Posted by: sophiashinies | June 19, 2008

Loving People as an Unchristian Christian

(Sorry for the Rob Bell-ian writing style. Won’t happen again!)

I’ve discovered I can’t love people by institution. I’ve tried.

I thought it was because I have sinful motives for loving people. In every church I’ve been a part of, I’ve gotten involved in some kind of structured activity to teach me to love people. I didn’t want to love people. I wanted to get more and more involved. I wanted to climb the ladder. I wanted to start as the junior altar server with the wrong color shoes and end up as the altar servers’ manager. And you know what? I did. But I didn’t really love people.

As T.S. Eliot would say, “I had the experience, but missed the meaning.”

I’ve discovered this in myself and repented of it a thousand times. Somewhere along the way, I’ve learned a little bit about both the actions and the heart of loving people.

But that wasn’t the reason. The reason was the institution itself.

You see, if I learn to love people as an altar server, I’ll always love people as an altar server. And the key thing in that sentence is that my love will always be qualified. It will always be filtered through the lens of the job I’m doing and the institution I’m a part of.

And more than that, I’ll never love people at all. It will always be the institution loving people. It will be a thing, a structure, providing care, rather than Christ working through people. George W. Bush, the dude, doesn’t care about the “top volunteer” who meets him at the plane in every city he visits. The institution of the president, however, cares (for whatever value of “cares” your political view allows) about communities. So George W. Bush, the president, gives them thirty seconds of his time.

As Peter Rollins, a Christian philosopher, says,

[The] direct denial of community can turn out to be the most fertile soil for real community to develop indirectly. For if there is no ‘group’ who cares about the person sitting beside me then there is more need for me to care about that person. If there is no pastoral support team in place then I need to be the pastoral support. The refusal to offer pastoral support thus generates a potential place where pastoral care is distributed among everyone. As Dovstoyesky once said, ‘we are all responsible for each other, but i am more responsible than all others’. (link)

So, to once again frame it in terms of T.S. Eliot, “The way forward is the way back.” Back from well-developed Christian programs, back to the place where I am forced to love because there is no one else who will. So that’s where I’m going. Anyone want to join me?



  1. I really resonate with what you wrote cadenzamuse. I’m definitely joining you 🙂 As a leader in a church, I constantly battle with the question: “am I inviting people to help me grow a church or to frolic and play in God’s kingdom”?? Since the church is a non-profit that depends on volunteers, the temptation is for preachers to quote JC saying “whosoever will become great among you shall be your servant” as a way of recruiting more volunteers for church-related activities. That’s why I believe so strongly in de-programming the church and valuing minimalism. Maybe, as you said, it will help those involved in church leadership to love and be loved. That’s my hope at least.

  2. cadenzamuse, firstly, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    I think I was with you up to the point where you said, “But that wasn’t the reason. The reason was the institution itself.”

    I applaud you for your efforts to love people and your honesty in falling short. It takes a certain amount of … ____ to do that. (my vocab isn’t working right now.)

    I would say that we learn how to love by looking at Jesus. We may learn how to appear loving by serving, but action w/o ties to the heart & soul appears to be more legalism in my eyes. Serving from a sense of duty instead of love.

    The verses that comes to mind after all this… 1 Corinthians 12.



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