Sitting in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Kansas City, the memories of spiritual conversations still fresh in my mind, I had a moment of deep knowing. A moment when I felt God tugging me in a particular direction and to speak a particular message.
It was a tugging that terrified me. A call to be vulnerable and honest. Speaking uncomfortable truths.
As I wrestled with this call, I remember wondering what people’s responses to me would be. Would they grow angry with me? Would they resent me? Would I lose friendships? Would it cost my job?
In many ways, many of these came true (I’ve kept my job because, well, my church is amazing). For in doing my best to speak truthfully about uncomfortable situations, I’ve lost friendships, I’ve been publicly chastised, and been called names I don’t wish to repeat.
Most frequently, though, I’ve been told I’m a protester.
That I’m a disruptor of unity. That I’m endangering the Kingdom of God. That my actions will undo generations of work.
Something never quite sat right about that word, though. After all, I never felt like a protester. From Dr. King protesting segregation, to Gandhi protesting British imperialism, to Malala protesting the subjugation and dehumanization of women in Pakistan (and in the Middle East), there are few things as powerful as protest.
Still, I never felt as though I was a protester; at least not fully. I felt like I was called to something different.
Recently, though, I was listening to a speaker talk about the book of Lamentations, and during his discussion, he quoted the work of Kathleen O’Connell, and all of a sudden, things came into beautiful focus. Kathleen says:
“Lamentation names what is wrong what is out of order in Gods world, what keeps human beings from thriving in all their creative potential. Simple acts of lament expose these conditions, name them open them to grief and anger and make them visible for remedy. In its complain and anger and grief, lamentation protests conditions that prevent human thriving and this resistance may finally prepare the way for healing.”
Lament as protest
Through the words of the Jewish prophets, we see a demonstration of women and men calling the powerful to account for the ways in which they’ve manipulated and abused the vulnerable.
We watch as these prophets name how religious leaders have distorted the law of God, taking something designed to give life, and warping it into something that allows the powerful more control. These prophets name the ways in which clergy misconstrued God’s heart and then call them to account for their hypocrisy.
These prophets gave a public demonstration of the power of lamenting.
The prophets showed what happens when someone fiercely and fearlessly names what’s wrong within a given system and a given heart.
The prophets show us lament is far more than simple weeping (though, there’s a great deal of that, too). Lamenting the practice of naming systemic wounds and brokenness, and dragging it out into the open, kicking and screaming.
This is a painful, but holy practice. It is holy because, it’s only when we lament that we’re fully able to find healing and life.
A Church called to lament
I believe the church desperately needs to be re-learn what it means to lament. We must practice the act of naming and confessing that which is broken. In many ways, this lament has already begun.
Clergy and non-clergy alike are beginning to speak out. Their souls becoming restless.
We lamenting the racial division so prevelant in our church services.
We lament how we’re unwilling to listen and speak on behalf of our minority brothers and sisters who suffer under the weight of systemic racism and injustice.
We lament the ways in which our system unequally represents our sisters called into vocational ministry.
We lament the prevalance of nationalistic idolatry in our church services.
We lament our preference for well-dress politicians at the expense of displaced refugees.
We lament exclusion and rejection of LGBTQ family and friends.
We lament the ways in which our systems have pushed out dissenting voices; choosing status quo over spiritual discernment; uniformity over sacramental unity.
We lament the ways in which we continue to choose legalism over grace.
Is there room for lament?
Here’s the thing about lament. It’s the most difficult work we’ll ever do. Rigorous honesty is painful, and those in power quickly grow frustrated with those who lament, growing tired of the hard questions, and weary of constant pushback.
Understandably, this creates friction.
Before we know it, those who lament are labled as troublemakers, accused of starting riots, and seen as only satisfied with burning the institution to the ground. Quickly, it becomes the sole desire of those who hold the power to silence and remove those who are calling the powerful to account.
However, we cannot avoid those who lament forever.
Lamenting abuses of power is a journey we all must take, and more specifically, this is a journey we can no longer afford to resist. Eventually, we’re going to either make this journey, or find our tribe irrelevant and spiritually dead.
Which church will we be?
Over the coming years, our tradition must ask a simple yet difficult question: Will we listen to those who lament?
Will we be willing to transition from a demand of cold and stagnant (American Holiness) legalism based perfection, into a beautiful life of confession and healing?
Will we call the powerful to account?
Will we allow ourselves to be humble, and in our humility, will we endure the pain of rigorous honesty.
For this is the only way to true healing. This is the only way to life. Because, contrary to what the American dream promises us, faith doesn’t move upward. It voluntarily walks into the dark.
Richard Rohr sums this life up perfectly:
The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death and woundedness are our primary teachers rather than [more] ideas or doctrines.
Friends, let us lament, and in this lamenting, maybe we discover the path of transformation.