When injustices are brought out of hiding into my viewing, I am repulsed. The knowledge, the sight of it, either makes me turn away or perhaps I stare at it longer and I feel immobile about the complexity of systems that keep injustices in place. When it comes out of hiding, I am at once reminded that often, I am in a position where I can choose not to see it or experience it. Then comes guilt, a feeling that I have not done enough, was not aware enough, that I must do something to change the world! Or perhaps is it to rid myself of the same darkness I see out there, in me?
“I am from sirens, gunshots, and tears.” -9th grader describing his neighborhood in Oakland.
During the last few weeks I have been working at College Track, an organization that guides high school students to college and to graduate from college. I had an opportunity to lead a workshop where students wrote poems describing different experiences of where they came from. The quote above was one of many students who wrote about gun violence as a regular part of their lives. When a 14 year-old boy writes about the same issues I read in articles, hear about from speakers, and watch in documentaries at BayUP–injustices come out of hiding and push me into a whirlwind of repulsiveness and sadness. When I see that it is consistently my Black and Latino students voicing these concerns I am overcome with grief and immobility. I am then quick to ask, “What’s the next action item? How can I be a part of seeing change for these students? What is my role?”
And yes, many things need to change.
But–along with others in the BayUP community, I am learning about a key process that is often missing in the process of doing any justice work: Lament: to mourn a loss, to express sorrow.
But why waste time in sadness, why sit in the discomfort of other people’s suffering?
To my surprise, the tears shed during times of lament have brought clearer vision for me in a few things:
Lament leading to confession
As the BayUP community and I have learned about different systems such as the criminal justice and immigration systems, we can’t help but bring our own junk into the conversation about injustices. The racism and discrimination I see out there is in me, and has potential to be expressed in the same way as the perpetrators. If the same evil is not overtly expressed, I am still prone toward apathy and blindness to my neighbors who have been directly affected. Staying in the sorrow has been allowing me to own the sin I also see in society. I stand on no pedestal, even if I say I am against injustice. I am in need of God’s mercy, just as much as those who have abused their power over others.
Lament leading to empathy
Through lament, Jesus is inviting me to join in with mourning of those who have directly felt effects of injustices. Even if guilt is part of my processing, lamenting moves sorrow over myself to sorrow and empathy for others. My neighbors’ experiences become connected to me–their losses, my losses, and their joys, my joys.
Lament leading to hope
To be frank, lamenting isn’t fun. I am no fan of mourning, the pain can feel too overwhelming to sit with. So why does Jesus in his sermon say, “Blessed are those who mourn?” What’s so blessed about this posture? During the past weeks at BayUP, when lamenting has been at it’s peak for me, I am floored to the point of hopelessness. But, it’s an interesting kind of hopelessness. It’s a hopelessness in everything else, but God himself. There’s nothing, nothing that can change anything unless God moves. I suck, the Church sucks, non-profits suck, society sucks. But God–He renews me, renews the Church, renews the non-profits, and renews society to bring change. His steadfast love never ceases, therefore I can only hope in Him.
In the grand scheme of lamenting, Jesus has been asking me to put away my superwoman outfit to change the world, and to put on sackcloths to join with others in mourning. He finished his phrase, “Blessed are those who mourn,” with, “for they will be comforted.” Indeed I cannot recognize this kind of comfort unless I understand the deepness of the wound in me and in others. Maybe, only then, does Jesus walk with me in sackcloths to go see changes in my communities.