Friday, July 31, 2015

Can you read the morning newspaper without weeping?

Is it nothing to all you who pass by? Behold and SEE.
—Lamentations 1:12

Can you read the morning newspaper without weeping? Try. I dare you—just try. 

Should you read the morning newspaper without weeping? I begin to think weeping may be a duty, an obligation at this moment in our history. At least for anybody who dares the pray to any God imagined to care about people, to care about the earth.  “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says, which I’ve always taken to mean “Blessed are those who actually see that there and things in the world to be grieved.” 

Today's news

Today, July 31, 2015, I wept reading “DuBoses: Grieving But Determined” by Charles Blow on the NYTimes Op-Ed page. Blow was “embedded” with the grieving family of Sam DuBose, the man killed by a University of Cincinnati police office on July 19 in one of those all-too-common “driving while black” pullovers that have contributed to the extra-high hypertension rates in the African American community for decades. He speaks of their grief and calm stalwartness in bearing witness to the tragic injustice of the encounter that led to Sam’s death. (See link below)

Maybe my tear-ducts had been softened up by the stabbing of six people yesterday at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride March. One could feel grief over the plight of the thousands upon thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing violence and climate-change induced droughts in places like Syria and Africa. But I know men and women who have been stopped multiple times for driving while black, so the Cincinnati incident hits closer home. 

Still, I got close to tears, and didn’t avoid a twinge of grief as I listed to an interview with a Syrian man and his wife, five months pregnant, who were crouching in a wooded area near the “Chunnel” tracks that take trains from France to England, trying to hop a train under cover of darkness. “Isn’t it dangerous,” the NPR reporter asked. “Not as dangerous as Aleppo is today,” the man replied. 

Because of this temptation to grieve, perhaps to weep, some of my friends say “I just don’t look at the news.” Or perhaps they take in a limited dose, laced with snarky Jon Stewart humor, that sugar-coats the bitterness, or at least softens grief into rueful laughter. OK. Fine. Keeping up our spirits is the American way, isn’t it? 

Why grieve? 

Call me crazy, but I feel compelled to “behold and see” these injustices. I’m not so sure—the Declaration of Independence to the contrary notwithstanding—that a God-given right to happiness was in my spiritual birth-packet.  I think God is more concerned about my learning how to care, to have compassion, and to act on those feelings whenever possible, even if all I can do is bear witness and pray. I have happiness in my life, sometimes in abundance, but it is no longer the measure of my “success” as a human being. 

Jesus says we those mourn will be “comforted,” a correct but misleading translation. The word in Greek is stronger, and related to encouragement, even to advocacy: paraklÄ“thÄ“sontai is one form of paraklete, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the one of “cries in us,” encourages us, strengthens us.  

Even outrage is weak if we avoid the strong growth in fellow-feeling that grief can give. If we always avoid the grief, will the fire in the belly required for participation in real change ever be ignited?