Posted by: dacalu | 14 November 2013

It Takes Two

Here is an inconvenient truth about Christianity.  Christianity asks that we love people.  Love always requires some level of reciprocation; you cannot do it alone.  You must have some level of cooperation.

To love someone involves pausing in your own pursuits – be they ever so grand or holy – to find out what the other person’s soul longs for.  Love involves patience and curiosity.  And, just like curiosity, it can only be fulfilled when it discovers something, some truth revealed by another.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every pair of lovers love equally.  Rather, I’m saying that love is a property of two (or more) and may not even have meaning when applied to a single person.  I don’t think we can even love ourselves except in the context of being loved.

This goes against the spirit of the age, which tells us we control our own destiny and deserve some fundamental rights.  Liberals risk seeing love as an entitlement, while conservatives risk seeing it as a duty.  We are all tempted to think that we can love people who do not love us back.  This is wrong.  It makes love some sort of personal achievement.

Such thinking lies behind two common extremes in Christianity, aggressive and passive aggressive “love.”  Aggressive “love,” practiced by many strident evangelists, claims to be “tough love” or “truth to power.”  It speaks inconvenient truths (go0d) but also judges anyone who doesn’t accept them (bad).  It requires only the one way transmission of righteousness, from God to the preacher to the world, while ignoring the love of God that necessarily flows from God, through all (even sinners), to the preacher.  Passive aggressive “love,” practiced by Christian purists (of all stripes), claims to be martyrdom.  Here the actor listens, but fails to express themself fully to the other.  It never risks full self-disclosure in fear of rejection.  This kind of love invites self-inflicted suffering, but blames that suffering on the presumed (not proven) rejection of others.  The nice thing about aggressive and passive aggressive “love” is that they allow us to think we can deserve or merit love, rather than actually participating in the process.

True love offends against notions of egalitarian justice – it cannot be a default state.  It is not fair to the individual that he or she cannot love without being loved in return. Even God, I believe, love cares for us each individually through our relationship with Christ, but to be “in Love” we have to speak and listen to God.  I think the Evangelicals got that right.

True love also offends against ideas of self-sufficiency – it cannot be won.  To think God reaches out in identical fashion to every human being reduces God to an impersonal force, whether you believe that force overcomes us (universalism) or yields to our rejection (Calvinism – but not, notably, Calvin).  In either case, we have forgotten that love takes active, unique participation by both parties.

True love cannot be imposed upon you.  And that is the good as well as the bad news of love.  Bad relationships need not stay bad.  They can improve, but only through talking and listening.  Sometimes you need space before you can talk or listen, and sometimes the other person will not cooperate, but communicating is the only way forward.  Enduring the fullness of one another is the only way forward.  And it takes two.

This is the message of Christ’s passion.  God endured us and endures us still.  The only one in the universe who need not suffer at all was made to suffer for us and with us.  God was made to suffer us.

I believe this is the only way forward for humanity.

In romance and marriage, the way through difficulties lies in greater communication, greater vulnerability AND greater self-expression.  It cannot all come at once.  (See “love” above.)  It must come at some point.  You have to prepare for it.

In community, whether it be the church or the state, we need to find ways to communicate if we wish to have a healthy interaction.  This is why I find market forces and competitive democracy (with voters and representatives only looking out for their interests/constituency) so destructive.  They encourage us to try to manipulate one another rather than freely communicating.  You cannot remain separate and alone, the only loving individual.  You may be the only rational one, the only kind one, even the only correct one.  None of that substitutes for actually loving (with) the other members of the group.  No matter how hard you try, you cannot win love.  And that’s the challenge.

If it doesn’t scare you, it should.  I’m claiming that the one thing that matters most in life can only be had through vulnerability to others, who time and again have proven dangerous.

I think we are called to love one another.  This is why I cannot be satisfied with schisms in the church or partisanship in the government (or even multiple nations for that matter).  I accept them and try to work with them, but my goal is love, all in all for the sake of all.  This is why I (try to) befriend everyone I meet, regardless of their choices or apparent willingness to return my friendship.

It’s a dream, I know.  It may not be achievable in this world, but my faith won’t allow me to hope for anything less.




  1. […] rule even applies to “loving” and “being loved.” I’m not convinced that the two can exist independently. Even if I were, we would still be left with the tradition favoring loving over being loved. Any […]

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