I just came across this quote from Yitzhak Zuckerman, who was a Jewish resistance movement leader in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during World War II:
If you could lick my heart, it would poison you.
Wow! You see, although a hero of the resistance movement, plagued by survivor guilt, he became an uncontrollable alcoholic later in life. So despite rightly being celebrated for his wartime heroism, Zuckerman was in touch with the darkest parts of himself. (This quote, by the way, is originally from the French documentary Shoah, which—full disclosure—I have not seen.)
While allowing Zuckerman’s words to stew in my mind, I also stumbled across this line from Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” which speaks to the hope of our “fallenness”—or as Aaron Zimmerman put it at this past weekend’s Mockingbird Conference, our “badness”:
Ah! happy day they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
What Mockingbird is often trying to say is something similar: That our hearts are poisonous, yet God wants our poison hearts. In fact, broken hearts are all that the Lord has to work with. So when we hit bottom, God is in the suffering; and we can best read and understand Scripture with contrite hearts. This verse from Psalm 51 seems to reinforce what I and my fellow sufferers Zuckerman, Wilde, and Zimmerman are getting at:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
I look forward to Aaron’s talks being posted online soon so that those who were not present might listen, and so those of us who were there can listen again. His Thursday evening talk on human anthropology—that “people are bad, people are blind, and Christians are people”—was particularly profound and accessible, not to mention a whole lot less reductive than it might sound on paper. And perhaps these quotes from Zuckerman and Wilde, particularly Zuckerman, caught my attention the past few days because Aaron’s provocative explanation was also on my mind (and poison heart).
One last comment: A colleague who attended the conference with me said afterward that he admired the “guts” of a Christian ministry like Mockingbird to have breakout sessions on sexual addiction, mental illness, and the like. He noticed that the conference was in touch with reality. And the reality is that our hearts—even those of Christians—are both poisoned and poisonous, yet God wants our poison hearts.
Of course, as it turns out, the Ramones already said something similar about the human heart, so I leave you with that:
I just want to walk right out of this world,
Cause everybody has a poison heart.