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.