Choose Love

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There has been much debate and anger in the last few weeks about the above story of a young girl in foster care, it is without doubt that the story as covered in both The Times and the Daily Mail was at best highly inaccurate, and at worst at deliberate distortion of the facts in order to reinforce prejudice about the Islamic faith and Muslims. I don’t want to go over ground already covered here; to talk about photoshopped images, the actual mixed Muslim/Christian heritage of the young girl (AB) at the centre of this case, the complete inaccuracies about the actions of foster carers, instead I want to talk about love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”

1 Corinthians. 13.4-7

As well as my “day job” in Pioneer Ministry, I have for the past 10 years plus been a foster carer; I’ve  met and ministered with, and alongside, parents (especially Mums) who have had children removed from their care by social services due to various reasons – I’ve heard and shared their tears, their pain and heartache, their regrets and yes even their anger at the loss they’ve had to face.

In the time we’ve been fostering, we’ve had a number of young people come and go, some have stayed for a long time, and others not. Each comes with their own backstory, their own hurts and issues, sometimes (often) with hurts and issues they do not fully understand themselves and struggle to make sense of. As a foster carer (just like those in the story above) I’m there to provide a number of things; a place of safety, a place where the child or young person can thrive (as best they can) and develop a sense of genuine self worth, a place where they are loved.

But love comes at a cost to all of us. I (and others in my family) have been kicked, punched, and slapped – we been sworn at, spat at, we’ve had things thrown at us, been threatened with knives, seen property deliberately broken, car paintwork scratched and doors and furniture broken. Of course we’ve also had laughs and smiles, holidays where we’ve run through the waves and shared a sense of genuine “freedom” and joy, we’ve seen children grow into young adults and develop their own independence.

Love takes all these things, the ups and downs, the happy and sad, good and bad – it can’t always make things work the way you want, and sometimes it wears you down – completely. You see love isn’t the simple cozy and romantic thing the world often seeks to package and sell it as – love costs.

Jesus knew about the cost of love – it led him to his death and crucifixion, and it’s a choice made by countless others before and since. To love means we make ourselves vulnerable (ironically that’s why so many young people in care find it hard to love and be loved – the cost of that vulnerability feels too high for them – which in turn leaves them truly vulnerable to those whose real intent is abuse not love). But it’s not just them who struggle, sadly other people in sections of our society feel safer hiding from the cost of love. Hiding behind other strong emotions like fear and hate, thinking they can somehow protect themselves in this way, substituting real love, with a false love of things such as money, power, nationhood and even religion. The cost of love is to  be vulnerable, its what the early Christians knew as they were persecuted even to their deaths – but still they chose to love (despite its cost) as to live by fear and hatred was something even worse, or as Martin Luther King Jnr, famously said: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

 

 

 

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Love is ….

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Every first Sunday of the month I organise a session called Prayer and Paint, a small group of us meet and contemplate on a piece of scripture or story and respond through some form of creative expression (words, artwork or both), we’re not great artists, we just use that medium as a way of quietly being with each other and God.

Last night we explored “Love”; why not, afterall it’s my own wedding anniversary this week at Valentines day next, so what better excuses (if any were needed). We talked briefly about how CS Lewis in his book Four Loves, describes different types or expressions of love: Storge (Empathic love), Philia (Friendship bonds), Eros (Erotic and romantic love), and Agape (Unconditional love as offered by God).

The world (I mean us by the way – and yes that includes me) gets this whole love thing very mixed up. We confuse it with other emotions, we devalue it and demean by using it to sell things, or gain power and influence over others, we crave it and yet we abuse it. We claim to “love” things that are never worthy of such feelings – we love it would seem everything from ice cream to our nations flag, and yet are often incapable it seems of loving our neighbours (let alone our enemies).* I remember a song I heard when I was young, a song by Burt Bacharach, sung by  Dionne Warwick which said:

What the world needs now is love sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.

…. at the top of the page is a photo I found today**, and remember:

Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud.
Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and it cannot be made angry easily.
Love does not remember wrongs done against it.
Love is never happy when others do wrong, but it is always happy with the truth.
Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits.

Love will never end. 

 

* Matthew 5.44-44
**NY Times article