A Love that Disrupts



One of the great agitators of our time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

A lot of people like to cherry-pick this quote from Dr. King’s legacy once a year, on his birthday. He was such a remarkable human, and this simple statement seems to encapsulate the profound impact he had on the world. He taught us to love better. But I’m learning how important it is to keep this quote in context: Dr. King was not loved by the masses in his own lifetime. He was a protestor, a pot-stirrer, a disrupter. It cost him his life. The same man who said, “Hate is too great a burden to bear,” also said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

And yet, he uses this word, “Love,” to describe his work as an activist.

His friend and partner in disruption, John Lewis, who marched with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 (Bloody Sunday), said that the Civil Rights movement was an act of love.

“The movement created what I like to call a non-violent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m gonna still love you.”

There is that word: Love.

In an interview with Krista Tippett for On Being, Patrisse Cullors, one of the founding leaders of Black Lives Matter, described this new movement in a similar way,

“When we show up on the freeway, when we chain ourselves to each other, that’s an act of love. That act of resistance is an act of love, that we will put our bodies on the line for our community and, really, for this country.”

Resistance is an act of love. We love, therefore we march. We love, therefore we disrupt.

A tumultuous love story if there ever was one, but a love story nonetheless.

I think most of us understand love on an interpersonal level. The love of our mothers. The love of our fathers, sisters, and brothers. The love of our partners and best friends. The love of our classmates, coworkers, and neighbors. But what about communal love? Systemic love? A love that arcs toward justice for all?

I’m desperate for that understanding of love right now, in what seems like such a tumultuous time for my country and the rest of the world. I wouldn’t say that I feel love for America. More often, when I’m watching cable news at night, or listening to public radio on my drive to work, or scanning my twitter feed in the morning, what I feel is frustration. Embarrassment. Fear. Anger. Rage.

I look at the legacies of leaders like King and Lewis, and wonder at how far we haven’t come. How much we’re not taught about our history in school, and how much we’re unwilling to learn. How much healing is still left undone, and how often we segregate ourselves from the pain of the marginalized.

How can this possibly be a love story?

At my most cynical, I joke with my friends that we’ll move to Canada if a certain bloviating presidential candidate wins the election in November. But I’m not going to abandon my country, not really. There’s a certain amount of privilege inherent in jokes about leaving your country when politics get uncomfortable, I know. I’m deeply disturbed by the state of American politics and by America’s many systemic injustices, but I intend to stay. I’m not going to run away from the pain of it.

So this is my question right now: how can I stick with love, to lift this burden of hate?

At an event for Belmont University students last week, theologian and Episcopal priest Broderick Greer responded to a question about the role of white people in racial healing with another question“What is your front line?”

The work of justice can feel overwhelming, but Broderick’s point was that each of us need to discern where the personal meets the political. How can I confront injustice—in myself, and in my loved ones? How can I disrupt the false narratives and misconceptions in my own community? Where can transformative love take place in my own sphere of influence?

Peace isn’t passive. To love our neighbor and our enemies is an active choice; it’s a love that responds to the world. In this context, love and anger are not mutually exclusive, but inextricably linked. I have to care deeply enough to be angered by injustice.

So this is the love story: Where there are walls, we work to build bridges. Where there is hurt, we tend the victims; we listen to their stories, we say their names, so that they are not forgotten. Instead of taking aim, we link arms. We march, we speak up, we ask questions, we listen, we vote, we resist, we pray.

Because we love, we disrupt.