By David Carlson
In facing a stalemated situation such as the Syrian Civil War, we know from the news that the various sides of the conflict have hardened their positions and won't compromise. Even the United Nations doesn't know what to do next. With that realistic assessment, our own hearts easily harden as we conclude "There is nothing that I can do to affect this situation, so why bother?"
Hardening our hearts to this crisis does something negative to our spiritual lives. In turning away from the suffering in Syria, we sacrifice part of our humanity. We experience a loss of compassion not just toward the Syrian people but toward others closer by. In not caring, we also experience a loss of creativity, for by concluding that reality cannot be changed in one location, we carry that conclusion over to other areas of our lives. Finally, we move away, inch by inch, from God. We experience a flatness in our lives and wonder at its source.
A "Soften Our Hearts" program will be presented this spring on the following dates: Sunday, April 27 at 2pm at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Center in Bloomington; Monday, April 28 at 7pm at Franklin College Chapel in Franklin; Tuesday, April 29 at 11am at the North Christian Church and at Noon on the IUPUI Campus in Columbus; and, Wednesday, April 30 at noon at the Interchurch Center in Indianapolis. This is an opportunity to face the sorrow of Syria, to grieve and to contribute to relief efforts in that country.
It is true that when we are unused to grieving for those who are removed from us, grieving can seem hard at first. Yet, as we grieve, we feel our hearts soften, and in that softening, we view the world differently. When we "agree to grieve" for Syria, we will find the wall separating us from the suffering in that war-torn country begin to melt. Recently, the media has reported that many Syrians feel as if the world simply does not care. Various theorists have suggested that the West has been numbed by more than a decade of war and is beyond caring. Perhaps it is truer to say that we in the West are not so much numb as we are afraid to grieve.
Determining how thoroughly our hearts have been hardened is easy to assess. Say the word "Syria" slowly five times. If you have the experience of feeling your brain and heart shut off, then you are one of us whose heart has hardened. A remedy for this condition is coming in the various "Soften Our Hearts" programs in late April, a rare opportunity to come together in these four central Indiana cities to reach out to the Syrian people.
Perhaps on those days and evenings, from halfway round the world, from bombed out homes and villages in Syria and refugee camps in neighboring countries, we will hear the faint response, "Thank God, someone cares."
David Carlson is a religious studies professor at Franklin College. Carlson has
been with Franklin for more than 20 years and established an educational
and outreach initiative called SHOULDER TO SHOULDER in Interfaith Witness.
Carlson is a published author and has just completed his second book which will be
release this fall.