There have been all kinds of reactions to the election on Tuesday: Shock. Anger. Jubilation. Fear. Relief. Numbness. Surprise. And while there are people in the streets of our city protesting a Trump presidency, there are others who say we should come together and let bygones be bygones. Both are my friends. Both are my family.
In the latter group, I’ve seen language I’m used to responding to like, “We need to love each other right now.” As much as that resonates with me, something seems hollow, missing in this call to love. What does "love" mean?
God is Love. This is a foundational tenet of the Christian faith. At the center of the universe, creating it and holding it together, is Love. As Christians, we are to love as God loves us.
Jesus is God in human flesh. This is a foundational tenet of the Christian faith. He is the person in whom we see most clearly the God who is Love and how that God lives and acts as a human. As Christians, we are to love as Jesus loves others.
Now here’s the kicker: Jesus “woed” people. In Luke 11, Jesus says, “Woe to you, Pharisees!” He calls out their greed and wickedness. He woes them for thinking that their studious attention to tithing would absolve them of neglecting the poor, justice, and the love of God. And he says all this at the dinner table of a Pharisee.
Then an expert in religious law, listening into Jesus’ harsh sounding words, said, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.”
What did Jesus say? He didn’t say, “Oops. You’re right. I’m being divisive and harsh.” He said, “And you experts in religious law, woe to you!”
Now, how do we reconcile Jesus, the-epitome-of-the-God-who-is-Love, with Jesus, the-doubling-down-Woer? How do we appropriate the love of Jesus in our own lives? Did Jesus just not love the Pharisees? I don’t think that’s the answer. He is the incarnation of Love. I think Jesus’ woes them because he loves them.
Love tells the truth—even when it hurts. Love calls injustice what it is both for the sake of the oppressed and for the sake of the oppressor because both are traumatized and broken by injustice. Love does not whitewash the pain that has been caused or the wickedness that has caused it.
I think that’s why this “call to love” right now can sound hollow. It is “love” devoid of truth--the truth that there was no love for minorities in this campaign. The truth that there was no love for women in this campaign. The truth that there was no love for Muslim human beings in this campaign. The truth that there was no love for refugees and other immigrants in this campaign.
Love that is not willing to call racism, nativism, and misogyny what it is, is not love. Love that is not willing to call a hate-fueled campaign what it is, is not love. It is a counterfeit for the sake of calm. It sounds less like Jesus' challenging love and more like mere niceness. It is an acceptance speech that disingenuously says, “We should come together” after months of intentionally ripping us apart. It sounds like a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.
I do hope that we can find our way to love. But I hope that we don’t settle for calm. I hope our love, like Jesus’ love, is soaked in truth because to be a community, we need a common memory. And to have a common memory, we must tell the truth in love. We must be willing to call things what they are. And we must listen to those telling it.
Listen to those in pain, grief, anger and fear. Listen the to the pain before you call for calm. Listen to the fear before you shut human beings down. Listen to the woes, because in them you will learn how to love in the way of Jesus.