A friend posted an old opinion article from the pre-Obama New York Times by Sarah Vowell, who wrote about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s citation: “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” In this speech, Dr. King was paraphrasing Jesus of Nazareth, and reminding us to love they enemy.
As I rise before dawn (internal clocks are a bitch) on this teacher’s holiday, I think about the Christian notion of love, the legacy of Christianity in our country, and that Christian in America has come to mean judgmental and narrow-thinking. My paternal grandfather was a big fan of Jesus’s love they neighbor approach, and, I would assume, they enemy — though I never spoke with him about enemies, as it was hard to imagine that he had any. His form of Christianity was large and enveloping — generous, down to the last drop. I was lucky to be his blood granddaughter, and there were many more who called him Grandpa. I was lucky, too, that my maternal grandparents’ Southern hospitality complemented their Christian ideal of love. I was raised to believe in extended family and expansive community as a Christian way of being in the world.
Love was visible on the face of my grandfather. Love was evident in the words and works of Dr. King. Love permeates our song lyrics, chick flicks, and advertisements. How could we still be so full of hate? Is love only the purview of artists, mothers, and schmoozers? Does power require rejecting love as a way of being in the world? Do we distrust those who bear the face of love? Why has the image of Christianity (on the political sphere at least) become the finger-wagging zealots who believe the rest of us are going to the devil?
Though I am not devout (and thus going to hell, according to some), I have visited many hallowed halls of diverse and divergent faiths. I appreciate the solemn grandeur of cathedrals, temples, and mosques. I am drawn to the humbling serenity of places of worship, the absence of external noise, the way music fills the room and the soul, turning one inward. What do we see when we look inside ourselves? In this angst-ridden world where epic battles against evil fill our news and our entertainment, where is the love?
After battling my own self-doubt for decades, I decided that my purpose in life could be as simple as sharing love and beauty. I also discovered that the old adage of having to love oneself before one can love another is true. I have forgiven myself my imperfections, and I hope others can forgive them, too. I try to forgive others their foibles and errors, though it’s hard when they have a negative impact on me. I choose to walk through the world bearing love in all its forms: love for humankind, nature, the earth we share. And yes, love for those who judge or even hate me — well, it’s a goal, at least.
Blinding myself to the fear-driven media, I see love inside each and every one of us, more visible in some than in others. In the pathology of our culture, love is seemingly absent: a void easily filled with judgment and hatred. Yet I like to think the seeds of love are still there, somewhere, even if only in a memory.
And on this day of remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I encourage everyone to look inside and find the love. But do not hoard it like the treasure it is: love cannot be real if it is not shared, made visible to those who are to receive it. Love may be a two-way street, but someone needs to take the first step onto the tarmac.