Mourning with those who mourn…

I almost didn’t write this. I’m a straight, white male. Christian. Educated. I’ve had no crosses burned on my lawn, no hateful names yelled at me as a child by other children who didn’t understand what they were saying, or by adults who definitely did know what they were saying. I don’t feel the fear that many of my friends felt when they woke up this morning – the fear that maybe they are not as welcome in this country that is their home as they thought they were – as they deserve to be.

But tonight I have friends who are mourning – that the America they thought they lived in, that they thought would welcome them, that they thought they belonged to, does not exist in the way that they thought that it would, in the way that they hoped it would. Refugees. Undocumented children, women, and men. LGBTQ friends. Muslims. Latinos. Women and girls. Syrians. Women and men of color. Theirs are the voices you should be listening to tonight. Theirs are the words you should be reading. I merely want to stand by them.

All I can offer is my support. My presence. My love. My love to all of you who mourn. My love to all you who feel shell-shocked. I am with you, and for you… My life – our country – would be the poorer for your absence.

—–

But I can’t stay completely silent. To see friends, family, and strangers – many of whom are Christians – celebrating the election of the same man that is celebrated with such glee by David Duke, by the far-right neo-fascist nationalist parties in Europe, by neo-Nazis and white supremacists and white nationalists in the United States, by the KKK, by Putin, LePen, Farage – it is disturbing, and disheartening, and cause for grief.

—–

I grew up in a village in the Andes mountains with an outhouse. I played with my Quechuan neighbors in the dirt outside our home, speaking a mixture of Quechua and Spanish and the universal language of play: floating sticks down the irrigation ditch, chasing and being chased by the pigs and the sheep. But I had a US passport. I had opportunities that so many of my neighbors lacked. Not because I worked for it, or because I was better than them, or smarter than them. Completely unearned.

And when I graduated high school (I got to go to school, and didn’t have to stop studying in order to put food on the table for my family) I boarded an airplane and flew to another country – the country I was “from,” and had grown up hearing so many wonderful things about.

America. The land where all men and women are created equal. The land of opportunity. A country that was “blessed by God.” The land where freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedom of the press and freedom of assembly were foundational. The country that said “I might disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it…” The country that stood for something – that welcomed immigrants and those who were willing to work hard – that lived up to the ideals of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”

But when I arrived, I slowly discovered what many who grew up here and experienced life from the margins already knew – that the ideals often failed to live up to the reality.

I still had hope.

(scratch that…)

I have hope.

(actually, scratch that…)

As Dr. West says, “I am a prisoner of hope.”

It’s hard to maintain hope though, when the children you work with every day – those who have fled violence, hunger, religious persecution, and have come through strong and brave and creative and resilient – when they are demonized and told to “go back to where you came from.” When they are told there isn’t enough for those of us already in the lifeboat, so please move along. “I’m sorry you were born in the wrong place, but that’s your fault. Next time, be born in a better country… or with a better skin color… or to a better religion…”

—–

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Who is my neighbor?

—–

If you accept me, but not the people I grew up with, my neighbors, my co-workers, my friends, the people I love, where does that leave us?

Is the only reason I’m accepted in this country the color of my skin, that I say the right things, that I fit in, that I am a member of the in-group, that I can pass?

Because I can. For a while.

(Until we start to talk about baseball, or any college sports, and then it becomes pretty clear that I am a fraud and an impostor who is not a “real American.” Or until I grow tired of stifling what I really think and feel because I am afraid it will alienate people that I love.)

Dishonesty is a small price to pay for the absence of conflict right?

But only out of honesty comes shalom – peace – wholeness – reconciliation. Only out of telling the truth – the whole, messy, honest truth, can we know each other and be known. Only then can we embrace freedom.

So I am going to try to be honest, and try to tell the truth. I don’t want to be silent.

—–

My love to all of you friends who mourn. My love to all you who feel shell-shocked. I am with you, and for you…

—–

For my friends and family who are Christians – it doesn’t matter who you voted for. But it does matter how you treat others. It does matter if you stand up for those who don’t have the privilege you wield without thinking. Your words matter. Your actions matter.

—–

I heard Trevor Noah last night. He was born in 1984 in South Africa. Mandela was still in prison, apartheid was the law of the land. It was illegal for his parents to be together.

He said:

“You can be dejected. You can be sad. But don’t let it turn in to fear.

Because that’s what Donald Trump used to get his side to do something that they never should have done.”

—–

Perfect love casts out fear.

We mourn.
We rest.
We will rise.
We will walk.

There is much to be done.

Grief and stones (August and Remembering, vol. 3)

A few days or weeks after my mom died, I remember reading a poem.  It was folded up in one of the cards that I (or my family) had received – full of condolences and best wishes, of awkward half-starts and attempts at showing love in the midst of loss and hurt.  This poem talked about how grief was a jagged stone that cut and left scars, and that we carry around with us in our pockets, unable to leave it alone, continually grasping and plucking and fiddling with this thing, cutting ourselves over and over again on the sharp and ragged edges…  and then, one day, in the future, the poem stated that we would pull out the stone and find that the edges had been smoothed off, and while we still carried our grief with us, it would be smooth, and round, and no longer painful.  It would still have weight, and substance – nothing would ever change the fact of the loss, of the trauma, of the grief.  But the promise was that it would one day not hurt so much.

I remember hating that poem.  I thought it was cheesy, misguided, and full of lies.  It hurt in such a deep place, and I couldn’t imagine that hurt ever being soaked up.

Now, 15 years later, while the poem itself still may be cheesy and too sentimental, I am able to see the truth in it.  The stone of grief is present – but there is healing and redemption that has taken place in that time.  The family we have now is not the same family we had then.  And I can be thankful for the good that has come out of this darkness – for Love so strong that it seeks to redeem all things – even a cheesy greeting card poem.

—–

*I was re-reading Lament for a Son recently, as a new friend recently lost her father.  In it, I came across this gem:

What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything else to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.”

Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.

But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.

I know: People do sometimes think things are more awful than they really are. Such people need to be corrected – gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful than it is. It’s those who think it’s not so bad that need correcting.

Some say nothing because they find the topic too painful for themselves. They fear they will break down. So they put on a brave face and lid their feelings – never reflecting, I suppose, that this adds new pain to the sorrow of their suffering friends. Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence salt.

And later, when you ask me how I am doing and I respond with a quick, thoughtless, “Fine” or “OK,” stop me sometime and ask, “No, I mean really…”

~ Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

An Easter Meditation – Part One…


Tombstone for Easter
Originally uploaded by Lost in Rio.

I sat beside my mother’s grave this morning. I don’t know how many years it has been since I’ve been there. Somehow it seemed appropriate, today of all days – the day when we celebrate (an odd word choice at first glance) the death of Jesus. I sat beside my mother’s grave and remembered. I sat there and missed her. I felt her absence, even there, because even though her body was buried there, SHE was no longer there.

As I think of death and bodies and absences, my mind turns again to today – Good Friday.

It seems difficult, if not impossible, to look back thousands of years, and imagine what that first “Good Friday” must have been – must have felt like – to the friends and family of the murdered man. I read the stories about the betrayal and death of Jesus from the perspective of the Resurrection. I look at Friday through the lens of Easter. And in doing so, I miss much of the pathos and the reality in what happened. In my mind, Jesus’ death has none of the power that my mom’s death had, or the deaths of my friends on the street. That’s because, in my mind, my mom and Miriam and Jeferson and Tiago and Everton’s deaths were all REAL. The effects are lasting. They are gone. I still miss them. Somehow, when seen only through Sunday’s events, Jesus’ death is transformed into something fake – a pretend death. But nothing could be further from the truth. Only when we enter into the brokenness and the anguish of that first Friday can we begin to understand the joy and hope of that Sunday.

On Friday, Jesus was dead. He was tortured. He was mocked. He was killed. He was dead. He stopped breathing. He stiffened up. His body grew cold. He was GONE. His loved ones watched, helpless. His mother and friends wept. They wept because they had lost their son, their friend, their brother, their hope. They believed, but their belief had betrayed them, left them hung out to dry.

Jesus’ lifeless body was taken from the cross. His stiffening corpse was carried to the tomb, prepared for burial, and then placed inside. Those who hadn’t run away in fear bent over and kissed his cold forehead with their warm lips as tears slid down their faces. When the tomb was shut, there was all the finality of the earth being thrown on my mother’s coffin, or the casket lid being tightened over Jeferson’s stillness. He was gone.

Feel the hopelessness. Savor the despair. Soak up the fear, the hurt, the betrayal, the numbness. For everything has changed. Where hope existed, now lies doubt. A few nights before, joy and love and laughter and life filled this room. Tonight, it is only ashes and dust, tears and mourning. His absence is everywhere. There is no escape. The vine has been ripped from the ground, and the branches are withered and dying. The shepherd has been killed and the sheep are scattered and helpless. The center could not hold.

This is the bitter cup of death. Jesus drank his own death down to the dregs. His friends, his disciples, drank it too. For each different, yet for each the agony and heartache and fear is the same. No one understood. All they knew was they missed him, and he was gone. Everything had changed.