“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
The recent terror attack in New Zealand in a Mosque where people, families, ordinary, faithful people, were at prayer has horrified most good people – of all faiths and none. As the planet seems to lurch under the weight of racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and so many other negative, hateful, ideologies many of us are overwhelmed by a multitude of feelings. For some of us it is despair, for some of us anger, for some of us frustration, for some pity, for some hatred; of the acts, or of the perpetrators of these acts of violence.
And none of these feelings are wrong feelings – we are human, our feelings make us what we are. But it is what we do with these feelings that will be the true test of our humanity. Hatred is a feeling which consumes us, it generates more hate, more anger, and ultimately violence both within and beyond us. When Martin Luther King Jr said that hate is too great a burden to bear, that is, I believe what he meant; hatred is destructive, and only continues the cycle of hatred. Hatred is often, also, linked to fear – fear of ‘the other’, fear of difference, fear of the unknown.
In some ways, hating those things, and people, who do evil things seems an easy route, it allows me to feel justified in my anger, it allows me to keep up a certain energy which is against what I despise (and don’t get me wrong, I despise violence, and injustice, and poverty, and intolerance, and…. The list goes on). But in the end, it is too much for me, it can only be fueled by more hate, it takes from me but gives me nothing. The difficulty I come back to, is that it seems, certainly at first, the easier option.
So, I have to take the harder route. In Saturday’s Faith Forum article I talked of the ancient Christian practice known as ‘Spiritual Disciplines’. In my own journey I have made it a discipline to be loving. And love is a discipline, because although it is also a feeling, I can’t get by on my feelings alone. I have to decide to be loving; to forgive, to let go, to choose compassion, to choose tolerance, to choose life.
I believe that Jesus was talking about our attitude to love in the seventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel when he says ‘the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life’ – it is hard to love, to love the unlovely, to love those who are hated by others, to love those who make us a afraid, to love those who hurt us. And yet this choice, this discipline ultimately frees us by being bound by the fear and hatred which leeches away our life. Love is a discipline, love is a choice. Folk artist Judy Collins, along with guitarist and vocalist Ari Hest sing
“Every day we’re given
another chance to be
someone good for someone
to give your heart for free
A chance to either fall below
or better rise above.
I choose love
I choose love” ( I Choose Love, Collins/Hest)
When I went through a separation a few years ago, my spiritual journey took on even more importance to me. I spent more time reflecting, walking, praying, meditating. And I realised that I could either become ‘tough’ through this experience, and shut the world away from me, become bitter or negative. Or I could indeed to give myself to a more loving attitude, a deeper commitment to the way of love. It wasn’t easy – the end of a very long (nearly thirty year) relationship can quickly become a place of blame or recrimination. But that choice of seeking to be a more loving person and to be open to the possibility of love in new ways is one that has transformed me and my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about soppy, squishy love. Love has hard edges – it refuses to give up on anyone, it loves the unlovely, it forgives, and keeps forgiving. The love that is called for in the many faith traditions of our world is a love that is strong, demanding, and tough in it’s own ways. It’s a love that we see in the person of Jesus as he prays for those who nail him to a cross, saying “Father, forgive them.” It’s a love that refuses to hate the outsider and the different, that responds to being challenged and is willing to change, but also a love that stands fast against injustice, hatred, violence, and oppression.
And such love, thought it’s a discipline, though it’s a hard choice sometimes, is also a love which sustains and uplifts, gives life, energy, and hope. It is a love that is spiritual and gracious, tender and tough. That’s the love I continue to choose.
The Ven. Alastair McCollum is Rector of St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Victoria and Archdeacon, Diocese of Islands and Inlets.He has a passion for the Gospel, motorbikes and bike culture, worship, philosophy, theology, guitars, single malt whisky, real ale, cinema and all things French. You can find Alastair at the church website: www.stjohnthedivine.bc.ca and on his blog: fracme.blogspot.ca
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE