In praise of lament – Pastoral Backstory – November 3rd, 2016


(sorry--couldn't resist. Set your clocks back Saturday night!)

(sorry–couldn’t resist. Set your clocks back Saturday night!)

November 3rd, 2016

Whatever the outcome next Tuesday, what’s certain to follow when the networks call a winner is, among the losing side, a boiling over of anger. Not just disappointment or temporary despair–those come naturally after these agonizingly long election cycles for those whose candidate came up short. I’m talking about seething. Can anyone doubt that, regardless if the vote is close or a landslide, the fallout will be fiery (and hopefully only metaphorically, and, if not, only in pockets that soon dissipate)?

It’s not so long ago we took note of one seasoned observer’s realization that America–for all its historic political battles, many replete with nearly unmentionable epithets hurled across the ideological divide–has not seen such acrimony reach so deeply or pervasively as what it has experienced this presidential cycle. The backbiting, the name-calling, the reprehensible innuendos bandied among candidates, their surrogates, and their supporters have made this election so toxic as to attract the worst elements into the system and repel the best from it. All the while anger has grown and spread like wildfire.


Now it’s not as though anger should be anathema in the realm of politics. Some of the best legislation is animated by anger over real injustice and oppression. But the anger that has taken hold of such wide swaths of the electorate is unfortunately unaccompanied by something that might refine its expression into energies best suited to societal betterment. And that missing element is anguish.

Plenty are incensed by the way things are. How many of the same are heartbroken in ways that move beyond blame and aspire both to constructive critique and self-examination? With every news cycle we witness new examples of outrage over one’s ideological opponents. Which of them also manifest real lament for what is sullied within their own camp? This election has thrived on vitriol. What is needed is a place for lament. Lament would be a paradoxically praiseworthy feature of political discourse.

Le prophète Jérémie, Marc Chagall (1968)

Le prophète Jérémie, Marc Chagall (1968)

Last Sunday we let Jeremiah be our guide into what it means to suffer for a righteous cause. And from his memorable example we learned that one test of a truly redemptive anger is whether it is also suffused with anguish. The only thing more prominent in Jeremiah’s confrontational words were his abiding tears–and for the very ones both responsible for Judah’s plight and also wistful for Jeremiah’s downfall. The weeping prophet tells us that more often than not if we’re only angry our advocacy may be subtly less righteous than we assume.

And perhaps what’s most distressing is that those with both the greatest reason and the greatest responsibility to express that more nuanced anger are too often reflecting the same unbridled, unreflective hostility found elsewhere. I’m talking about Christians.  Some whose fears of holding a minority view, or of seeing a particular view overrun, let their concerns devolve into aspersions cast uncritically and defensively. As we quoted Marilynne Robinson about this time last year, “…my thesis is always the same, and it is very simply stated. First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.

No matter who wins this election, Christians will continue to face that minority-view experience. It doesn’t rise to the level of what we associate with persecution. (Ask, for instance, our Iraqi brethren about that.) But one ought expect an increasing expression of resistance to ideas sourced in Christian thought.

So what’s the way forward? Let me share two resources. The first is from Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), who spoke recently at a Q Conference on what it means to live as a prophetic minority–as Jeremiah did in his and encouraged Judah to do likewise for the days of their sojourn in an unfamiliar and otherwise hostile setting.


The other resource is the one I mentioned at the end of Q&A last Sunday. Hosted by Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan last week, the topic was Civility in the Public Square. Redeemer invited John Inazu, author of the recently published, Confident Pluralism, and also the widely respected writer for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof–the former a Christian, the latter a man respectful of religious ideas but not committed to them. We’ve only caught bits of their respective presentations and their ensuing dialogue so far (you know–life and all), but might we encourage you all to make your way through it over time? If there’s anything we’ve learned from the political season is that this form of fractious and fiery discourse cannot serve the long term interests of anyone participating in that compromised form of dialogue–to say nothing of the entire society. This world will only become more diverse in its collective perspectives. How best to live with love for neighbor while sustaining one’s love for God? This conversation stands to inform and shape that task.



So pray for our nation, and for those who are about to be accountable for it by their governance.

But amid the cacophony, the posturing, the abiding if inappropriate fear, take this little suggestion from someone we were introduced to earlier this week.

Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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1 Comment

  1. Topic discussion on civility very good. Long but good. I would have like more discussion on unconscious biases. If only our conservative, reformed churches could address this more. Panel did well however on what was covered. I am almost tempted to put discussion on FB. Many would probably not listen to which is a lot of our problem today.

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