About a year ago, I was touring the MD Historical Society, a local favorite of mine here in Baltimore. During the time, there was an exhibit that showcased the Victorian Period and how grief was reflected in the fashion of the time. While a section on fashion would normally be of no interest to me, I was amazed that “grief” had a line of accessories and ways to express tied to it. This was true of both men and women’s attire and accessories. The idea, of course, was death, disease, pain, and suffering were such a prevalent part of Victorian culture that it was necessary to create “fashion” to display them.
Looking at the exhibit, I tried to make a correlation to my culture. I could not, and this concept seemed incredibly strange to my (air quote) modern sensibilities (end air quote). While I have a suit that I often wear to funerals or visitations, it’s also the same suit I wear when I go to a wedding. I wear a lot of black, but that is because I live somewhere between the intersection of “self-conscious schlubby guy” and “aging punk rocker.” I can point to a few ways that specific types of grief are celebrated in our culture (yellow ribbons, balloon memorials on street corners), but I can think of plenty of other ways that our cultural dodges anything that isn’t contempt, temporary outrage, and platitude.
Notice my air quotes above. At first glance, the concept of marketing funeral fashion seemed really morbid to me. Increasingly, though, I wonder if we are the strange ones? More and more, we are a culture that does not know HOW to deal with the things we feel. We are a culture that does not know HOW to express its pain. We are confronted with both indirect and direct exposure to the pain of the world. Some choose to respond by furthering insulating themselves. Others live in a constant state of outrage. We are culturally conditioned to be outraged, react to reactions and sound bytes, and move on. More and more, I see us for what we really are: a trauma-filled people.
Often, the American Church doesn’t make this any easier (at least in my little corner of it). Recently, our staff tried to plan a gathering where the song lyrics didn’t resolve or wrap up with a happy ending. We struggled to find them. I once had a preacher tell me that a church service should feel like a “party, and never a funeral.” He encouraged us to even stay away from song keys that sounded “dark” or “depressing.” When I used to do concerts back in the day, I was sometimes criticized when I brought in bands whose music or lyrics touched on the real pains of the world in a direct way. Thus, it’s not surprising to me why some dismiss our worldview as escapist or driven by denial. After all, even at church, or at the Communion table, we often deny that we are “not ok.”
Let me be clear: I believe in a God who is making “all things new.” I just think that we can’t really appreciate the new thing without acknowledgement how broken, hurting, and cancerous the “old” thing really is.
When I read the Old Testament though, I see a different picture. I see sackcloth and ashes. You see periods of silence and suffering. You see Psalms of Lament. You see open weeping over the sins of others. In short, you see people trying to find God when their sins, the sins of others, or the reality of the fallen world around them seems like too much to bear. Recently, I read how Joseph led the people of Egypt in 40 days of mourning after the death of his father (Gen 50:3). Then, the next day, I read about how Job tore his robe and shaved his head at the news of the death of his family RIGHT BEFORE he went to God in worship (Job 1:20).
We need to grieve. We need lament.
This extends to the New Testament too. Jesus weeps at the death of a friend. He prayed some incredibly bold prayers in the Garden of Gethsemene. Joseph of Arimathea invests in a “proper” burial tomb for Jesus. Take even some of the most triumphant verses of the New Testament: 1 Cor 15:55 and Rev 21:4. When Paul says, “grave, where is your sting,” there is a context. The context: RIGHT HERE! We feel the sting of death right here! When the promised of having every tear wiped from our eyes is something we cling to from Revelation, we will only see the beauty of that truth if we are willing to “feel” long enough to cry.
We need to grieve. We need lament.
Scripture continually calls us to confront our present reality. Scripture begs us to see ourselves and this world with a sober mind. We cannot celebrate the “already’ tension of the Hope of Christ without the acknowledgement of the “not yet.” We need to feel the pain of a fallen world. We need to acknowledge how weary we can become. We need to feel the impact of the sins of others, and the weight that our own sin has on others. Until we acknowledge the wound, and grieve our past and present, we hamper the work of God in our life.
It is the welcome kit and party for a Syrian family that my neighborhood group will not get to be deliver. It is the reality that not only is it unlikely that the family will ever get into refuge of our country, but also the reality that those working for their resettlement have lost their jobs.
It is weeping with a friend that struggles to continue to get pregnant, and is discouraged month after month.
It is another friend who would love to meet the “special someone,” but struggles not to grow short-sighted in poor choices.
It is fighting with other parents for your children’s education while your politicians use your children to further their political “talking points” to their base.
Truly, there is much to lament in this world. When we acknowledge the wounds, and the brokenness, we can begin to find the healing that the gospel truly offers.
Blessed are those who Mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)