reflecting a bit on America: shades of gray (no, don’t even think about bringing down the Washington Monument, etc.)

This is the fourth of July, and if you’re going to read only one blog post today, settle in on this one from Brian Zahnd, I Love You, America, But Not Like That.

There is no doubt to me that another part of the reckoning due to the enslavement and mistreatment of Africans has come for America. We are in a day when  some would see the dismantling of all of America’s cultural landmarks. Almost the entire tent coming down to be replaced with something else.

There’s no doubt that great evil was done, and that the founding father’s blindness or acceptance of slavery is plain downright wrong. There is no gray in that. And as George Will pointed out in his most recent (outstanding) book, The Conservative Sensibility, there would be no United States apart from the slavery which under girded it, and gave founding fathers the time to hammer out the foundation of this nation.

What we need to keep in mind is the whole. Not excusing any part that is wrong and actually downright evil. But remembering what was good. I shouldn’t neglect to mention the other part of what’s called America’s original sin: the stealing and killing of native Americans, “Indians.” Both African-Americans and native Americans suffer to this day.

Without trying to cover everything that should be, I just want to point out here that we need to see life as it truly is. I love biographies that are not hagiographies, but try to tell it, warts and all. That’s one thing among many others that I love about the Bible. It doesn’t try to hide the blemishes, blotches, and indeed complete failures of characters. A great case in point is David, said to be a man after God’s own heart no less. But his actions when you read the account we’re not altogether good. And what he did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah were downright evil. But do we dismiss and diss David? No we don’t. It’s not like the bad part is forgotten, because it’s not, and shouldn’t be.

Looking at American history, I can still respect men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Instead of just seeing their flaws, I can acknowledge their good points, and greatness in some respects. Ironically holding to ideals on paper, not lived out entirely in their lives.

Again, this is not to excuse what’s wrong, or say what’s past is past while failing to see the many ramifications and realities which live on to this day.

So let’s not bring down the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial, etc. If anything is idolatrous then yes, that ought to come down. But let’s leave memorials like what I just mentioned intact. We should not even be considering removing them. I’m not referring to monuments that honor those who rebelled against the United States, the Confederacy, etc. They ought to be moved into museums, no longer to be honored in public squares. We can set up with our iconic memorials, new works that remember what Africans had to endure, and the great contributions African-Americans have made to this nation. As well as memorialize the good native Americans have done.

God have mercy if any of our lives are looked at strictly in terms of good and evil. For some there is great evil, other’s great good, but for all, there’s some mixture, so that there’s a certain shade of gray. As we Christians look to the one light of the world, Jesus, to expose our own spiritual darkness, and all the spiritual darkness around us, for the good of all. In and through Jesus.

where we live now

For the director of music. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the LORD silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the LORD.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the LORD are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.

You, LORD, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.

Psalm 12

This is almost a lament, but kind of a mixture between that and petition and praise for God’s answer. It’s the space in which we live. There’s much to lament in the world. Yet we have God’s promise of intervention. We believe in the end that God will make everything right.

Often we don’t see the answer. I think of some of the most difficult places on earth to live with totalitarian regimes. But sadly, even in free nations there’s much that goes on that isn’t just and right.

We need the insight to see through those who may be misleading. And we need to hold on to the one sure confidence and hope we have: that God somehow is at work now, and will eventually right all wrongs in the judgment and salvation to come. Part of the gospel, the good news, in and through Jesus.

Jeremiah’s sorrow

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.

Jeremiah 8:21-9:2

I remember a wonderful seminary professor telling us that pastors’ life spans are probably cut short due to all they have to go through, not the least of which, carrying the burdens of people in their hearts. Jeremiah is a most interesting, surely complex prophet. His book is actually the longest in the Bible, and he endured years of suffering both internally and externally.

Jeremiah shared in the suffering of his people, forbidden by the Lord to marry because of God’s judgment to come (Jeremiah 16). He suffered much, and is rightfully called “the weeping prophet.” The book of Lamentations, at least in his tradition if not written by him is remarkable in both its pathos and what is actually said.

The ability to enter into the suffering of others, to even share in that suffering, and especially so when it is the consequences of their own terrible choices is indeed a gift from God. It is much more likely that one shakes their head, with maybe a hint of grief, then carries on with their own life, maybe putting it out of mind on purpose. After all, who can carry such weight? And I know there are Christians who think that to do so is somehow not spiritual. How it is done may not be all that spiritual or Spirit led, but the idea that it’s done at all is surely marked with firm precedent in Scripture. And is not our Lord rightly called a man of sorrows, who wept over Jerusalem and its judgment to come?

Jeremiah had to carry a heavy burden. The Lord surely helped him, and enabled him to do it for so long. And not only people in his day were blessed because of that, but so were generations which followed right up to the present day who can read his writings and the account of that time. Lamenting is a part of life, even the godly life. Some are more inclined to it, but it is a gift for us all. Entering into something of the heart of God for people. In and through Jesus.

in this rubble

We heard of the terrible, heart breaking tragedy of a young mother who struggled with mental illness, first shooting her children, an eight year old girl who was a good reader, a rambunctious six year old girl, and a two year old boy who was a smiler, before taking her own life. A year ago she had sought help for mental illness.

We live in a world of heart breaking tragedy. It usually happens on less dramatic levels, but telling in lasting ways for those involved. I can make no sense out of it. There is a part of me which wants to question God like the prophets of old, and other places we find in Scripture such as the Psalms and Job.

It is a sad fact of the matter that we live in a world in which there is insanity with unspeakably horrific consequences. There’s no escape from that. Common grace, called such because God gives it to all humanity keeps it from being worse.

I can only lament over such tragedy. And at the same time believe that God is somehow present through it all.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis

I can only go back to God and to the cross of Christ as the hope through which I carry on and live. That somehow in the end God will sort through this mess. That even now God is at work in redeeming what is in bondage, putting together what is broken, bringing beauty into the ugliness of this world.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s our own sin and yes, evil, that brings in a world of hurt. But that God stepped into this world, fully taking that hurt on himself on the cross. With the promise of resurrection. In and through Jesus.

weeping willows and violins

I’m fond of violins, maybe not so much fond of weeping willow trees, though they have their own unique beauty. I’m not sure why there’s either an ambivalence or even abhorrence toward sorrow. It seems as if you can’t be a Christian and be down at any time.

Violins are one of the most beautiful of in fact many wonderful instruments. Jews and Russians are especially known for violin playing. It seems that those from backgrounds or ethnicities that have experienced profound suffering are especially proficient at the violin.

I can’t understand why Christians shouldn’t enter into the suffering of the world. I’m not at all saying that our traditions say we shouldn’t; it’s just that too often our Christianity is more attuned to the sound of celebration rather than lament. But scripture includes both. Certainly praise of God, but sorrow as well. Certainly over our own sin, and over the brokenness we experience. But also over the plight of others. In fact we ought to be present when others suffer, so that somehow we can empathize and enter into their suffering, and be a support for them. And in seeking to be a “faithful presence,” Christ can be present.

God’s grace helps us to be always rejoicing, even when sorrowful. But it also helps us to grieve over the loss of others, over the problems, indeed crises of the world. It is certainly true that we can only bear so much. That we have to cast our cares on God. But it’s not like we are then removed from the sorrow around us, or our own.

We look forward to the day when there will be no more sorrow, suffering and pain, when God wipes away every tear from our eyes. But now by grace we want to remain in the pain of the world, sharing in its suffering, knowing that through Christ’s suffering even now great help can come. To love others and find God’s comfort in our own sorrows, that in turn we might comfort others in their sorrow in and through Jesus.

Lamentations helping us lament

Lamentations is a difficult book to either read, or listen to. It needs to be read against the backdrop of scripture, particularly the historical books in the Old Testament which recount Israel and Judah’s unfaithfulness to God.

But this is all written for us as well. We too have been unfaithful, and we live in the midst of unfaithfulness. And we too pay a price, along with others, for our unfaithfulness.

What Lamentations recounts is horrifying, to say the least. The consequences of evil, which can be evil themselves, and the downward spiral of sin. But it is written by someone seeking God, and God’s mercy. But don’t read just part of it.

Today I lament over the consequences of sin, both individually and corporately. And I seek God, and God’s mercy.

How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.

Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.

After affliction and harsh labor,
Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate,
her priests groan,
her young women grieve,
and she is in bitter anguish.

Her foes have become her masters;
her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief
because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile,
captive before the foe.

All the splendor has departed
from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer
that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled
before the pursuer.

In the days of her affliction and wandering
Jerusalem remembers all the treasures
that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into enemy hands,
there was no one to help her.
Her enemies looked at her
and laughed at her destruction.

Jerusalem has sinned greatly
and so has become unclean.
All who honored her despise her,
for they have all seen her naked;
she herself groans
and turns away.

Her filthiness clung to her skirts;
she did not consider her future.
Her fall was astounding;
there was none to comfort her.
“Look, Lord, on my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed.”

The enemy laid hands
on all her treasures;
she saw pagan nations
enter her sanctuary—
those you had forbidden
to enter your assembly.

All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they barter their treasures for food
to keep themselves alive.
“Look, Lord, and consider,
for I am despised.”

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the Lord brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger?

“From on high he sent fire,
sent it down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet
and turned me back.
He made me desolate,
faint all the day long.

“My sins have been bound into a yoke;
by his hands they were woven together.
They have been hung on my neck,
and the Lord has sapped my strength.
He has given me into the hands
of those I cannot withstand.

“The Lord has rejected
all the warriors in my midst;
he has summoned an army against me
to crush my young men.
In his winepress the Lord has trampled
Virgin Daughter Judah.

“This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
because the enemy has prevailed.”

Zion stretches out her hands,
but there is no one to comfort her.
The Lord has decreed for Jacob
that his neighbors become his foes;
Jerusalem has become
an unclean thing among them.

“The Lord is righteous,
yet I rebelled against his command.
Listen, all you peoples;
look on my suffering.
My young men and young women
have gone into exile.

“I called to my allies
but they betrayed me.
My priests and my elders
perished in the city
while they searched for food
to keep themselves alive.

“See, Lord, how distressed I am!
I am in torment within,
and in my heart I am disturbed,
for I have been most rebellious.
Outside, the sword bereaves;
inside, there is only death.

“People have heard my groaning,
but there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my distress;
they rejoice at what you have done.
May you bring the day you have announced
so they may become like me.

“Let all their wickedness come before you;
deal with them
as you have dealt with me
because of all my sins.
My groans are many
and my heart is faint.”

How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
with the cloud of his anger!
He has hurled down the splendor of Israel
from heaven to earth;
he has not remembered his footstool
in the day of his anger.

Without pity the Lord has swallowed up
all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has torn down
the strongholds of Daughter Judah.
He has brought her kingdom and its princes
down to the ground in dishonor.

In fierce anger he has cut off
every horn of Israel.
He has withdrawn his right hand
at the approach of the enemy.
He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire
that consumes everything around it.

Like an enemy he has strung his bow;
his right hand is ready.
Like a foe he has slain
all who were pleasing to the eye;
he has poured out his wrath like fire
on the tent of Daughter Zion.

The Lord is like an enemy;
he has swallowed up Israel.
He has swallowed up all her palaces
and destroyed her strongholds.
He has multiplied mourning and lamentation
for Daughter Judah.

He has laid waste his dwelling like a garden;
he has destroyed his place of meeting.
The Lord has made Zion forget
her appointed festivals and her Sabbaths;
in his fierce anger he has spurned
both king and priest.

The Lord has rejected his altar
and abandoned his sanctuary.
He has given the walls of her palaces
into the hands of the enemy;
they have raised a shout in the house of the Lord
as on the day of an appointed festival.

The Lord determined to tear down
the wall around Daughter Zion.
He stretched out a measuring line
and did not withhold his hand from destroying.
He made ramparts and walls lament;
together they wasted away.

Her gates have sunk into the ground;
their bars he has broken and destroyed.
Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations,
the law is no more,
and her prophets no longer find
visions from the Lord.

The elders of Daughter Zion
sit on the ground in silence;
they have sprinkled dust on their heads
and put on sackcloth.
The young women of Jerusalem
have bowed their heads to the ground.

My eyes fail from weeping,
I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground
because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint
in the streets of the city.

They say to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
as their lives ebb away
in their mothers’ arms.

What can I say for you?
With what can I compare you,
Daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you,
that I may comfort you,
Virgin Daughter Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
Who can heal you?

The visions of your prophets
were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
were false and misleading.

All who pass your way
clap their hands at you;
they scoff and shake their heads
at Daughter Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of the whole earth?”

All your enemies open their mouths
wide against you;
they scoff and gnash their teeth
and say, “We have swallowed her up.
This is the day we have waited for;
we have lived to see it.”

The Lord has done what he planned;
he has fulfilled his word,
which he decreed long ago.
He has overthrown you without pity,
he has let the enemy gloat over you,
he has exalted the horn of your foes.

The hearts of the people
cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
let your tears flow like a river
day and night;
give yourself no relief,
your eyes no rest.

Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
at every street corner.

“Look, Lord, and consider:
Whom have you ever treated like this?
Should women eat their offspring,
the children they have cared for?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord?

“Young and old lie together
in the dust of the streets;
my young men and young women
have fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of your anger;
you have slaughtered them without pity.

“As you summon to a feast day,
so you summoned against me terrors on every side.
In the day of the Lord’s anger
no one escaped or survived;
those I cared for and reared
my enemy has destroyed.”

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.

He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.

Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.

For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.

To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?

Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
Why should the living complain
when punished for their sins?

Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.
Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
to God in heaven, and say:
“We have sinned and rebelled
and you have not forgiven.

“You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
you have slain without pity.
You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.
You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations.

“All our enemies have opened their mouths
wide against us.
We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
ruin and destruction.”
Streams of tears flow from my eyes
because my people are destroyed.

My eyes will flow unceasingly,
without relief,
until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
What I see brings grief to my soul
because of all the women of my city.

Those who were my enemies without cause
hunted me like a bird.
They tried to end my life in a pit
and threw stones at me;
the waters closed over my head,
and I thought I was about to perish.

I called on your name, Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”

You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life.
Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
Uphold my cause!
You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
all their plots against me.

Lord, you have heard their insults,
all their plots against me—
what my enemies whisper and mutter
against me all day long.
Look at them! Sitting or standing,
they mock me in their songs.

Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
for what their hands have done.
Put a veil over their hearts,
and may your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under the heavens of the Lord.

How the gold has lost its luster,
the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
at every street corner.

How the precious children of Zion,
once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
the work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.

Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.

Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
now lie on ash heaps.

The punishment of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
without a hand turned to help her.

Their princes were brighter than snow
and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
their appearance like lapis lazuli.

But now they are blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as a stick.

Those killed by the sword are better off
than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
for lack of food from the field.

With their own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed.

The Lord has given full vent to his wrath;
he has poured out his fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion
that consumed her foundations.

The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.

But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
the blood of the righteous.

Now they grope through the streets
as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
that no one dares to touch their garments.

“Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.
“Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”
When they flee and wander about,
people among the nations say,
“They can stay here no longer.”

The Lord himself has scattered them;
he no longer watches over them.
The priests are shown no honor,
the elders no favor.

Moreover, our eyes failed,
looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched
for a nation that could not save us.

People stalked us at every step,
so we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near, our days were numbered,
for our end had come.

Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
and lay in wait for us in the desert.

The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath,
was caught in their traps.
We thought that under his shadow
we would live among the nations.

Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom,
you who live in the land of Uz.
But to you also the cup will be passed;
you will be drunk and stripped naked.

Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,
and expose your wickedness.

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Egypt and Assyria
to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion,
and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
with jackals prowling over it.

You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.

Psalm 88

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskilof Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
    turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
    like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
    who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
    you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
    and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
    my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
    I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
    Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
    your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
    or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
    your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
    they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend.

thoughts on the horrific violent act against the lgbt community

We in Christ stand with the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community against the horrific act of hate in the brutal, senseless murders of at least 50 people. We grieve their loss as ours, as well. And we stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers against such violence, as well as the thought of any retaliation against them, which would be equally as senseless and evil. These are all God’s children, created in God’s image, lives which are sacred and beloved.

Any denigration or targetting of any group we condemn. Hate has no place in our hearts as humans, and this is emphasized to us as followers of Christ. The only hatred we can have is against evil, expressed in anger, which as someone else aptly said must morph into grief and lament before the crucified God.

Hate and evil go on in this world, and socieities must take strong stands against even language and corresponding acts which marginalize groups, and make groups of humans to be the others as in not part of us. No, all of these people are part of us, even when we may not share the same faith or moral understandings. We must not think that everyone has to agree across the board on everything, and there are especially some things we guard as sacred. Not only “the right to life” for the unborn, which ought to be a given, but the right to living according to one’s faith and upbringing, or with no religion at all. There has to be room in good and just societies for the differences among us. A nationalism which invokes some superior way of being human along ethnic or religious grounds is to be repudiated and condemned.

As Christians we know that it is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which is the game changer, and nothing less. In that good news is the eventual promise of judgment in rooting out all of the evil of this world, and righting every wrong. We don’t know how God can settle the score on so many things. And we grieve and lament over those who could be so deceived as to take part in such pure, unmitigated evil. Wanting justice to come, but also mercy- both.

But we don’t flag in our hope grounded in the promises of God in Christ, that someday violence will be no more, and true justice in the shalom/peace of God’s kingdom will bring in the fullness of what we as humans can hardly dream of, but which is present now in its rudimentary, beginning form in and through Jesus by the gospel in the church. We don’t lose hope, realizing that the warfare we face as those in Christ is not a physical warfare, but a spiritual one (Ephesians 6:10-20). And so we pray against evil, and for the penetration of the saving gospel to overturn and destroy strongholds of Satan, bent on the destruction of others.

And we speak out for just and good laws. The banning of assault weapons, which have no use in a good society, good only for mass killings, ought to be high on the political agenda here in the United States. We must beware of a trust in guns to save us from evil, which is unthinkable for the follower of Christ, and is not wise in any society of this world. Unless we want to go back to the days when for example politicians in the United States used to settle disputes through gun duels which could end in the death of one or the other.

We pray for our enemies, and we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As we grieve and lament, and pray for and help those who are victimized in the latest act of evil.

A Meditation on the Orlando Shooting- CT

Pope Francis Unequivocally Condemns Florida Man’s Gay Bar Shooting Rampage

 

the need for lament

To be successful it seems in too many quarters is to be on top of the world in some kind of dominant position, rather than in a vulnerable place of suffering. We want to be fulfilled, to have complete assurance through the working toward dreams being realized. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him in suffering, to learn what it means to live in participation of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. That is not what we thought we signed up for when we became a Christian. Of course accompanying that death is the real life, the power of Christ’s resurrection, but again the end is to be like him in his death (Philippians 3).

Lament is surely a big part of this, seen over and over in the psalms, as well as in an entire book, the book of Lamentations, in the longest book in the Bible, Jeremiah, and throughout the Bible, including from Jesus himself. To lament is to enter, or more accurately to realize that we are all entered into the brokenness and ongoing tragedy of this world, and instead of trying to escape it, seeking to live faithfully there through God’s faithfulness in Jesus, as those who suffer and groan along with it, so that it can begin to realize what ultimately will be true healing and redemption into the life that is truly life in and through Jesus.

To not lament is as much of a choice as to lament, but too often it’s because our hearts are hard because we are given over to other gods, maybe the god of consumerism, security, pleasure, “money, sex and power,” nationalism, etc., etc. But to be formed by the gospel is to become countercultural in the way of the cross, which ends up being the way of suffering service and healing lament all in and through the sacrifice and salvation that is in Jesus.

Somehow through lament comes healing, for ourselves, but just as importantly, for others as well. We’re blessed in that way, to be a blessing. Death being at work in us, so that life might be at work in others, all in and through Jesus. And so I want to embrace lament more and more, living where the deepest pain is, so that God’s joy and peace can find its way into those places, so that others might with us find the life that is truly life in and through Jesus.

accepting struggle

Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

Eliphaz’s words here in Job are echoed by the suffering Job himself later. And Jesus, after some telling teaching on the idolatry of materialism and money along with the need to trust the Father for provision as one seeks the kingdom and that righteousness that goes with it closes that part with these words:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Some of us seem to struggle more than others. Surely a number of factors are involved in that. And perhaps we can outgrow some kinds of struggles, unless they might simply take on a different form as we continue to mature in Christ. But trouble is the lot of everyone in this life. There is no such thing as a trouble free existence.

This can be due to sin. A large part of it is due to the fact that this world is neither complete or perfect. We can say because of the fall of humankind into sin, but I believe this world was made with the world to come in mind. New creation in and through Christ when heaven and earth become one is the culmination and goal. At the beginning of this old creation, chaos and disorder ruled the day. In creation that began to dissipate significantly, though it is still present in the whole. Someday when the new creation completely takes over through the resurrection of all things in and through Christ, that chaos and the trouble that comes with it will be gone.

Of course some of the struggle, and surely sometimes much of it is simply due to our own lack. We don’t trust God as we should. Or perhaps there is some deficiency in our character due to sin which needs to be changed. We need the light of the convicting work of the Spirit to lead us to confession and repentance and forgiveness of our sins in and through Jesus.

One of the most important things we can do is simply to accept the struggle. Not try to escape it, but look to God for God’s deliverance. Ordinarily such deliverance will come only as we work through it. Usually deliverance is not out of trouble, but through the trouble. Remember Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, even with God himself.

We need to learn not to panic, and even to learn a form of rest during such times. Even as we cry out to God at the same time in complaint and lament as in the psalms. Not giving up, but pressing on, confident of God’s deliverance.