lament

The Way of Hope

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Week after week, we can take on the biggest issues we face as a society — from continuing racism, mass incarceration, inequality, and poverty to gender violence and human trafficking, climate change, ISIS — and just try to be hopeful.

Or we can start by going deeper, to a more foundational and spiritual understanding of hope — rooted in our identity as the children of God, made in the image of God, as the only thing that will see us through times like this.

I believe we should start there. Because the biggest problem we face — the biggest enemy at the heart of many of the issues we must address — is hopelessness.

And perhaps the most important thing the world needs from the faith community is today is hope.

'We Are Brokenhearted'

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

We are brokenhearted by the murders of nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. We join our brothers and sisters in deep lament for the lives lost in this evil act, and our prayers go out to all of the victims, their families and their communities.

Atrocities like this wound the very soul of our nation. We must not merely attribute this horror to the depraved actions of one individual, mourn those we have lost, and move on as if there is nothing more to do. In his statement yesterday, President Obama quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words in the wake of the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in which four little girls were killed:  

"...We must be concerned not merely with who murdered [these girls], but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream."

The deep wounds of racism, America's original sin, still linger in our society, our institutions, and in our minds and hearts — sometimes explicitly, but far more pervasively through unconscious bias. Wednesday's terrorist act is the latest manifestation of this lingering sin. Are there no safe places for black people in our country, even the places where they come together to worship?

We all have the responsibility to overcome both the attitudes and the structures of racism in America. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we must act. 

A Call for a National Lament

Mourners In Harlem Hold Prayer Service And Vigil For Victims Of Charleston Church Shooting, by Eric Thayer / Getty Images

Lament is not a passive act. Many Christians may hear the word lament and assume that feeling bad about suffering is the purpose of lament. How sad that people died. How sad that the shooter had a mental illness. But lament moves beyond bad feelings for the privileged. Lament is subversive and an act of protest. The powerful and the privileged have no problem being heard. It is the marginalized that need to be heard. The voiceless speak through lament. They cry out that things aren’t right. They are not the way things are supposed to be. Lament voices the prayers of the suffering and therefore serves as an act of protest against the powers.

Lament and the Call to Advocacy

Image via Paul Matthew Photography/shutterstock.com

Image via Paul Matthew Photography/shutterstock.com

The work of the prophet is to stand as an advocate for others. The advocate role is an important role in the ministry of justice. Many American Christians hold a position of privilege in American society. As the privileged, there is an important voice that can be raised on behalf of the marginalized. American Christians can advocate for the rights of the unborn, the poor, and the oppressed of our society. Part of our strength would not be to effect change that would further our privilege and affluence, but to advocate for change that would benefit the very least of our brothers and sisters. The role of the geber is to advocate for the suffering in Jerusalem and offer a lament on behalf of the suffering.

'That Song You Sing For The Dead'

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

BIBLICAL LAMENT includes both pleas to God for help and mournful dirges. Sometimes they are rooted in individual travails and grief, other times in anguish for those crushed by injustice or war.

The psalmist and the prophets dig deep into visceral images of bodily suffering—and stretch up, out, yearning to find symbols and metaphors in nature that might capture the mercy and presence of a God who, the psalmist isn’t afraid to say, is sometimes a bit elusive.

The album Carrie & Lowell is indie musician Sufjan Stevens’ multifaceted lament: For a mother, Carrie, he lost at least twice—to mental illness, addiction, and abandonment when he was a child and to cancer when he was a man. For the grief that surprised him after her death. For his inability, as he sings to his mother, to “save you from your sorrow,” hinting at that lingering, impossible guilt felt by so many children of troubled parents. Stevens reaches no tidy resolution in the course of the work (although early on, in the first song, he does offer that most basic, difficult, and saving grace: “I forgive you, mother”).

So why would you want to listen to something that speaks of so much pain? For starters, these are exquisitely spare, beautiful, and haunting folk-not-quite-rock songs. Stevens’ gift for hook and melody here is distilled, deceptively delicate, carried by few instruments and subtle effects. Layered vocals and harmonies swell up on a bridge or carry a song wordlessly to the end, like waiting choruses of angels, or ghosts.

Darn It!

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Resistance. Lamentation. Action.

Fist symbol. Photo via Arthimedes / Shutterstock.com

When stories of human trafficking or dramatic rescue operations come across our news feeds, we are understandably shocked. For a moment, our attention is grabbed and we feel genuine outrage toward the traffickers and, hopefully, compassion for the trafficked persons. But to what end? 

Sadly, the underground and criminal nature of human trafficking helps to keep the stark realities out of sight and, consequently, out of the minds of most people. When we do think of human trafficking, it tends to be as something that happens “over there” or in seedy brothels. It is somehow easier to blame the bad actors, pimps, traffickers, and sweatshop managers rather than recognize the multiple ways that we are connected to human trafficking through our everyday actions. Because we are, in fact, connected. As Pope Francis observed in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “There is greater complicity than we think. The issue [modern slavery] involves everyone!”

Human trafficking is present in virtually every human community. Moreover, because the majority of people held in slavery today are forced to work in agriculture and mining, it is inevitable that products make it into the supply chain and our shopping carts. Sex trafficking also does not happen in a vacuum, but rather in a social context which tolerates, and even normalizes, sexual exploiation and the commodification of the human person.

It's Time Again: Depression and the Holidays

Photo via hikrcn/Shutterstock.com.

Don’t check your watch. This is something else all together. We know it will soon be the end of November and the end of Thanksgiving weekend. In the Christian calendar, it’s the beginning of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas. For many people, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a tough time to get through. There are too many reminders of loss:

           -the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table;

          -the time when being alone turns to loneliness as everyone talks about family (some stores were closed on Thanksgiving to show support for families, but what if you are estranged from your family?)

          -the bright red lettering over Macy’s front door proclaims “BELIEVE” — but believe what? The very word can remind you that you don’t believe anything anymore. What time is it in your life right now?

Can we be as honest as the Bible?

Ten Practical Ways White Christians Can Respond to Ferguson

simez78 and John Gomez/Shutterstock.com

Many people are saddened by the events Ferguson and left confused as to how to respond. simez78 and John Gomez/Shutterstock.com

Like many of you, I’ve been overwhelmed and deeply saddened by the events that have transpired in Ferguson, Mo. And at times I’ve felt helpless, 350 miles away in Cincinnati, as friends of mine are in Ferguson praying, marching, organizing, and working for peace and justice.

In my conversations with friends of color, I have witnessed their pain and frustration and deep angst over the events of Ferguson. The past two weeks have hit very close to home for them.

With white friends, the response has been mixed, but the overwhelming sentiment is one I’ve already identified: helplessness. I am not satisfied with this response. I believe there are ways we can respond, bear witness, be in solidarity and work for justice in this moment. Our love for God and neighbor demands we engage. If you are like me, you are praying without ceasing for the Shalom, peace, and justice of God to reign in the hearts and minds and streets of Ferguson and throughout this nation and world. So how can we pair our prayers with constructive action?

Here are ten ways white Christians can respond to Ferguson.

Sermon: In the Breaking — #bringbackourgirls

by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Demonstration demanding rescue of schoolgirls abducted by suspected Boko Haram. by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The first time I heard the news about the 270 Nigerian school girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram was last Sunday. I was sitting with the rest of the band at St. Augustine's Catholic Parish during worship. Fr. Gabriel, a priest from Nigeria, was preaching. In his sermon, he offered a litany of events, incredibly difficult events that had transpired in the preceding week as examples of how God does indeed respond when we are in our darkest moments. No matter how we may doubt, fear, or struggle, Jesus will walk through walls to get to us.

All the other events he listed I had heard of. There had been media coverage. People had been given the opportunity to respond to the needs of others.

The girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14. I had not heard the news until April 27. And it still wasn’t in the papers.

This week I heard the words of Cleopas, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there these days?”

So, like the stranger in our story, I asked, “what things?”

According to reports in The Guardian and Smithsonian Magazine 's website , the girls are being sold as brides across the border in Cameroon and Chad for the equivalent of $12 each. This means, of course, that the girls are being sexually assaulted.

Boko Haram is a loosely knit organization. There appears to be no specific hierarchy, only the desire to carve out of Nigerian territory a so-called "pure" Islamic state. Their vision is beyond radical. Violence against other Muslims is not uncommon. They target churches and mosques with the same viciousness. This time they targeted the last school left in the region. They targeted the girls. Translated, Boko Haram means "western education is sinful." To educate girls, then, is a form of Western education. To educate girls is a sin. To sell them across the border is not.

And they need women. They need brides. The girls are being sold. Sold.

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