina outside a bar in Vancouver on a long-ago summer night. (DID. I absolutely did.)

That’s what’s real for me. But I could smack some version of that on a jewelry commercial, and i’m pretty sure it would make somebody else roll their eyes. Because for somebody else, real love might not be of the romantic partnership variety. It might be more about a sibling who’s seen them through a rough patch; or an old friend who always shows up at just the right moment; or a faithful pet who is always keeping watch at the door for the beloved’s homecoming.

Would I like to see commercials diversify? Sure. I’d love to see a jewelry store proposal involving a same-sex couple, played in primetime on the networks!  (good game, Crate and Barrel spring catalog.) I’d love to see more stay-home dads on commercials for cleaning products (you go, Tide and Ikea).  I’d like to see a designated holiday to celebrate the blended family, the single parent, and those who care for aging loved-ones.  I rejoice in any little sign that we are relinquishing our harsh and damaging boundaries about what life and love should look like, and who is invited to enjoy it.

I’m grateful for my many loves and the fullness of my life today. But as I look around at how many people are hurt and diminished by–or just left out of–the often limited sentiments of this day, I am especially grateful for progressive communities of faith; those who seek to expand the boundaries of love. I’m grateful for churches that work to transform the culture, rather than fit into that which culture dictates. For every blended family, same-sex couple, divorced or single person, trans-gendered seeker and questioning pilgrim that we welcome to our table, a jewelry commercial dies a quiet death, and the world becomes a better place.

Sometimes, love does not fit into the box– because love is 6-feet-7-inches tall and those boxes are tiny. Sometimes, love does not fit into the box because it is so far-reaching, prophetic, and joyful that no earthly frame can contain it. Thanks be to God for the many gifts of this day; those that we will never see advertised or printed in Hallmark form, but that transform us all the same.

And if my Valentine is reading this let me say: 1-while i am all for changing the culture, I am not at all opposed to chocolate. And 2–I did so see Josh Malina. I did.

Thanks to my friend Russ for taking this pic of all the poor souls at Target last night. If it comes a storm in the Dallas/Fort Worth area tonight, these dudes are all set.

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...


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