Dirty Hands

Distracted Love

I.

There’s a kind of distraction which hinders the work of love. The opening of 1 Corinthians 13 describes some of the ways this distraction might manifest itself: caught up in seeking miraculous experiences of the Spirit; knowledge of all sorts of things about Jesus; even good works of serving those less fortunate than ourselves.

None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But Paul says there is a way of doing these things – “without love” – which makes them a mere distraction, an unhelpful sideshow to the real work of life. They become unhelpful when we lose sight of our neighbour and forget to love them.

Even good things in the church – good theology, good ethics, good worship service, ministry time – can become distractions which prevent us attending to God and each other.

Anyone who serves in the church – on whatever level – knows the ever-present danger of this kind of distraction. We begin to think that we are doing something cool. That we are important – game-changing, even. More than the dangers of moral failure in sex or finance, I think, is the danger of getting distracted by our own self-written press releases. We begin to believe our own PR. The angel-tongues and mountain-moving and body-burning become ends in and of themselves. They are distractions that become their own reality – an aped reality, devoid of real substance, for sure. But reality for us, nonetheless.

See how awesome WE are. Even the demons submit to us.

We miss the people we are ultimately meant to be serving. And we miss ourselves. And we miss God.

But it seems there is also a kind of distraction which is essential to love. The work of love is at its heart often the choice of distraction. It is a turning aside from what we think of as being important in order to attend to that which initially seems mundane, annoying or tedious.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Bearing, believing, hoping, enduring. These are verbs of messiness. Verbs of distraction. Verbs that are fleshed out over time, in conversations, in sitting at the side of the road with someone yet again. In the mess of life. The particularities of Christian ethics in a concrete life, with concrete decisions.

II.

Not for the first time this year, I have been drawn to the story of Jesus and the blind man. Jesus is entering the city, surrounded by a group of religious fans. Charismatic groupies, evangelical experts who know what this Jesus is all about.

A blind man gets wind of the fact that Jesus is passing by and cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd tell him to pipe down. Shush! Don’t you know we’re focusing on Jesus! Don’t rock the boat, don’t get in the way, don’t make a mess.

It’s funny how we read the gospel stories. It’s funny who we imagine ourselves to be in the gospel stories.

We often see ourselves as being the person in need, met by Jesus.

Or, maybe more comfortably still, we put ourselves in the place of Jesus. He becomes almost a figurehead, a symbol for the ultimate good deed that we will do. Of course we are the person who stops for the wounded man at the side of the road. Of course we are the servant who forgives greatly. Of course we are the farmer, sowing the seeds of God’s truth and justice, even if the world doesn’t want to know.

We slip effortlessly into the role of hero. A little nudge here, a little poke there, and we can elbow Jesus out of the story and make them nice ethical principles – in which we are the ethical actors. The ones with the good doctrine, taking a confident counter-cultural stance.

If we’re honest, though, we’re not Jesus. We’re not even the blind man needing Jesus – at least, not in the way we think.

We’re the crowd. We’re the ones telling people to pipe down. To not rock the boat, to not get in the way. Can’t you see we’re concerning ourselves with Jesus? Don’t you know we’re trying to run a church? Don’t upset our vision program or our project with your questions, your concerns, your wounds or your hurts. There’s a mission to get onboard with. Are you a core part of this church? Or are you just a passenger, along for the ride?

III.

The church likes people with tattoos. They show we have a past and Jesus has saved us.
The church isn’t always so keen on people with fresh scars. They are too raw, too messy.
People whose wounds are fresh are messy. They bleed everywhere, demand too much energy.
They are hard to mobilise ‘on mission’.
Difficult truths, painful stories, annoying distractions – better sweep them under the rug.
Let’s give the colours on the tattoos time to fade. The scarring time to heal.

IV.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love is distracted.

V.

Jesus, of course, was less focussed on the religious goal.
Jesus heard the voice among the crowd. Jesus turned aside, saw the man, healed him, restored him.
Love allows itself to be distracted. It doesn’t have to run with the fastest at the front of the crowd. It doesn’t have to hang out purely with the morally clean, the dignified, the neat.

Love hangs back. Love bends down to tie up the shoelaces of those who have fallen down again. To sit with those who can’t keep up with those running, who fall behind the angel-tongued and mountain-movers and body-burners.

Love was born in an insignificant town, grew up in another insignificant town – “can anything good come out of there?” Love learnt to work with His hands, knew the names of local trees, hills and pathways. Love knew where to find fresh berries in the autumn. Love knew the names of customers who bought the work of his hands. Love lived and worked and cried and prayed and healed with a group of friends – outcasts and misfits and terrorist.

Love saw the people others overlooked. Knew the names and stories of those outcast by their communities, forced to draw water in the heat of the day.

Love was judged by the authorities of his time. And was crucified amongst common thieves. And buried. And rose. And lives. Even in our lovelessness, love remains. And bears all things. And believes all things. And hopes all things. And endures all things.

Love remains a Subject. Love remains free and active. And calls us to come and die to his way of life, to take up our cross, to follow him.

To learn the slow, unhurried, distracted way of love.

This is our pattern and our model and our hope. And this is the one who picks us up and carries us when we miss the mark, when the glowing praise of our self-reporting blinds us and makes our vision blurry, when we see our beloved religious projects and don’t see God’s beloved children.

When we reduce Godtalk to tired clichés, Love comes and upsets our nice churches with the fresh Word of the gospel.

VI.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love is distracted.
Love never fails.

 

David is a Baptist pastor and missionary in Vienna, Austria. Originally from the UK, he now works with Projekt:Gemeinde (Project:Church) as well as being involved in the year-out bible and mission school Project:Vienna and the Austrian Baptist Union’s home mission. He tweets @davidbunce

2 thoughts on “Distracted Love

  1. Amen to that!

    But not only an loud’n’proud “AMEN” of intellectual agreement that you write beautiful and I agree with your theology… also a small “amen”, of the convicted, and “amen” at the end of a pray that calls me be less impressive and more loving.

    Thank you David!

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