March 14, 2011

calloused heart v. bleeding heart

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Been thinking a lot about the condition of my heart lately. It may be walking through six weeks of intensity around our past shelter project. It may just be getting older and knowing myself a little better. Either way, I've noticed that I swing between two extremes most of the time.

Sometimes, I am the bleeding heart; foolhardily following wherever my heart leads me without reserve. Other times, I have a calloused heart, unbending and numb.

Yesterday, I lead a class at First Pres' where we discussed--among other things--the fault of both the older and younger brothers in the Prodigal Son narrative told by Jesus.

The younger goes where his heart takes him at almost any cost. The older is unmoved by his brother's return home. If anything, he resents his father's investment in his irresponsible brother.

Certainly, there are positives in both traits. But the negatives expose two gods: self-indulgence and self-righteousness. These two personal demons show up even when we try to do good in the world. And they are twins; reflecting one back at the other.

On one hand, you might throw yourself at a cause no matter the cost. No calculation. Just relentless good will. The longer I work in the city, I see the self-indulgence in this: it makes you feel better about your self; it clears the conscience. And it rarely makes any long term impact for those receiving good will. In the end, it is self-righteousness in disguise.

How does the bleeding heart miss the point?

On the other hand, you might be a practitioner of "tough love." Advocating for people to "pull themselves up by their own boot straps." Suffering of others doesn't make you budge your conviction that ultimately, it is their own fault. You care at a distance. You encourage others to notice how you, your country, your political party, your church or your company have done/can do better; that they could the same if they just tried. Everything else is excuses. But the truth is, we hold this position because it protects us. We know our own short-comings. We know we are just as broken as the other. But our world of meaning will crumble if were to expose this. So we hold our heads high, or low--depending on what kind of self-righteousness we employ--and indulge ourselves in a safe and right world of our creation.

How does the calloused heart miss the point?

In the parable I referred to above, the father extends grace to both boys. He knows they both fall short. He knows there's another way; a third way. So, he wraps his arms around them, celebrates them... and I imagine that he prays that through his love, grace and celebration of both that his boys will eventually find that third way.

I hope I'm growing towards that third way. I hope I'm becoming a more balanced follower of Jesus. Still, I know--and am grateful that--I'll receive grace and love though I miss the point in the future.

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