Lamenting to God, or Whomever

“prayers of the discontented, the disturbed, the distraught”

On November 14, our church held a day of lament. It reminded me, in case I had forgotten, that lamenting to God, or Whomever or whatever you believe in, is OK. More than OK, actually.

One pastor lead the Adult Education class and spoke about the book of Lamentations and, of course, Job, but also the Psalms. Over 40% of the Psalms in the Bible are psalms of lament.

Then the other pastor gave a great sermon on the topic. “What was going on in the lives of those psalmists. Life is not as they expected it to be. They call out to God for an account asking how long? and where are you? They are lamenting. They speak out of their experience, their reality – nothing seems to be off-limits. Thankfully we have this witness as part of our Bible. We have these lament psalms.”

This took place at a fortuitous time. I had been recently talking to a devout Christian, a hard-working person who was feeling a loss of faith because of a situation in life. And the situation WAS certainly unfair and debilitating and frustrating and worthy of lament.

My pastor quoted Old Testament scholar Kathleen O’Connor. “Laments are prayers of the discontented, the disturbed, the distraught. They protest God’s rule of the world, bemoan the speakers’ physical condition and whine about enemies. But remarkably, in the process of harsh complaint and resistance, they also express faith in God in the midst of chaos, doubt, and confusion.”

My own distress

I suppose it also gave ME a sense of comfort when I’ve complained, sometimes on these pages, of feeling distraught. Recently, it was about COVID-19, and the country’s resistance, to my perception, of ending the damn thing. Some people of faith have suggested that, if I had REALLY believed, I wouldn’t be distressed.

Now, I KNEW, instinctively, that this was… crap. But the class and the sermon that week created the framework for a more specific response. “We need these psalms – we need to lament. Lament psalms provide us a blueprint for how to lament – and how to lament well. We live in a society that doesn’t lament, at least not to God. To lament is to cry out, to express our despair.”

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

At least that Psalm ends with an upbeat thanks to God. Compare with the other scripture of the day, Psalm 88, which has no happy ending.

But yes, it’s all right to rail against God, or the heavens. “The psalmists aren’t afraid to do that.” Why shouldn’t we?

In fact, the First Church of Albany, along with the FOCUS churches, is offering a Blue Christmas service on Thursday, December 16 at 6:30 pm in person and on Zoom. It is for those who approach the coming holidays with heavy hearts due to loss or other reasons. You’re not alone.

The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict

compassion, kindness

verdictI’m trying to contextualize the disappointing but unsurprising Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.

One part is Mark Evanier’s tweet. “And one day soon, someone of a different political view and/or race will do what Kyle Rittenhouse did and all the folks cheering today’s verdict will be screaming, ‘Rule of law!'”

There is a 2021 article in Slate that I found intriguing. “Black gun rights advocate Kenn Blanchard says Black Americans shouldn’t be scared of the Second Amendment.”

And of course, many African-Americans are afraid. Race DOES permeate the politics of gun control. Think of the death of Philando Castile, who announced to an officer at a traffic stop that he had a gun in his car. He ended up dead, and that continues to gut me.

I’m left to speculate what would have been the reaction by law enforcement to a young black male running through the streets of Kenosha, WI with an AR-15. Perhaps he would have ended up dead like Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. He was a good black man with a gun trying to end an Alabama mall shooting.

But Kyle Rittenhouse, running through the chaotic streets with an automatic weapon, goes past law enforcement without incident. As a Boston Globe columnist noted: “You can be a vigilante when your mission is to serve the system.”

STFU

Much has been made of the judge’s rulings during the trial. For the most part, I concur. Yet there is one aspect that I have to agree with him. The fact that Rittenhouse had not made public comment before the trial should not have mattered. Moreover, when the prosecution suggested that this was an issue, and the judge reprimanded the state on Fifth Amendment grounds, it hurt the case. It was prosecutorial ineptness.

In this blog back in 2014, I wrote: “If I am ever in a situation that would involve the criminal justice system – whether as the victim and/or witness or defendant – I will not comment on what I might testify about until the trial is over. I won’t talk about it, and I certainly won’t blog about it.”

Very few things irritate me more while watching the news than having  Lester Holt, or whomever, saying, “X is breaking their silence.” It’s as though talking about testimony to the press before the trial is what one is SUPPOSED to do. I do not buy it.

As a practical matter, shutting up is probably better. Alec Baldwin spoke after the shooting death of the cinematographer for the movie Rust. When he talked about how well-run the set operated, he may have made himself vulnerable to civil liability.

polar bear

With God on his side

It fascinates me that the two folks on my Facebook feed who clearly supported the outcome put it in a Christian context. My old neighbor Greg says the verdict was “Absolutely beautiful totally innocent! 100% self-defense.” He bashed the “bleeding hearts”, and ends with “so good for Kyle excellent praise God.”

As someone who has been reading a lot of the Old Testament recently, there’s a lot of stories of the people of Israel preparing to invade other folks. Start with Joshua 1, for instance.

But this is not the Christian theology I believe in. I’m more of a Colossians 3:12 kind of guy. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” That would mean, in my mind, not becoming a Stand Your Ground provocateur.

Questions about God, and coincidence

Does God DO that?

My new friend Carla, who I’ve only known for a half-century starts off this round of  Ask Roger Anything:

God
The star in the center, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, is known as V1331 Cyg and is located in the dark cloud LDN 981.

If you had the chance to ask three different people (living or dead, famous or not) ONE question… who and what would you ask?

The one requirement for this exercise, I suppose, is that they would have to answer honestly. What would I ask? What is your sense of how God manifests God’s self if, in fact, God does that? Or maybe Does knowing God just take practice?

I’d ask Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967. I’m thinking of his disappointing experiences in his previous couple of years might have changed his world view of God’s plan.

I’d ask Thomas Jefferson c. 1820, long after he had left the presidency. As this article explains, his “relationship with Christianity was complicated.” So where was it near the end of his life?

I’d ask Donald Trump in 2020. But I’d wonder if he’d understand what I was trying to get at. Maybe I’d need some clarifying questions. Does he think God favors the rich? Does he believe that God supported him in herding demonstrators so he could hold up a Bible in front of a church? And if so, what was God saying to him?

Does he believe God wanted him to be reelected? Does he actually read the Bible? And if so, what parts resonate with him?

He was asked this last question around 2017, and he gave the non-answer “Oh, all of it.” Anyone who has ACTUALLY read the Bible will admit that there are some parts of Scripture with which they are uncomfortable.

What a coincidence

Uthaclena, being their usual mystical self, asks:

Isn’t “coincidence” an ALTERNATIVE Fact??

So, what do we know here? “A coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances that have no apparent causal connection with one another.” So a coincidence is a fact.

“The perception of remarkable coincidences may lead to supernatural, occult, or paranormal claims.” So the perceptions of coincidences may be alternative facts.

“God is a capitalist” and other heresy

‘May all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle.’

While I tend to believe in the broad diversity of expression within the Christian church, and honor it as a good thing, occasionally I find a version so utterly toxic that it irritates me greatly.

Such was the case when I read about weekly Bible studies held by members of the regime’s Cabinet.

“Ralph Drollinger’s own ministry declared him ‘not biblically qualified for spiritual leadership.’ And yet, he leads the… study group, organized by Vice President Pence and faithfully attended by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, CIA Director [now Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, among others.”

The Message is that
Governments and leaders “must send a constant message that sin will be punished”
Entitlement programs have no “biblical authority”
Liberal Christians aren’t really Christians, they’re “simpletons”
Catholicism is “one of the primary false religions in the world”
“Radical environmentalism” is a “false religion”
“God only hears the prayers of leaders and citizens who are upright, who live righteously through faith in Jesus Christ”
“God is a capitalist” and because of excessive environmental regulations in the U.S. “the economic benefits God intends from private property ownership have been greatly diminished”
“Righteous” people with government positions should not “compromise Biblical absolutes” and should hire only other “righteous” people

I could argue against each of these, some on First Amendment grounds, others as gross distortions of Biblical scholarship, but suffice to say that the exclusivity of this mindset of the faith I find disturbing.

Oh, and Franklin Graham states that Trump stopped sinning when he became President. I was looking up the Ten Commandments. There’s one that reads: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Given his propensity for prevarication, one must assume that he has sinned at LEAST once in the last 15 months.

Meanwhile, lame-duck Speaker of the House Paul Ryan forced out House chaplain Patrick Conroy, though he was soon reinstated. Daily Kos cheekily wrote, it was reportedly for being way too Christian, unprecedented in House history in the middle of a session.

“In the prayer he gave back in November on the first day of the mark-up of the tax scam bill [he] gently nudged members to think about the meek.

“‘May all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.'”

Speaking truth to power – wasn’t that part of Jesus’ message? On this day of Pentecost, which makes the church the church, it will be interesting to watch which strains of the faith are considered genuine over time. I certainly have MY theories.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good

If this had happened some years ago, I would been mortified, and probably depressed, for days.

There’s an article, Quoof and other family nonsense, which is about the mispronunciation of words, both intentional and otherwise. I have done both.

There are a slew of words I simply cannot spell unless I say them – sometimes in my head but occasionally aloud, albeit in fun – the way they are spelled. For instance, I’d say epitome is EP-i-tome, not e-PIT-o- me; facade is fa-CADE, rather than fa-SAHD . And my favorite word, because it has all the vowels in alphabetical order, is facetious, which I like to do as FACE-tious, rather than fa-SEE-shus; it also works with the adverb form, by adding the -ly.

But one word I simply had never said aloud was omniscience, which I knew from reading, often religious books, meant the state of knowing everything. When I saw it, I thought OM-ni-science. Now I could, and have, pronounced omniscient, and so I knew the emphasis was on the second syllable. But that last syllable confounded me.

I discovered this on Mother’s Day, when the youth of the church was running the services. So, instead of going to choir, I attended Christian education for the adults. Folks took turn reading this paper written by the leader, my friend Grace, about “Exploring the nature of God and the existence of suffering in the world.”

The word omniscience showed up, not once but about five times. After I butchered it a few times, someone said aloud, “om-NI-shents”, and the brain said, OK. Truth is, if this had happened some years ago, I would been mortified, and probably depressed, for days, or probably longer.

During the church service, two of our church high schoolers gave the sermon on diversity fighting hatred. One of them was Sofia, the daughter of the Transitional Presbyter for Albany Presbytery – well, not for too much longer. So I jokingly say to Pastor Miriam, in front of Shannan the Presbyter, “So we got someone to take your [preaching] job.” But I was misunderstood, with both of them thinking I wanted to get rid of Pastor Miriam, instead of sideways complimenting Sofia. I so hate being misunderstood.

And since Eric Burdon’s birthday was this month, it’s time for a #15 song in the US in 1965 by the Animals, oh, Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.