In my poem The Corral of Kin, I tried to express what is a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ teaching – namely that our love must be like God’s love for us: utterly inclusive with no barriers or limits, even for our enemies. Love is only really authentic when it excludes nothing from its embrace. Any limits on our love effectively debases our love.
A corral is of course an enclosure, usually for keeping livestock in one confined place so they don’t roam and get lost or stolen. It was also used in the pioneer days of the American West when the wagon trains formed a defensive circle to ward off attack by Indians. Inside the corral and protected by the wagons the settlers could best repulse attacks. Inside the corral the folk could feel reasonably safe and secure.
I’m using this image of the corral to try and express how many of us effectively corral our love. We love those ‘inside’ but not those ‘outside’. As Jesus himself put it: “If you only love those who love you… “ (Matthew 5: 46). It is of course relatively easy to love people who love us – often, though not always, our close family and friends, but this can also apply to our clubs, ethnic groups and nationalities. While all love is essentially good and positive, the real danger with only loving those we like or are close to is that our attitudes to others, such as strangers and enemies, are at best indifferent and perhaps can verge on dislike, prejudice and even hate. These non-loving feelings can be very subtle because most of us would not want to admit that we don’t care.
One way of defining love: when we love someone we sincerely want the very best for them. We are involved in their lives and we care what happens to them. In terms of those we don’t love – and love is always pro-active – if we’re honest, we really don’t care what happens to them.
If for example a war is going on in a far away place, and there is terrible suffering being inflicted, and we even see graphic images on our TVs and media, we perhaps don’t lose any sleep over it – precisely because it is far away and we don’t know these folk and likely will never encounter them. We maybe don’t hate them as such but we are untouched by their suffering and largely indifferent to their outcomes. We’re even secretly glad that the violence and suffering is far far away.
What does it mean then to say that we must love all people – no ifs, no buts – everyone, past, present and still to come, friend or foe? We will never meet most of the people who are alive today but we are nonetheless called to love them all. I think it means that we do in fact care about them and are prepared to put ourselves out if the occasion arises when it is appropriate. But the acid test of our love is surely that we refuse to hate, even when people are causing us direct harm. We are not called to always like them, but we absolutely must want the very best for them and work towards that goal come what may. This is not easy and is the ‘cost of discipleship’ if we want to follow Jesus and are honest about calling ourselves Christians.
Why is it that there is never a legitimate reason for not loving someone or some group, tribe or nation? Simply because God never stops loving. God is love – total, constant and unconditional love. As I have said before: there is nothing you can do that will stop God loving you! Even if by some horrible chance you were to end up in hell itself, God would still love you. That’s what God does, that’s what God is. And we are called to embrace this unconditional love, to join in what Richard Rohr calls the ‘circle dance of the Trinity’, giving and receiving love in a dynamic and perpetual flow.
Life is all about relationships, and relationships are all about love. Inclusive, pro-active love that has no limits, no exclusions, no corrals. Period.
In His love, Martin