Loving a World in Crisis

Added about a year ago by David R. Tomlinson

GUEST BLOG: David Tomlinson introduces us to his new book Living for Love. Part theological treatise, part manifesto, Living for Love is a book for our times and an urgent read for all Christians concerned with the state of our world and in search of hope for our shared future.

On 15 December, another four people drowned in the English Channel. Their small boat had capsized. They had been heading towards our shores seeking sanctuary. Our Prime Minister’s response to these tragedies is to pedal pejorative stereotypes, while doing nothing to provide further opportunities for those in danger across the globe to find refuge here. Rather than being chastened by the sight of corpses, there has been a hardening of the rhetoric with some calling for asylum seekers to be denied their human rights. When we undermine someone else’s humanity, we give ourselves permission to be inhumane.David R. Tomlinson

How we frame this issue determines how we see those undertaking this perilous journey. If the steady flow of barely seaworthy vessels constitutes an “invasion”, then they are the “enemy”. Should we assert that they come illegally, we criminalize them. When we see them as only here to improve their economic outlook, they are defined as “migrants”. However, when we focus on our common humanity, we recognize their dignity, and must acknowledge that there is no simple label we can apply to define or dismiss them.

In my latest book, Living for Love, I assert the truth that each one of us is precious. Every human being is a representative of God. We are, as the Bible reminds us, made in the “image of God”. Each person is an icon of the ultimate Other. As such, they deserve not just our tolerance, or only our care, but our reverence. In their presence, we are on holy ground.

What is more, there is bound to be an element of mystery about them. There is no way that we can truly encapsulate another person with a pithy descriptor. This should not surprise us for we know how complex we are. Each human being is “…composed of layer after layer of perceptions, reactions, expectations, memories, desires, hopes, and values. By placing people into boxes, we are denying them the truth of who they are.”

Cherishing everyone’s humanity in all its richness, we sense our obligation to be kind. Remember the golden rule, “treat others are you would hope to be treated”, a maxim born of mutuality and self-interest. Then there is the call to “love your neighbour”. This commandment makes love not a choice – an attitude and actions we can offer or refuse – but a responsibility. By regarding love as a duty, we train our hearts. Softened by compassion, we can no longer ignore the suffering of other people but are compelled to be generous.

Our shared humanity, allied to the universality of love’s claim, must be the ground on which the world responds to the refugee crisis, and the other emergencies we face. As international collaboration is imperative in the face of the vast number of refugees fleeing from persecution, war, and meteorological calamities resulting from the climate catastrophe, the quest for world peace must be a collaborative enterprise. Given renewed urgency in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, and the heightened threat of nuclear Armageddon, we must forsake myths and narratives that set nation against nation. And, of course, we are emerging from a global pandemic that was a stark reminder of how we live in a global village with one shared future. We can no longer afford to indulge individualism and tribalism, and other divisive creeds. It is vital that we join together under the collective banner of “living for love”, and take seriously each other’s welfare. For there are not multiple, independent futures to pursue, but only one. We can no longer avoid the vital necessity of working together to shape a sustainable and just future. This requires both international action, and all of us to see “the other” in the light of love.

My book is an exploration of what it means to see the world illuminated by love. Like a diamond, love has different faces but also an essential unity. Love’s source is God. As the climactic theology of the biblical story testifies: God is love. We are called to love other people and to love ourselves. A healthy self-love fosters our capacity for loving relationships.  And our love for each other is integral to our love for God. An exploration of Jesus’ teaching underlines that no-one is to be excluded from our embrace. We cannot write off the stranger or even our enemies, they must be enfolded in our compassion. What that means in practice has to be worked out, but we have no excuse or alibi for not engaging with the challenge.

When we are motivated by love, and seek love’s triumph in every relationship and context, the goals for our interpersonal dynamics and politics, local and global, become bighearted and open-handed. The cynic might call this approach naïve but the alternative is to bunker down, and hold on to the delusion of self-interest like an increasingly threadbare comfort blanket. If we become ever more selfish, we will all lose out. Increasing division leaves us all entrenched in our positions, staring forlornly at a widening no man’s land. Further fragmentation means that greater numbers fall down the cracks between us. The Christian faith issues a clarion call in every generation to ignore the dissenting voices, and to make love our aim. Against the backdrop of a world in crisis, there is a renewed urgency about this summons. We cannot hold back: we must grasp and hold fast to humanity’s only hope: to live for love.

David R. Tomlinson is Vicar of St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, and Chair of Thrive Together Birmingham. You can pick up your copy of Living for Love here!

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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