Is love hard?
Must be, according to popular culture, songs, movies, the like. Here find two stories about the difficulties of love, the kind of love that heals, connects, helps the world get what it “needs now,” according to an old Burt Bacharach song.
In 1993, I worked for an organization that provided services to women who were victims of family violence, and to men who committed violent acts. Most of the men in the program were ordered there by judges who hoped our program would teach them about violence and how to avoid it in their relationships with women.
Yes, I know there are women who beat men, and there is some violence in same-sex relationships, but most of the family violence in this country is committed by men against women, so these were the folks I was dealing with. We had a pretty strict curriculum examining family systems, power, money, relationships with children, extended family, all kinds of past and present stuff that might trigger violence. But sometimes we just talked. One night the subject was love: love from our parents or caregivers as youngsters, love among family members, spiritual love.
Suddenly the conversation derailed. A torturer, a man who been convicted of sexually torturing a woman, called a halt to the discussion. He started waving his hands. “Wait a minute,” he repeated several times, and when he had everyone’s attention, he asked me, “You think everyone’s capable of love?” I said I thought so, sure. He looked at me with the coldest eyes and said with the calmest voice, “I’m not sure you’re right about that.”
That was 16 years ago. You don’t soon forget a moment like that.
Which brings me to story number two. A group of Methodist preachers gathered in Myrtle Beach for training. The entire group was comprised of ministers and their spouses, so they let their hair down a little. The question came up, “Are churches capable of love?” There’s that phrase again, that phrase that came from that torturer so many years ago. Are we capable of love? For several minutes the clearly beat up and tired clergy folk sat around and considered the question. They had known some hard knocks, cruelty at the hands of the church folk they sought to serve, betrayal, back-stabbing, nit-picking to the point that a heaviness took over the room.
Finally my dear friend, the Rev. Dr. Mary John Dye spoke up. Mary John has been a major leader in the United Methodist world and currently serves as a district superintendent in the Western North Carolina conference. She is smart and edgy and funny and has a heart like a lion. She could not believe we were even considering the question.
“Capable of love?” she asked in disbelief. “Of course, our church folks are capable of love.” She agreed that they may screw it up from time to time, lose their cool, attack when they’d do better to consider the consequences of their actions, but surely, surely they are capable of the kind of selflessness, affirmation, support, caring, patience, kindness, and hard work that comes of love, that all of us recognize as love.
There is a lot of pain in the world caused by the failures of love, but obviously we know it when we see it. Since time began we have been taught that to find it, we must first learn to give it away. My bet is on Mary John. That man who ran his own torture chamber is wrong. We are all capable of love. It may be hard. But we can do it.