Editor’s Note: Have you ever heard the word “lament” before? In the Bible, a lament is a passionate expression of sadness when people are grieving.
If you feel stuck and aren’t sure what to do about racism, lament is a great place to start. No one expects you to have all the answers or say all the right things. God simply commands his followers to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:15-16, New International Version).
While grieving or being sad with those who are sad isn’t a pleasant process, it’s an important part of the conversation when talking about racism. Getting to the point of grieving others’ experiences starts with what the Bible says in James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (NIV).
Ask yourself, how can healing, understanding or growth happen without acknowledging one another’s deep wounds? How can honest conversations be conducted if the truth can’t be reckoned with? How can a society get unstuck and move toward righting centuries-old wrongs if people won’t listen?
In “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times,” professor Soong-Chan Rah writes that lament “acknowledges the need for God’s justice and mercy that does not arise out of one’s own strength and ability.” Lament and acknowledgment of uncomfortable truths connect us to the realities of others. It’s tempting to seek peace and find solutions to problems in our own power, but lament invites God to intervene and deepens our dependence on Him to mend the world’s brokenness.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus lamenting and expressing sorrow (Matthew 23:37-39; 26:38; Luke 23:34; John 11:35). We also see Him defending those whose voices weren’t regularly heard (Matthew 26:10-13). Jesus set an example of reaching out to the marginalized, even when others thought He was wrong for doing so (Mark 3:1-6; John 4:7-9; 5:1-13).
There’s no perfect recipe to listening and lamenting — no three-step plan to change your own heart. But there are steps you can take to open yourself up to the voices of others and prepare yourself for the changes that God wants to work in you. Here are a few simple pieces of advice.
If you don’t know where to start, podcasts and audiobooks offer so many diverse voices to listen to and are great entry points into experiences unlike your own. They can also be used to advance conversations with others.
1619, from the New York Times — Through compelling audio narrative, this podcast details African American life from the time the first people from Africa arrived on the shores of Virginia to the present day.
Latino USA, from NPR — This podcast delves into the issues and histories of the Latinx community.
Order 9066, from APM and the Smithsonian — This podcast follows the stories of people and families affected by Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the internment of Japanese Americans.
“Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation,” by Latasha Morrison.
“The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism,” by Jemar Tisby.
“Stamped From the Beginning,” by Ibram X Kendi.
“Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery,” by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah.
Revealing race-based trauma can be a vulnerable, raw process, and passionate expressions of anger, weariness and grief are normal when talking about racism and how it manifests in the lives of people of color. Tears will flow, choice words will be said, and your pain tolerance will be tested.
It might be tempting to get defensive — to deflect or deny someone’s experience — but diminishing or minimizing someone else’s experiences by interjecting your own thoughts dishonors both the person willing to share their experience and the listener. It will be challenging to simply listen, but it is necessary to simply listen in order to understand.
Consider it an honor if someone decides to open up to you. It’s a privilege for someone to tell you about the vulnerable parts of their lives. When someone shares the weight of their story with you, it shows that they trust you.
Lamenting acknowledges the pain others have shouldered and still have to carry. Bearing witness and listening in order to understand the realities of others’ experience ensures that they don’t have to carry that pain alone.
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