Conversations with President Matthew Myer Boulton and friends of Christian Theological Seminary

A Theology of Heartbreak

PrayingAs you know as well as I do, this week’s elections have left the country stunned and reeling.  Waves of emotion continue to sweep through our neighborhoods and conversations.  Half the country is pleased, the other half devastated.  And in this case, “half the country” often means half the extended family, or half the neighborhood, or half the congregation.  The divisions between us are deep and fraught, and they often go right through each one of us, right to our core.

In different ways, then, we are all heartbroken.  Some of us because of the election’s results and what they may mean for the future, others because of the country’s divisions that continue to pull us apart.  Our hearts break, too, because of the acts of violence and contempt scattered around the country in the last few days, on school campuses and elsewhere, creating a wider atmosphere of intimidation.  Words of racism, misogyny, and hate have echoed through this brutal campaign, and still echo today – and accordingly, feelings of anger, disgust, and despair swirl around us and within us.

The temptation in such times is to retreat and withdraw.  And there is something to be said for that impulse:  sometimes the most appropriate first step is to sit with the pain rather than rushing to “fix it” or normalize it or set it aside.

And yet, in due time, a second step must come.  Every member of the CTS community is already both a leader and a leader-in-formation – and part of leadership is to take a second step, and then a third.  It might be as simple as an honest prayer of lament.  It might be as basic as reaching out to someone who is hurting or isolated, just to be together.  A next step might be to reach out to someone on the other side of the divide, to affirm them as your brother or sister.  And then, in due time, at each person’s own pace, yet another step might be to intentionally begin the slow and steady work of healing and restoration.

When Jesus says, in the midst of the most famous sermon the world has ever heard, “But I say to you, love your enemies” (Mt 5:44), he is not speaking of something easy or sentimental.  He is laying out a challenging, life-changing theology of heartbreak, an invitation and command to love with our broken hearts – not in spite of the brokenness, but rather in and through the brokenness.  At this deep level, “fixing” our broken hearts isn’t the point.  Loving them, and loving with them, is the point.  Indeed, when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he’s quoting an ancient scripture about love in times of intense division:  “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:  I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18).  True love is always brokenhearted.  That’s what love really looks like, and it’s hard work.  And it takes time.

So let us seek, even in the midst of so much division, to follow Jesus ever more deeply into that life-changing, world-changing love.  The Season of Advent is almost upon us, a season of light and expectation – but also a season of shadows, all the way to Christmas.  Christians are called to seek out the shadows of this world, and light candles there.  Likewise, we are called to seek out the brokenhearted divisions of this world, and to love each other there, precisely there, precisely when we’re tempted to do otherwise.

Pray for each other.  Reach out to each other.

Grace and peace,

Matthew Myer Boulton

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