taking the words of Jesus seriously


Image: The prophet Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem in a stained glass window of the Cathedral of Brussels, Belgium.


Every time I spend any time on Facebook lately I find myself using one of the alternatives to the Facebook Like button – the sad face or angry face – and saying: This is soul-crushing. Heart-breaking.


This makes me sick.


And now I am actually sick. I have a very bad cold in the middle of summer, which is not going away nearly quickly enough.

And I’m blaming it on Facebook.


Well, maybe not Facebook itself, but the things I read on it: The latest outlandishly horrifying thing Donald Trump has said, the latest mass shooting with an assault rifle, the latest nastiness and exclusion expressed in the guise of religion…in the “name of God, ” for God’s sake. The things all us “regular” people are saying to each other and how we’re saying it. The latest unarmed black person killed by a police officer.


Facebook right now feels like a bloody wreck on the highway that you don’t want to see but can’t turn away from.


Can Facebook cause a cold? Ok, probably not. Unless you believe that saying, “This makes me sick” often enough can actually make you sick.


I got the cold last week and started pounding down those Cold-Eze lozenges full of zinc and Vitamin C which promise to decrease “the severity and duration” of the common cold. I took them religiously for three full days, determined to beat it.


And I thought I had. I woke up Saturday morning thinking, “Wow. Look at me. My cold is essentially gone. I’m awesome.”


Then I went on my merry way, ok, maybe went on my merry way x3…did way too much… and then the next day, Sunday, woke up coughing and achy and runny nose-y and feeling like, what’s the medical term for it? Oh yeah, “like shit.” Again.


Have I mentioned how impatient a person I am? I like bad things to be over quickly. I’m not even talking really bad things. Just somewhat bad things. Boring things. Slightly uncomfortable things. Things that are simply not the way I would like them to be.


But here’s the sad truth, most of the time, there are no shortcuts that really work.


We all have to go the long way around. We can pretend otherwise. Like I was on Saturday. But then Sunday comes.


The day of reckoning.


As I dragged myself around in a sniffly/sneezy, cold-induced hell all day Sunday, mad because I wasn’t “over it, ” yet, for some reason I started thinking again about an NPR show my husband, Gary and I had listened to the Sunday night a week before.


It was about the song, “Strange Fruit, ” which Billie Holiday sang at the close of all her sets. It wasn’t a happy, send-them-out-feeling optimistic song. It was a song about a particular time of sickness in America when black people were regularly lynched. It was a song of lament, lament of Biblical proportions.


When I listened to the show, I realized how little I actually knew about lynchings in this country.


One fact, in particular, jumped out at me from the show. It came from an interview with April Aune Shipp, a quilter who, for three years searched out the names of blacks who were reported lynched from 1865 to 1965 and embroidered them into a quilt she called “Strange Fruit, ” embroidered each name into the fabric, as a memorial, as a witness.


She said she never had the courage to count the names, but there were about 5, 000.


5, 000 lynchings of black men, women and children, from 1865 to 1965.


5, 000 black men, women and children, dragged from their homes, brutally murdered, while police did nothing to stop these crimes. And in some cases, helped perpetuate them.


5, 000 black men, women and children, tortured and killed by mobs—who either did the killing, or who watched, who came to see the “entertainment.”


Until that moment, I had no idea there had been that many. It wasn’t a fact my history books in junior high or high school or college had actually mentioned.


5, 000.


Of course blacks weren’t the only ones who were lynched in America. Asian Americans were as well. I just found that out this week too.


Nothing in my history books about that, either.


It struck me, after hearing the show, that we, as a nation, haven’t ever truly and deeply mourned these deaths. Unlike Billie Holiday, we’ve never lamented these lynchings.


Yes, I did recently hear there are plans to create a museum and national lynching memorial, an initiative spearheaded by the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative, but not by any US government agency.


Yes, I also read that in 2005, the US Senate finally – quietly – passed a resolution apologizing for failing to stop the lynchings. It was a verbal vote. As if putting something in writing would have been too much? Too real?


Did you know about that “apology”? I certainly didn’t. I just ran across that fact today, while writing this.


It wasn’t big news.


Big news these days are the killings of unarmed people of color by police. We have all heard the names, of course. Too many names.

And there are videos on YouTube…with millions of views. Millions of us watching.


One of the recent ones of course, was Philando Castille. His death was live-streamed to Facebook from the back seat of a car, by his girlfriend, using her camera phone.


She wanted us to see this, to know this happened, to witness this atrocity with her.


But is seeing it enough? Even if we watch in horror? Even if we post about it on our Facebook pages and say how awful it is, is that enough?


Is that enough to make all this sickness stop? Is that going to mend what’s broken?


How many deaths have we seen over the last few years plastered across our status updates? How many does it take?


This morning, as I cough and blow my nose, my body reminds me, there are no quick solves, no magic pills, no shortcuts to healing. The Facebook angry button or tear-stained face button will not actually heal us.


We have to walk through it, all the way through it.


George Santayana wrote in 1905: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I would say, it’s more than remembering that we need.


It’s lamenting.


We need to actually lament these lynchings. The ones that happened a hundred years ago. And the new ones, the ones that are going on today, under the cover of “keeping our country safe.”


We need to lament a lot of things that we share about on Facebook on a daily basis.


But lament is not a word most of us are that familiar or comfortable with. It feels kinda mildewed and poetic and antiquated, doesn’t it? It’s got that Old Testament “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” vibe to it, which is never a good look on anyone.


The standard dictionary definition of lament is “…to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret.” But in the Bible, where lament is talked about a lot – almost half the Psalms are songs of lament and it’s got a whole book – Lamentations – dedicated to it, lament seems to go even further than sorrow and regret.


As the theologian Walter Brueggemann has said, “Lament is the antidote to denial.” Lament is about opening our eyes, not just to let the tears flow, but to really see. Not only what happened, and what happens still, but why it happens. How it happens.


Lament creates confession and repentance. Being so grief-stricken and horrified, you actually recognize your own part, however small, in the evil that’s taken place, then stop in your tracks, turn around, start to head in a new direction.


That feels like something we could use more of in our country these days.


So how do we reclaim lament?


How do we reclaim lament when so many of us have grown up with Disney movies, and we can’t wait for the happy ending?


How do we reclaim lament when we have so little patience for things that make us uncomfortable? When “escapism…” is our favorite religion?


How do we reclaim lament when so many of us have been raised with voices that told us, “Crying doesn’t solve anything…”?


How do we reclaim lament when it’s not even particularly welcome in our churches, as Soong-Chan Rah, in his book, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times suggests. (And you’d think churches would be all over it, since it’s so all over the Bible…)


I’ll be honest, I don’t really know. Except I know I want to try.


I tried about a month ago… at this progressive Christian music/art/justice/spirit gathering, that’s been happening every summer for the last five years or so — the Wild Goose Festival. I was involved in a small group that put together a time for lament and confession and communion, late on the Friday night of the festival, We called it Openings, because we wanted to open up a space for people to pray and sing and move and cry and remember some of the recent deaths of unarmed black and brown people in this country, to mourn for the ways we’ve slammed doors in the faces of all kinds of people we as a nation so easily call “other”…whether they are LGBTQ or Muslims or refugees. And to be able to take communion together and remember the Jesus who was a victim of a type of lynching himself, the Jesus who embraces those who suffer and calls us all to a different way.


And I have to say it was powerful. We remembered and confessed, and repented together, that night, we lamented together. And no, there were no bolts of lightning that came down to quickly and miraculously fix everything, but the tears we shed did feel like a much-needed rain for the seeds of change.


I so wish there was a magic pill that could make all the nastiness I hear from Donald Trump and his followers go away. I wish there was something that would immediately stop the authorized murder of people of color. Oh and while we’re at it, something that could stop the terrorizing of the LGBTQ community, and some quick fix that will eliminate our fear and make us, as a nation, more welcoming to the refugees and the strangers. Plus, something that will make us all feel good and happy and won’t be the least bit painful, demanding or awkward and will return Facebook to a place where we all simply post cute cat videos.


But my body, my ridiculous cold, is here to remind me, once again, as I cough and hack and blow my nose, there is no magic “get over it easily” pill. There is no Facebook face button that will actually eliminate the severity and duration of the pain and the wrongness and make it all better.


The only path forward is the one that goes right through lament.


As Billie Holiday so clearly knew, as she sang her song of lament, every single night…there is no short cut to healing.


And there never has been.


About The Author


Lenora blogs with honesty, humor and even, occasionally, a little wisdom, about trying to be more spiritual when you basically suck at it, on her Chicago-Tribune-hosted blog, Spiritual Suckitude. A regular contributor on RedLetterChristians.org, she also co-directs The Plural Guild with her husband Gary, a collective crafting music, visual art & liturgy for people who want to do justice, love mercy, and worship in new ways that welcome all. Because she rarely sleeps, she also writes lyrics for the band The Many, works a very full time job as creative director in a big Chicago ad agency, and helps with communications for the Wild Goose Festival. Her two 20-something daughters allow her to be friends with them on Facebook, as long as she doesn’t comment. She loves Jesus, chocolate and shoes. Though, unfortunately, not always in that order.

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