It’s been one year since I woke to the sounds of helicopters flying in the vicinity. Since the sound did not ebb over time I knew it was something big. At 8 am I finally checked the local news to find out a first guess of 20 people dead at a club I pass all the time…Pulse. It turned out to be much worse.
I wanted to revisit these thoughts I wrote last year. I think they still are as timely as ever. We need more love and less hate in this world. Are we any better in those areas in a year’s time? But please read on as I consider what love is, and what it isn’t.
Several years ago a Facebook friend who I grew up with posted, “And there’s another reason why I will never be friends with a Republican.” Political lines are just one reason people find to divide. There are so many others. So many reasons to hate and draw lines in the sand. Turks hate the Greeks, Coke versus Pepsi, Yankees loathe the Red Sox, Hatfields hated the McCoys, Edison feuded with Tesla, the Bloods hate the Crips…so many reasons. But of all the issues brought to societal forefront in the aftermath of the murders at the Orlando’s Pulse night club, it is that we need more love. More love, less dividing lines.
I’ve wrestled a lot this week with my emotions and my responses. I watched a video in which a politician asked, “What was your response when you heard that 49 people were killed in a nightclub? Was your response any different when you found out that it was a gay night club?”
I live two miles from Pulse night club, I heard the helicopters at 5 a.m., I knew something big was going on, I was aghast when I finally read what happened at 8 a.m., and I couldn’t believe the worst shooting in American history happened two miles from my house. My response would be no different if it was a gay bar, or hip hop bar, or gypsy bar, or Rastafarian bar. I was aghast because people’s lives were taken too soon…in a horrific way. I have felt numb many times within the last ten days because a sense of security had been shattered. But to me it’s not a gay thing, or an LGBTQ issue, or a gun control soapbox, it’s a human thing. All people are created in God’s image and that is a sacred thing in my eyes. All people deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and love because they all have God’s fingerprint on them. So when some nutball, whatever his reasons were, takes lives, he attacks the sanctity of life. That is a human thing. That makes me angry.
A litany of hashtags and catch phrases have followed the Orlando events: #PrayForOrlando, #WeAreOrlando, #OrlandoStrong, #OrlandoUnited, #OneLove, #LoveWins and lots of rainbows have come with the designs and t-shirts. I’m proud of how our community has rallied together to support the victim’s families and declared that hate won’t define us. It is awesome to see how we are coming together to heal. There has been a tremendous expression of love here in Orlando. For that we Orlandoans are truly grateful. Thank you world for standing with us.
But I’m also a little torn and conflicted. Partly because I don’t think of this event as solely a LGBTQ thing, but as an “all of humanity” thing. I’m straight and I’ve never wrestled with confusing issues of sexuality that someone in the LGBTQ community may have. I am truly sad and sorry about this attack on the LGBTQ community. And even though I don’t know the identity struggles each individual might have had or what these attacks have surfaced in you, I do know sadness, struggle, weariness, confusion, and anger. I know those feelings because I am human. I am glad for the outpouring of love and concern for those in the LGBTQ community in Orlando from the people of Orlando and the rest of the world. You all deserve love, care, concern, and support in this painful season. May healing come to your heart. And may comfort touch each family and friend of Pulse victims. We have seen love here. And that is a beautiful thing.
I have struggled with how to show love in the middle of all this. With our baby being very sick all week, I was unable to attend rallies, vigils, and memorial services. However, lots of remarks in social media have affected me. We have heard heart-tugging and heart-warming stories. We have talked about examples of hate and condemnation and had our hearts gladdened by efforts of love and recovery. There is no shortage of stories to find. But one Facebook comment stood out to me, “You don’t have to drop your convictions in order to love somebody.” I can’t remember who among my wife’s or my Facebook friends said it. But to me it says something about love. And I think we may all need a refresher on what love is and what it is not.
If I only loved those who ideologically were the same as me, then there would be a lot of people in my life to dislike. My family’s view of life and the world is different from mine, but I love them regardless. If we can only identify with and love people who have experienced what we have experienced, then we will fail to love. Just because I haven’t had cancer doesn’t mean I can’t sit and cry with a friend who does. That is love. Just because someone’s struggle is far different from mine doesn’t mean I can’t pause and listen to their heartache and longing for love.
That is part of the “all of humanity” equation for me…we all have longings for love, inclusion, acceptance, to be treasured, and for Shalom. We all have God-given longings. When they aren’t met, which many aren’t, we feel sadness, loss, loneliness, pain, and so much more. To show love is to listen to the longings and for a few moments identify with, empathize and extend comfort. We are one because we all know the pain of unmet longings.
What Love Is:
Listening without having to give an answer.
Comforting even when it is uncomfortable for me.
Consistently giving to others with kindness.
Patiently being with a person, even beyond convenience.
Empathizing even if you haven’t experienced what they have experienced.
Withholding our own judgments and opinions.
Forgiving without expecting an apology.
Sacrificial…you give up something of yourself for the benefit of others without recompense.
Hard work…because love is messy, emotional and confusing.
A great summary comes from a surprising source–The New Testament.
Toby Mac sings a good definition in “Love Feels Like” when he sings, “Poured out, used up, still givin’, Stretching me out to the end of my limits.”
What Love Is Not:
Easy or effortless.
Critiquing a person’s feelings or rushing them out of that emotional spot.
Having to think just like the other person, holding their exact opinions, or
suspend your beliefs.
Self-indulging…the thought that if it isn’t satisfying me then I won’t give.
Convenient…sometimes we may not feel up to it but still need to give.
Devoid of conflict…sometimes love has to say hard things.
Thinking about what you are going to say in response.
Passive…it doesn’t hide from a necessary action.
A short article by Relevant Magazine gives a few ideas too.
These lists certainly aren’t exhaustive, but they are a great start. I would venture to guess the point many would take issue with would be the one about thinking just like the other person in order to love them. But that point gets to the heart of why I have struggled to love others well, and perhaps why you have too. I mentioned being straight. I’m not going to change my stance on that. Others have the right to choose how they want to express their sexuality, and I’m not going to change their stance. Are we at an impasse? No, because love crosses those divides and expresses care regardless of differences. But if I can’t cross this divide, I am choosing at best passive indifference and at worst, hate. And we can all agree that we need less hate, and more love. Erwin McManus writes in Soul Cravings, “Where there is no love, there is no value for life.”¹ I deeply value life, so how do I love?
To value life is to love all humans, regardless of their beliefs. It is not a prerequisite to believe as they do in order to love them. I’m not a big fan of popular rap music…the words are a little shocking to me. The world Eminem grew up in in Detroit is far different than mine in San Mateo, California. I would probably have a fascinating conversation with him about life because his is so different from mine. But to not love them because I don’t agree with the viewpoints of Eminem, Logic, and Kendrick Lamar is pretty short-sighted. After all, they are human, with the same God-given longings as me.
I think a more revealing question than the politician posed questions above is: would I react any differently if it was revealed that Pulse was a redneck club? Or KKK club? Or Wiccan club? Or NRA club? Or Sunni Muslim club? Or Republican club? Because any different reaction based on religion, ideology, sexual preference, political view, soapbox issue, whatever it may be, reveals a lack of love. It matters less to me whether Pulse was a gay night club than the fact that people’s lives were taken. People created in the image of God…taken. That upsets me!
Perhaps equally revealing might be: would there be a similar outpouring of love and support if it wasn’t a gay bar but indeed was that redneck bar? Or skinhead hangout? Or fundamentalist lounge? Or Muslim extremist lair? What does it reveal about our human condition if we cared less that 49 of those types of people were suddenly, tragically gone? What does it say about US when our ability to love and support those hurting in less “kind” social circles? Should we indeed look inside and evaluate whether we are loving well at all if we are only loving some people well and not caring about others?
So the challenge is to love ALL people well. Whether they are gay, or Hindu, or redneck, or liberal, or goth, or tattooed motorcycle punk. Start with the list above. How are you doing with those? Do you need make some changes so that you can love others well?
I am a Christ follower. I believe there is a God who loves us like a Father, and cares about every hurt and every tear. As a Father, He knows how to comfort the brokenhearted and has extended that kindness to all of humanity. I know because He has helped me in my depressed, anxious, suicidal, hopeless, heart-broken worst. I’ve had the sleepless, terror anxiety filled nights where I’ve thought certainly death is better than this. I would be dead if He didn’t rescue me from my pit. My Father loved me and carried me through. I believe His truths are timeless, unchanging, wise, and life-giving. I believe His comfort and hope makes a difference in lives when shared with gentleness and respect.
There are sentences in His Word that challenge me to love well: mourn with those who mourn; comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God; and “be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” If I don’t carry out those actions, I am not being loving. Withholding sharing the comfort I have received from Him in my worst times is not being loving. Some will find those words of comfort meaningful, some won’t. I can’t control that. But I can share about the hope that I have when it is appropriately timed. I will listen and empathize regardless of whether those words are meaningful. I can do that because I too know the longings of the human heart that sometimes go unmet. #WeAreHuman.
Erwin McManus sums these ideas up well.
“To give up on love is to choose a life that is less than human. To give up on love is to give up on life.”²
Love starts with me. I choose to see every life as valuable. I choose to not find race, religion, political view, sexual orientation, or nationality as a reason not to love. I choose to cross the divides. I am human. You are human. Our longings and hurts are shared. We suffer together. I choose to see our longings as our common ground. I choose to live out what the Father set in motion: He loved me even at my selfish worst. He crossed the divide first. I choose to sacrificially love because I have been deeply loved. I choose to forgive because I have been forgiven. I choose to value every person and treat them with dignity, respect and kindness. I choose not to repay hatred with hatred. I choose to never give up on life. I choose to be fully human, with all it’s pain and joy. I choose to love!
Will you join me?
¹ Erwin Raphael McManus, Soul Cravings, Intimacy, Entry 5, page 2
² Erwin Raphael McManus, Soul Cravings, Intimacy, Entry 2, page 3