A couple of weeks ago, I joined activists to gauge a local politician’s support for a permanent, year-round, emergency shelter for those who live on the streets. The lukewarm response from our local official centered around the fear that more services attract more homeless, which makes prosperous residents feel unsafe and heightens anxiety that their property values will decline.
As I left the meeting, a bit discouraged, I headed up the hill back to my office. I noticed an older man mesmerized by his reflection in a mirror-polished black Porsche. He looked up and told me about how he used to restore old cars back to their original condition. He talked about how much he loved cars and how much joy he felt working on them before his accident and head injury.
His speech and thought patterns were jittery, his appearance disheveled, but nothing could dim his infectious smile. I told him that my grandfather had also restored cars in his retirement years. The man reached out his hand, grabbed mine, looked me in the eye, and said, “God loves you. Jesus loves. And I love you. You have a most wonderful day.” He turned around and walked downhill.
Joy filled my heart. This man, most likely homeless, made a home for me in his heart. I also giggled at this “wink from God”. I thought I was doing some good for those living on the streets, but it was someone living on the streets who did me good and uplifted me. I felt encouraged to continue the uphill climb.
The man I met on the street chose to respond to his hardship by embracing love and exuding it. I know this sounds overly simplistic, but isn’t that the same essential choice we face?
We have all been shaken by recent violence. Our national reaction to such savagery typically veers toward fear and anger, which is expressed in vicious rhetoric and action.
These immediate feelings of fear and anger are normal and unavoidable. What we do with these feelings, however, is a choice. What if we chose love?
The kind of love I’m talking about is not primarily an emotion. It’s a decision. It’s an act of will.
True love engages in difficult conversations without knowing the outcome in advance, pauses and reflects on our own biases and privileges that harm others, and builds bridges of understanding with those who make us uncomfortable and those living on the margins.
Love sees a stranger, particularly one whose face surfaces our buried fears and bigotries, and looks deep enough to see the face of God.
This is the version of love that Christ lived. It is not soft. Love stands up against injustice but does so without becoming spiteful. Love resists violence through tenacious non-violence. Love, acknowledging the heart’s fear and anger, chooses to be engaged and courageous rather than create scapegoats and hide behind walls of faux-security.
I don’t know the answers to the complex global issues we face. But I do know that, whether it’s a grieving world or a solitary man living on the streets, choosing the work of love is our best hope.