On Scripture: The Modern Need for Lamentations

Grieving Mother Monument in Russia, ET1972 /

Grieving Mother Monument in Russia, ET1972 /

Twenty-first century readers of the Scriptures are likely uncomfortable with the book of Lamentations and its stories of weeping, groaning, and grieving. But, the act of lamenting is not unique to biblical Israelites. 

Today’s world is full of lament-worthy situations. One need only turn on the nightly news to hear countless stories from places like Detroit, Michigan, and Camden, N.J. – plagued by record foreclosures, abandoned buildings, corrupt government officials, and boarded up businesses – to understand the devastating impact of high unemployment, increased crime, and precarious civic finances that have taken a toll on communities. Further, the country’s working poor earn wages that are so meager they have a hard time providing basic necessities for their families. Many cannot make ends meet without help from public assistance programs, which ultimately leads to feelings of despair and a decreased sense of self-worth

Modern readers also lament over the following.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova /

Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova /

Alexander was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

It's a children's story. I know. A no good, very bad day ... how do you prepare your kids for that kind of day where nothing seems to go right, where at every turn knobs break and we step in puddles and get gum stuck in our hair?

Maybe, we tell ourselves, that we can move to Australia and everything will be better.

Well, no. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days happen there, too. They happen everywhere. Everywhere. It's a great book.

So what do we do about them? The classic children's book doesn't answer the question for us. Not really. It's just a little bit of truth telling with fun illustrations. Some days are just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

But as we grow older, we learn that though these days do simply happen, that there are attitudes one can have, there are approaches to these days one can take.

Sikhs Hopeful on Anniversary of Shooting

Aug. 5, 2012 vigil in Wisconsin, RNS photo by Lacy Landre

Aug. 5, 2012 vigil in Wisconsin, RNS photo by Lacy Landre

One year after a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six worshippers, Sikhs say they are hopeful about the future and even more determined to be better understood.

“The legacy of Oak Creek is not one of bloodshed,” said Valarie Kaur, founding director of the interfaith group Groundswell, a project of Auburn Seminary in N.Y.

“[It’s of] how a community rose to bring people together to heal and to organize for lasting social change,” she told the PBS television program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

Too Happy?

Bobby McFerrin's "don't worry" optimism sets up some serious cognitive dissonance with the spirituals.

Danny Duncan Collum, a Sojourners contributing writer, teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky. His novel White Boy was recently published by Apprentice House.

Memorial Day: From Suffering to Hope

Suffering, with light at the end of the tunnel, hikrcn/

Suffering, with light at the end of the tunnel, hikrcn/

Memorial Day is a day to remember. A solemn holiday, it reminds us of the men and women who have died serving our country. Wreath-laying ceremonies and concerts fill the weekend, along with the placing of 250,000 American flags on the graves of Arlington National Cemetery. 

Decorating graves is the oldest of Memorial Day traditions. In fact, the holiday was originally called Decoration Day and honored the soldiers who died during the Civil War. Flowers were placed on graves every year on May 30, and after World War I the holiday expanded to include soldiers who died in any war. In 1971, it was moved to the last Monday in May to create a three-day Memorial Day Weekend.

And that, writes Everett Salyer of HEAVEmedia, “is when all hell broke loose.” For many Americans, the holiday became a celebratory weekend filled with grilling meat, drinking beer, splashing in pools, and watching stock car races. 

Pastor’s Tornado Tweets Stir Up a Theological Debate

John Piper's Twitter page

John Piper's Twitter page

Oklahoma’s devastating tornado stirred up a theological debate that was set off from a series of deleted tweets referencing the Book of Job.

Popular evangelical author and speaker John Piper regularly tweets Bible verses, but two verses he tweeted after the tornado struck some as at best insensitive and at worst bad theology:

“Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20

In the Book of Job, God allows Satan to afflict “blameless” Job, killing his 10 children, livestock and servants. While Piper’s tweets didn’t mention the tornado by name, critics said it was too close, and inappropriate.

Piper, who recently retired from the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, is a leading theologian of the neo-Calvinist movement that’s sweeping many evangelical churches. In essence, Desiring God staffer Tony Reinke wrote, Piper was highlighting God’s sovereignty and that he is still worthy of worship in the midst of suffering and tragedy.

Majesty and Tragedy in Oklahoma

Brett Deering/Getty Images

Debris covers the ground after a powerful tornado ripped Moore, Okla., on May 20. Brett Deering/Getty Images

“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” And from those heavens descended a deadly cloud.

“Out of the mouths of babes and infants ...” The children of Plaza Towers Elementary?

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Indeed that is the question that troubles the heart of the faithful in times like these.

Can we still praise God? If so, how do we start? Can we possibly understand what happened in Moore, Okla.?

Don’t trust anyone who claims to comprehend the meaning of this storm. Don’t trust anyone who points with absolute certainty to a single cause for this storm. Don’t trust anyone who treats a tornado as anything but indiscriminate and cruel. These tragedies are not punishments or object lessons. Such natural forces do not reach their conclusion with a pat moral or a simple “they lived happily ever after.”

A Mother's Love

Katie and Kay, photo courtesy Kay and Gordon Stewart

Katie and Kay, photo courtesy Kay and Gordon Stewart

Yesterday Kay Stewart shared this at the cemetery as we laid to rest the ashes of her first-born daughter Katherine (“Katie”).

For Christ to have gone before us,
To have kept us from ultimate sadness,
To be our brother, our advocate,
The One who ushers in the Kingdom,
And the One to come,

Does not keep us from our digging today.
We still gather here and throw the dirt on our sacred dust,
We take the shovel like all those gone before us
And surrender to the Unknowable—
The place where
Love and Beauty and Kindness grow wild.
Where sorrow has no needs,
Where there is all beginning and
Nothing ends.


Mothers Day: The Most Painful Holiday of the Year

Couple with negative pregnancy test, Monkey Business Images /

Couple with negative pregnancy test, Monkey Business Images /

Moms should be celebrated, and they deserve all the flowers, spa days, pampering, and gifts given to them. I love my mom and I can’t thank her enough for all she has done for me and my family — Mother’s Day doesn’t even begin to cover the gratitude I have for her.

But for many, Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year. For women who have experienced miscarriages, have had children die, have had abortions, who want to have kids but are struggling or unable to, have had to give up their children or currently have broken relationships with their kids, the holiday serves as a stark reminder filled with personal sorrow.

Christian communities can be especially harsh because of their tendencies to show favoritism to the idea of motherhood — as if mothers are somehow more holy and righteous than non-mothers. In an effort to praise and empower marriage, healthy parenting, families, and the sanctity of life, Christian subculture often mistakenly and unintentionally alienates those around us — especially women.

Reflections Along the Way of Terminal Illness

Man with an umbrella in a flood, /

Man with an umbrella in a flood, /

Today, three years to the day after my daughter Katherine’s (“Katie’s”) death (May 9, 2010), we inter her cremains. IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING” was written the day we learned that Katie’s incurable Leiomyosarcoma had taken a turn for the worse. In memory of Katherine (“Katie”) Elizabeth Slaikeu Nolan.

Gordon C. Stewart Feb. 11, 2009

It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man is snoring
He went to bed and he bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning

It’s a day like that. I bumped my head on the illness of a 33 year-old loved one. It’s raining sadness. I’m having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

Terminal illness has a way of doing that unless you believe in miracles of divine intervention or you have extraordinary powers of denial.