Like any other self-respecting word-nerd, I subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day”. I like learning the meaning of unfamiliar words, I like learning the etymology of words I know and I’m especially interested in learning the background and history of common phrases of speech.

As a young child in upstate New York, it was my grandmother’s bleeding heart bush that especially lured me to her garden. How could one plant produce so many puffy valentines?

I couldn’t understand why my grandfather, who never had a kind word for anybody, would derisively call people by the name of my favorite bush. It was clear from his tone of voice that when he referred to what he called “’N’-lovers” as Bleeding Hearts, he had none of the fondness for them that I held for the plant by the same name.

It has never felt like much of an insult when I’ve been called a “Bleeding Heart”. Especially in the early days of starting Highlands Church the phrase was used (mostly in writing, rarely face to face) to dismiss me for loving “the gays” and believing God loves “them” too. It’s probably because I adore the plant that being called a “Bleeding Heart” has all the sting of twenty lashes with a wet noodle.

This morning’s Merriam Webster Word of the Day gave the background to the phrase bleeding heart before it was used as a slur and I find myself only hoping I am worthy of being called such.

“Bleeding Heart is used to describe one who shows excessive sympathy for another’s misfortune and is historically thrown as an insult toward more liberal politicians. Before this use, the term appears in literature describing sincere emotional outpouring, even taking on a literal association with the heart of Jesus Christ. It likewise followed in religious oratory and writings that made reference to Jesus’s lamentations on behalf of the poor, the sick, or the struggling.”

Every week in worship one of the lines of our Ethos we say to invite everyone in our diverse congregation together is, “Conservative and liberal here, we’ve all gotta give a little here.” If we are honest, we know that those among us who are more conservative politically give a LOT, not a little.

While we try very hard not to politicize things at church, it is not easy being a conservative at Highlands. But I want to say emphatically that every “conservative” I know in our community absolutely deserves to be called a “Bleeding Heart” by it’s definition before it became a political slur.

It is our shared desire to reflect the heart of Christ toward the poor, the sick and the struggling by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God that makes me believe we must continue to say, “Conservative and liberal here, we’ve all gotta give a little here” and really mean it.

Nothing but love,
Mark