No, I am not submitting a belated entry into the heated conversation about Rob Bell’s latest book. I haven’t read Love Wins, so it would be inappropriate for me to enter the conversation. I do know, however, that long before Rob wrote the book he preached a series of sermons by the same title. I didn’t hear the sermons, but my daughter and son-in-law happened to be on the staff of Rob’s church at that time, so I did end up with a “LOVE WINS” sticker, which has long been stuck on a wall in my office.
The photo above shows the sticker flanked by a collection of precious (to me) mementos: a cross carved decades ago by my friend and mentor, Gilbert Bilezikian, while he served as a military medic in the deserts of Algeria.
A paper-covered vase made over 30 years ago by my daughter when she was in preschool; a rock I picked up on a wind-swept beach in Ireland (yeah, I have a thing for rocks and a thing for Ireland); a mug I received in December from a Christian in Cairo who later raised her voice in protest in Tahrir Square; and an olivewood cup from which I drank communion wine in the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
The communion cup is the most recent addition to my collection of artifacts. I was at the Garden Tomb just weeks ago. It is always a moving experience to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the land that was the geographical setting for his incarnation. But on this last trip there was an unexpected poignancy to the experience. While our group of 30 Christian leaders huddled in the rain, preparing to honor the Prince of Peace, someone else was detonating a bomb in Jerusalem. We passed the broken bread and poured the dark wine to a haunting accompaniment of screaming sirens and hovering helicopters. We eventually made it safely back to our hotel in Bethlehem, but snarled traffic and closed checkpoints made the journey slow and frightening.
For nearly two weeks afterwards we visited holy sites that called us to a deeper appreciation of Jesus, and we visited decidedly unholy sites — places of violence and injustice that must break the heart of God. We listened to the brave and peaceful call of Christians, Muslims, and Jews — both Palestinians and Israelis — committed to security and justice for all the people of the Holy Land. And we listened to the disheartening rhetoric of those whose violent words seemed incomprehensible — not to my mind, but to my heart, my spirit, my faith.
I’m still shell-shocked by my recent trip to Israel/Palestine; I’m not ready to reflect on all that I saw and experienced. But four kids from my church, equipped with two cans of paint and four paintbrushes, captured the essence of my thoughts about the future of the place of Jesus’ most dramatic visitation. “LOVE WINS” they painted on the giant wall that divides the people of the Holy Land. A day later a group of Westmont College students repeated the message in Arabic. I didn’t take many photos on my recent trip. I’m so glad one of my friends photographed this message on the wall in Bethlehem, because I really do believe that in the end, love wins.
I’m not making a big, cosmic, eternity-touching statement when I suggest that love wins. I’ll leave the big, cosmic, eternity-touching statements to theologians and biblical scholars and preachers and controversial authors. I’m just saying that the longer I live and the further I travel and the more I see and experience of the brokenness of life, the more I realize that every encounter and every relationship goes better when we approach it from a position of love. I don’t think love means that we have to agree about everything. But I think it means that we listen hard, and that we do our best to understand the fears, the frustrations, the dreams, the worldview, and the experience of “the other.” And while we listen, we pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts and expand the capacity of our minds. And we pray that the Spirit, the passion, and the redemptive work of Jesus will have its way in us and in the world.
So … I’m sitting in my at-home office, looking at the collection of personal artifacts I’ve gathered during (almost) 60 years of life and thousands of miles of travel and countless conversations with people in pain. As I scan the walls and shelves that hold my holy clutter, I set my gaze on the source of my hope and on my steadfast belief. Love wins.