Off Book: Writing About War, Forgiveness, and The More Beautiful World (And Book Giveaways!)
In this episode, Preemptive Love founder Jeremy Courtney and senior field editor Erin Wilson share a candid conversation about the themes Jeremy explores in his latest book, Love Anyway. He answers never-before-asked questions, uncovers his writing process, and shares his vision of how we can heal all that’s tearing us apart.
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Preemptive Love founder Jeremy Courtney has seen the very worst of war. The most powerful thing he’s learned after a decade in Iraq? We’re not just at war with each other. We’re at war with ourselves.
In this episode, Jeremy and senior field editor Erin Wilson share a candid conversation about the themes Jeremy explores in his latest book, Love Anyway. He answers never-before-asked questions, uncovers his writing process, and shares the why behind his vision of how we can heal all that’s tearing us apart.
Enter to win a signed copy or audiobook version of Love Anyway by Jeremy Courtney.
In his book, Jeremy says that the way things are is not the way they have to be. There is a more beautiful world.
And as you’ll hear in this episode, to find it, we have to we confront our fear—and end war where it starts: in our own heads and hearts.
To celebrate World Book Day on April 23, download the first three chapters of Love Anyway for free. For all who are displaced. For all who’ve grown weary of the way things are. For all who long to end war. There is a more beautiful world.
Love Anyway is a podcast by Preemptive Love. It’s written and produced by Erin Wilson, Kayla Craig, and Ben Irwin. Sean Gabrielson is our audio editor. Skip Matheny is Preemptive Love’s director of digital. Executive producers are Jeremy Courtney, Jessica Courtney, and JR Pershall. Special thanks to Zondervan, and the following podcasts That Sounds Fun, Ask Science Mike, Can I Say This in Church, Jesus Said Love, and Inspire Nation. Our theme music is by Roman Candle.
Jeremy: Why are we so afraid of loving the wrong person? Of giving love undeservedly? If we’re so happy to kill them all and let God sort it out, why not just love them all instead, and let God sort it out that way?”
Erin: You just heard an excerpt from the audiobook version of Love Anyway, recorded by the author himself, Jeremy Courtney. Earlier, I sat down with Jeremy, my friend and colleague and founder of Preemptive Love, for an intimate one-to-one conversation. This is what you haven’t heard anywhere else, Jeremy answers never-before-asked questions, and has an opportunity to uncover his writing process. You’ll hear Jeremy refer to the Love Anyway book tour, which took him across the United States last fall, but rest assured…no one is physically on tour currently. We’re each self-isolating at our homes in Iraq.
Erin: You’re listening to Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love. I’m Erin Wilson, senior field editor in Iraq. We post daily as @preemptivelove on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can learn more about us and find show notes for every episode of Love Anyway at preemptivelove.org/podcast. Stay tuned for a chance to win an autographed paperback version of Jeremy Courtney’s latest book, or a download code for the audiobook.
Jeremy: Man the things we do to rig up these podcast situations..all right now if I just don’t move next 30 minutes
Erin 4:25: Okay, I see a little red light. So does that mean you’re recording? I can’t see numbers rolling.
Jeremy 4:43: We’re goin’.
Erin 4:34: Jeremy, hi.
Jeremy 4:52: Hi.
Erin: I first met Jeremy Courtney, co-founder of Preemptive Love, around 6 years ago. We were both living in the same Iraqi city, both responding to the massive influx of displaced families coming into our city with nothing but the clothes on their backs, running from ISIS. To be honest, I was rather intimidated by Jeremy back then. If you’ve met him, you know he has a commanding presence.
In the years since that first meeting I’ve had the chance to get to know Jeremy better. We’ve faced war together, we’ve faced losses and wins together. And along the way, I’ve had a front-row seat to many of the stories he retells in his latest book, Love Anyway.
Erin: I’d like to ask you a little bit about the book. Writing the book probably feels like it happened several years ago now, even though the book just recently came out. So I hope I hope you can get your head into that space a little bit. Can you just paint a picture of some of the places where you wrote the book? Where were you?
Jeremy: coffee shops all over the world ranging from shout out to Nali’s in Sulaimaniyah Iraq to what’s that place we always go to in Baghdad and right around from the hotel…
Jeremy: Every day, all day, all the writing was all about the peaceful piano Spotify playlist. Yeah, that was that is the sound of this book.
Jeremy: Hotels all over the world, you know, wherever I could get three or four hours to just hunker down. That’s, that’s one thing is I, I required a lot of time, like big blocks. So I couldn’t just pop into the book. You know, for 30 minutes or an hour, I really needed to block off entire mornings. I did a lot of writing in Iraq while our US team was sleeping. So I would typically get started by eight or 9am right until one or 2pm and then kind of shift my focus back to the US team as they were waking up.
Erin: And your beverage of choice while writing?
Jeremy: Well, it kind of depends on what country I was in. In the US I would always go with like a drip coffee or maybe a pour-over.
Erin: Now you’ve been speaking across the country since the launch of our film Love Anyway. At the same time you’ve released, this is your second book, also called Love Anyway, that you published with Zondervan. You wrote the book with two parallel themes happening at the same time. Can you tell me more about that?
Jeremy: Oh, I’m interested to know what you think the two parallel themes are.
Erin: There is the layer of things that happened in your life and your family’s life in a particular timeframe, generally after your first book until relatively currently, and then there’s this whole second theme that lays over top of the events of your life. This layer of two kingdoms you described them as the way things are and uh the more beautiful place that our hearts know is possible. Can you talk to me these two themes threading through?
Jeremy: The just straight storytelling version of it follows our family’s life and kind of a look at the world through my eyes. And it feels important to say my eyes not our eyes because I as connected as Jessica and I are, and as much as I know her well, and could attempt to speak for her, um nonetheless my version of this history, my experience of this history is very distinct from hers. she’s not me, she never was me, and never uhh wore these realities the way I draped myself in them. so it’s truly a look at things through my eyes and a kind of a recollection and probably in some sense a reinterpretation, even, of how these last 15 years 18 years since 9/11 launches us into adulthood in some ways and what happens when our beliefs about God and money and power and nationalism and who gets to tell the stories that define the world, how they all come crashing together and what happens when we, we can’t control the outcomes of that chemical cocktail that happens at a geopolitical, global scale umm and then part of what emerges or part of the story is the reality that at some level this has always been a… a struggle of various sides to break out of the status quo, to break out of the way things are today.
Jeremy: Some, to break out, want to regress and go backward to a point in time that they imagined was better than what we have now. Some, to break out of the way things are, want to go forward into something that has never yet been. But all of us on some level seem to be somewhat discomforted by this tyrannical reality that I call in the book “The Way Things Are.” And I choose to focus my energy and the book’s energy and our imagination on the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. The problem is not that we don’t want beautiful things. The problem is not that we don’t all want a better world. The problem is that we can’t get aligned on what would constitute more beauty and more beauty for whom. So that’s how the book is framed up.
Erin: Authors are often invited as guests on podcasts, and Jeremy’s no exception.
That Sounds Fun: Today on the show is one of my dear, dear friends, someone I respect so much, Jeremy Courtney…
Ask Science Mike: I had a conversation with Jeremy Courtney
Can I Say This in Church: And that’s what I talk about today with Jeremy Courtney
Jesus Said Love: His name is Jeremy Courtney and he is the co-founder of Preemptive Love
Inspire Nation: the author of one of the most powerful and life-changing (I’m speaking personally here) and must-read books, love anyway, so welcome to the show, Jeremy!
Erin: But I wanted to know…what were the topics that he was NOT commonly asked about?
Jeremy: it’s the deeper stuff. There’s a way to just read the book and be enamored with the sort of physical trajectory of the story. My feet move from this location to this location to this location and that becomes a story. So you move to Iraq, so you went to these front lines. But to me, the far more interesting story is, is the psycho-spiritual personal development trajectory of story. It tracks along with the physical but it’s, it’s the metaphysical stuff that’s more interesting to me but it’s the scarier stuff to interact with. And it’s a harder thing to know what to do with at the end of the day because of some of the things that we’ve explored about labeling and boxes and whatnot. I guess one of my fears or concerns with the book even before releasing it and now that it’s out in the wild is that that the deeper things are are just being missed? My deeper intentions are just being missed amidst the bombs and the bullets because that’s more salacious and kind of easier to interact with.
Erin: What was so interesting to me about the stories that you shared, or the way that you shared them is that they were not…they were not a Hollywood version of violence, of war. It wasn’t a soldier’s view of war. And those seem to be the two primary looks at war that we get. Even though I’ve been to many of the same places, sometimes with you, sometimes, not. I was really struck reading these passages of the book, how different of you it is of war that I really have seen other places.
Jeremy: Can you say more? I’m curious what you mean by that.
Erin: You don’t paint yourself as a hero, in these scenes. you’re quite vulnerable about your thoughts, even arguments that you had with a colleague at the time. It’s unvarnished, but not gruesome. There was a lot of things that you saw that you could have included and you chose not to that were pretty horrific. It was informative, I think. about what war feels like overstating or blowing it up in a Hollywood way. And I think a lot of soldiers, or a lot of veterans, come into war with a particular point, point of view that this is all part of a larger job or a larger mission given by somebody else. And you are moving through this–this time, in these places–with a mission created by yourself, by your community, and able to change what they needed to be changed, which is I think a is a pretty unique place to be in.
Jeremy: And I’ll also say in defense of soldiers on all sides. The way things are, “capital” Kingdom, the way things are and the boxes and labels make it extremely difficult for them to tell the truth or perhaps We could even say, know the truth or tell the truth to themselves, even in as much as many of them want to it, it becomes a matter of survival. So you survived the battlefield. And then you have to decide how you’re going to survive the post battlefield reality, who, to whom will I belong now that I’ve made it out alive? Yeah, that that, that how we know what we know and, and to whom will we belong if we tell the truth about it…is part of what keeps from hearing some of these other perspectives.
Erin: Which actually leads really well into my next question, because when we try to process these things, it often causes us to feel lonely, quite frankly, when we’ve experienced things that other people haven’t. Even if we’ve been beside somebody else, we don’t experience the events in the same way. And this was another theme that I saw in the book, this theme of aloneness, the aloneness that comes with the betrayal of a friend, the aloneness that comes from trauma, the aloneness that comes from having significant experiences that few others share. The aloneness that can come with doubt and shifting ideas of faith and what the world is. This falls under a saying we use a lot, “all that’s tearing us apart”. And as you’re out on tour with a film, as you’re hearing people challenged with a message to love anyway. I’m curious to know if you’re hearing questions or thoughts about aloneness and all that’s tearing us apart.
Jeremy: to the degree that you have a heightened awareness and intention toward what we might call peacemaking or community building, healing, what’s tearing us apart…A lot of those people that I’m meeting, feel alone. What I’m finding where we’ve been traveling is that the more you want to build community, the more you want to be a voice of healing and lift up the marginalized while also keeping a seat at the table with the people that you might believe are the cause of the problem, so to speak. It’s just it, the experience of it for many seems to be a lonely experience.
Jeremy: I think that part of what is lacking are peacemaking communities, peacemaking institutions, actual structures, to replace or augment, perhaps the more positional institutions that already exist. And what I mean by positional is like, we take this position on this issue. Therefore, we exist to defend this position. We hold this dogma. So those can be religious institutions. They can be political institutions, they can be activist movements. We need those, we need people with strong points of view being conservative or liberal. We are better when we are in some of these tensions with one another. A society that has just fully liberal without any conservative anchor points is not a healthy, probably not going toward a healthy place for everyone all the time. And a society with just conservative anchor points with no progress and liberalization and its policies and society is not going to be good for everyone. So we need each other and we need these alternative viewpoints to help us moderate our growth at levels and moderate our progress at levels that don’t tear folks apart even further and don’t leave us just entrenched in the way things have always been or the way things are.
But if all we do is sort ourselves into this positional point making communities, Christian versus Muslim, right versus left, whatever, then that that has not proven to be that is not proven to produce the best society, either.
I think we need more third spaces, we need more middle ground, places to meet and cooperate, we can still return back to our positional organizations or communities that we belong to. We need better comments, better common spaces to come to with rules of engagement and a sense of common ground and the common good that we can all reach for together and it feels like that public square. If ever it existed, it feels like it’s being stripped away from us more and more. And I think a lot of what my vision is, and a lot of what we’re trying to do at Preemptive Love is, is create a more robust, public square common community for us to belong to together.
Erin: Talk to me about reorienting our lives around love rather than violence. The posture of yes and the muscle memory of forgiveness.
Jeremy: Right after we moved overseas after 911 someone suggested that we just live our lives for the first six months or so and a new community by saying yes, to say yes to everything. Do you want to go eat this weird food that we eat here? Yes. I do want to go on this hike to some mountain that we go hike on every weekend. Yes I do. The more you say yes to cultural experiences, the more you allow yourself to be guided in a new experience by the people who know it best. The more you open yourself up to actually changing.
Alternatively, the more you say no and defend yourself and guard yourself against new foreign experiences, the more you become that kind of person who says no. So the advice was for the first six months, just say yes, then for the next six months say why So when we’re out doing the thing, now, after doing it after already leaning in after already being a part of it, experiencing it for its own sake on its own terms, then like a child who’s just become three years old or four years old, then start asking why. Why do we do this? Why do we eat the intestines of sheep? I didn’t grow up eating the intestines of sheep. Why? Why do you do that? They taste different than the muscle. Why? Why do you do that? You know, like, whatever it is.
There’s a reason why these things exist culturally, religiously, politically, historically. And, but sometimes it’s good to just taste the tripe for its own sake. And then it’s better to understand why you’re doing it sometime down the road. And then after going through life, like a two-year-old, or you know, whatever asking why why why All the time, then you can get to a place of a more informed autonomy, where you can say no, it’s okay to say no to things. It’s okay not to like the tripe or not to want to go hiking on the weekend. But it’s probably good to get a few of those repetitions under your belt just the same and to know why people do the things they do. We found that really profound.
Jeremy: it was a general orientation to life that opened us up to new experiences and new ways of seeing the world. It allowed us to put our guard down, it allowed us to, I think, be open.
Erin: We’ll be right back.
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Jeremy: Now it’s not just about foreign countries, but it’s about foreign communities. So if I belong to this political group, and the other political group is doing it differently, let me just go experience it with them. And then after doing that a few times, let me ask why they do it the way they do it or believe the way they believe. And then I’m free to say no, I don’t think I’m going to pick up that idea or that value or be a part of that movement. But thanks for walking, thanks for touring me through the way you see things. And thanks for giving me a chance to hear it from your own voice and to know why you hold this to be self-evident. I don’t hold it to be self-evident, but thank you for giving me the chance to interact with you in that way in a kind of nondefensive, touristic kind of way.
Jeremy: The book is about leaving home and learning to take ever less and less baggage with us as we go. There’s something about physically having left home that helped teach us these things. And now we work to apply the principles in foreign experiences, even if we’re not moving literally to a new country anymore.
Erin: So in the same way of being practiced in saying yes, and then saying why…you talk about a muscle memory that comes with forgiveness.
Jeremy: I think the first half of the book, the first half of my life might be categorized by a very simple phrase, everyone is wrong. Except me, of course. Everyone, everyone is wrong, like, I was the sole arbiter of truth like ostensibly, a lot of my life was about making other people Christians but really, it wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough for Muslims to become Christians because I was at odds with 99% of my fellow Christians, you had to be my kind of person of faith, you know. So the first half of life was largely about everyone is wrong and what these experiences in this community and knowing people on their own terms, letting them tell me their why and then accepting their whys at face value.
Jeremy: And that shift has made forgiveness a lot easier. To do it once, to have empathy on someone once, when trying to take their perspective on things, then leads to a second time then leads to the third time then leads to a kind of rhythm of life, where at our best, we can go: “Yeah, that hurt profoundly. And I think objectively, it’s actually wrong. But it also makes sense and I can forgive, which isn’t to say there are no consequences. It’s not to say reconcile even. But I, I can forgive or I can understand or I can find someplace of empathy for why someone would have done the thing they did when viewed through their lens.
Erin: One of the things I appreciated most um about your book is that you recognize in friends rooted in Iraqi culture that they inherently understood this idea of the more beautiful world and what it looks like. That this wasn’t an American thing. It wasn’t a Western thing. This is something that other people around the world could see. And I think this, you, you draw it out, particularly in our friend Sadiq and his approach and his approach to life.
So considering what you just said, it seems like of course, we can learn a lot from people from other cultures, even if it seems like we have very little in common with them on the surface. I’m curious about the kind of openness one needs to have to approach life that way. As I’m saying these words, I’m hearing like, I’m hearing these voices of fear saying No, no, we can’t do that. That’s the way of hearing things that will lead us astray or things that will be harmful to us. What are your thoughts on that?
Jeremy: So you basically just made the slippery slope argument, if we open ourselves up and open our minds up our experiences up to others, then it’s a slippery slope and who knows where that will lead us we will slip down the slope all the way into and no one really says into what but we are left to imagine that we will slip down into a place of irredeemable.
Jeremy: And I grew up with slippery slope arguments on the conservative side, but I’ve come to realize that the liberal side uses slippery slope arguments all the time as well.
Jeremy: There was a dream that I put in the book in an early draft that I took out in the end, I’ll tell a metaphor that kind of correlates to the dream, because I, in looking at what I cut out it, it’s become clear to me out on tour as I’ve used this metaphor over and over in live tour events that, Oh, this is actually a really important thing to me. That has emerged in me over the last few years.
Jeremy: I’ve come to understand this idea that I call sort of my truth versus your truth. And it imagines, see if I can paint this in words only without any physical hand motions to kind of make sense of it like I do in a live event, but it imagines that I’m standing on a tippy-top of a mountain. And then there’s a slope that goes down the mountain into the valley and up a new mountain on the other side, where you are standing at the tippy top of another mountain. So label our mountains however we want but we are standing on the tippy top of two distinct mountains, liberal/conservative, Christian/Muslim/Jewish, pro/against and out whatever, my truth versus your truth. And because there’s this gap between us, physical space between us we are left largely yelling at each other, or getting really loud with each other to try and communicate across space between us my mountain top screaming toward your mountain top.
And the top of a mountain. If you draw the mountain like a child, at least it’s a very small patch of land up there at the top of the mountain self-righteousness. assuredness knowing that the tippy top of my mountain is is the pinnacle of truth, that’s a very small patch of land for our feet to occupy, which is why we are warned of the slippery slope. To deviate from this very small patch of land where we know we are right is to step off the slope and risk sliding down that mountain all the way into oblivion. So we ought not to move because assuredness is a very tiny patch of land.
And so we don’t move we are immovable once we become sure that we know what is right. Well, I slipped. The irony of it all, I guess, is that I was told to go out into the world I was weaponized in some ways to go out into the world to take myself a righteous patch of land and try and bring more and more People to it but in the act of going out into the world I slipped. I opened I was opened up to other points of view to other relationships to key experiences and figures who through their force of love mostly but some through force of violence or pain, moved me off my place and I slipped. And then I slipped further and I slipped further as I met on my slipping down the mountain, I met more and more people and had more and more experiences. And I just kept slipping.
So the story is, look, I’ll say this, the people arguing for the slippery slope, they’re not wrong. It is a slippery slope—to deviate at all to let any doubt into our lives that we do not occupy the sole place of truth. It is, in fact, a slippery slope. What you find when you slip off your soul, little patch of self-righteousness and assuredness. As you find the ground opening up more and more and more beneath your feet, the ground just gets wider, it just gets bigger, therefore, safer, in a way.
And I, I slipped all the way to the bottom of my mountain. And what I found at the bottom of the mountain was that your mountain actually emerges out of the same ground that my mountain emerges out of, we’re actually made out of the same ground, we’re emerging out of the same dark out of the same soil out of the same stuff and so Mountains are different and we can even still care about our mountains we can climb back up our mountains and still, you know to yell at each other from time to time if we want to across the gap across the divide. But I’ve, I’ve largely just come to find the valley that holds us both, to be the place I’d rather live because it’s common to both of us.
Erin: Openness. Community. The valley that holds us all. Love This is what we can find on the path to end war.
Jeremy: Thanks for exploring this with me.
Erin: I miss you.
Jeremy: We miss you. I miss you.
Erin: I miss your family. Having a conversation like this remotely doesn’t feel quite as right as it would feel if we were both on the couch in the studio here in the opposite direction.
Erin: Here, from chapter 9, is another excerpt from Jeremy Courtney’s book Love Anyway.
AUDIO BOOK EXCERPT “For two years now I’ve been out every day, doing the work. I know the language. I know the culture. I know how to work myself into people’s lives without giving too much away too soon. And still nothing!
I know I can’t save anyone without your help, Lord. . . . Why don’t you just help me? Suddenly, out of the blue, came a response. “It’s because you don’t love them, Jeremy.”
AMBIENT TRANSITIONAL NOISE/MUSIC
Erin: For the chance to win a signed copy of Jeremy’s book, Love Anyway, or a download code for the audio version, visit our show notes at preemptivelove.org/podcast for directions to enter.
Erin: For all who are displaced. For all who’ve grown weary of the way things are. For all who long to end war. There is a more beautiful world.
We’re Preemptive Love on Instagram and Twitter. Until next time, I’m Erin Wilson. And this is Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love. Thanks for listening.
End credits: Love Anyway is a podcast by Preemptive Love. It’s written and produced by Erin Wilson, Kayla Craig, and Ben Irwin. Sean Gabrielson is our audio editor. Skip Matheny is Preemptive Love’s director of digital. Executive producers are Jeremy Courtney, Jessica Courtney, and JR Pershall. Special thanks to Zondervan, and the following podcasts That Sounds Fun, Ask Science Mike, Can I Say This in Church, Jesus Said Love, and Inspire Nation. Our theme music is by Roman Candle.