Acts of Charity

Friday, July 30, 2010


Best read with a warm cup of coffee.

I just finished a fascinating book called, "Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir," by Kate Braestrup. I happened to see it in the check out line at the library, when my arms were full of children's books. I grabbed it.

I mean, how can you resist that title? Plus, it rang a bell. I think I read a review or heard somewhere that it was good - it was.

The author, Kate, is the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. That is, she hangs out with game wardens, and provides comfort when a snowmobile goes through the ice, or a hunting trip goes wrong. She also officiates at weddings, and has been married twice. Her first husband, a highway patrolman, was killed in a car accident, leaving her with four children. Believe it or not, she sort of (really) found Christ after that, and went to seminary. Now she has written two memoirs - the first is called Here if You Need Me: A True Story, and I intend to read it soon.

I found Kate, her experiences, and her take on life, to be thought provoking. The book is an easy read, a page turner, but get ready; she has a SAT-level vocabulary. She uses the word "quotidian" (daily, usual or customary) at least twice. I also had to look up, "contumacy," (obstinate and willful rebelliousness) "pentateuch," (the first five books of the Old Testament) and "solipsistic" (egoistic self-absorbtion) - among others. But her overall message is fairly simple. It is, love.

On page 61, she writes, "God is love, John's Gospel tells us. That's a whole theology in three words. The practical application of that theology - God is love - is nearly as simple. Be as loving as you can, as often as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you live. Why should you do this? Because. . . . Start with your spouse."

You should know that Kate isn't preachy. She writes honestly about difficulties in her first marriage, and how they got better. She tells stories about other relationships she gets to observe as chaplain. She writes about getting her heart broken, and finally, falling in love again. All of that makes her message refreshing and convincing.

Kate explains that when John says, "God is love," he uses the word agape. Agape is different than eros (sensual love) or philos (brotherly love). Agape became the Latin word caritas, which is where we get the word charity. "Agape, or caritas, is unconditional, selfless, and self-giving. It is love that is offered entirely for the well-being of the beloved, a love that earnestly desires the wholeness and happiness of the one who is loved." (page 161). It is how parents, at their best, love their children, and how spouses, at their best, love each other.

So, her message isn't that marriage is an act of charity, like, "My poor, pitiful husband, look how much I do for him!" (You were tempted to think that, weren't you?!) But that marriage, and life, should be an act of agape. Godly love. One that earnestly desires the wholeness and happiness of the one who is loved.

As they might say in Maine, "Something to think about, eh?"


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2 Responses to “Acts of Charity”

  1. What a great message! I will definitely pick that book up the next time I am at the store. Having just been through my first year of marriage the above sentiments really strike a chord with me. I was not raised with agape, but I certainly want to raise any future children that way. I did not observe agape in my parent's marriage, but it is what I want for mine. I think we need constant reminders to love in this way, however, as we are only human. It seems like this book might be a great reminder to start with. Thanks Court!

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  2. What a great message! I will definitely pick that book up the next time I am at the store. Having just been through my first year of marriage the above sentiments really strike a chord with me. I was not raised with agape, but I certainly want to raise any future children that way. I did not observe agape in my parent's marriage, but it is what I want for mine. I think we need constant reminders to love in this way, however, as we are only human. It seems like this book might be a great reminder to start with. Thanks Court!

    ReplyDelete