Beloved St. John’s community,
We are in week three of a six week deep dive introduction to a lifelong journey: Dismantling Systemic Racism through Jesus’ Way of Love. This week, our focus is the ancient Judeo-Christian practice of lament.
The world seems caught in a frenzy of trying to fix systemic racism. It can seem like we at St. John’s are caught in that same frenzy. It’s important; it matters. People like George Floyd are dying because we haven’t eradicated entrenched dominance and violence and the ongoing legacy of systemic racism in our systems.
But our process is not the same. It’s not the same because we aren’t primarily a nonprofit, however well-intentioned. We aren’t primarily a political action committee or advocacy group, though those are important. We are, primarily, followers of Jesus’ Way of Love, which presents a far more radical, beautiful, ultimately hopeful vision—a vision based in God’s presence and purposes for the world, made known to Christians in Jesus and in the vision our scriptures describe as the “kingdom of heaven”—where the lion lies down with the lamb, where swords are beaten into ploughshares, and God wipes every tear from our eyes.
So, this week, I invite you to slow down even more. At the beginning of this six week deep dive, I invited us to “unlearn speed, distance, and innocence.” This comes from the deep wisdom of a community of Christians who have practiced reconciliation in some of the world’s most protracted conflicts—genocide in Rwanda, apartheid in South Africa, racism in Mississippi, the Troubles in Ireland—and who root their hope and lifestyles and practices in truth that far surpasses what we see in any media source.
Today, we reach the heart and deep well of our dive, and it is the well of lament. It is the still place at the center where conversion happens in the presence of God.
Lament is the practice of allowing ourselves to come face to face with the whole truth of what has happened, to recognize our powerlessness to change all the horrors of the past and our complicity in it, and to allow that pain to remain with us. Not to wallow in feeling badly about things, but to touch the heart of God who is intimately present to all the marginalized, oppressed, brutalized peoples and life forms of the earth.
In Judeo-Christian tradition, lament is an ancient practice. It is to recognize our powerlessness in face of the world’s and our own pain, and to distill that pain into a cry that is directed to God.
Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. (Psalm 69:10)
There are no signs for us to see. There is no longer any prophet. And none of us knows how long this will last. (Psalm 74:9).
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:47; Mark 15:34.
As we unlearn speed, distance, and innocence, we have replacement practices to learn. They are pilgrimage, relocation, and confession. This is what the rhythm of lament looks like.
This week, I invite you to do the following:
(1) Daily pray and meditate any of the lament Psalms: especially Psalm 69, 74, and 22.
(2) Read Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice, Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing. I’m going to pull out all the stops and heartily recommend that you read this entire book. It is the ONE book we are reading that is expressly based in Christian faith, and it is profoundly hopeful, as well as being rooted in deep practice. But, if you can’t read the whole thing, read chapters 1-5, focusing on the Introduction and chapters 1, 4 and 5.
(3) Give yourself some space, over the course of the week, to practice the following moves: unlearn speed in order to learn pilgrimage; unlearn distance and find ways to get close to the places of our city’s and our earth’s pain; unlearn innocence and embrace confession. To learn pilgrimage, seek simply to share time and cultivate a relationship with someone across lines of difference instead of trying to fix things. To unlearn distance, go visit the place where George Floyd was killed, or walk Lake Street in South Minneapolis or Broadway Ave. in North Minneapolis, and try to connect deeply with real peoples’ real experiences there. To unlearn innocence, consider how the Christian church of all denominations has participated, been complicit or silent about racism in our country and our city. Chapter 5 speaks about these things. If you can’t get the book, let me know and I will find access for you.
(4) Let yourself feel, in your body, the whole truth of what you are learning, listening to, and seeing. Give yourself permission to grieve. Direct all of this, daily, to God in prayer. Don’t try to fix it right now. Just feel it and direct it to God.