breaking our american hearts

listen with the ear of your heart

this past friday night we hosted a theology camp called “the radical welcome of God: wisdom from benedictine spirituality.” two nuns from benet hill monastery shared their hearts & stories & practices with us. it was beautiful in more ways than i can count. my amazing friend & local spiritual director ellen haroutunian facilitated questions for the sisters and then we processed together and made a space for reflective time walking through 7 stations that represented the pillars of benedictine spiritualitycommunity, humility, hospitality, reverence, stewardship/partnership, integration, and discernment.  pictures are below.

they shared countless wise thoughts about inclusion, welcoming every person we meet as Christ himself, love above all things, the transforming power of community, good conflict, and humility being about bringing our most authentic self to everything we do.

during their talk they kept referring to our “american hearts” and the need for them to be transformed into monastic ones, or in my words, kingdom-of-God hearts, radically-transformed-hearts, the way-of-Jesus hearts.

to me, what they meant by american hearts is the part of us that is not only our default but also what is accepted in american culture & western contemporary christian church. these contrary-to-Jesus values are so embedded we probably don’t even know how much they are messing with our lives.  so many of our churches, systems, media, and practices perpetuate them subtly and overtly.

american hearts value:

  • self-sufficiency & individualism – i can do it alone, i’m not supposed to “need,” it’s all up to me.
  • power & success  – which often equals money, resources, position, education, stuff.
  • competition – there’s a winner & a loser, a who’s right and who’s wrong, a top & a bottom.
  • segregation – we are good at creating homogeneous groups and staying comfortable with people who think like us, believe like us, act like us. segregation leads to so many forms of violence.
  • busyness – we fill our lives with do-do-do-do-do.  we’re online & plugged in & amped up. trying to keep up often consumes us.
  • comfort & protection – not wanting to be bothered, annoyed, challenged, vulnerable, or mixed with other people not like us.

in so many ways, arrogance and pride are good ways to describe our american hearts.

the story that comes to mind in the gospels is luke 7 and Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman in simon the pharisee’s house.  simon was full of pride; the woman was full of humility. her neediness was simon’s disdain.

i see myself in both simon & the woman.

i have both an american heart & a kingdom heart.

in my own personal summary of friday’s conversation, a kingdom heart values:

  • community & connection – relationship is the center of it all; there’s no way around needing people.  this requires true humility, which is to present our true selves to others & to accept others’ true selves.  to practice and try and fail and need grace and offer grace and stay with each other for the long haul.
  • strength in weakness – the measures of the world are not the measures of the kingdom.  we may look like losers, we will be misunderstood, we may be considered weak or crazy or even faithless. but the truth is that God’s spirit is at work in our small simple acts of vulnerability, kindness, love, mercy, grace, and presence.
  • companioning – contrary to rugged individualism and competition is what the sisters called “companioning.”  staying in for the long haul as equals, alongside each other instead of over or under, comfortable in our differences, free in our hearts.
  • silence & solitude – learning to be comfortable in the quiet, to still our hearts and tend to our souls, to discover that we are, in the words of the sisters, “children of God, loved, forgiven, and blessed.”
  • radical hospitality – welcoming others of all shapes & sizes & circumstances & perspectives, especially the other, the hurting, the outcast, the poor, the marginalized, the silenced. that’s the way of Jesus, the way of peace.  i’m in the middle of this book & it’s worth the read.
  • being uncomfortable  – diffusing power, not having all the answers, engaging in conflict, rubbing against our humanity–all of these things are what transform us into gentler, kinder, free-er, and more authentic people. this is one of the core problems with the american church & our american hearts–we do everything possible to avoid pain and discomfort when it’s the most transforming part of a real & connected life.

pride vs. humility 

self-sufficiency & individualism vs. community & connection

success vs. strength in weakness

competition vs. companioning

segregation vs. radical hospitality  

busyness vs. silence & solitude

comfort vs. discomfort

i want to say i don’t have an american heart, but i do. as much as i truly need God and my community, i don’t necessarily “want to need.” as much as i love being around other people different from me, sometimes it’s so hard i want to run for the hills. as much as i value holding a space for disagreement, sometimes i want to stand up and walk away from the conversation forever.  as much as i value quiet, i am most comfortable in the chaos. as much as i grow in the discomfort of pain, struggle and real life, i often want to never hear another hard story and only watch netflix for the rest of my life.

yeah, my american heart constantly needs to be transformed into a kingdom heart.

and it’s definitely a life-long process.

but it seems that the path toward a kingdom heart starts with listening, a lost art in american christian culture.

listening to others, listening to God, listening to our souls instead of talking, talking, talking. 

st. benedict talks about “listening with the ear of your heart” and the sisters also talked about us having “two big ears and one little mouth.”  the above image below portrays this.  oh, how i’d rather talk than listen! the place we can learn this kind of listening is in community.

if there was one big take-away from the evening with the sisters, i got this–it’s through some form of community that we are transformed. 

it’s through community that our american hearts can become kingdom ones. 

and i’ve no doubt that our families, neighborhoods, cities, churches, and, the world need more kingdom hearts and less american ones.

God, transform us from people of pride into people of humility. break our american hearts and form them into kingdom ones.


here are the stations & a few pix from our evening:

theology camp collage

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy you are pretty much spot on and I don’t have much to add by way of value to what you have written except to encourage you to keep doing what you are doing.

    I would make one point of cultural difference though. You mentioned “in so many ways, arrogance and pride are good ways to describe our american hearts” and included the “western contemporary christian church” in this.

    I’m in two minds about how you have made a link between the “american hearts” and the rest of the western church. As you know I am British and live in the UK. I’ve worked for an American company, and visited the US a number of times both with work and for pleasure. It seems to me that there is a cultural dynamic that comes with being the most powerful nation on the world. We don’t have the power that America has in the UK and that is reflected in our culture. At the same time we find ourselves in the UK deferring to America and I am led to believe that Americal like to stay “friends” with the UK in order to maintain favour in Europe. So sometimes this “special friendship” between the States and the UK is one which can be one-sided by way of where the power is held.

    I understand that it can be difficult if you are American to appreciate a difference, but I don’t think it fair to include other western churches when talking about arrogance and pride. I’ve experienced a number of Americans coming to this country and having difficulty integrating. Partly with the difference in culture, partly because of the expecation of things being done the way the want. And their ministries failing as a result with them returning to the states.

    One American pastor here trying to make out that I had issues that were symptoms of what was going on in the church that were not to do with me. When I became suspicious of this, the relationship between myself and him deteriorated, culminating in him saying “you need to leave the church”. No other leader of a church has EVER said that to me. It was only a matter of time before church attendance dropped and he returned to the states. There ill feeling that came with this along with the loss of community not just for me but for others too.

    Now of course similar can be said through history with the British empire. It can be reasonably argued that there are few corners of the world that Britain doesn’t owe an apology to. However, Britain does not have the same amount of power that it once had and certainly not the amount of power that America has now.

    So this for me is what comes to mind when you talk of arrogance and pride. Perhaps one symptom of arrogance and pride we can have is if we presume others to be the same or similar as we are with our own flaws. It comes before a fall.

    • Kathy, Thanks for writing about your experience of our sisters and the Benedictine values. Sister Clare-Prioress of Benet Hill Monastery


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