Hate Is Louder than Love

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“Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable 
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”

–Indigo Girls

This one makes me sad to write. But it’s also a statement of hope.

I believe love is stronger than hate. I absolutely do.

But hate, in my experience, is louder and, for most of us, more…

Enticing? I don’t want to say “compelling.” Alluring?

This came to mind because my last post, about being right versus being loving, got very little attention. Nope, I’m not bitter. But I wrote two strongly anti-Trump posts that still reside in my drafts folder. I think both of them express important ideas and truths. I know, absolutely, that if I post either of those, it will get ten times more reads than the one in which I talk about peacemaking.

I’m not drawing a conclusion from one example. But that triggered my thinking. Why does expressing a bunch of negatives draw more attention than encouraging us to positives? I’m the same way. Bad news draws me. It makes my stomach churn and my chest tighten but I let myself get sucked in. No, that’s too passive. I willingly bite on that fishhook. I know better. I should be a smart fish by now, considering all the times I’ve had my mouth ripped open by those barbs. But I still bite.

It’s easy to hate and it’s hard to love. Is it a flaw in the design? Why is lightness hard to hear?

Okay, in case I’m moving on before I convince you: Is it easier to try to understand the person who posted something stupid that conflicts with all your views and beliefs or to call them names and dismiss them? Is the person who cut you off maybe having a bad day, maybe distracted as you sometimes are when you (never ever) glance at your phone, or is that person just a *(&*(#&%&# for cutting you off? Is it easier to give people the benefit of the doubt or jump to conclusions about them? To forgive those who hurt us or to dismiss/bear a grudge against/distance ourselves from them? It can be easy to love people who love us, but if we really dig into love as Jesus talks about it, that’s no cakewalk* in the park, either.

I recently gave a sermon in which I stressed, repeatedly, that God as revealed in Jesus is great at loving enemies. I am perhaps more grateful for that than for anything else in my life. God loving us when we made ourselves enemies is grace. Me? Love my enemies? I kind of stink at it.

I have not kept secret that I consider President Trump and his administration horribly dangerous, not merely politicians whose tax policies I question nor whose fashion sense offends mine. I have spoken out, and taken flack for it, because I believe I have that moral responsibility.

But I keep looking at this abyss we’re excavating, this schism that grows wider every day, and I know shouting into the chasm will not help our divide.

Many people on both sides have concluded that “They are unreachable. No point in trying. We just need to focus on how we know we should fix this country and ignore them or shout them down.” Both sides say this. A guy I was friends with in college told me that he and others would “crawl over broken glass to vote to keep the other side out of office.” “Great,” you say, “he’s a patriot, a dedicated voter.” But it wasn’t to get his party elected; he expressed such drastic motivation because the other political party has become the enemy.

Name-calling comes easily. “Snowflakes” and “Libtards.” “MAGAts” and “Drumpfsters.” Generalizing and oversimplifying the oppositions’ positions while assuming the depth and nuance in our own. I no longer post political memes because they increase rancor; they bring nothing positive to the conflict.

I’m talking about politics, of course, but talking about more than politics. Hate is loud. Yes, media adds to the problem by what and how they choose to report, but we eat what they serve. We buy what they sell. We like it. We might complain about it, but it works for them. We make them money by producing it so they keep producing it. We weren’t all kind and cuddly until they made us hateful and vicious. They have responsibility in how they report and we have responsibility in what we buy (click=buy). That cycle feeds upon itself.

I’ve been trying, as a proactive campaign, to report all the good news I can get my eyes on. (Why yes, that does include Jesus’ Good News.) It lifts my agonized and antagonized heart that friends have started sending good stuff my way. I’m thrilled to become known as “that guy who likes to share positive things.”

That’s one means I’ve found so far to amplify love in my own little sphere.

But I need a lot more.

What can we do? Brainstorm with me. Put away your sarcastic response of “If they would just go away…” They aren’t. But more to the point here, hate rejects and love accepts. Did I mention it’s harder to love than to hate? I think I did. So think with me about what we can change to raise love’s voice.

Today, I read a discussion/debate spurred by a study that found “Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” As you might guess, that raised some ire and heated disagreement.

My mind immediately went to the surveys that tell us how non-Christians most often describe Christians. The top words used are almost always “hypocritical” and “judgmental.”

I can’t speak for the younger generation but I can say that, in my efforts to express Jesus’ love for people, I’ve heard too many horror stories how people have been belittled, mocked, patronized, and verbally abused by Christians.

I mention this because the answer is more than “Tell them about Jesus.” Or, as we used to say in BOC, one of my young adult groups, “That’s the right answer, but it isn’t the complete answer.”

Here’s what else I’ve got so far:

  • Affirm the heck out of people. Just speak up more, find positives and say them, write them, mean them. Most of us hear criticism so much louder than we hear praise and take negatives to heart much easier than positives (which sucks, by the way). I suspect some just think I’m a little rah-rah. I’d rather be known for that.

Can you find ways to affirm the people with whom you disagree? Can you try?

I know, I know: they’re the enemy. But that doesn’t get us out of anything, because Jesus told us “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

  • Find people you can talk to who see things as you do and agree with you and express your strong feelings to them. I’m totally serious here. If you are reading this and you like Trump, do you want to hear from me all the reasons I do not? I’m going with “no.” How do I know that? You would have asked me. I have friends with whom I try to make sense of it all, and though we don’t solve anything, it does prevent me from expressing my frustration in a way that would come across as unloving to others.**
  • Find people you love and respect who see things differently than you do and engage them personally. DON’T do this in a public forum where their buddies will chime in by calling you an idiot. Mmhm, had to learn that one the hard way. A couple of times. Sigh.

Categorizing and dismissing others is not love, it’s that other thing. Demonizing the enemy, which countries have long done against other countries in war (and I consider this evil), we now do with no hesitation to our neighbors. Don’t believe me? Check out some memes against someone you like, for whom demonizing might prove more recognizable.

Because this current of mockery and hate flows so strongly, I encourage you to find smart people who read and know what they’re talking about with whom you can discuss these issues to understand their perspective. The ideal would be to find all that in a person of grace. But we may not be looking for the intelligent, well-reasoned discourse partner. Sometimes we like to keep the opposition’s viewpoint oversimplified and easily dismissed. It’s way more fun than having to acknowledge “they” may have a point. But intentionally misinterpreting, ridiculing, and mocking are hateful actions. If we dislike having it done to us and our views, we must not respond in kind. We are called to treat others as we want to be treated, not “if they start treating me better then I’ll treat them better.”

Coming back around, hate, in my experience, is louder and, for most of us, more…

Oh, shoot. I hope the word I was looking for isn’t “fun.” As in, “Hate is more fun than love.” Because honestly, we act like hate is more fun than love. But I don’t believe it is. The fun that hate offers is a bitter, cynical, spiteful warping of true, life-giving fun. Love is harder, but it’s more fun, more real fun.

  • Last thing. Hatred is in the eye of the beholder. I know, we live in a time when people get offended by everything. I understand that you may feel the current political correctness means you can’t say a single word to anyone without causing offense. That makes this tricky, yet it remains true that if someone feels hated by us, we don’t get to fix it with “But I didn’t mean that,” nor “Well, that’s just your problem.” If you’ve been taking this stance and feel justified, I’m just going to say again, love is harder. Wining the argument and going home the conqueror does not embody Jesus’ love in the world, no matter how stupid we might consider the other person’s argument. I believe in reasoning and persuading, but I’m coming to realize I no longer believe in arguing as a means of engaging others. If I have to choose between having someone feel loved–or at least not hated–and arguing with them, Lord, help that to become an easy choice for me.

Hate is louder than love, in my own heart as well as on my Facebook feed. I have to change that now, in whatever way I can. I am convicted by Jesus to become more of a peacemaker. This does not mean I will stop speaking the truth. But as I seek to speak truth, I want to embody love.

I want to love as loudly as I can.

*Our eldest, when young, would win every single time at the cakewalk, to the point where it was not a game of chance but an automatic walk-in-a-circle-and-get-a-cake.

*If you said, “Mike, I’ve seen what you post, and it’s not working,” just imagine what I’d say without my venting friends!

FLOYD

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(Photo by Tony Smallman)

 

This is true: in a concrete parking shelter behind the Portland Central Post Office, a seventy-two-year-old man named Floyd slept under a government surplus blanket. Floyd had worked on the assembly line at International Harvester in Rock Island, Illinois for forty years. He was married for forty-two years. I heard about Floyd from Dan. Dan runs a nonprofit called “Blanket Coverage;” he covers people with blankets for his vocation.

I do not make my living helping people keep warm. You might say I “cover them,” but that phrase would end “for a paycheck.” I write an obituary column.

I learned more about Floyd than about the deceased I memorialize. Six years of summarizing people’s lives in two-to-five paragraphs—exceed one column, you’re Section “A”–had given me a school yearbook view of the dead: “What’d you do? Who’d you know? Why’d you go?” Our staff (of three) prefers not to dissemble about our subjects, but we select which parts of the truth to report. Coroners and undertakers (as “funeral home directors” hate to be called) develop thicker calluses because they handle the bodies, but maybe that contact bestows a little honest humility. We’re more like newscasters who never move on to the human-interest story.

Obits sounded like a simple job: people die; I write about them. Pros—adequate pay, secure, home every night for dinner. Cons—slightly macabre, minimal prestige.

Turns out I missed some crucial points. Continue reading

Time Down Here

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It’s never that easy. Other people make it look easy, and I watch them with envy and chagrin and, when my heart can manage it, admiration. Some days I even feel joy, this ball of gratitude and pleasure that inflates my chest, one bike tube pump at a time, when I watch their eyes and their hands and their cheeks and I can almost, almost feel what they feel. They seldom glance at me. I’m not really there. Not in the same sense they are. I am incidental. When people look at me, they don’t see me, and they certainly don’t see me seeing them. If we make eye contact, they avert. They sometimes react as they would to a homeless person. I’ve seen buskers have conversation with people. I once saw a young man sit down on the concrete and chat with the old woman who plays her five-string guitar here. I saw him reach out his hand to her and grip her palm, squeeze her fingers as if he were greeting his own mother. Maybe he was. But no one talks to me.

I’ve often thought I could pick their pockets. They don’t see me, they barely register me, why would they notice if I took their wallets? Would my hand even take physical form if I reached into their purses, their overcoats, their jackets? Would they suddenly feel me and the sensation would race to their eyes? Or would their blindness travel down to their nervous system and numb any awareness of that tug?

I sweep. I mop. I don’t have disinfectant but I have a bucket. I pick up dropped cell phones. I’ve lost count how many. Sometimes, if I can get to a listing and find “home #,” I will call and try to tell them where they can retrieve their property. But now almost every phone is locked and I don’t spend hours trying to guess security codes. I just leave them at the newsstand where the gal who works the pre-dawn shift gets to decide what to do with them.

I empty the trash cans into the dumpster. I go through trash. I eat. I find things to help me. Continue reading

Redemption from Ashes

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Something beautiful happened today.

We stood on the freshly dried concrete floor of our friend Elizabeth’s newly-built home and we worshiped God and prayed for his blessing.

Two weeks ago, Elizabeth’s  home burnt to the grounds home burnt to the ground.  She had to guard the pile of rubble so that no one would steal her last possessions.

Two weeks ago, we barely new Elizabeth.  Kim had chatted with her about kids and dogs and recargas.

Eliza and Bella

Elizabeth and Bella sharing Scripture verses and laughing.

 

Today, we sang songs of gratitude together and prayed blessings for this home; then we shared mini-doughnuts and Coke.  And it struck me–and I hope this doesn’t offend you–that we were sharing communion together.

Now, we know Elizabeth.  She is joining our Mujeres de Shalom (“women of peace”) group led by our ministry partner Bella Ndoro.  She even, somehow, has the tiny beginnings of an inventory of 2 cordoba (6 cent) bags of chips.  Corin is more than happy to be her best customer.

The kids chased a ball around outside while we talked and laughed.  kids in front yardAnd I pictured what I had seen two weeks ago when I walked back to see the site of the fire.

 

I have described in detail the broken infrastructure of Nicaraguan government and social services.  But I watched bags of cement delivered, construction workers show up (whom Elizabeth was responsible to feed; we and some other neighbors got to help with that), and in less than two weeks, Elizabeth has a home again.  I don’t know what you think of socialism, but we’re certainly grateful she is not homeless.

I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad.

I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This does not mean that all things are good; some things are horrible and some are evil.  But in all things, God continues to bring good for people’s lives.

Eliza and Mike

I was standing there, looking at these solid, blank walls and this bare floor, a house that none of us–you reading this and I–would consider luxurious.   It’s one room.  But I doubt I’ve ever seen someone more grateful for a home.

And where we were strangers before, now we have started friendships.  Where she was abandoned by her husband, then left with nothing, in that same place we got to surround her and pray and sing and laugh and eat.  Our close neighbor friends, Mileydi and Juan Carlos, and our Servant Partners teammates have become Elizabeth’s new friends.  

When we first began to sing, there were only a few of us in the Eliza with everyonecircle, but as our voices drifted outside, some neighborhood children and two other moms came in, drawn into the celebration. In this barrio, tensions over the sharing of scarce resources and distrust among neighbors can run high. We lean on God to make part of our witness here modeling a better way of living together, of singing and sharing and holding hands as we pray.  Of learning from Jesus how to be true neighbors.

 

[Kim and I wrote this one together.]