August 27, 2020
This has been yet two weeks of tension, trauma, division, and devastation in our country:
Jacob Blake shot in the back seven times (in front of his children) by a police officer in Kenosha, WI and the subsequent responses to this excessive force against yet another black life:
Protests in the street; people crying out with peace-filled passion: “Black Lives Matter.”
Professional sports teams and players boycotting playoff games, plea-ing with us all to see and do something about the unacceptable systemic racism in our country and the use of excessive force by law enforcement.
Self-declared militia members and armed counter-protesters causing chaos, destroying property, and inciting violence, including a 17-year-old who murdered two protestors.
Local government and law enforcement seeking to respond and keep people safe. The ongoing trauma they witness and experience every day.
The trauma that people of color experience continually, particularly when these violent videos recirculate and play again and again.
The mother of Jacob Blake calling for peace while naming her pain.
The silence or one-line statements from so many elected leaders that feels inadequate.
Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and Texas. The devastation by the derecho in Iowa. Fires Blazing from California to Colorado across the West.
180,000+ U.S. COVID deaths and the on-going uncertainty and challenges around going back to school in this season of coronavirus. Whether “in person” or “virtual”– it’s all hard and complicated…on students, on teachers, on administrators, on parents, on families.
The Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention: two completely different realities that leave me wondering how fellow citizens of the same country can speak such different languages and hold such divergent views. It often feels unreconcilable.
A new wave of depression and despair setting in in so many people as summer ends and fall begins. What is usually a season of “returning to routine” is now a season of uncertainty, anxiety, and wondering, “When will it all end? When will the vaccine arrive? When will I get to make plans again? Will I get evicted? Will I find a new job? When will I see my grandkids again? Will my travel in 2021 be cancelled too? Is my kid going to be okay? Am I going to be okay? Will work ever pick up again? When we will worship together in the sanctuary?”
You didn’t need me to list all this out for you. You can read the headlines on your own.
But even though you didn’t need me to list all this out for you, I needed to list it out. And I needed you to listen. To hear all that is churning inside of my heart and head. I know that many of the same things churning inside of me are also churning inside of you. Mega-problems and questions and issues that have no easy answers. It’s a lot.
We may watch the news at night and go to bed and think we aren’t holding the stress of this environment inside of us, but chances are our bodies and minds are holding more than we think. And we need outlets to let it out. We can’t hold it all in. Whether it’s journaling or calling or texting a friend to vent or typing out an email that you delete and never send - whatever your method - naming or writing down or saying out loud what is on our minds and hearts is an essential spiritual practice for us.
The psalmist coined this practice for us in the form of laments. The book of Psalms contains more lament psalms than any other genre, suggesting lament's prevalence in the institutional liturgies of Israel's temple, shrines, and family life. Lament is key. It always has been. Lament is a container for our questions, our despair, our sorrow, our apathy. The thing is – if we are lamenting – it’s actually a good sign:
· It’s a sign that we loved someone so much that the reality of living life without them is utterly disorienting to us.
· It’s a sign that we value health and life so much that when we see people around us dying – from the pandemic of racism or coronavirus – we are upset because it’s not the reality we know God wants for us.
· It’s a sign that when we love and enjoy creation so much that when we see it destroyed by fires or hurricanes our hearts sink.
· It’s a sign that when we see things that are flat out “not right” we are reminded that we do still have a moral compass within us telling us that some things are not okay, no matter how much we’re desensitized to violence and vitriol.
· When we feel apathetic, it’s a sign to us that we are tired of feeling like what we’re doing has no point – which is a reminder that life is supposed to have a point and that what we are doing is supposed to make us feel like we matter.
You see, lament ultimately leads to hope. When we lament, we do so because we know the world can be different; we know that joy and abundance and equity and forgiveness and grace and transformation and shalom are things that God wants for us.
So voice your laments. Say them out loud. Write them down. Truth be told, it won’t make them go away. What it will do, perhaps, is allow you to see that you are frustrated, sad, or angry, for X, Y, Z reason – and in and through those reasons you might just be reminded of the vision that God has for our lives, for our world. It can lead us to a place of hopefulness…for a world or moment we once knew and that we trust we will know again.
It is equally important to write down and name and speak aloud our gratitudes. Here are some of mine: a blue sky without the sting of smoke in it, the unconditional love of my golden retriever, the spontaneity and goofiness of my husband, peaches and watermelon in the summer, deep breathing and stretching in yoga, podcasts with incredible thinkers, colleagues who are innovative and creative, a church family who is compassionate and flexible and supportive. I encourage you to turn off the news every day and open your eyes to the blessings around you. No matter how small or how huge, tell those around you what you are grateful for.
And the next time you have a conversation with someone, instead of blankly asking, “How are you?” perhaps ask, “What are you lamenting? And what are you grateful for?” The latter are questions that allow you to connect more deeply with someone; and to hear what makes their heart sink or swell. For it’s in the sinking and the swelling that the Spirit resides.
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:1. Faith includes lament and thanksgiving. Faith also includes listening to what others see…because while we might not be able to see a glimpse of God today, someone else will be able to. And THAT is why we do this faith thing in community.
Calvary, I am lamenting and giving thanks with you. Day by day.
Thank you for listening,