Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fear and Love

Yesterday, I said that we seem to need fear in a time like this. Fear keeps us compliant. Fear keeps us constantly thinking about the threat. Fear keeps us taking steps to mitigate that threat, doing what they're asking and expecting us to do. Fear keeps our eyes open to all the things we never saw before that now, we can't afford to stop thinking about.

But I also said that whatever fear can do, love can do. And that is also absolutely true.

The difference is: you can't weaponize love.

You can't force someone to act lovingly toward someone else. Or even toward himself. You can't coerce someone into doing for someone else. You can't pound a message of love into the heads of a mass audience and get them all to live it out the way that you can bombard the human spirit with fear and threat and disaster and get the same response.

Love is trickier. It's not a "natural instinct" the way that fear is. You don't have to teach anyone how to be afraid; we're wired for fear. We're wired for self-preservation, not other-preservation. We're fight-or-flight, and at the slightest hint of threat, you've got our attention. It's the way that we're made.

Love has to be chosen. It's a conscious decision. It's something you have to think about if you want to put it into action. Love thinks of others all the time. It stands in front of a mirror and can only see the community standing behind it. It's the most bizarre of all things; you just can't explain it.

It's true that love could get us to do all the things that we're using fear for right now. Love could get us to stay home just like fear does. (In fact, many of our churches are claiming this very thing - that it is our love for one another that has us closing our doors right now.) But love doesn't inherently do this; it only does it when we choose for it to. naturally isolating. It separates us. It keeps us from connecting with those around us. Not physically, but relationally. When we are afraid, not one of us seeks out someone to be afraid with. We don't go out hoping to find someone who's just as scared of life as we are. In fact, most of us feel some measure of shame when we are afraid, and shame, too, separates us. It keeps us from being honest about what we're feeling. If you want to keep human beings apart, fear will do that. All on its own. It's the way it works.

Love...not so much. Love has us craving the other, seeking out community wherever we can find it. In a time like this, love is agonizing because in the very same breath that it convinces us that we have to stay home for the sake of the other, it can't stop thinking about the other and longing for connection. That's why love is harder. It requires conscious choice, deliberate action. We have to keep choosing it again and again and again. Can you trust a whole community of persons to continue choosing love when it's that hard? Inevitably, love draws us together, even when it's meant to keep us apart.

Actually, everything we are feeling right now draws us together. It makes us seek one another out. The anger, the sadness, the confusion, the exhaustion - though they seem negative, they build community. Because they turn us outward. Looking for affirmation, for vents, for comfort, for consolation, for clarity. They make us seek answers outside of ourselves. And that's another reason why we have to make space for them now, more than ever. Because all of these other things we're feeling will keep us seeking connection amid a fear that keeps us hiding, that keeps us apart. Our real human emotions will draw us together even when we remain six feet apart.

I wish that we lived in a world where love was just as strong as fear, where our natural inclination was turned toward love and not shame in times like this. Where love was enough to keep us apart, even while it has us craving connection. By human nature, we know it's not so simple; love is complicated in a way that fear just isn't.

And yet, you can't control love no matter what you do to it. I said that before - you can't weaponize it. You can't use it as a tool of mass compliance. You can't coerce someone into loving. But...neither can you stop them.

That's what we're seeing all over our world right now - love pouring out through the cracks, seeping out of our closed doors, reaching out with gloved hands. We're seeing the stories of communities coming together to care for one another, to make sure their neighbors are safe, secure, and have everything that they need. To feed each other. To encourage one another. To connect with one another across all spans of what is sacred space between us. And not one person, not one, is crying out that this is a bad idea. We all know it is the best idea.

You just can't "make" us do it.

That's the difference between fear and love. Fear is easy enough; we do it without a second thought. But after we've thought about it, we'll choose love. 

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