Archive for the ‘suffering’ Category

Dear God, I Hate You. Love RJW

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

I can’t bear to watch the news these days.

GOP win in Massachusetts. (There goes health care reform).

Massive aftershock in Haiti.

Eight people in Virginia killed in a domestic dispute.

I know some of you will be appalled at my saying this: But I loathe much of what passes itself off as praise music these days. I’m not much in the mood for one of those little happy, sunshine ditties. God is good, yes. God is great, yes. Dance to the Lord. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


Did you know that the largest single category of psalms is Psalms of Lament  (e.g., Psalm 142)?  Psalms of Disorientation. Psalms of Hurt and Hisappointment. Psalms of Grief and Outpouring of one’s pain. Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggeman, in an article entitled “The Costly Loss of Lament,” argues that by bypassing lament for praise we have become like “yes people” surrounding the one in charge, always speaking as we think we should so that we can stay close to power.  This loss, leads to a faith that is unable to deal with the real, messy, paradoxical reality of life.

Of course, behind every lament is hidden praise. I rail at you God because I believed in your goodness.  I scream in pain because in hope that you’re listening.  I threaten to walk away trusting that you will come after me.

Admit it: The real point of a psalm like Psalm 42 doesn’t sing well in a praise chorus. So, Psalm 42 isn’t a psalm that gets much song time in our churches.  Listen to some of it: “My tears have been my food day and night” “why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?”

I’m as guilty as the rest of leading the congregation in chants of “God IS good.” But looking around, sometimes God is so good to a few of us that God seems uncaring and cruel to the rest of us …

Don’t let me scare off some of my faithful readers with my unorthodox ramblings. (Experience has taught me that God can take criticism and honest inquiry; it’s humans who has no stomach for truth telling.)

I’ll just reach for one of those old long meter hymns folks usedta sing in the old church.  Talk about wrangling with the Lord. You gotta appreciate the honest public debate and dialogue with God we see evidenced in some of the music produced back in the day. “Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee.” “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.”  “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

My Daughter, There Is An Evil In The World

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

I don’t want to have to admit that it’s possible for a 20 year old woman to endure week long torture and rape in the country where I live. Those things happen in Bosnia, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, and are probably going on right now in Iraq. But not in the United States, right? Wrong. It happened in West Virginia.

I’ll leave it to others to provide you the barbaric details of what took place, if you haven’t read them for yourself already.

Stories describing the torture and rape of women are not for the fainthearted. The Bible is full of them. (I’ve written about these stories in Battered Love.)Few of us want to look at them closely. We are afraid because these stories never have a happy ending, not really. They are just there for us to muddle through their meaning: the rape of Dinah and Tamar; the butchered concubine in Judges; the sexually ravaged woman in Ezekiel; Hosea’s battered wife Gomer; the woman caught in adultery, just to name a few. We can’t afford to overlook these stories just so we can keep up our belief in the notion that bad things happen only to bad people, or that women are safe as long as they do what they are told, or that tragedy can be kept at bay by praying it away. It does not happen that way, not always, not for everybody.

Rape is an especially heinous crime. What makes it so? It has a way of eroding the fabric of a community in a way that few other weapons can. Rape can be devastating because of the strong communal reaction to the violation and the pain that engulfs entire families. The harm inflicted on a woman by a rapist is an attack on her family and culture, after all in many societies women are viewed as repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values.

Listen up: rape is not about sex, even though ejaculation takes place. Rape is about stealing and devouring a woman’s dignity, dividing her from her larger community and shattering all relationships she’s currently in or ever hope to be in. Rape estranges the family from the victim, and the victim from her culture.

Raise the story of the West Virginia’s woman’s rape and torture and somebody’s bound to have questions. What is a black woman doing associating with a white man (along with his family and friends) with such a violent past? Didn’t she know better than to go to some remote West Virginia house with a bunch of crazy folks? See what rape does? It isolates a victim from her family and community in ways that see to it that the victim is made to relive what happened to her every time she looks into the faces of those who question her judgment and innocence.

Women in Bosnia, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, and Iraq will tell you that gang rape and torture leave permanent damage, both physical and spiritual. The victim who finds her way back to sanity does so with the help of a community that surrounds her with unconditional love. The victim who lacks the support system needed to rid herself of the shame end up often reliving her rape by going on to become a prostitute. We can only hope and pray that this West Virginia woman who was not only raped, but endured days of unspeakable torture, gets the long term help she needs.

“I don’t understand a human being doing another human being the way they did my daughter,” the mother of the West Virginia victim said to reporters. “I didn’t know there were people like that out here.” Evidently, there are. And that’s part of the truth we have to face and pass on to our daughters and sons. Part of the Bible’s lesson to us in the form of stories about rape, physical abuse, and ethnic cleansing is this: There is evil in the world. What can we do about evil as women of faith? Although I sound sure of most things most days, I don’t always know the answer to this one. The temptation is to order our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and goddaughters inside, lock the doors, and pull down the shades. The more intelligent thing would be to teach them how to differentiate between hate and love.

One thing is for sure: we can’t fix it until we face it. And that starts with calling it what it is.

Evil. That force in the world bent on shaming persons, dividing families and communities, and conquering the soul.

Do They Play Jazz in Heaven?

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Back home this morning from New Orleans where I went down earlier in the week to join thousands of others in commemorating the second anniversary of Katrina. It’s a wonder I was able to post the things I did here on this blog on gender, marriage, and the church this week. My heart was on the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. But I wasn’t sure if those who read my blog had a choice between talking about New Orleans and talking about male-female relationships –well, let’s just say that I decided to stick with the story that’s been on the tongues of everyone in the church for the last couple of weeks. God forgive me.

“Enough is enough!” said Susan Taylor at the Essence Music Festival back in July. “It’s the shame of the nation that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been abandoned and are suffering without the most basic necessary supports while our tax dollars are directed toward war.”

I follow my heart today by urging everyone to let’s put aside the gossip of this week and be about what we’re supposed to be about as people of faith: seeing to the needs of the needy, the naked, and the despondent. Two years later, thousands of Gulfport residents remain displaced. The city of New Orleans remains in limbo, the Lower Ninth War where the city’s black population once resided is a ghost town. The money to rebuild has been slow in coming from the government despite the president’s grand promises of two years ago.

Remember the citizens of New Orleans and the Gulfport region in our prayers and in our protests. Pray. And when you finish praying, phone your legislators urging them to release the funds needed to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulfport region.

Let us not forget the victims of Katrina. Let us not forget what we witnessed two years ago: the throngs outside the SuperDome, people camped out on their rooftops and bodies floating through the streets. Remember the tears we cried. Remember the music we lost.

Tell your churches: Yes, God sent the rain; but the nation failed its citizens.

And now for Friday’s quote:

How lonely sits the city that was once filled with people.
How like a widow she has become,
She who was once great among the nations,
And a princess among the provinces has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has none to comfort her;
All her friends have dealt unjustly with her;
and have become her enemies…
(Lamentations 1:1-2)

Only because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning.
Great is Your Faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

God, Where Were You?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

As a minister I’m expected to know what God is up to.

Is God punishing me?

How do you know when God is speaking?

Why did God let this happen?

If I don’t have the answers to these questions what use am I as a minister? I used to wonder when I was younger and demanded answers to everything. Which probably explains why I chose to become a scholar instead of a pastor.

“This is not a course on what God said,” is how I’d open my lecture the first day of class when I taught the Old Testament survey class. “This is a course on what Israel said God said.” Always good to start off with a disclaimer. Whether God actually commanded Joshua and his followers to annihilate the Canaanites and to seize their land, I don’t know. But I can come up with a few pretty plausible reasons why Joshua and his followers would say that God told them that.

I understand what makes people appeal to God to explain why they do the things they do and why things turn out the way they do. I’ve done it a few times myself. But I always do so looking back over my shoulders. I’ve been known to be wrong.

When you’re reared Christian (of a particular sort) and raised believing in a sacramental universe, it’s natural to want to point to God to explain stuff you don’t understand. In a sacramental world in everything that happens, God is trying to communicate something. Especially helpful is the trove of proverbs hurting people pass along to comfort other hurting people beginning with, “God never puts more on you than you can bear.” No one talks about the times God has miscalculated.

Did God cause the bridge in Minneapolis to collapse sending 13 people to plunge to their death in the Mississippi River?

Did God cause the levees to break two years ago in New Orleans causing thousands of people to lose lives, home, and nearly their sanity?

Why didn’t God bring those Utah miners out alive?

Why did God allow the Virginia Tech massacre to happen?

If God didn’t ordain slavery, why didn’t God prevent it?

It’s hard giving up on this way of thinking even when you know better. Listening to the rationalizations folks in pulpits, on CNN, and across the dinner table come up with to explain everything from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the unexpected death of a child makes you shake your head and wonder if we’ve all gone mad from trying to make sense of our world. Humans demand an accounting. Tragedy is easier to survive if it can be explained, we think. The book of Job was supposed to be a masterpiece. But folks couldn’t resist asking Jesus centuries later, “Who sinned, the mother or the father, that this boy was born blind?” (John 9:1-3).

Why, oh why, must it be always about divine punishment –especially when the “punishment” is obscenely excessive given the crime, and especially since so many innocent lives end up perishing along with the guilty? It’s easier to blame God than it is genetics, capitalism, racism, violence, fate, human error, etc.?

Here’s what I believe, or think I believe, until the next time I’m knocked to my knees with grief.

  • Life is hard. It’s a miracle that we believe in God and goodness.
  • Unlearning old habits is tough. I try to resist asking “Why God?…” when bad things happen. If the words come out (because it’s hard unlearning old habits), I don’t expect an answer, not really. What I mean to ask is, “What should I do?” “What can I do to make things better?”
  • Where was God in it all? Probably standing nearby crying as well.
  • I’ll take an empathetic God over a punitive God, for now.