I confess that I get impatient with people whose main attitude toward life is one of complaint. They’re the ones whose Facebook posts are all about their daily frustrations. Traffic was terrible. The weather is too hot. The weather is too cold. They’re annoyed by the very customers upon whom they depend for their salaries.
But then there’s lament, which is not the same thing. As Bob Neff writes in this issue, “I complain when I expect that change can happen. I lament when I face circumstances that cannot be changed. For example, we don’t find Lament Counters in department stores.”
Department stores don’t have them, but the church should. Instead, however, “the American church avoids lament,” says Soong-Chan Rah, professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park University. Forty percent of the Psalms are laments, he points out, but those psalms are the ones left out of the liturgies of many churches. Both hymns and contemporary worship songs are weighted much more to praise and celebration.
So what’s wrong with that? Rah says that a church of only celebration is the voice of the comfortable, the status quo, while lament honors those who suffer. In Prophetic Lament, his book on Lamentations, he urges the church to recover a balance between praise and lament, between celebration and suffering.
The articles on grief and lament in this issue are a step toward that balance. When the church is willing to provide a lament counter, it’s being biblical. When the church makes room for those who suffer, it follows the example of the father in Jesus’ parable. The book of Lamentations, says Rah, helps us see “how the North American Christian community should respond to a broken world.”
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.