I just picked up a book that Brother Dennis recommended. I don’t know exactly how Brother Dennis came into my life. Or exactly why. Or even exactly who he is, other than redeemed, rugged, real.
And recovering. We’re all recovering.
In the two evenings I’ve sat in a room with him and other writers, the clay of my soul has been imprinted in a marvelous way. Stretched and molded with words and imagery and questions without clear answers.
The book we are currently reading together tosses out questions I have wrestled with since I was a teenager: How can I live as a devout Christian without being hostile to other faiths? Yet how can I be accepting toward those of other faiths without weakening my Christianity? How do I love what seems out of the realms of lovability?
And then, when I do open my arms to cherish and be interested in those of other faiths, how do I learn to love those who I perceive to be the “crazy Christians”? The ones who hold the “Jesus is going to kill you” signs at the end of the Rose Parade, or who bomb abortion clinics or shower hate on the LGBT community.
The injustice and fury boil up inside of me as I think of “those people.” I don’t want to be associated with anyone who professes to follow “my Jesus,” and uses his name to threaten, judge, dismiss or scare others. But how do I fight against anger and rage without anger and rage? How do I battle exclusion without excluding the excluders? How do I tolerate the intolerant?
Somehow, in order to live the way I profess to want to live, I have to include violent, hate-filled, thieves, robbers, murderers, abusers, and intolerant “wall-builders” into my heart of love. I have to reach out with hospitality rather than hostility, even to the hostile. I have to be willing to live with kindness and compassion toward the unkind and compassionless. I have to treat those who march with “Jesus is going to kill you” signs with the same care as I would if Pope Francis came to visit.
I’d rather draw a line and shove the “bad guys” over the ledge. Simple. Clean. Effective. Then I can get back to loving my brother.
But as I meander down the ‘get rid of haters’ path, that quiet whisper that I have grown so fond of (even in its chastening) reminds me—“Susan, true Love is not afraid of unlove. It moves in close, even to the things that threaten it, despise it, spit on it and mock it. Perfect Love, even when crying out against unlove longs to gather the unloving beneath its wings.” (Matthew 23)
Oh, little whisper of truth, how I want to live that way, but my capacity for perfect-love is mortal-sized. Actively loving the unlovable seems a stretch far beyond my horizons. I reach, but I fall short in gasps of judgmental repugnance. (Especially when watching the 2016 election process.)
Yet, amidst the despair of my hopeless unloving, my novice philosophical musings have offered me something tangible. Something that might be able to move me closer in the direction of acceptance, kindness, compassion and maybe even love.
I can shift the spotlight. I can dim down the focus and energy I place on the “bad guys” out there, and up the wattage on the “bad guy” in here.
In my own heart.
If the world is going to change, I must change first. I must be giving the condition of my own heart infinitely more attention than I am giving the condition of another’s heart. My sin and self-aggrandizement, my deep concern about my own comfort and success, my lack of love and disinterest in the poor, the orphaned and the discarded must be infinitely more significant to me than another’s failures, poor choices, or all out acts of hatred and violence.
Instead of following the old line-drawing adage of “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I need to practice, “Love the sinner, hate your own sin.”
Because I lose touch with Love the minute I make someone else’s lack of love my battlefield.
The minute I draw that line, I fall off the ledge too.
Thomas Merton says it well, “Instead of loving what you think is peace, love other [people] and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are war makers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
When I stop, stare at my own selfish, wounded, broken, irreconcilably vanquished heart and begin to realize that every bit of broken, unlovely, irreconcilable me is met with love and made more lovely than you could imagine by the grace of God. That’s when I start changing. And when I start changing, the world starts changing.
I don’t have to make the world a better place by battling, rejecting or calling out the “bad guys.” I can make the world a better place by recognizing each day that God has loved the unloveable me.
And that has made all the difference.
If you get a chance, watch this video by Glennon Doyle Melton. Her words are better than mine.
I’m writing with a lovely group of ladies on Loving the Unlovable. Click here to read Cissy’s story.