Love is a verb.
We sometimes forget that when we listen to the radio, when we focus purely on how we feel at any given moment. We fire up iTunes and let boy bands and crooners define love for us when really love is something that can shake the world, that sometimes needs to be radical and subversive.
Often that’s on an individual level – treating your beloved with honour and respect, no matter who’s dismissed and devalued them in the past, standing with them when hell closes in, annotating the past with a more hopeful present. But sometimes that revolutionary love has to be corporate, and that’s when people get nervous because the boy bands start getting drowned out by the chants of the prophets
There was a time when, on the side of a mountain, Jesus redefined love. Everyone’s heard the phrase ‘love your neighbour’, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but if all I do is lend my lawnmower to my neighbour who looks like me, if all I do is offer a shoulder to cry on to someone who sounds like me, believes like me, well, that’s not gonna change the world. No, Jesus says, you’ve got to also do all that with your enemies. Showing love for those around us doesn’t stop with some arbitrary line in the sand; we called to love our neighbours, love our enemies, love God and love ourselves.
There’s a call to subversion in this Them-and-Us world we’ve created for ourselves. We prefer to hate our ‘enemies’, strike against them, Tweet against them, go on lockdown and weed out the infiltrators. And if we want to do that, well, there are plenty of siren voices who’ll cheerlead us as we go. But it won’t change a damn thing; there’ll always be more people to hate, more people to fear.
No, the real revolution is showing love when everyone’s telling us to hate. It’s about finding those who are most abused, most vulnerable, seeing their humanity and embracing it. It’s about being able to show love for people in camps, in hospitals, sleeping in doorways, viewed with suspicion. It’s about recognising a divine image in everyone and acting on that.
This isn’t passive. Love encompasses challenge and advocacy and justice, and sometimes it’s an act of compassion to raid a few Temples and throw a few tables. Love can be an act of prophecy at times, the voice of God reordering the world with words. Everyone sings about love, but sometime love sounds like a protest song. And sometimes love looks like a cross, because it’s sacrificial and self-giving and sometimes the world honours that but sometimes the world targets it for assassination.
And so we fight and march, hug and shelter, rescue and respect. We stand and pioneer a better vision of the world, because the old visions and fables have metastasised around bullet holes and are killing us both quick and slow. And while this has been made to look clichéd and impotent by a thousand memes idolising power and weaponising prejudice, ancient wisdom stubbornly holds true, and three things emerge from the cracks once everything else has fallen. These three are faith, and hope, and love.
The greatest of these is love.