Less than a week ago, the world lost Rick Love, one of the most amazing and humble peacemakers that this world has ever known. A man whose subtle and brief introduction into my life in 2011, ended up changing the entire trajectory of my path.
As I write these words, my heart is filled with endless gratitude for Rick. There is a lot that could be written about this amazing man and all he did in this world, but I’d like to share with you a bit about the impact he had on my life.
When I was twenty-five, my mom married the only pastor I had ever truly respected. I respected him because I knew he genuinely loved people, which (unfortunately) seemed really unique in that world of pews and crosses. And it was at their wedding that I was introduced to Rick Love, a who ran a non-profit, Peace Catalyst International, that focuses on peacemaking amongst Christians and Muslims.
A little info on my life at the time. I was in college studying history and the Middle East, and was fiercely passionate about social-justice issues, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that broke my entire heart to pieces.
Here’s the low-down from NYWJ – For decades Palestinians have been treated as less than human by the modern nation of Israel. Palestinian children are arrested and imprisoned by the Israeli government for years without reason, drones bomb Gaza on the regular, and the Israeli army regularly invades the West Bank, raiding homes, shooting rubber bullets (sometimes live bullets), and gas into streets of civilian neighborhoods. It’s an apartheid state, one which is basically funded and strongly supported by the American White-Jesus Church with its weird Christian Zionist ideals.
You know, I can vividly remember my reaction the first time someone, a person who is dear to me, tried to convince me that the Jewish people need to rule the land of Palestine, establishing a nation-state, in order for Jesus to come back.
As I stood in a dimly lit hallway listening intently, my stomach dropped. I thought, is this real life? I felt instantly, simultaneously confused and appalled. Basically, “we” need to help Israel conquer Palestine and Palestinians at any cost or God is not going to send Jesus back and bring the “end times.” With this type of thinking, people of Jewish descent are favored by God and we need to support the modern nation of Israel regardless of their inhumane treatment of others because apparently that’s what Jesus wants us to do.
After this Christian ideology was explained to me for the first time, with no hesitation and I’m sure no chill, I responded with a couple of blunt but serious questions: “Are you telling me that God cares for one group of people more than others based on their blood line? Well how pure does one’s blood have to be at this point to be part of this group of chosen ones? Wow, so what you’re telling me is that God is prejudiced based on factors completely out of our control?”
By the end of the conversation after my fiery disposition had wound down, I had come to a new conclusion, which I calmly expressed, “If the Christian God is essentially racist, then I have no interest in your God.” It wasn’t a declaration of atheism as much as a declaration against the idea that God could be a bigot; why would anyone want to follow that God?
Since I had grown up in the evangelical church, but never really got into religion, I was lacking in my understanding of the ways of Jesus; for all I knew, he was also a raging bigot. I mean, so many of his so-called followers clearly were.
At the time I probably would have been considered a pretty loud and fiery liberal. I loved the Middle East, the people, the culture, the shisha, the tea. After all that I had seen from “Christians,” I had the firm idea that anyone who called themselves a Christian was a dispensationalist Zionist who probably hated Muslims and whose sole purpose in having a conversation with anyone from “that part of the world” would be to try to convert them manifest-destiny style.
Yeah, pretty intense.
And this was pretty much where my head was at when I was first introduced to Rick Love at my parents’ wedding.
Rick was super nice, we chatted briefly about my love for the Middle East and then he invited me to a Muslim/Christian Peacemaking type conference and though I was skeptical af of these Christians trying to just love Muslims or whatever, something inside me told me I had to go.
So I went, arriving in full-on skeptic mode with walls in high gear, ready to unleash my fiery, passionate (unwavering, sarcastic, argumentative) side toward anyone who began talking about trying to convert Muslims or convert anyone for that matter.
But to my surprise, what I found was something unexpected. What I found was a spark that began to change something inside of me; it was the first glimpse I had of what it could mean to truly follow the ways of Jesus, the Jewish Palestinian, refugee Messiah, not the White-Jesus of American religion.
What I found was a group of people who hung out in mosques, not to convert, but to literally love their neighbors as Jesus would, without judgment, without a deeper agenda, and without weird American fear based on false propaganda that demonizes Islam. Just people hanging out with people without labels getting in the way. I found real people who said they were Christians but also opposed the oppression of Palestinians.
Wait, so all Christians aren’t Zionists?
It was the start of a major paradigm shift. Jesus loves the Middle East, which makes sense because that’s his homeland, and Jesus loves Muslims because Jesus loves everybody, and there are people who actually get that and live their lives trying to follow this Jesus.
In other words, I found that there were people who claimed Christianity and were actually normal-ish, kind humans and not weirdos with a manipulative messiah complex.
Toward the end of the conference, Rick sat down next to me and asked about my passion for the Middle East and I poured my heart out, which was unexpected because I am definitely not the most talkative person.
But Rick was one of those rare people who have a beautiful humbleness about them that tells you the instant you meet them that they genuinely care and that they are safe to be real with.
There are not many people in this world like that. It’s a beautiful thing.
As we chatted, Rick asked if there was a specific place in the Middle East that held my heart, and obviously I couldn’t answer quickly enough.
“Palestine!” I replied vibrantly as his eyes lit up.
“We are going to Palestine in March; would you like to join us?” Rick asked.
It caught me off-guard, this guy just invited me to the one place in this world that I wanted to go to more than any other. A place I assumed I couldn’t just go to, at least not before I finished college, established my life, and had some savings rather than student loans.
There was no way I could just go to Palestine, right? Or maybe I could. I mean really, why couldn’t I? It’s amazing how a simple invitation can open our eyes to things bigger than we ever thought possible.
Without Rick Love, I may have never found the real Jesus of the red letters, and I may have never found my path in life, and I certainly wouldn’t have written Not Your White Jesus.
I obviously joined them in Palestine a few months later, where I learned and saw firsthand the vast, disgusting, dehumanizing state of occupation in the region.
The West Bank is basically an open-air prison, but despite the incredible oppression, the Palestinians I met held a spirit of unimaginable hospitality and love; they were the most generous and kind people I have ever encountered.
My heart was incredibly heavy the entire trip, as it should have been, and Rick was one of the many in our group who graciously let me ask them question, after question, after question, as I tried to take it all in. And it was on this trip with Rick and some other really amazing, normal-ish people trying to follow the real Palestinian Jesus, that my paradigm shift came full circle.
I was standing on the shore of Galilee, the place where Jesus used to chill with his buddies, watching the water ebb and flow over my feet, when something inside of me clicked. I had an intense, almost unexplainable flow of peace overwhelm me as I realized more deeply that the American Church of White-Jesus, the one that I saw hurting people, judging people, justifying oppression at every turn, was in no way like the actual Jesus.
The real, brown-skinned, Palestinian refugee guy who lived 2000 years ago—was different. This guy was love. Not just any love—bold love. And I actually wanted to follow him.
Rick was not only the catalyst for my figuring out the real Jesus outside of religion, but he is the kind of human that we all should aspire to be like. He’s genuine, humble, kind, loving, a total bad ass, and an MVP Peacemaker in a world of Peacekeepers.
Rick, you will be deeply missed by the many, many people that your presence has touched in lifechanging ways. Thank you for that invite, I am so grateful to have known you. Blessed are the Peacemakers. May you rest in Peace, Love, and Power my dear friend.