I remember a few years back when I really began to pivot in my spiritual journey. I was on the trail of discovering what I knew to be true but was yet unsure how to articulate it.
One day I was wrapped in a sort of quasi-argument with someone in my church community and like many before this man was agitated and confused by our conversation.
We kept doing this awkward back and forth until we finally reached it.
As we spoke it seemed clear that his perfectly ironed and pressed worldview was beginning to falter, and in his mounting frustration I saw a moment of vulnerability that I don’t necessarily think he meant to show.
“My life’s goal is to love well,” or something like that I had just conceded.
With a mixture of longing, fear, and denial in his eyes he snapped back, “But what does that even mean?”
A few awkward seconds went by while all of his religious instruction took back over his thinking from his momentary flirtation with his own uncertainty, “we need things we can measure, we can count, we can see. We need to see the fruit of our labor in how many people come to faith, that’s what love means.”
He confirmed something I knew all along but finally was said in plain language. I think this is a subconscious truth buried beneath mountains of denial and notches on the belt, fruit harvested and labor rewarded as they say.
Of course, in retrospect this was an extreme example regarding the confusion with love in the church, but the longer I kept my eyes open, the more I found it to be an unsettling reality in many spiritual communities. Some, it seems, are just better at talking around or hand waving through the existential crisis of realizing we have no idea how to love.
Few of us at all, in fact, seem to know how to love. Or even what love is. If it’s not the physical fruit of “souls won” or “truth told” or “missions trips taken” or “times I was nice” than what is it?
I wasn’t sure how to reply to such a stark contrast of worldview in the midst of this deteriorating discussion. So I smiled in anxious heartbreak.
“This is where we part,” I thought silently to myself.
Since that time I’ve grown in a capacity to articulate why I was comfortable seeking love as my life’s goal, and many around me would remark on my “compromise” or “backsliding.”
Since this time I’ve been learning how in the evangelical, sacred text-based culture that I came from, deciding that people don’t need you to save them is the ultimate sign that satan has won over your heart.
From another perspective though, I found Love. And Love doesn’t need converts.
Sometimes, it seems, that in our pursuit of “winning souls” we were straining at gnats while missing the camel, traveling land and sea to make men and women twice the children of hell that we were, to paraphrase an old teacher.
After all, a world based on the premise of me, “empowered by the spirit” or not, saving other people from a a vague metaphysical eternity of torment seems like a contender for hellish living if you ask me.
So in this vein of thought, I want to unpack three ways that we are encouraged to love from the christian tradition. You don’t have to be a christian to read or be encouraged by these meditations, they will in no way be sectarian or denominational. Having come from the tradition of the christian church, however, it is a healthy starting point for my own psyche as I begin to parse through the ways that my faith actually informs me to live verses the hell in which I was spiritually weaned.
I desire that together we can sow the seeds of hope repaired and love restored in a short series of mediations.
First, “Loving Your Neighbor”
Finally, “Love Those Who Hate You.”
We will see how each of these three arms of love work like a family where each member is uncomfortably dependent upon the other.
I’d be honored if you’d join me.