In the wake of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, our nation, our cities and our churches have erupted in protest, unrest and division.
We're all experiencing it differently.
We're watching on the news. We are living it. We're trying to learn. We're tired of explaining. We've marched. We've watched protests in confusion. We've argued with friends, acquaintances and strangers on social media. We've retweeted, shared, unfriended, blocked, ignored.
And we're left feeling angered, hurt, exhausted, confused, frustrated, apathetic and everything in between.
In the midst of all our different experiences, what is the response for those who are committed to multiethnic ministry?
We'd like to suggest one response that is absolutely critical for us all: the discipline of Lament.
The Lost Discipline of Lament
The Bible is filled with lament. There is even an entire book devoted to lament (Lamentations, anyone?). Check out Psalms 10, 13, 22, 39, 44, 51, 56, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, 90, 92, 1 Samuel 30:4, Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 27:46. We see time and time again that when the God's people are faced with evil, injustice, oppression and turmoil, the Biblical response is often lament.
In Reconciling All Things, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice help us to understand what lament is, and what it isn't:
Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world's deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are... The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the practice of lament. (pp. 78)
In our pursuit of multiethnic ministry and reconciliation, are we engaging in Biblical lament?
Author, pastor and theologian Soong-Chan Rah suggests that as the church in America, the answer is often a resounding no.
The Absence of Lament
In a 2013 article, Rah notes that while laments constitute 40 percent of the Psalms, they are conspicuously absent from contemporary American worship.
Rah observed that out of the top 100 worship songs from August 2012 according to Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), only five songs fell into the category of lament, while the vast majority were celebratory praise songs like, "Oh Happy Day," "Friend of God" or "Marvelous Light." (Looking at the current CCLI Top 100, not much seems to have changed.)
How we worship reveals what we prioritize. The American church avoids lament. Consequently the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost in lieu of a triumphalistic, victorious narrative. We forget the necessity of lament over suffering and pain. Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget.
When we lack the discipline of lament, we run the risk of letting our triumphalism, our anger, our hurt, our fear or our apathy fester inside of us and paralyze us. Biblical lament calls us to sit in the pain, to truly see the brokenness in ourselves and in our world, and to cry out to God.
Are we willing?
How to Engage in Lament
Katongole and Rice share three helpful ways to engage in the discipline of lament: Pilgrimage, Relocation and Confession.
"Pilgrimage is a posture very different from mission. The goal of a pilgrim is not to solve, but to search, not so much to help as to be present. Pilgrims do not rush to a goal, but slow down to hear the crying." (pp. 91)
"The practice of relocation [means] taking our very bodies to the hard places and tarrying long enough to be disturbed." (pp. 91)
"[It's] a way of unlearning innocence. As we learn to go out of our way to draw near and tarry with the pain of the world... the challenge is to keep naming the truth, keep being distubed, keep remember the awful depth of brokenness. The prayers of lament in the Psalms were public prayers, intended to be read and inserted into the corporate life of worship... It is critical that we learn to pray like this, bringing these prayers into public worship in a way that helps us tell the truth and confess in explicit relaitonships to the brokenness of our own contexts." (pp. 92-93)
A Resource for Lament
We want to challenge your community to enter into a time of corporate lament using this free resource, a prayer service written by a group of ministers at the University of California, Berkeley: Wendy Hu-Au, Yu-Shuan Tarango-Sho, Casey Flaherty, and Donna Battle. (You can download the leader's version here.)
Share this with your community, staff worker, pastor and leadership team. Feel free to adapt it to your own context.
Let's lament together before God on behalf of our communities, our nation and our world.