On Love

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Dear Friends: Love, the bumper sticker, is simple and sweet. Love that moves through the real world can knock people down. Affection, friendship, romance, and unconditional loving-kindness – each seeks its place in our lives, and these forces can sometimes rush in and overwhelm us. Opening our hearts to love – both to its uncertainty and to its certainty – can be frightening. And we live in a finite world, in finite time, with finite choices to make.

Nearly three thousand years ago, the prophet Micah admonished us: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. This sequence of phrases is not arbitrary. It says that loving kindness is our bridge between everyday decisions and the will of God. When two women each argued before the Judge Solomon that she was the mother of the same child, Solomon didn’t serve justice with a fifty-fifty split. He didn’t give each woman “her share,” even though each one deserved the same thing – a child who had survived. He felt his love for the child, he felt his love for the two women, and he lay his heart and mind open to inspiration. And then he did justice.

Our world cries out for the wisdom of Solomon. In the face of great evil, the call to love can sound delusional, pathetic. The straightforward, effective response to evil often seems to be more evil. Reflexively, we feel the urge to strike back. Or to run. Yet as Friends, we are called to stay present and listen – to hear the claims that greed, anger, envy, and pride make on the human heart. And to hear the claims made by love.

In the new book published by Western Friend, An Inner Strength: Quakers and Leadership, the words of Nobel Committee Chairman Gunnar Jahn are quoted prominently in the introduction. While awarding the Nobel Peace Prize after World War II to the Religious Society of Friends, Jahn said, “The Society of Friends has never had many members … But it is not the number that matters. What counts more is their inner strength and their deeds.” In one of the essays in the book, Friends Peace Team member Nadine Hoover explains further, “We’ve managed to do so much with so few, not because of some great skill in planning or need to do so, but because of our attention to personal change and doing what’s right regardless of whether or not it seems petty or overwhelming, whether or not it will make a difference. … When I had the opportunity to meet Vietnamese government officials, I asked why it was that Friends were allowed in Vietnam when the country was closed to all foreigners. They replied that Friends were the only people who took no side and who treated everyone openly and equally; there were no secrets and no one was an enemy.”

Friends, we can’t do this alone. We can’t solve any of the endless problems in our world without opening our hearts to people we don’t really like, to people who have hurt us, and to people whom we’ve never even bothered to notice before. To people who will knock us down. And to people who will knock us over because they love us, too.

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