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When All of the Answers Are Wrong

Those of you who know me will know that I am committed to bringing the language of love into our public discourse because I believe that this is part of advancing justice: wresting love out of the private domains of home and hearth and bringing it into the complex realities of building beloved community. 

This is hard and challenging work because many of us resist the idea that there is a public vision or practice of love. But it is particularly difficult in moments like this. 

Lewiston. Gaza. West Bank. Israel. 

There is a common theme to these horrors – man’s inhumanity to man – that makes notions of love seem naive, even irresponsible somehow. But that is, in part, because we mostly lack a robust vision of love as a force of power and transformation in both our personal and public lives.  

It is also because we are, ourselves, dehumanized by these atrocities. Our own humanity takes a hit when we are left with no adequate response to indiscriminate killing of innocents – civilians, children – be it across the world in Israel and Gaza or in our own bowling alleys and neighborhood restaurants.

This is where a stronger vision of what love looks like in public becomes so necessary and urgent: a public practice of love affirming our own humanity through a fierce commitment to the basic humanity of the other, the stranger, the enemy, the perpetrator. 

We need a public vision of love that emboldens us to resist and reject the dehumanization of another person or people; instead, to fight and struggle, as needed, to hold fast to their inherent humanity and dignity, even in the most difficult moments. 

Such a vision of love would demand that we affirm the truth that the death of a Palestinian child in Gaza is no less abhorrent than the death of a Jewish child in Israel. Such a vision of love would reject the lie of the death cult mentality that says we must accept the scourge of gun violence as just a matter of fact in our modern lives.

The subversive truth here is that when we do this, when we find our way to acknowledge and honor the basic humanity of those with whom we disagree, even those who have done us harm, it allows – even requires – us to access a deeper humanity within ourselves. It expands our capacity for the kind of love that is able to work through and overcome the dehumanizing effects of heartbreak, trauma, and violence.

It is comparatively easy work to honor the humanity of those whom we already love and respect. It is another matter altogether to acknowledge and honor the basic humanity of the stranger, much less those with whom we are in conflict. 

But the beautiful paradox is this: In doing so, perhaps we can find a path to break the vicious cycles of violence, retribution, and inhumanity that we are heirs to and that risk being the legacies we leave to our own children. 

So far, all of the other answers have been wrong. 

Peace and love,