From the Pastor – Attitude of Mourning

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

One of the people I follow on social media is Drew Hart.  Drew is a public theologian and professor at Messiah University.  In the Fall of 2020, I read his book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. Drew grew up in Norristown, is a graduate of North Penn High School, and attended a Christian College.  Because my own personal connections to these communities, I appreciated his integration of personal and everyday stories, theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to address the church’s understanding of racism.

About a week ago, Drew posted about some white people being upset with Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes prayer in a the book A Rhythm of Prayera collection of prayers by different women edited by Sarah Bessey.  Until Drew’s post I was unaware of Dr. Walker-Barnes and her work toward reconciliation and justice.  She is a clinical psychologist, theologian, and ecumenical minister who currently serves as Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Mercer University.  Dr. Walker-Barnes prayer is titled, “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman.”  The controversy around her prayer stems from people taking out of context various lines in the prayer, including the provocative opening line, “Dear God, please help me to hate White people.  Or at least to want to hate them.”  If that line causes a reaction in you, (as it did me the first time I read it), I encourage you to read the entire prayer at this link.  The resulting controversy and backlash over Dr. Walker-Barnes’ prayer, which one commentator called a racist prayer, has led to harassment, coordinated attacks, and threats against Dr. Walker-Barnes and the book.  In response, Dr. Walker-Barnes issued a statement explaining the origin of the prayer and how it is modeled on the imprecatory psalms in the Bible.

Now, after two paragraphs, numerous links, and perhaps too much time spent reading those links, you may be wondering why I am drawing attention to this controversy in my weekly e-pondering.  What does this controversy have to do with our sermon series on the Beatitudes?

Recall, that through this series we are learning to develop the attitudes, the life perspectives that lead to the blessed life.  Through the Beatitudes, Jesus is describing the marks or character traits of those who belong to God’s Kingdom.  The Beatitudes also tell us how to enter God’s Kingdom.  Becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom begins with the First Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”  We summed up this Beatitude as having the “the attitude of dependence.”  Those who are poor in spirit are humble and understand their dependence upon God.  Once a person realizes this, they are ready to take the second step into God’s kingdom.

The second step is to develop the attitude of mourning.  Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”  We often hear this Beatitude in light of our personal losses.  But I believe Jesus is inviting us to mourn more than personal losses.  I believe Jesus is inviting us to mourn our sins and to mourn the state of the world.  When I read a poem such as this one by Danez Smith or listen to Dr. Walker-Brown’s prayer, I am being invited to mourn with them, to practice empathy and join with them in their concerns.  Sometimes this is challenging.  Sometimes, I must set aside my own “comfort” and experience others “discomfort.”  I need to hear the anger of others and feel their pain.  Not just for them, but for me, and for all of us.  Because when I mourn with those who mourn, (Romans 12:15) I experience the promise of this Beatitude.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Those who mourn receive the promise of comfort.  They are encouraged and receive strength from The Comforter.  They are empowered to act upon their mourning.

This Sunday we’ll continue to ponder this Beatitude together and how we can develop the attitude of mourning.

See you on Sunday,

Pastor David

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