Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection August 18, 2019
"A Torrent of Tears" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Some have suggested that my last Advance article, We Are Not Fixable, seemed to lack much hope. I preached a bit about where my hope lies this past Sunday, August 11, (“Naming the Unnamable” available on my Facebook personal page and our Morgan Park Baptist Church Facebook page.) In this week’s Advance, I wish to reflect a bit more on the harshness of life.
Many of us are born into this world wailing! Is this not so? Being born isn’t always easy. When I was born many years ago, I was a breech baby and the doctor told my father he might not be able to save both my mother and me. This was even before they realized I was not alone in the womb.
My twin brother was also in our mother’s womb with me. They didn’t know he was there until after I was born! Twins are always premature and often are breech since a baby‘s turning takes place late in the mother‘s pregnancy.
Life is hard is the first truth of the Buddha. A book that had a great influence on me when it was published in 1979, The Road Less Traveled by the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, begins “Life is difficult.”
Does not life, at times, make all of us wish, along with Jeremiah, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Jeremiah 9:1)
And yes, the times of Jeremiah were very hard times. But when are times not hard? My mother and father suffered through the hard times of the Great Depression. Many, if not most of our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents endured hard times.
When I teach my students at Moraine Valley Community College, I’m surprised at how unaware they are of the atrocities of our own time. This past century has been an unimaginable horror, leaving a legacy of atrocity, blood lust, and destruction unparalleled in human history.
All times are hard times in terms of human cruelty but just look at the past century. We’ve had the horrors of two world wars. In World War I, over 8 ½ million people died. In World War II, almost 37 million people died. Stalin killed an estimated 40 million of his own people in the Soviet Union. Mao Zedong killed between 40 and 80 million of his own people in China. Add to this: the Armenians slaughtered by the Turks, the Cambodians slaughtered by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the atrocities of the Hutus slain by the Tutsis in Rwanda, the ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, the list goes on and on. As I mentioned in my Sunday sermon: “We are at war with each other!”
All times are hard times. All times call for a fountain of tears. At all times, we can echo these words from the Book of Lamentations 2:11: “I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken, my spirit poured out, as I see what has happened to my people; little children and babies are fainting and dying in the streets.” (Living Bible Translation)
Is this not true in too many places today, including our own city streets? Are not little children and babies being shot down and dying on our own streets? How can we easily live in a city where children are shot playing in parks?
The author of Lamentations, by the way, is unknown but the book has long been attributed to Jeremiah. Jeremiah is the patron and prophet of lamentations, the patron and prophet of wailing. He can easily be said to be the patron and prophet of every age. Weeping and wailing is probably the only sane response to all we witness happening in our world.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). We probably know the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: “Jesus wept” over the death of Lazarus. Jesus shares in our weeping. Jesus shares in our wailing. The human condition that Jesus was born into assured weeping, assured tears would be shed. So we follow a Shepherd who is not afraid to weep!
Why are our lives filled with so many reasons for tears? Why are our lives filled with so many reasons for weeping and wailing? A congregant asked me yesterday if her grief over the death of her spouse would ever end. I told her it would not this side of the veil. All one does is get used to the pain. I grieve anew over the recently-diagnosed brain cancer afflicting our beloved Don Nelson!
I’d like to share some thoughts from the book, Going Sane, by British psychoanalyst, Adams Phillips. I don’t agree with all he says but he has some helpful insights that might help us as we make our way through this vale of tears.
He notes that we, humans, “always want more than we can have. To be human is to be too demanding.” There’s something to be said about this assessment. Phillips argues that because of our demanding nature, because we want more than we can have, disappointment and disillusionment are unavoidable.
When I look at our beloved congregation, I want more. I want our sacred place to overflow with brothers and sisters in Christ. But now we must learn how to be church in a very different way.
Having sold our building, we must adapt and alter how we will live as church into our future. I’ll write more about this sometime soon. But having had to sell our church buildings has grieved me, along with many others.
I want more for us at Morgan Park American Baptist Church! But maybe I must relinquish this wanting, this demanding. Maybe I must learn to live with some degree of disappointment, with some degree of disillusionment, lest I find myself trapped in what Phillips calls “the no-man’s land of the tantrum and the grudge.”
Many of us, in our neighborhood and in our country, are trapped in the no-man’s land of the tantrum and the grudge. Is this not so? Unless we learn to live with some disappointment and disillusionment, we’ll constantly suffer tantrums and grudges. Our city streets are awash in tantrums and grudges and the violence arising from such.
We may need to accept the reality that “life doesn’t work the way we want it to work.” (Phillips) We may want to teach our young to live with a certain amount of disappointment and disillusionment. Many suffer childhoods that were “traumatic and conflict-laden.” Hard times for most everyone born into the human family! Being born with a golden spoon in one’s mouth is for the very few!
What are we to make of what Phillips calls “our insatiable appetite for success”? We would well teach our young that the love of money “makes us betray (all) our other loves.” As Phillips writes: “The money-motive is socially sanctioned and rewarded, love of money becomes an unofficial form of madness … our love of material possessions is a hatred of what we (should) love … Frantic attempts (have been) made to describe greed as not simply legitimate but morally impressive, a sign of character … the rich person (is the only one) living the best that life (has) to offer.”
Many of our leaders are bedeviled and driven by greed! Greed is not godly, no matter what the misguided purveyors of “The Prosperity Gospel” preach! Greed destroys the soul. Greed transforms us into competitors and fractures the human family.
I weep for our young who’ve been deceived into wanting more and more, wanting more than life can give them. This incessant wanting leads invariably to unhappiness. I weep for our young!
Current Christianity is not seen by our young as a possible antidote to all this wanting, this incredible drive for financial success. Current Christianity is corrupted by endless battles over who has it right and incessant squabbles about how to correctly interpret the Bible. They will know we are Christians by how often and how easily we fight with one another!
Christianity has strayed away from its core message of God’s love and God’s forgiveness. As I preached last Sunday, for prayer, we must have humility. Humility and arrogance cannot live in the same soul. And without humility, there is no truth. Without truth, there can be no humility. Without humility, all that is left is naked, unabashed arrogance.
The time never ceases for weeping and wailing. But weeping and wailing are not the final story. Christianity understands that the most important thing about a person is not his or her past. The most important thing about a person is his or her future. This is what Christianity should be teaching instead of arguing about who has it right when it comes to God!
The Oxford physicist Peter Atkins has written: “we are children of chaos.” This is true but it’s not all we are. We live turbulent lives in turbulent times. But there is more to the story. As Christians, along with all good people everywhere, we cling to hope. We never give up on life. We never give up on God. We never give up on each other. We never give up on the future God is bringing to us.
Yes, if we are healthy, we weep. If we are healthy, we wail. It’s our human condition. But God is at work. The Spirit of God is still hovering over the waters of chaos. The Spirit is working to fulfill all the prophecies that have come down to us through the centuries. The time is coming, according to Isaiah when the sound of weeping will no longer be heard (see Isaiah 65:19) I, for one, trust in this promise.
Yes, we live in a time of weeping, a time of wailing. We make our sorrowful way through the human vale of tears. But the vale of tears will cease. Weeping will cease. Wailing will cease. A time is coming when: “God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8)
I pray for the dawning of this glorious day! We also live within the hope of Jesus’ assurance: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (John 14:18) This Gospel-truth sustains us even in those dark and lonely days when we feel most abandoned. I am “dark Irish” so hope is hard for me. But without hope, I would be only an empty shell. Hope endures!