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Good morning. Donald Trump’s first presidential visit to the UK begins today. He has many supporters. But if he looks out of his helicopter window, he’s going to see a lot of protests from those who take a dim view of his character and policies. It’s no secret that several European leaders find him a difficult man to deal with – but they’ve all recognised that they have no alternative. He’s the American president, like it or not, and you don’t get to choose your dialogue partners on the world stage.
This predicament is similar to the challenge almost all of us face when we have to find a way to get along with people we would never choose as friends. Whether we’re a bride having to come to terms with an interfering and possessive mother-in-law, or a salesperson having to do a deal with a client who makes inappropriate jokes, we can’t demand that everyone we talk to or work with shares our principles or values. Sometimes we just have to find a way to muddle through.
When Jesus commanded, ‘Love one another, as I have loved you,’ he wasn’t saying it would be a picnic. We’re not told he particularly liked all the twelve disciples. When St John says, ‘God loved the world so much as to give the only Son,’ there’s no mention of God liking the world, or condoning everything the world got up to. The whole point of God’s love is that it’s shown towards everyone.
We tend to like people who amuse or entertain us, or who reinforce our view of the world, or who are similar to us and don’t disturb our security or self-esteem. To say we love such people costs us very little – you could almost say we’re loving an image of ourselves. Love only gets interesting when it’s a painful, demanding commitment to abide with people who aren’t like us, don’t make it easy for us, and perhaps even seem to undermine and disrespect us.
Love doesn’t require us to be passive, blithely tolerant, or sentimental in the face of division or hostility. It requires us to do precisely the work that liking people makes us assume we don’t need to do: to say things like, ‘You and I are some way apart on this; we’re going to need to talk a lot more to understand each other. And we may never agree.’
In the end love isn’t about finding one person or a select group of people to be our cocoon of comfort. Love is about the slow, intense task of finding ways to work and live with those whom we cannot bring ourselves to like.