Love is a verb with feelings

A friend of mine shared a recent post on the blog, “A Holy Experience”. The blogger, author/speaker Ann Voskamp, was so moved by the plight of poor Iranians that she visited Iran in a relief effort. She’s written a bit of other stuff regarding the humanitarian crisis there, but this was the first I ran across. There are details in this post that I could hardly bring myself to read. They are too painful to just imagine, not to mention witness, not to mention experience.

Nine-year-old Yezidi and Christian girls can show up in headlines: Impregnated. Held, taken, violated and discarded. Sides round and swollen. Sent back to shame their communities. Pregnant little girls with dolls still in their hands. While we are having out wheaties and reading the day’s news.

ISIS sells nine year old girls in slave bazaars.

Voskamp’s site is rather popular among many Evangelical women I know, but I’m not particularly familiar with it other than the fact it seems to be a devotional/encouragement type of Christian blog.

I tell you what, though: its existence is probably justified by this one post alone.

We aren’t where we are to just peripherally care about the people on the margins as some superfluous gesture or token nicety. The exact reason why you are where you are — is to risk everything for those being oppressed out there.

You are where you are — to help others where they are. The reason your hands are where they are in this world — is to give other people in this world a hand.

Finally! All those middle-class church ladies who read her blog are being exposed to the real world! Score for social justice!

I am indeed thankful that her platform reaches this demographic. But her commentary is precisely the kind of thing that Christians – heck, humans in general – of all stripes should allow themselves to be challenged by. Not just those who cling to guns and conservative politics to protect themselves from radical Islam (or from anyone who isn’t a conservative Evangelical for that matter)–but even to those who think they know better and look down their noses at such benighted Christians. Because although she was talking above about the marginalized, the principal is equally true of everyone we share our planet with.

Caring isn’t a Christian’s sideline hobby. Caring is a Christian’s complete career. We don’t just care about people — caring about people is our job — the job every single one of us get up to do every single day. That’s it. Caring is our job, our point, our purpose.

Do you get up in the morning with the goal of giving yourself to everyone around you? Do you consciously empty yourself of your vain desires to the benefit of those you might not even like? I honestly don’t think I know anyone who could be said to approach that standard, perhaps least of all those of us who get so much pleasure out of jabbing the foibles of our ideological opposites in Christendom. We certainly must stand up against injustice, even defying our comrades in order to do so, but can’t we manage to do so without being so angry or disgusted with those comrades that we forget they are victims of their own crimes? Caring can – sometimes must – take the form of “tough love”, and no doubt exposing the vacuous and preposterous nature of a mindset is occasionally effective as a means of caring. It’s what I earnestly believe this post of mine is intended for.

But here’s what caring most definitely isn’t. Middle-school mockery. Reproachful discussion that’s just loud enough to be heard by the losers you’re talking about. Showy quarantines in front of those you want to like you, demonstrating your relative health and conscientious isolation from the unpopular, unclean people they might otherwise lump you in with. Memes and other in-jokes that have no chance of actually reforming the objects of your ridicule and stand only to separate you from them. Unbridled cheers, jeers, and crowing when those people fall or are exposed as hypocrites. Look back over your social media activity for the last couple of weeks and see how you score.

And here’s a hint: if you got upset with Voskamp’s audience for her even needing to say that kind of stuff, if your first thoughts went to accusing a group of people who just don’t “get it” rather than examining your own response to the crisis, it ought to hit you hard as well. We need to be, at our core, without limits or shibboleths, people who don’t just “love”, but care. We cannot continue to be people whose most obvious traits are being loudly more compassionate, being exceptionally good at differentiating ourselves from that other kind of Christian, and gaining pleasure by exposing others’ faults.

Maybe you’re wondering, Why is he going on and on about this? Even if Christians are sometimes tweeting excessively sarcastic comments about other Christians, it’s not as though we’re selling each other’s children as sex slaves. #firstworldproblems

I really do not want to suggest that this issue is anywhere near as urgent as the ones causing the substantial suffering of “people on the margins” as described above. And of course we can’t wait until we “feel” loving before we act lovingly. But I do believe that until we really become people who are characterized by caring at our core and who exhibit a deep-seated sensitivity in dealing with others, our outreach projects will be “sideline hobbies”. We prize our cynicism and sarcasm so highly; irreverence sometimes seems like the highest modern virtue, such that we’re so afraid of sounding pious and out-of-touch that we will laugh at things we should be upset about so long as everyone else is laughing. The snark of this generation may not stop us from lighting candles here or there, but more than that we need to actually be the lights in the darkness. The post-Evangelical crowd is now disabused of the Fundamentalist notion that being different from “the world” in every conceivable way is somehow admirable, but I fear it’s gone lopsided the other way now; it’s probably worth asking, is the fact that you may (or may not) go to church or call yourself a believer the biggest difference between you and your unbelieving friends?

Most of us have learned well the lesson that love is more than just a feeling–that it’s something you act upon. But that’s really just “the rest of the story” and not the whole story. If you go about trying to fulfill our calling of love through some mechanical sense of right without ever feeling the intrinsic motivation of emotion, you may be doing the work of the Kingdom, but only as a hired hand. The children of God must love as He loves, feel concern as He does, and out of the overflow of their heart will their actions come spilling. It’s easy enough to conjure up feelings of concern for those poor folks on the other side of the globe, but it’s harder by far to 1) act on that concern in a measurable way and 2) feel concern for those much nearer to us who deserve a good, swift kick in the pants for their boneheaded actions and attitudes.

Until we cultivate a fervent, consuming heart of compassion for all, a fundamental rewrite of our hearts’ inclinations that will put us out of lockstep with our culture, we will continue to be merely placating our consciences by sending off our monthly checks, proclaiming the righteousness of our convictions, criticizing those who don’t share them to the extent that we’d like, and then going about our self-aggrandizing business. Caring has to become a lifestyle; love has to be our hallmark as human beings, in all of our actions and interactions.

I guess it’s obvious that Voskamp’s challenging words hit me really hard. In case you’re wondering, I’m not interested in discussing the specific outreach organization she suggests at the bottom of her post. Honestly, if you’re not particularly impressed with it, the onus is literally on you to come up with a better option and not simply to criticize that one. But I do plead with you to find some way of meaningfully contributing. Maybe that will mean sending money–or maybe it will mean going. However it manifests, our caring needs to start much deeper down than our wallets.

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