October 5, 2017
Dear Hyde Park Family,
“In utter loneliness, a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”
– John Steinbeck
Since last Sunday night’s horrifying shooting in Las Vegas, I have felt abandoned by words.
Why did the shooter do it? we ask. We think somehow that by discovering his motivations, we will not excuse his actions, but we will at least rationalize them in our minds. If he was radicalized by ISIS … if he was suffering from mental illness … if he was politically motivated… . We think if we can answer that question, we can then assign a solution, and thereby point a finger. Tighter gun control restrictions. More funding for mental health care. Less polarization in our political rhetoric.
It’s true that our politicians need to have a robust and comprehensive debate about sensible gun legislation in our country. It’s also true that laws can only shape behavior, but they cannot transform sinfulness in the human heart. And I think it is ultimately true that in the wake of such tragedy, our nature is to shift quickly to diagnosis and jump to prescription, in the hopes that we are correct in both.
Maybe that is why I feel at such a loss for words.
After this last month, our country has been subjected to one national Rorschach ink blot after another, each one eliciting opposing opinions, exposing deep divides in our social fabric. The people suffering in Puerto Rico. The latest efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The people kneeling during our national anthem. The debate over LGBTQ inclusion in the United Methodist Church. Each week, another ink blot, and another reminder of how polarized we are.
Steinbeck was right. In that loneliness, we struggle to explain the inexplicable. Perhaps that is why this past week the only thing I felt I could do was lament.
THE TIME I BROKE THE HOUSE
I remember that when I was about ten years old, I was horsing around with my two younger brothers in our home. My parents had just spent a sizable amount of money adding an extension to our house, and my brothers and I were running around our brand-new living room, pretending to be ninjas.
We play-punched and karate-kicked, whooped and ran, turning the whole room into a Bruce Lee film soundstage. And in one moment of sheer stupidity, I ran toward one of the walls and kicked at it, resulting in a large, two-foot crack in the freshly painted dry wall.
I froze. I stared at the wall, incredulous at what I had just done. My brothers took off running to hide in their bedrooms. My dad would return from work in two hours, and my mind scrambled for a way to explain what had happened. Dad, it was an accident … Dad, I don’t know how this happened … Dad, it was my brothers’ idea … Dad, I didn’t kick it that hard …
I was alone, trying to explain the inexplicable.
It was then that I realized I couldn’t. I could neither excuse nor rationalize my behavior. I had been careless and thoughtless. I had broken the house. And all I could do in that moment, all alone, staring at that wall, was cry. For a good two hours, I choked back tears.
A CALL TO LAMENT
When Rev. Gary Mason was with us earlier in the year, he said that the church would do well to reclaim the biblical practice of lamentation. He spoke from a lifetime of working toward peace and reconciliation between people mired in religious and sectarian conflict, and he reminded us that no sure and lasting peace can be forged without first acknowledging the brokenness of our world, and naming the anguish we feel in contributing to it. The Bible is full of vivid examples of lamentation:
- Job: “Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11)
- The prophet Jeremiah: “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable?” (Jeremiah 15:18)
- The Psalmist: “My soul, too, is utterly terrified; but you, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:4)
- Bartimaeus, the blind beggar: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Mark 10:47)
- Even Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
You may feel at a loss for words, just like I do. If so, then I suggest that until the words come, until the best explanations and prescriptions are clear, and until the fog that seems to have blanketed our eyes begins to lift, you spend some time in lament. Allow the anguish. Permit the pain. Feel the frustration.
No, we did not cause the hurricanes to hit or earthquakes to strike. No, we do not have full control over the dysfunctions in Washington, D.C. No, we did not pull the trigger in Las Vegas. But we can allow ourselves to bemoan all the brokenness, and we would do well to echo together the very thing I felt when I kicked that crack in the wall:
“Father, we have broken your house. And we are so sorry.”
When my dad came home, the moment he walked through the front door, I burst out in tears. I admitted my fears and my guilt, my sadness for ruining the new wall, my disappointment in myself. I walked my dad over to the crack and showed it to him, bracing for what I was certain would be a stern and immediate paddling.
Instead, as I was engulfed in sobs, he put his hand on my shoulder. He took a deep breath, and led me over to the dinner table, where my mother had prepared dinner. After we ate, we patched that drywall, then gave it a fresh coat of paint.
He never asked me what happened, or why I did it. Maybe he knew it was an accident, or figured it didn’t matter if it was. Anne Lamott said, “Nothing heals us like letting people know our scariest parts: When people listen to you cry and lament, and look at you with love, it’s like they are holding the baby of you.”
When we lament, we call out to God, revealing the scariest parts of ourselves. And God responds, like a loving parent, looking at us, and “holding the baby of us.”
Grace and Peace,
I hope you’ll join us live or online this Sunday, as I preach an important and hopeful word about the future of this church. Amid such brokenness and bad news, my prayer is that this sermon will raise our eyes and our spirits toward the hopeful future God has for us. It is good to be the church. See you this Sunday.