Here’s the other reason we don’t love one another: It’s just too much work.
We get tolerance confused with love, but that’s actually apathy. We think simply ignoring jokes that marginalize people because of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic situation, or sexual orientation is love, but that’s actually cowardice. We think who am I to judge is love, but that’s actually laziness. We think writing blog posts and sermons about about how Jesus tells us to love people is love, but that’s actually just… well, it’s just not: “Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close” (Søren Kierkegaard).
In other words, we think we’re loving people, but in reality we’re doing not much of anything. At all.
And I can’t decide if I’m more frustrated at the Church when it’s finger-pointing and name-calling and happily telling “those people” how they’re wrong and where they’re going at as a result . . . or when it’s doing not much of anything at all.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had an opinion on that:
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . There was a time when the Church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. (Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963)
Here’s the in-my-face problem: “The Church” at which I’m frustrated—and in which MLK, Jr. was disappointed—isn’t an “it.” The Church is me.
I’ve been around, in, and about the Church for so long—and, as a result, have had so many disheartening experiences—that I all too easily slip into the briar of cynicism. Honestly, it’s been much more comfortable sitting among those thorns, leveling criticisms, than it is to fight my way out of them. But then Shane Claiborne had to go and smack me around a bit:
We decided to stop complaining about the church we saw, and we set our hearts on becoming the church we dreamed of.” (Irresistible Revolution, 2006)
The Church I dream of requires that we–I–love people: unapologetically, actively, immediately. That is just really stupid hard to do. Know why? Because love requires a willingness to be exposed, disliked, ridiculed, mocked; it requires a commitment of time, energy, emotion, resources; it requires a readiness to be wrong, to risk, to repent, to reconcile.
Well? Today, I’m willing, committed, and ready.
Eh . . . maybe it’s more honest to say I want to be those things.
So, if you see me walking around bloody for a little while, it’s okay: I’m just climbing out of the briar patch, and I’m trying like crazy to become the church I’ve dreamed of.