“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 11:19 (KJV)
A hard heart is a legitimate fear. No one wants one. It is worse than a heart attack or a physical hardening of the arteries. It is arteriosclerosis of the spirit, the inability to feel or give a damn any more. You might call a hard heart “brokenhearted.” These are not fun descriptors. Last Lent, several of my people just said, “I am giving up for Lent.” They weren’t kidding.
Hanging on to the ability to care, the ability to feel, the ability to hurt is not for babies. It is a job for adults, the ones who have been around a block or two.
I’ve been thinking lately about purple congregations, the kind that mix up people of different political persuasions. They are not easy to pastor. Red congregations thrive. Blue congregations thrive. Purple congregations in the middle try to hold things together, often through the avoidance of conflict. But conflict avoidance can unintentionally create hard hearts. It asks people to ignore their hurt just enough to keep everybody equally unhappy. This is low-grade heart disease, not the kind that commands emergency room attention, even though it should.
What might be different? A blue heart that doesn’t self-protectively condescend. A red heart that seeks to understand. A purple heart that doesn’t dull its feelings. An overarching, big-tent confidence in the sizable power of a large-enough God to comprehend all our errors and love us anyway.
Turn out hearts from stone to flesh, O God, in small and large ways. Amen.
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her most recent book is I Heart Frances: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.