Warning: If you're not a member of my denomination, The Reformed Church in America (RCA), this post might be a little less than exciting. However, the themes of grief on which it touches are broadly applicable and I think you'll find them valuable. If you choose to read on, here's a brief glossary of terms: denomination speaks to a nation-wide grouping of churches affiliated through agreed upon theology, etc; classis is the local governing body--in my case a grouping of all RCA churches in Holland; general synod the highest level of governance in the denomination; also refers to the annual meeting of the denomination during which changes and decisions are made.
A few weeks ago, I participated in a Classis-wide event to discuss, in part, the 2020 Vision for the future of the RCA. During this time, a presenter from the 2020 Task Force walked participants through the various points of the three different possible decisions likely to be presented at the 2020 General Synod. We sat in small groups and discussed them. We had the opportunity to ask questions and share feedback.
And as the night wore on, I felt the spirit getting louder and louder.
So, finally, I stood. I spoke only a few words before the tears began. I don't remember the exact wording anymore, but it was something along the lines of, 'I just want to take a moment to speak the lament in all of this.'
A denomination nearly 400 years old should not be discussing if it can stay together and, if so, how it will do so with the least amount of loss. Furthermore, we should be a denomination filled with Christians. And if that is in fact true, we should be the shining example to the world on how to live together despite differences; not an example of people going to their own corners, digging in their feet, and spewing words of judgment (if not worse) across the way.
So I lament all of it. I lament that June 2020 will very likely mark a permanent turn in a 400 year history that can't be undone. I lament that human sexuality (and, more quietly, race and the roles of women) is the issue which so many have decided is the breaking point. I lament we as a denomination appear to have forgotten the unifying power of Christ. I lament that we as churches have forgotten we are meant to be a beacon on a hill, I lament that we as Christians, RCA and beyond, have forgotten that love comes first and judgment is reserved for God, I lament that the Church has forgotten that Christ, through the Spirit, shares the unifying power with us and we are meant to use it do just that.
I voiced my lament. There were many nods and appreciations of thanks.
Then the facilitator responded.
The beginning of his response was similar to what I'd already heard, namely gratitude for giving voice to an emotion known to be felt by many; I appreciate this response. But then he continued with a note about the importance of focusing on hope; this I did not appreciate.
Lament (grief) is not something to be rushed through. It is not something to which a response of diverting attention (ie: to hope) is appropriate.
No, we are not created to live in grief 24/7/365. However, grief and lament are justified and normal reactions to any kind of loss, including anticipatory loss. To hold back grief or rush through it is to be dishonest to our own being and to set ourselves up for more pain with future losses.
So, my dear RCA, I hope that time for lament is built into the education you are offering to classes throughout the denomination. I hope that a time for lament is built into General Synod 2020 and it won't be a time that is rushed or crafted. We can't live in it, but we do need to sit in it and with it. If we don't, those emotions will, I promise, find another expression and it won't be a good one.
Lament is not something to be fixed or hurried or shamed or shunned or replaced. Lament is a God-given emotion inherent in each of us and it deserves expression until completed.
And that's all I have to say about that. For now, at least.