A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Grief and Patience with the Church

The world is filled with tragedy and heartbreak.  From names near to home like Brandy, Browynn, and Kathryn to tragedy I only know from a distance in places such as Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston sorrow comes and words are inadequate.  I have written in the past about what not to say to a grieving person but the list of things which are helpful to say is much shorter:  “I am sorry.”  “This sucks.”  Share stories, tears, and laughter if you know the person well.  Help in practical, concrete ways when you can.  I wish there was more.  I wish there were magic words.  

And then there is that crotchety voice in the back of my mind which reminds me some people may be shocked by the word “sucks.”  Which leads me to want to respond with, “You’re right the word “sucks” is shocking.  It is shockingly understated.  A more appropriate response to those suffering grief and pain is, ‘It is fucking horrible what you are going through.’”  Because one of the deep sins of many good people, particularly church people, is being more concerned with being polite than being real, more concerned with looking good than acting with compassion, more concerned with covering up pain than standing with those enduring it.  

I recall wandering around my apartment in a state of shock, many years ago, saying to myself, “I am 24 years old.  I shouldn’t have to be dealing with this.”  “This” being soul shaking grief and funeral arrangements for my husband.  I said some version of this to God many times over the coming months and years.  It has taken me more years to hear the answer.  The answer seems to be, “The fact you can even be surprised by such grief means you live an incredible life of privilege.  There are many who live surrounded by such pain.  Do something about that.”  God’s answer to me seems to fit right in with the cuddly God we read of in the scriptures for the coming Sunday when God responds to Job’s horrific ordeal with essentially, “shut up puny mortal,” and Jesus responds to the nearly drowned disciples with something near scorn.  God can seem a jerk sometimes.  

But at least God mitigates his sometimes jerkiness by continuously calling us to do something about the pain in the world.  The Christian church….  Too often the church sits in the midst of agonizing pain and argues about marketing strategies.  Too often the church hears the consequences of horrific injustice and bemoans low attendance.  To often the church sits idly throwing flowery platitudes into the face of a tsunami of horrors and calls it faith.

Often people talk about experiencing tragedy or heartbreak and being stronger for it.  There are ways in which this may be true.  Less frequently does one hear about the casualties of such experiences: the scars which will not go away, the wounds which require exhausting battles in order to heal. (For those who are hurting and for whom these words may be difficult, I am sorry. I wish I could tell you it will be easy.)  Sometimes one of the lighter casualties is one’s ability to tolerate bull.  One of the forms this casualty takes for me is the loss of my patience with the church.  

The Christian church may be dwindling but we are still many in the USA.  Just think of the difference we could make if we moved our focus from numbers in the pews to numbers suffering.  Just think if we fought as hard against injustice as we do against the loss of our buildings.  Imagine  if we entered into the pain of others rather than using Jesus’ name to downplay it.  Just imagine how much heartache could be repelled. 

So, I guess I will continue to search for ways and search for courage to do what God so harshly seems to be telling me to do: finding ways to do something about the suffering and injustice in the world. 

I wish the church would more often join me.  

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