We Were Not Allowed to Lament

Walter Brueggemann, the famous Old Testament scholar, puts it like this (from his book Mandate To Difference):

“…God is in solidarity with the most vulnerable and most needy in society, which in ancient Israel includes orphans, widows, prisoners (p. 3).”

“He (prophet Jeremiah) is convinced that if the city refuses systemic neighborliness, it is a city that will fail…But Jeremiah has a second facet to his prophetic call. He is to ‘plant and build.’ He is to imagine a new Jerusalem. He is, by his utterance, to call a new city to possibility (p.33).”

“Tell the truth, free of ideological rancor, about the pain of the world for it is the truth of pain on the cross through which the world is saved (p. 43).” 

Growing up, it didn’t seem like we were allowed to lift up our cry to the people, as to the Lord. This was because we were part of faith communities who believed that whatever negative thing spoken would come to pass. It was like Christian Karma. The universe was mechanistic – laws that governed every action and reaction. Just as the seed would grow from watering, your words would sprout life or death. What I realized much later is that this “life and death” jargon so common in “Word of Faith*” communities is a misappropriation of the text usually referred to. First, it creates a culture where people feel the need to fill the void of silence with positive half-scriptures. And second, it creates a culture of superstition. But, more on that later.

To “Lament” one must express sorrow, show regret, and do this out loud. It is not a solo act, but a kind of performative piece in which the individual, de-centered from her high place, discovers that the earth (self, ego, plan, vision) is still not the center of her universe. Life happens, and suffering is its reward. But Lament is more than a need, it is a gift. A gift where there no longer remains a need to cover shame. Truly, the dead can bury their dead [1]. We, on the other hand, lament.

When my son was born, he nearly died – and so did my wife. Up until that point, I had never been so close to death. What was beautiful was the community of people that came to our rescue. What was odd were the people who felt the constant need to remind us of certain evangelical truisms:

God is in control.

Remember how God harmed Job and he still praised God. 

Your boy is a prophet because he couldn’t wait to come on time, he had to come early (Declan was born 9 weeks ahead of time).

Don’t say anything negative, just give praise.

I can remember hearing these phrases from well-meaning people. All amazing intentions, but completely missing where we were and what we needed. What I learned in that season was brutal honesty with ourselves. We learned a new level of fearlessness in truth-telling, unlike I had experienced before that time. And it was in that time that we were freed from the fear of man. It was the friends who came to us and let the words (expletives) flow and the cry of their hearts be released that we found healing in. It wasn’t clean, it was messy, and somehow – even though we were not able to pray as we used to – God was with us in the most profound and powerful way.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

 -Jesus, John 16:20

God’s community is a reflection of His power.

We learned to Lament, to let our cry come before the Lord, and we learned how to do that with other people. Ever since that time, God has opened the door for us to stand in solidarity with those who were poor and those whose lives were in pieces. The former was far more noticeable when I was invited to speak at our local homeless outreach.

Six days a week the homeless gather to worship and break bread together. It is an hour-long service, with 30 minutes of music, 20 minutes for preaching, and 10 minutes for praying. When I shared the story of our lament before the Lord and how we have finally found ourselves walking on level ground, the poor responded in rejoicing, and lament for their own lives. Person after person would come up to me, detail their tragedy, and tell me how they would no longer bury the pain but let it rise and become part of their story. One woman, in particular, heard me preach on heaven being as much a present reality as a future one and she decided that drugs were not the answer because she had reason to hope that the world wasn’t controlled by forces beyond our ability to act and love in the world’s present condition. No, God would not sit idle and afraid, but He was calling that woman onto the playing field. Why? There are no spectators in the Kingdom of God. Second, we learned to say three important things.

  1. Rid the world of ideology through love.
    1. This is how I define the “echo” in the title: it is the inability to say anything beyond the rattling off of one’s party or camp or self-justification for incorrect action, or action-in-error that one uses to participate in the world.
    2. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his acclaimed book, The Gulag Archipelago, defines ideology this way: “Ideology — that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors (p. 174).”
    3. As Joshua learned in Joshua, Chapter 5, when he asked whether the angelic man with a drawn sword was with Israel or their enemies, the man said, “Neither! I am with the Lord.” In the same way, I encourage people to take the middle way, lament clearly with those who suffer but don’t use the pain to channel violent reprieve.
  2. Listen intentionally, and then speak. 
    1. Our world is full of people who get paid large amounts of money to commentate on the issues of their side. We must be a people who listen first, don’t assume we know what is going on so that we can say the true thing. Or, perhaps we don’t speak at all and let our presence be a witness of love and solidarity with those who mourn.
    2. Truly, in a world full of talking there has never been a better time for a voice to crash the echo-chamber with the truth word spoken. It is the age of information, not usually considered the age of wisdom.
  3. Restore reflection to the community of faith. 
    1. As the community of Jesus, we “image” the Lord. In other words, God is not invisible, He is everywhere made visible through His people. Jesus said that if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father. I believe that when people have seen us, they should be able to say that they’ve seen Jesus.
    2. As witnesses to the world, we are an embodied invitation to those who struggle for Justice and Liberty. We believe in the individual without being individualists, and we believe in the community without becoming communists. We are simply the church, interdependent beings carrying the truth of the Gospel of God.

Whenever my wife and I found out that we were going to be parents nine weeks ahead of time, we simply looked at each other and said, Okay, this is our new reality and we accept it. Thirty minutes later we were looking at our tiny child. This is my hope for the world. We are allowed to lament; in fact, we must.  This is the fundamental means we reveal Jesus, and may we continue to be known by that revelation. And by this, we lift up our voices, accepting the loss and moving on to make the world the World. For it is the World before it is Just**.

Be Uncommon,



[1] I recently saw this in motion with a family who lost their 18-year-old daughter, and when the father approaches the podium he said that this was not God’s fault, it was simply physics because she had died in a car accident, in the rain.

*The origins of the ‘Word of Faith’ movement are disputed, but it most likely began with Kenneth Hagan, and continued with the likes of Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, and more recently, Joel Osteen. All movements are trying to correct issues within the broader body of Christ, but whether I agree or disagree with the movement is not the point of this reference, only a statement of fact about where I come from. 

**This thought originates with Stanley Hauerwas, obviously. 

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