taking the words of Jesus seriously

We are so uncomfortable with grief that we’ve not availed ourselves of the renewing, cleansing and clarifying power of lament, of a good cry, of weeping in community. For some, unexpressed grief has now exploded onto our streets with a pain and fury not seen in generations. But for most, grief still remains hidden behind doors closed by fear, and inside hearts that feel crushed. In community, we are going to need to find a way to ground rage and fear with vision and strategy, for a just response to the great many losses and inequities so many people have suffered and will continue to suffer.

The only way to start this journey is by first grieving loss. We’ve given name to seven places to begin, because the number seven is sacred in many world religions, often suggesting a completeness. (Would that the world feels complete right now!)

READ: On the Way Back Down: In Memory of the Charleston 9

1. We need to intentionally practice grief.Grief is a guaranteed experience of life, and it is everywhere in our sacred texts and ancient practices. We need to grieve so that our fear will not paralyze but mobilize. We need to listen to our fear, and anger and rage, to find our grief. Then carve out safe spaces for our grieving practices. Grief will ground us so that in community we can get to the work of bringing needed hope and healing to our world.

2. Death, as in life, does not treat us equally.For those of us who are clergy, we live with death. What we struggle with is not only that people are dying but that some are unjustly susceptible to it. From COVID-19 to murders so blatant they’re on camera, injustice costs the lives of people beleaguered by structural inequality and racism. They live with violence and violent policing, and without health care, living wages, and fair housing. African Americans, Latinx and Native Americans disproportionately contract and die in this pandemic. Every inequality is a lived experience and sometimes it’s a death experience, too.

3. Disease and death have been institutionalized.We grieve that leaders choose to not see COVID-19 when it is hidden behind the walls of nursing homes filled with the sick and elderly, and meatpacking plants filled by an immigrant workforce, until it spreads into their communities where “people count”. Right now, detained immigrants and incarcerated populations remain packed into jails, prisons and immigration detention centers where they are in immediate peril. If we are to maintain our humanity, then no human life can be expendable, including those confined behind bars and in cages.

4. The virus of “acceptable death” will keep racism and the coronavirus alive. The more people caught in the gaps — having to go to work while sick, forced to risk their health to put food on our tables or theirs, homeless, trapped in the incarceration complex — the more difficult it will be to contain COVID-19 in all of our communities. If we don’t address the poverty gaps, stopping the virus and reopening our economy will prove even more difficult and deadly. Must we also grieve future deaths and losses that are still preventable?

5. We forget our global neighbors at our peril. COVID-19 will bring dire human and economic devastation to developing countries across Africa, Asia, Central and South America where containment is complicated by everything from HIV to chronic malnutrition; fragile health systems where medical personnel, beds, protective gear and even water are unavailable; and tenuous economies that cannot withstand losses in foreign aid, trade and tourism. Without global coordination that includes vital U.S. support,COVID-19 will surge, generate unrest, and bring more economic and health catastrophe back to the U.S. and abroad. We must battle disease and suffering wherever they strike.

6. Foolish leaders fuel fires. The ways in which our government and faith structures substitute scapegoating for care and compassion has been laid bare. Lynching of African Americans continues with impunity. Asian Americans suffer physical assaults, refusal of service and vandalism; anti-Semitism is on a steep rise inside the U.S.; attacks on Muslims are increasing around the world. From tear-gassing peaceful protesters to unabashedly using a church and bible as photo props; from scapegoating the World Health Organization (WHO), state governors and immigrants, to injecting disinfectants, trading in dangerous and self-serving propaganda fuels global human and economic crises in patterns as yet unknown. Standing alongside this leadership are shepherds asking to be fed as their sheep starve. Some falsely assign greater value to some people — those who are white, male, Christian, straight, able-bodied and American — than others. This denigrates the Divine in whose image all are created.

7. Our moral challenge.The vast majority of Americans say they believe all people have a God-given right to life and dignity, but that our nation accepts the deaths of 700 people from the effects of poverty on any ordinary day, without a global pandemic, says otherwise.

Set before us now is a pivotal moment and moral challenge. History teaches that economic devastation can produce ugly authoritarian responses…or it can imagine a new future story where committed young people bravely join hands. Where smog is replaced by clear skies. Where we take action for the common good, rural and urban, red and blue and in-between, by the hundreds of millions to stop a deadly pandemic’s spread. Where we expressed daily gratitude to frontline heroes who care for the sick and feed the hungry — from the medical professionals to the checkout clerks, delivery people to the caregivers, working at physical risk each day.

We are proving that we can come together toward a greater completeness. Frederick Douglass once said, “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” Will we construct a new and better normal with the solidarity, generosity and innovation we’ve shown these past months — and stand strong against malignant propaganda, cynicism and greed?

Grief is one of the virtues of holiness as out of this pain will be revealed opportunities to do better for Divine’s creation. Our grief may just have the impact of creating an antibody that will be the moral revival our country needs. Let Justice be found in the river of tears that rolls down our cheeks, and then, let Righteousness be our ever-flowing future Dream.


  1. Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ/Chicago
  2. Sr. Simone Campbell SSS, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
  3. Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church
  4. Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Deputy Director & Director of Clergy Organizing, Faith in Action; President, Alliance of Baptists.
  5. Bishop Gene Robinson, The Episcopal Church
  6. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah
  7. Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries, The United Church of Christ (UCC)
  8. Valarie Kaur, Founder, Revolutionary Love Project
  9. Linda Sarsour, co-founder MPOWER Change
  10. Wajahat Ali, New York Times contributing op-ed writer
  11. Lisa Sharon Harper, Founder and President, Freedom Road, LLC
  12. Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life
  13. Bishop Yvette Flunder, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
  14. Brian McLaren, author/speaker
  15. Rabbi Sharon Brous, Senior Rabbi, IKAR
  16. Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Senior Rabbi, Union Temple of Brooklyn
  17. Stosh Cotler, CEO, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
  18. Imam Dawud Walid, Executive Director, Michigan Council on American-Islamic Relations
  19. Rev. Dr. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Fort Washington Collegiate Church
  20. Rev. angel Kyodo williams, founder, Center for Transformative Change
  21. Rev. Dr. Katharine R. Henderson, President, Auburn Seminary

About The Author


Auburn's Senior Fellows are leaders who bring justice-centered faith into the public square to face today's most pressing challenges head-on.

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