Back in my younger days when I spent more time with a tool handle in my hands than I did sitting at a keyboard, I actually had calluses. The thick pads of desensitized skin protected the parts of my hands that gripped the strings of hay bales, held the handle of the hoe or shovel or tobacco knife and carried bucket after bucket of feed. Calluses serve a mighty good purpose for those whose lives require a constant amount of menial labor.
But when those calluses begin to form over our hearts, that’s not such a good thing.
Bombarded by constant news of terror and disaster, streaming images of famine and sickness, dramatic stills of violence and war, we lose our sensitivity, our awareness, our empathy. We begin to see such things as nothing more than news, a segue between commercials.
Other humans become abstractions, vague stereotypes, more shadow than substance. It often begins with those most distant, those most foreign, those we perceive to be least like ourselves. Through this practiced disassociation, though, we grow more and more indifferent to those who are nearer, the strangers next door.
Instead of clamoring for care and compassion, we turn a deaf ear and a dull eye toward disaster and disruption. Or, we respond to violence with greater violence, returning evil for evil when we were taught to return blessing for cursing. Instead of feeding and clothing the refugee, we threaten her oppressor with missiles and drones, bombs and bullets.
It is not in assassination and eradication that we personify Christ; it is rather as he put it, by serving “the least of these my brethren.” In this graceless age when even self-professed evangelists of the Prince of Peace often teach violence and vengeance it has become too easy to rationalize our indifference or even our hatred.
It is not crossing the “red line” of using chemical weapons that is the greatest danger to humanity and the world; it is the line between caring and not caring about the victims of all violence, whether personal or political.
The soft heart is surely more vulnerable, more prone to damage, more likely to sustain the injuries of involvement. But it is infinitely less likely to suffer the condemnation of its Creator.