Author Archive | Nick Love

You can’t love someone you don’t like

Among religious folks, we like to make up little sayings. Among our kind it can help to expedite conversations, and convey a big truth in a simple way. Something like longform technical jargon.

The problem is, these sayings tend to experience a drift away from their original intention. Or lose their context. Or were never all that helpful in the first place.

Here are some pretty common examples of what I’m talking about: God helps those who help themselves. Spare the rod, spoil the child. What would Jesus do? Hate the sin, love the sinner. Love is a verb.

There is one more I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about lately. It’s not quite as snippy or concise, but it seems to be planted in the advice religious folks give in some form or another: “you can love them without liking them.”

This disconnect between like and love sounds like really solid advice. It seems like something you tell a buddy before he goes off to a family holiday and has to deal with his crazy aunt and his drunk uncle.

But I’ve tried this one, and it just doesn’t work. It’s all smiles in the open and sneers behind closed doors. How can you love someone you can’t stomach to be around?

Here is where I think this advice is rooted: it’s a cop-out solution for enemy-love. This sort of love-don’t-like posture seeks to free us from the need to share a table with our enemies.

At the root of what we describe as “liking” somebody is really more about finding value in a person. It’s like this: I once had a friend tell me off for saying I don’t like the Beatles but I respect them. He said I had no business pretending I respected them if I didn’t enjoy listening to them.

Years away from that conversation, I realize that I just wanted to feel important by saying I respected the Beatles, but I really didn’t want to identify as a Beatles’ fan.

I wanted all the glory with none of the responsibility.

Let’s face it – it’s a hell of a lot of work to love somebody you desperately want to be with. Think about your relationship with your spouse, your best friend, your close family. It’s no easy thing to love well.

And it’s even harder to love enemies well, even if the degree of enmity is relatively mild. It’s really nice to have a get out of jail free card, right? Ok, all I have to do is smile and be polite to people I don’t like and – voila! – I’m a loving, awesome person.

The love-don’t-like strategy make us feel super good about ourselves, but it misses the whole point. Love is an incredibly powerful tool for bringing goodness into the world and driving out the ugly garbage that requires us to call out for justice.

Love is a force that can build bridges across deep and painful divides. It can bring alignment where there was only division. It can forgive the unforgivable.

Love requires that we sit at the table with people, and in the fullness of love, we eat, learn and listen. Even drunk uncles and crazy aunts are worth eating with.

And we are worth eating with, those of us who have held to the facade of love-don’t-like. Drunks and crazies, have mercy on us who have been uppity and unwilling to give ourselves fully to a world that needs fewer platitudes and excuses and more whole-hearted peacemakers.

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Go Forth and Make Projects of All Nations

I live in a spiritual tradition that’s addicted to fixing people.

When I was a kid, trying to figure out how to own my inherited faith, I had a bizarre and upsetting experience with my buddy’s older brother. I was trying to explain to him why I didn’t think lying was such a big deal. We went back and forth, and when he couldn’t change my mind he lost his temper. As a good conservative religious person, he couldn’t cuss me out. Instead threw out the biggest threat he could think of: “Good luck explaining this to God when you die.”

Now I’m sure I’m not the only person who had a bad experience with an older brother. But that sort of attitude is indicative of the fix-it lifestyle. Where do you think he learned that conversation stopper?

The fix-it lifestyle is easy to spot. Fixers foist their particular paradigms on you. They do a lot of talking, and they do a lot of doing. And they hurt people. More often than not.

Tonight a friend told my wife and me about a recent bombardment of missionary support requests. They had their scripts and set up their coffee meetings and did a lot of talking about mission and money. Some peddled more than others. But none of them listened. They were so focused on their mission that they couldn’t see my friend, who by the way is doing kind of crappy right now.

At the end of our chat, my friend told me: “It’s hard to be positive about people when they don’t know or love me.”

As she processed with us, we wondered together how people can expect to go and fix somebody “out there” when they don’t even know how to love people around them.

The problem with “mission” is it pulls us from the present. If we are always on mission for people we are never in relationship with people. It’s too easy to look past human pain when you’ve got a job to do.

It’s like when you’re late for work. You’re focused, you’re determined, you’re going to stop for nothing.

Imagine living your daily life like that, being late to work. That’s the mission-first life.

Have you met someone like that? It’s exhausting. They come off really self-centered. And be honest, you kind of wish they would go away forever.

I’ve spent enough time in the world of faith to wish they would go away. Because I’ve watched people sent through the meat grinder in the name of mission.

The worst part is this people-eating machine lives inside so many cause-driven people. It doesn’t matter what the cause is: God, guns, climate change, health, feminism. The tyranny of the mission-first life crosses all ideological boundaries.

In the religious world we use the language “idolatry.” It’s when you find something good that makes your life a little more beautiful, but then you get stuck and think it’s the only way to see beauty. And then you think it’s the only thing that’s beautiful.

The mission, for many, blinds people of faith to the beauty of God. I think it’s what Jesus of Nazareth was pointing to when he said “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”

He was pointing out the stuckness of his critics, and their myopic devotion to something beautiful that had become more like a prison.

There is a ton of important important work to do, plenty of justice causes to champion and plenty of worthy campaigns to wage. But none of it matters if you live a scorched earth life on your way there. You end up making a bigger mess than the one you’re trying to clean up.

So let me offer a mantra that I find helpful to avoid stuckness and unnecessary injury: “People, not projects.”

And I offer this out of personal experience. I’m a fix-people addict in recovery.

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Violence Matters

The month that my wife and I moved to Chicago, there was a fatal shooting at the end of our block. The shots woke us up.

A few weeks later, there was a fatal shooting across the street from the apartment that hosted our Bible study.

After that, things seemed to quiet down in our little corner of the city. And I got caught up in the stress of life, and for the most part forgot about our early experiences.

But a couple weeks ago, as we rounded the corner heading to Bible study, we were bombarded with blue flashing lights. Half a dozen cop cars, a fire truck, an ambulance, and police tape. When we made it inside our friends’ place, they looked relieved. Multiple gunshots just minutes before. It explained the weird text message they sent: “Be safe.”

In that moment, I experienced some serious nostalgia for my old life of automobile-slavery, settled in the shadow of Los Angeles. And then I had some visceral urges for cul de sacs and SUVs.

I mean, we moved across the country to join a church, not have our life shaken up.

So why a church in Chicago? What’s so wrong with cul de sacs and sunshine? Everything? Nothing? Honestly, I don’t know anymore and I don’t think any of the reasons matter. What matters is we are here; Chicago is our home.

And violence matters to us now, in a way it never really did before.

To be honest it’s still the same numb detachment when I see the numbers on Twitter from a different part of the city: 5 dead in Southside neighborhood over the weekend.

But it’s different when it happens in the neighborhood my kid plays in. It’s different when I look up and see the blue light of a Chicago PD CCTV surveillance camera, and all I can think sometimes is “Jesus.” In the swear sense, and the prayer sense.

And I don’t really know what to do other than pray. And the praying is so hard, because prayer always connects my reality to the reality of others. And my experience is just a small piece of the bigger violence that our world is enduring right now: Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and Syria. The woman just hung in Iran. And last I read, we’re over 10,000 confirmed cases of Ebola.

While the prayer is painful, it’s what helps me stay rooted.

When I was looking at pictures from the early days of Euromaidan in Ukraine, I remember this Eastern Orthodox priest, in full vestment (plus winter gloves) standing in the gap between angry protesters and riot police, praying for peace.

Standing in the gap between life as it exists and future hope, well that takes faith and belief and grit and a small dose of incurable insanity.

It took me a long time to learn this, but the discipline of prayer isn’t about twisting the arm of a reluctant deity to fix all our problems. It connects us to a bigger reality, even broader than the reality of suffering — the groaning of humans for peace.

I can’t say this for sure, but my hunch is that crazy priest in Ukraine didn’t step out between the fighting because he assumed he could fix everything. He just stepped into a higher truth of human reality, in that moment. In the midst of conflict, he was in the midst of peace.

Peace is bigger and truer than violence, but we need eyes to see it. And we need the solid footing to stand for it.

I’m awake, thanks to a shooting that finally mattered to me. My eyes are open, because now I live outside the numbness of numbers and the coddling of cul de sacs. Now i’m learning how to stand.

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