We need more lamenting in our society from our churches to our neighborhoods. There are so many injustices and evils in our world that are against the will of God. Yet our churches are convinced that lamenting is something “wrong” and that it contradicts thanksgiving and the recognition of what God has blessed us with. Those who do lament often pick and choose what to lament over, which ends up being for injustices abroad committed against Christians rather than domestic issues that Christians are often responsible for.
Thanksgiving is an important discipline that our society preaches frequently but practices scarcely. Our churches regularly preach thanksgiving and cite scriptures from Psalms to Philippians to remind us of this esteemed discipline. Our culture even has a holiday for thanksgiving (despite some questions about its history) that is celebrated across this land. This blog; however, is not about thanksgiving. This blog is about a practice and discipline that is forgotten, shamed, and by many seen as a complete contraction to thanksgiving.
Lament is defined as a passionate expression of grief and sorrow. It is a discipline that is too often ignored in church communities and within our “self-help” culture, but is displayed when people experience great loss, particularly with a loved one. The bible is filled with laments. It is said that over a third of the Psalms consists of laments and there is a whole book, Lamentations, written on this important subject. Many of the minor prophets lamented against the injustices of the day and there are examples of Jesus lamenting in the New Testament (Matthew 23, Luke 19).
We have many injustices to lament to today, one of them being racism and white supremacy. From police brutality and prison sentencing to school suspensions and racial profiling, black and brown people are being criminalized in ways that either ruin or end their lives. America’s racist “past” is in the present as the brutality and slavery and segregation has not fully ended but has rather been redesigned through the prison system.
Lamenting against racism is an effective step in fighting against it. Part of lamenting is the honest recognition that individual acts of repentance are not enough to end an institutional and systemic problem. Many still believe that racism is simply an individual problem and that if we just learned to love our neighbor, we could end racism. As I mentioned in my most recent blog, quoting “love your neighbor” is merely an empty phrase when it is not applied. When we fail to lament against racism, we are suggesting that our small and minor individual acts are enough to “deal” with racial issues. Furthermore, we are reinforcing the false notion that systemic racism isn’t a serious problem in our society.
Many Christians practice the discipline of lament against the persecution of Christians around the world and rightfully so. By lamenting against religious persecution, they are recognizing the severity of the problem and showing solidarity with Christians around the globe. What we lament over shows our concern for both the victims and the social problem.
If we are concerned about the original sin of racism in America, we must lament. We must cry out to God and call for justice. Our protesting and empathy means little if we are unwilling to lament against the systems that lead us to protest. Lamenting shows your heart and concern for an issue, which will make your commitment to justice much stronger and deeper.
As we approach this holiday that our country recognizes as thanksgiving, let us remember the importance of giving thanks regularly while not forgetting the importance of lamenting. Lamenting does not contradict gratitude or thanksgiving. It recognizes that while there are things to be grateful for, there is also so much pain and suffering in our world.
Neglecting the discipline of lament is a subtle way of silencing the pain of the oppressed and forgotten. Similarly, if you refuse to lament about your own struggles and trials, you are being inauthentic with yourself, others, and God. Furthermore, we must be willing to lament against evils both domestically and abroad. Yes, we must lament against the religious persecution of Christians in the Middle East or the sex trafficking that exists across the globe including America. We must also; however, lament against systemic racism that destroys lives and devastates families. We must lament against the silence of privileged people who refuse to recognize the racial oppression in our land.
Thus let us lament against racism, not just when there is a police shooting of an unarmed black man or woman, or when there are reports of muslim women being harassed while wearing a hijab; let us also lament proactively by crying out against systems of oppression wherever they may be. Let us put the stigma of lament to rest and recognize its value and necessity. It will help us build solidarity with the oppressed and will draw us closer to God.