My Black Heart
Today during church we watched a video about justice.
The narrator was fierce in tone and the questions hit me right to my core.
Is fighting justice even worth it?
If you think about everyone on this planet as your family, does that change your perspective?
Wouldn’t you fight for your family?
I felt tears welling up in my eyes when I thought about how I have and sometimes am still that person – that overwhelmed and under-empathetic person thinking that my influence doesn’t really matter that much. That exasperated person saying, “Is it even worth it?”
During the sermon, we talked about evil and spiritual warfare.
Paul (our pastor, not the apostle, although they are quite similar) said something I couldn’t stop thinking about. He said every time we feel ourselves being prideful or selfish or unforgiving…we are being demonized. Evil forces are hard at work making us think that being all about ‘me’ is okay. They tell us to think: I CAN be my own personal Jesus.
And then I thought about my black heart.
I had this saying among some friends (and family members too). If someone had wronged me in some way and then karma or fate seemed to kick them when they are down and I felt a little flicker of satisfaction knowing they got what they deserved, I’d say,”I know I shouldn’t say this…but…my little black heart is happy.” And it was oh-so-sweet, that feeling. That pride knowing somehow I had ended up one-upping this person in the grand scheme of life. That the wrong they did me is getting paid back threefold. It’s not that I wished severe ill will to any person, but maybe just a little slap in the face from fate.
I’m ashamed of that black heart.
I’m ashamed of that pride and selfishness and damnation that I allowed in my soul.
I’m ashamed of being that person that felt pride over someone else’s misery.
I haven’t used that phrase in a long time. In fact, I try really hard to fight those feelings of arrogance when a situation calls for it so easily. I’m not going to say it never comes up. That some part of me doesn’t want to gloat when I see failure out of someone I had considered a foe. Instead I try to put myself in that person’s shoes. I try to pray for success and guidance and love for that person even when it feels hard.
But what about when it comes to justice? What about my black heart then?
Isn’t allowing myself to be ignorant to the suffering of the world letting selfishness take a stronghold?
Isn’t feeling overcome by the sheer magnitude of societal issues and instead just blaming a broken system just as condemning?
Isn’t feeling good about the money I give to charity and sporting the ‘cause’ t-shirts just allowing pride to take root?
Pastor Paul flashed up this picture during the sermon.
This is a child solider.
A child brought under the regime of a psycho-killer, Joseph Kony.
I can’t get this picture out of my head. I can’t think about how far removed it seems from the comforts of my Midwestern city life to see a kid wielding a machine gun. I can barely process it.
Even as I was sitting there stunned and hurting for this poor child, my black heart was speaking in the back of my mind, ‘Yeah but what can YOU do about this? This is so far away and it’s too big. You can’t make a difference. You don’t really matter.’
And so I prayed.
I prayed for that kid and the thousands like him who don’t even know a different life. I prayed for some clarity to come about what I can do to fight for justice in the world and right here in my own city.
About a month ago, I started serving an evening meal every other week at the local homeless shelter. It’s the easiest volunteer gig ever. I show up and the food is already made. I don some food service gloves and wait for the clock to hit 5 and the doors to unlock. Then the people stream in.
I scoop chili into bowls. I plop hearty spaghetti onto plates. I ask if they want vegetables. I ask if they would like ‘white or wheat?’ I smile and make eye contact and try to make them laugh. I want these hungry people to know that I’m just like them. I want them to know that I, too, could lose my job and be out of food and hungry.
Serving these meals is changing me.
My black heart is shrinking. Like an organ cut off from the blood supply, it’s dying.
I’m strengthening new pathways to my good heart. I’m fortifying those conduits to justice, mercy, selflessness, and the life Jesus called me to live.
Each time I place a scoop of spaghetti on a plate I feel my heart beat a little harder.
Each time one of those dinner patrons looks at me wearily and says, ‘God Bless you ma’am,’ I feel my heart swell with affirmation.
Each time I see the hungry fed, I feel my heart pump with the knowing that this is what it looks like.
That here, in my neighborhood, in my city, fighting justice looks like a piece of buttered bread and a hot meal served with a smile.