Love Lessons

Sometimes, if you are lucky enough, life is patient with you. It gives you time to learn the lesson of what it means to love others. I don’t mean in that romantic way of Eros. I don’t even mean in that Agape way of God’s unconditional love. I’ve grown convinced that the children are the only ones capable of Agape love. It’s not that we love our children unconditionally because I dare say so few of us actually do. (If you disagree it’s likely because your children aren’t teenagers yet. Hang on, you’ll come to know the truth of that statement one day.)

Rather it is children who practice Agape love day in and day out. No matter how sorry of a parent we are, children love us. Those who work in the field know that a child will love a parent even if that parent neglects them to the point of starvation or beats them to the point of death. So, yeah, I believe children are the only ones who actually understand and practice unconditional love.

The kind of love that life has given me the time to learn is storge, the empathic bond one has for another. It is often referred to as a “brotherly love”, although, I much prefer it to be called a “sisterly love.” It is perhaps the most common kind of love, as most everyone has experienced some form of it.

We certainly recognize the absence of it – people who fail to have even one bit of empathy for another human. The lack of it leads to the atrocities Hamas inflicted upon Israel, just as the lack of it has led Netanyahu to slaughter thousands of innocent Palestinians in his quest for revenge (all underwritten by American bomb makers who are filling their coffers with the blood of children).

The Scriptures urge us to be kind to others and to put up with their faults because of our shared humanity. Storge is a “more excellent kind of love.” A love that looks to the welfare of others first, not our own self-interests. We are urged to heap such love on others, being patient with one another, and making effort to understand the other person. To imagine the sufferings others have endured, and to be helpers to them along the way.

I thought about storge this week as I sat in a coffee shop in Portland’s Pearl District with a friend I had not seen in 30 years. Life has been patient with the two of us, giving us opportunity to learn to love ourselves, each other and Creator in ways neither of us had imagined possible all those decades ago.

John and I first met when a religious magazine I wrote for assigned me the task of interviewing him and his wife about how they had managed to “overcome” their “lifestyles.” John was a “former” homosexual and his wife a “former” lesbian. That article was titled, Peace Beyond Gomorrah: Path to Freedom from homosexuality.

Cringe-worthy, right? This was 1995 and in my defense, I didn’t write that headline. That said, I, like a lot of people at the time was trying to understand homosexuality in the wake of the AIDS crisis that has taken the lives of so many, and destroyed even more.

Not long after John’s story went national, he became the face of the “converted/healed homosexual.” For many years he was the spokesperson for the evangelical firebrand Focus on the Family. He served on the board for Exodus.

Back then, both John and I believed a person could will themselves out of being gay. And if anyone ever tried to will themselves into heterosexuality, John did. His journey toward healing has been an arduous one. Three sons were born during the years John was trying to fit into the Evangelical model of a “good Christian.” The faith he claims today is the eternal sort. The kind that can’t be wrestled away or diminished by those who simply don’t possess storge, and have never tried to extend such love to those they see as “wrong.”

As baristas handed out Americanos behind us, John’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke of his love for God and God’s love for him. He spoke of the dark times when he wanted to take his own life rather than continue living as a heterosexual when he knew in his heart of hearts, he was living a lie. John still speaks with great affection for Dr. James Dobson, something I can’t do, even though for years I mailed a check off to his ministry each month.

“Thank you for standing with me all these years,” John said.

“It was your journey that propelled me to question my own beliefs,” I replied. “I didn’t know then what was right but I knew the Church was getting it wrong.”

Belief and truth are often estranged from one another. To believe in something or someone with your whole heart does not make something true. Truth can stand alone all by itself whether anyone believes in it or not. Belief can’t do that. Beliefs can’t stand in isolation. Belief systems need numbers to support them.

John came to accept the truth of who he was. He divorced his wife, who is still entrenched in a belief system that denies gays their personhood. Often we cling to a belief system as a means of protecting us from truths we don’t want to face. That’s how patriarchy, misogyny, racism, bigotry manage to thrive.

Like John, I too left behind the belief system that urged me to see the world in black-and-white, right-and-wrong, us-and-them. I’m not going lie, it’s been hard to do. Leaving meant walking away from many who remain most comfortable in an us-and-them paradigm. By the same token, Evangelicals left me behind when they embraced the Anti-Christ as their political leader.

Years into my faith journey, I grew tired of throwing people out of the boat. Nowadays I only want to pull as many as I can out of the dark waters. I’ve come to understand that if my faith is to be of any merit, it will be measured worthy by how much of it I dole out daily, and not by how much of it I withhold in the name of some man-made religious dogma of “us against them.”

The storge love that John and I share has created within me a craving for a world and an eternity where nobody is standing at locked gates checking entry papers before welcoming folks in. I no longer have need of a religion offering eternity inside a gated community where white heterosexual men are in charge of everything.

Talk about your eternal hell, that would be it for me.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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