Love In the Face of Great Odds

This is a message I brought to Guilford College’s Quaker Leadership Scholars Program  meeting for worship Friday, October 2, 215. A reflection on Luke 6:27-32.

This evening I wanted to talk briefly with you about love.

I realize picking this topic puts me in danger on falling into making truisms like “Love is a Verb,” “love is blind, or “Love that is true lasts forever.” But I am not interested in boring you with such bland and untrue statements, nor am I interested interested in leaving you feeling warm and cozy.

Today I hope to put some teeth into love.

I want us to consider for the next few moments what it takes for love to grow, and what love has to do with being Quakers.

## Love Against the Odds

What got me started on this was something from bell hooks’ book, “All About Love.”

bell hooks tells a story about the time when she was teaching at Yale a number of years ago. Every day on her walk to work she would pass by a construction site where the walls were graffitied with the phrase,

“The search for love continues even in the face of great odds” (All About Love, xv)

She talks about how this phrase became a mantra for her during that time in her life and helped her press through a number of challenging things.

Eventually, the graffiti was painted over. After much searching, she was able to locate the artist who gave her four snapshots of the saying that she now keeps above her sink. Every morning she reads the phrase and is reminded again that as she says, “we yearn for love – we seek it – even when we lack hope that it really can be found.”

And in another place in the book, hooks writes,

“…Our nation, like no other in the world, is a culture driven by the quest for love (it’s the theme of our movies, music, literature) even as it offers so little opportunity for us to understand love’s meaning or to know how to realize love in word and deed…Schools for love do not exist. Everyone assumes that we will know how to love instinctively. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we still accept that the family is the primary school for love.”

I think she is exactly right about this. Love doesn’t happen by osmosis. It is something we learn or fail to learn and that this learning often comes amidst the struggles of everyday life.

We need a school of love, or what early Quakers called “The Nursery of Truth.”

And I can’t help but think that the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program is or can be that place for each of us.

A place where we learn experientially the meaning behind the words:

“The search for love continues even in the face of great odds.”

Now I don’t know about you but I do not like the sounds of this “in the face great odds” kind of love. I want to love in the face of great ease. I want to love in the arms of someone who doesn’t challenge me, or question me, or call me to make different choices. Isn’t it far more acceptable to love people who look and think just like me? From our actions, I’d say we’re more like to want a love on sale than one we go to great lengths for.

The Bafflement of Love

I had a lesson in the connection between struggle and love a number of years ago while I was still at Camas Friends Church. During that time I had the opportunity to go on a weekend retreat with Parker Palmer. At the retreat, Palmer mentioned that he never writes books about things he knows, he only writes on things that baffle him.

“You never google the stuff you are sure of, it’s only the stuff where there is a question or uncertainty that prompts you to pull out your phone and look it up. But it’s more than that too: I think Palmer means that those things that come easy, the things that you could do in your sleep, often have very little life in them. They take up so little bandwidth it’s easy to do them while sleep-walking.” (From Bafflement to Wonder)

But that doesn’t seem like the kind of love that hooks is talking about “in the face of great odds.” And it isn’t the kind of “bafflement” that Parker Palmer is talking about that motivates us to get up and move.

Love requires not only discipline, and choices that exemplify loving action in the world but it requires of each of us that we are fully awake.

Zombies on Motorcycles

My friend Peggy Morrison, who is a motorcycle riding, recorded Quaker minister out in Oregon, wrote in an email to a student in our class who asked her why she rides motorcycles:

Good Question. “Why Motorcycles?”

You are pretty much expecting the first answer to be “why not?” right?

The better answer is that you can’t fake, or space out on a bike. They require absolute mindfulness and the consequence for non-mindfulness is death.

Which is pretty much true for life in general. You are either practicing becoming more mindful or you are dying. There is not middle ground.

Have you ever seen a zombie on a motorcycle?, no you have not.

Nor have you ever seen a zombie fall in love. Unless of course you saw Isaac Marion’s movie, “Warm Bodies” about two zombies who fall in love, but that’s besides the point…

Love needs us to be fully awake, fully invested, because the challenges that will present itself are indeed great.

You are either practicing becoming more [loving] or you are dying. There is not middle ground.
Have you ever seen a zombie filled with and motivated by [love]?, no you have not.

## Does Your Quakerism Have Love Within It?

And so as we consider the ways in which love presses on us to be awake, to lean into our bafflements and uncertainties, to refuse the easy way out, and to remain open to the ongoing possibilities of change I have a question I want to ask you:

Does your Quakerism have love within it?

Does your practice of the Quaker faith have love? We talk so much about the values and testimonies of Quakerism why is love not one of them?

I wonder how many books that are written about Quakerism today have to do with love and especially this hard fought and hard won love that we are speaking of today.

I realize that love is a nice idea. To talk of love sounds lovely. It is always the right answer on the exam.

But when it comes to our Quaker faith does it root us and ground our practice? Is it the living stream from which all else flows or the after-thought? A person I follow on twitter recently wrote this:

What is troubling to me is this: Not our theological disagreements, but our willingness to harm to others to maintain our ideas. -Mr. Wrightaway Link

Is there room for this kind of love in our Quakerism? A love that not only refuses to do harm to those who challenge our ideas, but even makes space for those who are in very different places from us?

And this is the challenge that Jesus offered in the the Gospel of Luke:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? (Luke 6: 32)

If we are to have a rich experience of walking the path of the Quaker tradition, than I believe that even our Quakerism must have the kind of “love [that] continues even in the face of great odds.”

Conclusion

Now why am I saying all of this to you?

As you have probably heard by now, yesterday there was another mass shooting in Oregon. That makes 45 on school campus’ this year. You already know the ongoing and tragic violence against African Americans because of white supremacy. There are countless children hungry and homeless in this country alone, not to mention the rest of the world. And so many other places in which love has met great odds.

And if we take stock of our own Quaker meetings, yearly meetings we see plenty of places where harm is being done to others sometimes in the name of God, sometimes in the name of self-interest and sometimes in the name of true “Quakerism.” There are many whose voices are shut out because of one theological, ethnic, economic and sexual differences in all of our Quaker enclaves.

Where is love that “…continues even in the face of great odds” in any of this?

My hope is that we all can grow in that kind of love. A vibrant, resilient love that is fully awake, curious, and motivated to truly be something different in the world.

If your love isn’t fortified it will not withstand the challenges you will face in the world.

May you love those who do not love you back.
May you love those whose love is hard to see.
May you love those whose faith and experience in the world are different from your own.

And may your love “…continue even in the face of great odds.”

Credits:

Image from link.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.