Friday, 4 October 2019

In a Cryin’ Mood

I’m as blue as anyone can be
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’m in a cryin’ mood.             (Ella Fitzgerald, “Cryin’ Mood”)

Most of us obviously can’t sing those words like Ella Fitzgerald, but some of us certainly identify with the mood they convey. No doubt many of us have been in a cryin’ mood at some point in our lives. When one looks at some the events around our world leaders it’s hard not to be in a cryin mood. Various events— whether they were good or bad—move some of us to tears rather easily. Others of us (me, for example) have not been accustomed to crying. Sure, there is the occasional shed tear, but weeping has been foreign to us, particularly in our early lives. Our culture writes songs about weeping and produces movies that cause us to cry, but do we really talk about crying or shedding tears?

And, if we do cry, we may even try to do so in private or conceal evidence of the tears that have rolled down our cheeks. Yet this week’s readings from the Old Testament (Psalm 137 and Lamentations 1:1-6) will not let us turn our heads from those who weep or shy away from those things that demand tears. Indeed, these passages bring weeping to notice and may even call us to be in a cryin’ mood. Some of us might be tempted to wonder what there is for the Israelites to cry about.

The readings are set to a background where many people have survived the Babylonian invasion. Many families of lower social standing have been left in Palestine to farm and raise cattle. Granted, the upper echelons of society have been taken into exile in Babylon, but they’re alive and well. In fact, they might even prosper. Life is not perfect, but it could be a lot worse. For the prophet, however, what’s not to cry about? Jerusalem is empty. Zion is lonely. Majesty is gone. Princes have fled. Judah departed a slave. Priests groan.

The psalmist includes weeping as an appropriate response to the devastation of Zion. Zion is only a memory. Harps are hung on willows (listen to the song, “By the Rivers of Babylon sung by Boney M). Captors taunt and torment. Edomites are to blame. Neither of these passages’ recoils from the horrors of exile; both are brutally honest about the most pressing issues of the day: religious backsliding, military failure, and incapable political leadership. The prophet and the psalmist express the concerns, worries, fears, and thoughts while also giving voice to a communal consciousness of lament. Just as we have our young feeling so desperate, that they openly march and lament what previous generations and us the current elders still alive have done to creation – the earth we have to live on and in.

Lament may not be a practice incorporated into most contemporary Christian worship, but for followers of Yahweh in the ancient Near East, lamenting was a familiar and necessary practice. Somewhere along the way, I’m afraid we’ve lost our ability, or possibly the willingness, to lament. Maybe this has something to do with the rugged individualism and optimism that can be traced to the early Australian and Kiwi experience. Or could it be a rampant identification of the gospel with particular political parties or patriotic concerns? Whatever it is, we don’t know how to do it—and we don’t know how to be around those who do.

We are hesitant to pay attention to our world and the suffering and injustice that inhabit its many dark corners. We refuse to name inequality or admit our culpability. We refuse to accept or want to see the trashing of God’s creation for which we have been appointed stewards for. In our striving for things, riches and our desire for all consuming growth without considering the consequences of our actions. We are hesitant to lament the widespread greed practised and espoused in our communities along with the desire for power to lord it over others.

We somehow lack the will (whether it be spiritual, moral, or political) to be brutally honest with ourselves in private or in public. We don’t lament; I doubt we even want to know how. We’ve forgotten what it means to weep over devastation and injustice. And in the process, I fear we’ve come to settle for explanations and justifications of the status quo, a status quo that overwhelmingly favours a few and ignores the plight of the vast majority. We’ve come to settle for explanations and justifications of a gospel that is more obsessed with personal blessing than universal justice and the exercise of compassion that Jesus demonstrated to us.

We’ve (and I include myself in this) have settled for explanations and justifications of a gospel that falls short of acknowledging our own shortcomings and blames only the sins of others. Our politicians cannot see a wider good for all humanity somehow. I’m afraid we’re ignoring the raw nature of passages like Lamentations and Psalm 137. Or, maybe the church is just not in a cryin’ mood and it’s utterly annoyed by those who are. Now, just as weeping and tears are powerless to change the past, bear in mind that neither of our readings implies that such honesty directed toward God effects an immediate reversal of undesirable circumstances.

It is commonly assumed that a good cry can be quite healthy, whereas rigid avoidance of tears is unhealthy, which gives me hope that we are capable of recovering the practice of lament as seen in today’s readings. Individual and communal laments are voiced for us and by us, but they are ultimately directed toward God. God alone is the ultimate recipient of our honesty, anger, rage, discontent, and lament. So, come sit by the river with me and hang your harp next to mine; we’ve a song to sing of Zion, and I’m in a cryin’ mood. I’m in a cryin mood as I sit writing and reflecting on today’s world gifted to us by God and our failure to steward it wisely.

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