Lament & Repent

I’ve probably read Lamentations 5 more than a dozen times in the past couple days along with this version of Lamentations 5 that was originally from Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s book Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times:

Remember, Lord, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd;
look and see the disgraceful way their bodies were treated.
Our inheritance of the image of God in every human being
has been co-opted and denied by others.
The family of Ahmaud, Breonna, and George Floyd has lost their loved ones,
widowed mothers once again grieve their dead children.
We must scrap for our basic human rights (even to sit peacefully in our homes);
our basic needs (even the need to breathe) have a great price.
Corrupt officers pursue us with their knees on our necks;
we are weary and we find no rest.
We submit to uncaring government officials and to big business to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned the great sin of instituting slavery;
they are no more — but we bear their shame.
The system of slavery and institutionalized racism ruled over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get bread (or jog in our neighborhoods) at the risk of our lives
because of the guns on the streets.
George Floyd is down on the street, his body crying out for air.
Black women have been violated throughout our nation’s history;
Breonna Taylor gunned down in her own home.
Noble black men have been hung, lynched, and gunned down.
elders and spokesmen are shown no respect.
Young men can’t find work because of unjustly applied laws.
Unjustly incarcerated because of staggering negative expectations.
The elder statesmen and civil rights leaders have been assassinated;
young people who speak out their protest through music are silenced.
Trust in our ultimate triumph has diminished;
our triumphant proclamation of victory has turned to a funeral dirge.
Our sense of exceptionalism has been exposed.
Woe to us, for we have sinned.
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
For our cities lie desolate with predatory lenders and gentrifiers prowling over them.
You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us for so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew as that we may find a new way forward
unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

As we scramble for liturgies of lament (defined as a passionate expression of grief and sorrow) and even as I read, meditated, and cried out to God, I felt like something was missing. That missing piece was repentance.

What does it mean to repent? The dictionary defines it like this: “feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” But I want to add to that because it more than feeling or expressing regret and remorse, especially as someone who follows God. Repentance “is the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to and actual actions that show and prove a change for the better.” It is the turning away from sin – a 180-degree turn – and turning toward God that shows actions and change, in behavior, thoughts, and heart.

Many of us may be wondering what’s next after we claim outrage of the events of late. May I suggest that we lament and then we repent? Let us repent for our complicity, for not speaking up, for not standing in front of our Black and Brown friends during protests, for not listening, for turning the other way, for not believing, for allowing injustice to continue on for hundreds of years.

My prayer is that true repentance will lead to a different tomorrow, even after the news cycle changes. That we will continue to make steps against injustice and that our fight for freedom will not be dependent on the color of our skin. That we will see our Black and Brown friends the way that God sees them – as God’s image bearers, as human beings.

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