No Greater Love
My Facebook feed resides in the same-old, same-old neighborhood. Recycled memes and warmed-over talking points stand in for landmarks and lingering arguments stand up like street signs, giving the scene a queasy familiarity. I could drive these blocks with my eyes closed, knowing every corner’s pull, the slight jerk of each pothole.
Each day’s proceedings resemble the day before—and the day before that. Little surprises me, but what’s expected still holds power to shock and trouble. My pulse especially races after one persisting statement.
White adoptive parents of black children double down on their support of certain politicians and policies. A C-minus history student could report the many ways the civic behaviors these white adoptive parents support inflict violence upon people who look like their children—or unduly affect people who look like their children’s first parents. And my blood boils, burning a crimson course through my veins.
As the white adoptive father of a black boy, I cannot comprehend the degree of nerve it takes to remain unchanged. I cannot see how positions that once looked good on paper, or thrived in theory, miss their chance to translate into flesh and bone and innocent face.
Parenthood never asks you to shed every inch of your political skin. Neighbor-love doesn’t check all its convictions at the door. I sympathize with anyone and everyone who lives, as rock bard Craig Finn wrote, “stuck between stations.” But love—by divine design—is eternally elastic, bending into countless shapes; under these conditions, it somehow fails to flex or transition from one state of matter to another.
If we say we long to surrender fully to love, everything belongs on the table. Incarnation demands sacrifice; it knows no other way.
This phenomenon repeats itself across circumstances. From within the eye of a pandemic, people protest—sometimes literally, sometimes into thin air—over their right to exist without masks. And with each proclamation, each uptick in volume, they forfeit moral credibility.
Well-meaning white Christians chase the unity they spy throughout the Scriptures. But their hearts stop short of what they seek when faced with injustice or reports of sneaky, everyday racism. Afraid of playing tug-of-war for keeps, or genuinely convinced every story knows two equal sides, they water down the spilled blood of Christ, leaving their brothers and sisters exposed, wondering who has their back. Lowercase unity crowds out the capital-letter version. They settle for singing a softer, ultimately less persuasive song.
Jesus tells us no greater love exists than the one which emboldens a man or woman to lay down his life for a friend. Love is well within its rights to ask everything in a moment of truth. Who are we to withhold our comfort, our vote, the very stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world? These wobbly expressions of love imitate Jesus, tracing the contours of his cruciform life. They leave us less bloody and bereft than the Lord, somehow better than they found us.
Poring over every word, and reading between every line, of Philippians 2, we find the truest example of self-giving. Privilege and rights, concepts which carry heavy freight today, show up in the divine lexicon thousands of years ago. Every gesture of Jesus’ life defines these words as something to unburden yourself of for the sake of love. The freedom he gives binds itself to the right people, places, and things.
Working backwards from “no greater love,” we learn there is no higher privilege than leaning into and living in the middle of someone else’s reality. That life would let us welcome a child as they are, walk in the footsteps of a friend, see ourselves and our world through a neighbor’s eyes, is a gift of God worth our bent knees and whispered thanks.
So often the right to be right, or the privilege of living unbothered, keeps us from knowing the sacred joy of setting foot in someone else’s experience. Unwilling to scrape our feet across the welcome mat laid outside someone else’s story, we miss the chance to cross the threshold and identify with a neighbor or grandparent, the woman who shares our pew, the family that supports our business, or the guy who stocks shelves at the corner store.
Hurling all we are and all we have toward incarnation means submitting to hope. And this kind of hope never puts us to shame.
The eternal essence of Jesus didn’t change when he descended to Earth. But his love bent our direction and formed his way through our world. This shape-shifting love rearranged every molecule of privilege and power within the created order.
Open your hands and let once precious creeds float up and away like balloons unleashed. This abandon draws us into Christ-like rhythms and moves us closer to our truest selves.
Given the choice to live without blinders in someone else’s story or continue to lean on my own understanding, the right decision both tugs hard and satisfies me. Let tenderness break whatever mold I inhabit. Love, bend me into whatever shape makes me look more like Christ and fits me into my neighbor’s life. Help me decrease, making room for him to increase and fill whatever space remains.