I’ve always “loved”, and was taught to love, those who conformed to a certain set of ideals. This was a conditional approval based on performance. In reality, this can’t even be called love because it has conditions attached to it. “We will love you if you admit that we’re right and you’re wrong,” is one of the types of messages that was portrayed. Unconditional love is a redundant phrase. If our ability to love others has any conditions attached to it, then it is no longer love.
As I’ve read more of Jesus’ stories and considered the context, I’m learning to love as he defined it. This isn’t based on how a person lives relevant to my assumptions of how they should. I’ve “loved” people in this respect most of my life. Jesus loved the Samaritans, who were one of Israel’s most hated enemies of the time, and made one the hero of his parable over both a Levite and a priest. Likewise, he loved the prostitutes and tax collectors, placing them at the head of the line for entrance into the kingdom while placing the religious elite in the back.
In all honesty, there are many things I wasn’t able to admit until now. I was racist and homophobic (in the sense I was made to be afraid of engaging LGBTQ people) most of my life. I was conditioned to dehumanize those that didn’t look or act like “we” did and shift blame to those “others” for whatever circumstances were about. Had I not left organized religion, I would still be this way. I was afraid to engage most of those who were different than me as they were upheld as “bad” and would corrupt me, causing me to backslide. This upheld the view of a small, powerless god. I was too close and conditioned to realize my own faults, though I knew deep down that I didn’t truly love others the way Jesus presented love. I didn’t openly hate anyone, but I would remain in silent agreement with the prejudices stated while being made to feel superior to others based on my compliance and association. Additionally, I went so far as to laugh at inappropriate jokes as to fit in and not be labeled as one of those “others.”
I keep praying that God would help me love everyone and over time and much pain, he has. I now find it easier to love LGBTQ people and those of other races than it is to love religious people. My definition of love has radically changed and now I have to learn to love those who only want to uphold their doctrines of exclusion. This is somewhat odd ground for me, as though I’m learning to walk for the first time.
I don’t say any of this to exalt myself or demean anyone. I still fail love daily and realize I have a very long way to go. Mostly, it saddens me that those who cry “love” the loudest are the most hateful to those that aren’t conformed to the external standards and those trying to truly love. Many problems, as I’ve come to see them, are based on a misrepresentation of what love is. This, in turn, pushes people away from believing in God because the definition of love has become so skewed. There is also a lot of pride tied to this where traditional views and the need to be “right” are held on to over love.
Perhaps in all of this God let me experience what love is not so that I could more readily accept the real thing.