“I love everyone, but I don’t have to like them”

“I love everyone, but I don’t have to like them.” I first heard a woman say this in a church in Charlotte and I was shocked. The sentiment I heard behind the words she spoke was a distancing of herself from anyone that she didn’t want to get to know. It’s a very convenient sentiment because it means that we never have to go beyond our comfort zone. We don’t have to put ourselves in another’s shoes. We can stay at arm’s length from those we don’t want to get to know. We can always choose whom we will like. Somehow the one saying this is absolved from having to get too close to others unless she really wants to.

This is not love. It certainly didn’t come from the Gospel, but it shows how far from Jesus the church has gone. Jesus did not say, “love your neighbor as yourself, but you don’t have to like him or her.” He didn’t give us permission to “love” someone from afar. He didn’t model this distancing, he told us to walk an extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to love as God has loved us.

This distancing ourselves violates the notion of God’s kingdom which is a true community in which everyone is equally welcomed, where each one’s gifts and talents are used in service of the Lord and equally valued, where each of us can at last find a home where we belong. Our station in life, our education, our finances, our race do not matter in the kingdom at all. We are all equal, all equally welcomed.

Christianity is not meant to be a watered-down, easy to swallow, I-don’t-have-to-change-a-thing-about-me kind of religion. Just as he did with the 1st century Jews, Jesus today is asking us to change radically from the societal norm, to resist the materialistic, me-first culture, to be open and willing to welcome the poor and disenfranchised, to love, to be at peace. His call is for us to get out of our pews and our lives and out into the real world, to engage with people of all kinds, to enjoy, to love and to celebrate who they are. We are to love everyone as he has loved us.

Does Jesus say to you, “I love you, but I don’t have to like who you are?” Was he preaching at the prostitute? Did he make the rich young man squirm when he couldn’t give up his wealth? Jesus was love. Love is the great transformer of people. Once someone is truly loved then his life comes into conformity with God’s laws just by virtue of being in God’s arms. No one has to make another give up his sin or wayward ways. Love heals and transforms.

My idea of Christianity is to preach less and love more. When Jesus called us to baptize the world, he wasn’t saying to convert, to look down on those who weren’t baptized, to criticize or to preach, he was asking us to anoint, to introduce others to Jesus’ teachings. With love…  the problem is we forget about the love. If we are love, then people will receive Jesus’ message as it is. If we are more egocentric—manipulative, judgmental, snobbish, then that is the message we taint the Gospel with.

We have to be really clear about who is doing the baptizing—the Holy Spirit, not us. We have to be clear about who is the source of love in the world—that is God, that we have been transformed by the Spirit in order to have the ability to love. We have to be clear about our own call from Christ—is baptizing and preaching the Gospel what he is calling us to? If it is, then do it. If not, align yourself with his call.

Love is inclusion, embrace, respect, warmth toward another. It’s an outpouring of the positive towards another. It doesn’t discriminate(rain falls on the just and the unjust. Matthew 5:45) It’s interesting to me to consider whether we can love and not like someone at the same time. I don’t think it’s possible unless I am self-deluding, more ego-driven than loving, for the ego is manipulative, it is looking for the central place in any scenario, it calls attention to itself, not to another. The ego cannot love.

Love on the other hand is God’s way—free-flowing, indiscriminate, embracing the whole person kind of love. If God could love us and not like us, I think that we would have been wiped off the face of the earth a long time ago. He doesn’t choose who we are, he takes us as we are, as we were created to be, he knows our challenges and talents and knows where he wants to take us.

I am certain that the woman who told me, “I love everyone, but I don’t have to like them” is also holding God at arm’s length. She won’t let God in to do the radical transformation that he holds out for us. She can be comfortable sitting in the pew and not loving or serving others. She is totally in charge of her life. She may espouse the Gospel, repeat its wisdom, but she cannot live it. She doesn’t see the split within herself between the beliefs she claims and the life she lives. She is in charge of her life and would never let God in enough to begin to change who she is.

We are called to live the Gospel, to follow Jesus’ teachings in all we do. If the message of the Gospel(and the law of the Old Testament) is summed up in the two Great Commandments, then we are called to love, to bring love to every corner of the earth, to every person, indiscriminately, freely. Then we are truly living the Gospel.

 

Questions to ponder over the week: What is love? How well am I doing at loving myself, God and others? Is there some attitude of mine that blocks my ability to love?

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Check out these new features this week: on the home page “Another Dream” and on the Meditations page “How are we connected to God.”

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