The Story Behind Love Better
We are Scott and Emily Sutherland, founders of Love Better. When we met, we had no idea how much we had to learn about loving each other, as well as our fellow humans. We didn't even know how to love our own selves. There was too much head trash sabotaging our ability to connect authentically with ourselves and others.
We were rocked to our core by toxic faith communities where we saw certain interpretations of scripture weaponized while pride, hatred, racism, sexism, elitism, abuse of power and corruption ran rampant...completely unaddressed. We witnessed droves of good-hearted spiritual leaders dropping like flies. Then it happened to a close family member, who became isolated by double-standards, criticism, a constant diet of shame and unrealistic expectations. He sank into a debilitating depression while trying (in vain) to survive as pastor in that environment, convinced it would cost him his job and his thirty-year tenure to trust anyone with his pain. He would tell part of the truth but was too terrified to really admit how far he had wandered in his attempt to survive in that battlefield. He kept trying to pray it away with no real support, until the pain and isolation inevitably gave birth to a pattern of self-medicating that preempted his resignation. Leaving left him further disgraced and isolated.
That's when we left. We needed to hit RESET.
We began to dismantle twisted versions of faith that didn't match up to the central message Jesus taught and modeled. We studied (and still study) the life and words of Jesus to gain a greater understanding of how to live...and we became painfully aware that following Him authentically meant learning to love better.
The more we learned about Jesus for ourselves, the more we we were BLOWN AWAY at the revolutionary way He loved during his years on earth. He was constantly upsetting societal norms in order to show radical mercy, like when he saved an adulteress from capital punishment. And when he called out the hypocrisy of religious leaders, telling them to work on their own private sins instead of diverting negative attention to others.
Jesus also tackled racism in no certain terms. One particular story he told was about a Samaritan man rescuing a victim of injustice, in spite of the generations of bad history between their races. These are stories He told specifically to communicate the kind of healing, redemptive relationships we are meant to have in this world. And if he published them today, I imagine they would be turned into movies because society is still learning from stories like those He told. Not contrived, well-scrubbed propaganda with bad acting. Messy, gut-wrenching stories that reveal a heart that keeps hoping the price he paid could actually show us how to love better.
He empowered and respected women. He surrounded himself with very human individuals who were teachable and who probably seemed like a band of vagabonds to the self-righteous rulers of the day. He touched and healed people the rest of society deemed untouchable and unworthy. He ate with a crooked tax man...then invited him to be in his trusted inner circle. He even supplied high quality wine for a wedding party (which we were once told wasn't fermented, but it totally was).
He seemed to prefer engaging with those who really understood their capacity for messing up. And if Jesus wasn't afraid of others' humanity...why should we be? Part of embracing His crazy love for us meant also acknowledging our humanity...accepting ourselves and others as we are, rather than as we wish we could be. We had to admit that we are not immune to addiction, or affairs, or lunacy. We had to recognize our capacity to hurt, destroy and commit acts of injustice... and we had to confess that we HAVE done those things under the guise of "spirituality." I wish it wasn't true, but it is!
When we decided to focus on engaging with Jesus directly rather than taking others' word for it, we were overwhelmed by His love first-hand. It wasn't a sudden, momentary transformation. It was step-by-step, day-by-day... trying to see ourselves, each other and those around us through a different lens. We started seeing beauty and value in ourselves and others...because we were looking for it.That was a completely different experience than trying to conform to a predetermined cookie-cutter act to keep up appearances.
We found an immense amount of freedom. We were able to acknowledge that most human attitudes and behaviors are driven by a complicated combination of DNA, experiences, traumas and influences that do not magically disappear when we step foot into a church. And even still, Jesus's love is wide enough and deep enough for every story. One surprising discovery we stumbled on is how the pain inflicted on us from people inside the church was also driven by their stories. And Jesus's love is wide enough and deep enough to cover that, too.
Once you experience the kind of love that bathes your whole story in grace - love that knows you and accepts you as you are - nothing less will do. It's a radical love that is available TO. EVERY. HUMAN. And when we create barriers that prevent anyone from experiencing and choosing that kind of love, not only are they missing out...WE ARE, TOO.
We aren't anti-church. In fact, Scott is on staff at a church. We don't blame people whose humanity drives them in the direction of legalism rather than into other lifestyles. We have been the people who got sidetracked from the things Jesus was about. We understand exactly how it happens. But we aren't going to sit by quietly and reinforce the assumption that everyone who follows Jesus also identifies with a subculture that bears no resemblance to the courageous, all-encompassing love that Jesus lived - and died - trying to show us.
Who are we to think we're too good to love our neighbors if Jesus wasn't? He threw away the score cards and burned down the lofty, self-righteous reasons for keeping anyone at an arm's length. So why wouldn't we make every attempt to do the same? Even Jesus's dying moments were spent offering grace and forgiveness to a thief, who hung on a cross next to his. What if we spent every day loving like it's our last chance to offer grace and forgiveness?
Every day we hear from people who are leaving the church. The numbers are alarming. And we have been there! But even more alarming is the number of people who are churched, who identify as Christ followers, and actually want people to leave who are most in need of connection to a love that is real...for something that rings true.
We have spent decades now holding up everything we believe against the Light of Jesus's love. We have concluded that our calling is to spend the rest of our lives doing our best to love like Jesus did. No we don't get it right all the time. But letting go of the job of judging has been a wonderful relief, as has excusing ourselves from the duty of offering a commentary on everyone else's decisions and focus on what we're called to do - to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
We trust the Truth enough to test it and we have ventured beyond the echo chamber that equates spirituality with control and shame. It has taken decades of self-examination to scratch the surface of our own hearts and there's much more to learn, so we really do not have time to waste trying to decide whether other people are "in" or "out" when the truth is...we don't even get a vote on that in the end. It's has been our great joy to be free from false guilt for inviting people into our life that Jesus has invited into His.
The world is hurting too badly now for us to waste another minute loving poorly and judging needlessly. Broken relationships and polarization are causing generational pain and international crises. To survive this difficult world, we need to acknowledge that there is never going to be a magical moment when everyone on the planet suddenly trips onto the same conclusions about life, God, or any of the burning issues of the day. But if we are willing to dig deep, admit that we've gotten it wrong and figure out a better way to function in the world, we can form a strong connection to one another simply because we are all humans doing the best we know how in this world.
THAT is why embarked on this Love Better adventure. We are connecting with a growing movement of people who prefer connection over control and who value relationships over rhetoric. We believe engaging in essential conversations about these ideas will help bring people together who want to live lives that build bridges instead of barriers.
We believe the quest of learning to love better transforms us from the inside out and creates more connected families and communities whose collective ripple effect is felt all over the world. If our story resounds with you, we would love to connect with you. Subscribe below and join the conversation about how we can build bridges that connect us and knock down walls that keep us divided. If you're willing to share your story with us, we would love to hear it. Feel free to email us here!
Scott & Emily