Love is not easy. In fact, it is the “most difficult of all of our tasks,” writes Ranier Maria Rilke to a young poet, “the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” How do I love my political opponent, you ask, or the sibling who regularly tells me my beliefs are mistaken, the leader who betrays me, or the perpetrator of violence? Maybe you can’t at first, and your honest appraisal is the beginning of the way through?
Love can feel great, but intention matters more than emotion. It’s the practice of seeking the good of the other, intending her well-being, dying to the temptation of winning power over, and rising to the eternal truth of building power with. It is believing in your own worth and humanity and granting that value to any so-called enemy. Love looks less to change the other person’s mind and more to find unexpected common ground. Love honors truth-telling, but uses compassion to get there. Love invites, includes, respects, shares.
Love is the defining value of the way of Jesus, and in that it calls people of faith to two types of action. One kind is within our small circle of influence—courageous, consistent engagement with family members, friends, colleagues, or neighbors. The second call is on a larger scale—employing love with others as an organizing principle and methodology to transform systems for the better. Both practices foster well being: the hard slog of confession, accountability, and reconciliation is what heals us.
Moreover, love can teach us how to have difficult conversations across palpable divides, which seem increasingly common these days. Maybe you’d like some training to help you navigate the relationships you find yourself in or hope for? Reach out to me if you are interested.
Last evening I was struck to see what I wrote to you on October 1:
When a leader is wounded at his center, the system suffers, and that is our reality as Americans at this moment. Whatever one’s political party, our President is not well. Deflection, distraction, self-centeredness, and bullying are not the signs of health, and accommodating such destructiveness in one who wields such power imperils the whole. I pray for President Trump every day.
Republicans and Democrats at their best stand for humane values grounded in good will, good governance, elected representation, responsible stewardship of resources, and securing the well-being of our most vulnerable neighbors. Solving our problems through honest debate and respecting each other’s right to informed and differing opinions invites growth and brings out the best in us. Interrogating our history with open eyes, open minds, and open hearts enables us to recapture our soaring aspirations, even as we confront the fact that we have never yet achieved our Constitution’s goals for all of our citizens.
I believe if we will continually confess the sins which have thrown obstacle after obstacle in the way of so much human thriving, especially for people of color, with God’s grace, we can finally build a more perfect union.
But we won’t get there if we don’t ask ourselves what ails our principal leader, confront every measure of collaboration or colluding committed for selfish ends, condemn any act of or invitation to violence, seek his healing, and our own.
Three and a half months later, I still seek the healing of our President, by holding him in the Divine Light and expressing my concern to our representatives in Washington. But more than that is called for in this moment.
When a person crosses a line of discipline or honor, the most loving response is to hold him accountable for his actions; the healing of the individual and of the whole require it. The faith and future of our children and grandchildren depend on it. Words matter. How we speak and what we say to others is our responsibility, especially for a leader, and most especially for the President of the United States.
Years of bending the truth has warped the foundation of our institutions, and his followers’ anger over that time was less addressed than stoked, as kindling for his self-serving fire. On January 6, President Trump incited the storming of the Capitol Building and the horrible violence of that day. Further, the President could have intervened to stop the violence, and he did not. His words and actions are contemptible, and with humility we must confront him with them; evil triumphs when good people remain silent. An impeachment is a logical response to his putting personal pique ahead of good of the nation. Unity between parties and people can only grow from the solid ground of mutual accountability and respect.
Love is not easy. Love is the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. But only the hard work of love can save us, as individuals and a nation.