This is a Time for Lament

This is a Time for Lament

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Rev James D. Ross II
Last weekend wore me out.

It wasn’t Independence Day festivities that did it. I am weary because of the dreadful news from the weekend, including the details of the outrageous shooting death of Jayland Walker, 25, in Akron, Ohio on June 27, and a mass shooting at a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois, that left seven people dead and dozens of others injured.

I seek to be transparent about how I am feeling because I suspect many of you also are exhausted by all of this while we also face myriad attacks on human rights within the United States, political dysfunction, and challenges in our personal lives. How long, God, how long?

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there had been 316 mass shootings in the United States so far in the U.S. as of July 3; of course, those numbers are now outdated. The number of people killed by police also was up slightly, according to recent statistics. As of March 31, police in the U.S had killed 286 people in 2022, which is two more people than the same time in 2021, according to Mapping Police Violence. Black people are nearly three times as likely as white people to be killed by police. Just as staggering: as of March 31, there had been only four days this year when no one was killed by police. 

Once again, we hear the far too familiar words, questions, and calls for change from parents and family members after a young black person was killed by what appears to be an extreme use of force by police. Once again, people have been gunned down while engaging in an activity where no one should feel their life might be taken, this time at a parade in a suburb of Chicago. The recurrence of both types of horrors is so frequent that it is hard to even keep up with it all. Words, affirmations, and, sometimes, even our prayers, seem inadequate responses. It also is almost impossible not to note the huge difference in how police in Akron dealt with Walker following a traffic stop and the way that Illinois officers arrested Robert Crimo, 21, “without incident” after he used a high-powered rifle to open fire on parade-goers, sought to blend into the crowd, then evaded police for eight hours. It seems worth noting that Walker is black and Crimo is white. 
 
All words seem somewhat shallow now. So, today, I invite you to just be. First, remember to breathe. I sometimes feel as though I am holding my breath when I am confronted by such heartache. So, breathe deeply. Wellness experts say that deep breathing, which also may be referred to as diaphragmatic breathing, enables more air flow into the body and can help reduce stress and anxiety, calm rattled nerves, improve attention span and decrease pain. 
 
Then be still when you must. Cry when it feels right. Call out to God in anguish and horror.
I am convinced that this is a time for lament. Even as we await more details from Akron police about the shooting of Jayland Walker, I must note that, to me, it seems excessive for eight police officers to fire 90 times on someone running away from them on foot, striking him with 60 bullets. If it turns out that these actions don’t violate department protocols, it simply means the protocols are in desperate need of immediate change.  And, of course, no one expects that taking their family to a parade will be a deadly decision, but we have learned that mass shootings can – and do - happen anywhere at any time. Police say Crimo spent weeks planning this attack, disguised himself in women’s clothing, then climbed to a rooftop before he began shooting. No motive has been released. 
 
So, yes, this is a time for lament. And if we are honest, I believe we will acknowledge that we sometimes are not very good at lament. It conflicts with what some of us have been taught during our faith journeys. For some, it seems to suggest a lack of faith in God. In short, we have lost the capacity to complain to God in faith, Dr. Denise Dombkowski Hopkins writes in Journey through the Psalms. Those complaints to God comprise the substance of lament. When we lament, we realize that God can handle our complaints, frustrations, and disappointment; we assert a belief that, because we are intimate with God, God wants to hear from us; we invoke our personal histories and those of our faith ancestors to remind us of who God is and what God can do; and we trust that God will act.  
 
Laments turn us toward God when sorrow tempts us to run from God, Rev. Mark Vroegop, lead pastor at College Park Church in Indianapolis wrote in the 2019 article “Dare to Hope in God: How to Lament Well.” Some of the theology Vroegop expresses in the article differs from the theology held by many in the UCC, but I think he does an excellent job of explaining lament and why engaging in lament is valuable - and perhaps essential - for Christians. 
 
I also invite us to cling to one another. One of the greatest joys of being in a faith community is that we have the great opportunity to travel through our lives with others who support us and pray for us. Thanks be to God for the ways in which the ministry of presence – in which we are expected to do nothing but hold the joys, griefs, and sorrows of one another – is and will be practiced in churches within the Southern New England Conference. And, of course, we can draw on friends, family members, and others. 
 
Finally, I believe we must always look for ways to do what we can to instigate the change that will bring about the world we seek. I believe this is the work to which we are called and the work in which God is our partner. These efforts also are life-giving to many in times of distress and longing.
 
Here are some opportunities for action, engagement, and education: 
 

Police Violence 

  • Find out about actions in your community that support calls for transparency from law enforcement officials in Akron and elsewhere. 
  • Join groups in your community that are asking questions and calling for changes locally. 
  • Show up at meetings of the City Council and other local bodies to make sure they know what you want to see from your local police department. 
  • Meet with your council members and other elected officials to share your concerns. 
  • Connect with your local chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice or SURJ, “a national organization that brings hundreds of thousands of white people into fights for racial and economic justice.” SURJ joins in efforts led by people of color and organizes it owns actions to call for the types of changes advocated by groups led by black people and other people of color. 
  • Find out what your state legislature is doing or is considering doing to combat extreme force by law enforcement officials. 
  • Share your opinions in local/regional newspapers and on social media
  • Help your congregation connect with other faith groups and secular partners working to combat police violence and extreme force. 
Note: The United Church of Christ approved a resolution in 2021 during the 33rd General Synod declaring racism a public health crisis, noting that “racial inequities persist in every system of society,” including policing. 
 

Gun violence 

  • Show up to candidate forums and appearances – make ending gun violence an issue in the November 2022 midterm elections and elections beyond. 
  • Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have generally strong laws regarding gun control. But you can still find out what your state legislature has done or is considering doing around ending gun violence and if there are areas where you would like to see more done. 
  • Share your support for reform in local/regional newspapers and on social media. 
  • Help your congregation connect with other faith groups and secular partners who are working to end gun violence in your community. 
  • Set up meetings with local law enforcement officials and local government officials to talk about violence reduction and policing. 
 

Learn more about gun control 

  • Videos: View the first two of a three-part webinar series titled “Sharing a Faith Voice,” which focuses on houses of worship and the realities of gun violence. It was recorded earlier this year by Faiths United to End Gun Violence, a coalition comprised of the UCC Washington Office and more than 50 other faith-based organizations. The third webinar has not yet been scheduled. 

    Part 1: Guns in Houses of Worship Series 

    Access Passcode: Faithsunited123!

    Part 2: Guns in Houses of Worship 
 

Author

jdr head shot .jpg
James D. Ross II

Rev. Ross is the Minister for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Southern New England Conference UCC.

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