Today, a good chunk of the country is in mourning. The 2016 election didn’t go their way, and the forces of chaos have won. People are wondering how it could have happened. Maybe the losing party didn’t get out the vote like they should have. Maybe, the losing party might be thinking, too many people in the country are not fit to vote, since they obviously made the wrong choice. Maybe, the losing party might be thinking, someone rigged the election. Maybe you didn’t help your candidate enough. And as a result, some believe, the future – well beyond the next 4 years – is in question. The lament, which started months ago, is now in full effect.
Lamentations is a little Old Testament book nestled right between the mammoth books of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel that I never paid much attention, until about 2 years ago. The premise is that the Jews have been conquered by the Babylonians, and have lost their ancestral homeland, which they believe God had given them. The Babylonians have come in and taken all of the good-looking and smart people back to their capital, pillaged the major cities of Judea, and torn down all of the buildings of note. Anything that could be used as a stronghold or a rallying point was destroyed. People starved in the street. Mothers ate their own children. Young men were maimed so that they could no longer work or fight. The conquest of Judea was total and complete.
The book of Lamentations is a reflection, from their perspective, of how the Jews ended up in the situation of being a conquered people. As you’d expect, it’s full of mourning, finger-pointing, self reflection and condemnation, and apprehension – much like a good chunk of our country is doing today. As modern Americans, it’s hard to understand how the Jews could dwell on their tragedy by memorializing it forever in a book of scripture. We Americans have tons of stock phrases to deal with these sorts of situations – “Water under the bridge”, “Time heals all wounds”, “Shake it off”, “Move on”, “Don’t cry over spilt milk”, “You win some, you lose some”, and on and on. As western Christians, we don’t pay much attention to Lamentations because we don’t get it. We’d much rather “suck it up” and move on. That’s what strong people do.
But as I’ve studied the book of Lamentations, I’ve come to realize that embedded within the communal lament the Jews are sharing is a very important shared experience – that of picking up the pieces. There is a difference between the hurricane coming and leaving, and everything getting put back together in the aftermath. If the hurricane is the lament, the cleanup effort is the shared work. If the lament is about the earthquake, picking up the pieces is the rescue effort.
And that’s what we can take away from Lamentations. Americans are great at “blooming where you’re planted”, but that’s only because we’re mostly planted in a pretty great place. For the Jews, the very soil had turned bad. For Americans, we seem to feel the most uncomfortably planted when our least favorite political party is in power. Politics are the earthquake that causes the deepest lament – the mourning, finger-pointing, self-reflection and condemnation, and apprehension. But since we Americans don’t understand the genre of lament, we don’t know how to progress while properly attending to our displeasure. We “move on” and forget the pain. Or we don’t move on at all, and let the pain define us. That way of dealing with lament leaves our shared work on the table. Let’s not let our ways of dealing with lament mask our resolve to share in the labor, because no matter who’s candidate won, we still have work to do. Let’s use our shared experience to push forward, neither gloating in victory nor being cynical losers, and seek a way to share the work of moving forward. Let’s recalibrate, seek truth, learn from our past mistakes, and strive for unity.
For the Jews, that meant working with Babylon. For those Jews left in Judea, it mean serving the the very people who implemented their destruction and pain. For those taken into exile, it meant being pampered, trained, and assimilated into Babylonian (and later, Persian) life while their brethren suffered.