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ON A BEASTLY HOT/HUMID JUNE DAY in Ervine, Kentucky, we were devouring sandwiches and iced drinks at a small air-conditioned coffee shop. Sitting across from me was my niece, Vicky; many years ago she picked this area as the perfect place to live, work, and create community, nestled in a “holler” (a small valley between two mountains). My nephew, David, sitting to my right, settled in southern California nearly 20 years ago and has never looked back. Both of them are sophisticated, savvy, and successful. Their mom, my sister Nancy, sitting to my left, recently retired from university life to a cottage just a stone’s throw from Vicky’s family.

 

Nancy and I were smiling, listening to animated descriptions of some of the more “interesting personalities” who had attended the past three days of a wedding celebration hosted on the large parcel of land where Vicky and her husband and children homestead.

 

There was lots of laughter and some fun-poking and head-shaking as first David and then Vicky and then David again added a new detail to the verbal caricatures that emerged like holograms hovering over our table.

 

Then came the moment when Vicky said it: “Ya gotta love ‘em.”

 

To which I replied, in an irreverent tone, “Or not.” Given the momentum of the conversation I had thought my comment would be picked up and run with and followed by more amusing details.

 

Instead, my comment had the effect of puncturing the hologram. It lay, deflated, on the table between us. Vicky’s brown eyes, deep and dark as the folds of the valleys in which she has chosen to live, held my blue eyes until I said, “You’re serious, aren’t you.”

 

Vicky said, “That’s the code by which we live here: you gotta love the people in front of you. You may not like them, but you have to love them.”

 

The message was: Despite your own disapproval and annoyance at the personality traits, the neediness, the political differences, the selfishness, the brokenness of those people who cross your path, no matter how you’re tempted to marginalize them, “Ya gotta love ‘em.”

 

Period.

 

Never have I heard the gospel – the good news of human relationships – preached so succinctly and so profoundly.

 

If I can believe that this is not the only place; if I can believe that there are other pockets of our culture, hidden away like Kentucky hollers, where this gospel is embedded in the community conscience and lived out daily this dynamically, I can allow myself to have hope for the people of our world.

     

Ya gotta love ‘em.

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