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Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book . Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:
A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
So I need the language of the lament
October 3, 2010
I am lifting up my voice in a lament. “Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.”
I am lifting up voice in this ancient song of mourning and despair and calamity because of the deaths of five young people: because of the deaths of Billy Lucas, Aposher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh and Raymond Chase. I am pouring out my heart like water before God because of these five children – who in the past month have killed themselves because they were attracted to persons of the same sex. I am lifting up my voice for the lives of these children, who fainted away to nothing because they were hungry for acceptance, for welcome, hungry above for all for a safe place to knit together the pieces of their identity into an adult self. That's the main work of adolescence, and these children were unable to complete that work because they believed that they could never find that safe place where their whole selves would be accepted and nurtured into adulthood. They believed the world was always going to be a hostile, dangerous and lonely place. And so they chose to end their lives instead. And that, my brothers and sisters, is worthy of a lament.
We know a lot about whining in our culture, and about complaining and in general about being irksome and hard to please. But the biblical lament is something different altogether. The lament expresses anger, grief, despair, hopelessness, raw human pain, bewilderment and a thousand other emotions all hurled heavenward to God. The lament rises, not out of a momentary indisposition, but out of great, life-changing catastrophe: “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.”
Israel turned to the lament when her own identity as a superpower in the ancient Near East was battered to dust by the greater military might of the Babylonian Empire. Israel had always believed she was special – destined to be great forever because Israel alone was favored by God. After all, Israel was God's covenant nation, the people chosen by God to be God's own possession, to enjoy safety and prosperity forever. When all that came crashing down 600 years before Christ was born, Israel had to start all over again building an identity from the new reality of exile, poverty and powerlessness. And the lament gave a voice to that new reality – a voice that still speaks when our own language for mourning just isn't inadequate.
I simply don't have the language to mourn five young people who, in the space of just a few weeks, all decided that they couldn't bear to be alive any longer. I don't have the language to grieve for five young people who endured harassment, physical threats, humiliation and countless other torments because they were identified as gay, bi-sexual or transgendered. I am powerless to express my sadness that human being have such capacity to be cruel, that human beings hunt in packs and prey on those who are weak, and I am beyond powerless to express my frustration that technology makes it wickedly easy to destroy someone's life with one click of a mouse.
So I need the language of the lament to express something in me that is far beyond sadness or anger or indignation. At it's heart, the lament also acknowledges faith in God and appeals to God to restore and heal and bless.
There is no restoration for these five young men who couldn't bear it anymore, who were convinced that their attraction for people of the same sex was as good as a death sentence. Those futures can never be restored, they are taken from the world forever. But we can lament, and after howling our grief and anger at the heavens, we can ask God to show us the way forward.
St. Martin's has always been an intentionally welcoming place for gay and lesbian persons, for individuals, couples and families. I am going to ask us to go a little further and to make sure that we publicly identify ourselves as a welcoming congregation on our web site and in our written material, and that we let people know that we are a safe place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
“Integrity” is the Episcopal Church's advocacy and support group for LGBT people and their friends. Integrity is organized into individual chapters at the local level, and several of our members have spoken to me recently about hosting an Integrity chapter here for the diocese of Rhode Island. I think that is an excellent way for us to further our ministry of hospitality and to make fulfill our mission goal that invites people to “come as you are.”
And I want to be absolutely clear that we are a safe place for young people – that we can be a haven for adolescents who are unclear and uncertain about who they are and who they are becoming. I want to be clear to all of us that everyone single one of us – whether we are in couples or single – whatever our age – whatever our sexual orientation – we are all called to be stewards of our sexuality. We are called as Christians to treat our sexuality as a part of the gift of our humanity, worthy of respect, calling for careful boundaries, and honor. In this great modern era, we may think that our kids don't need to hear a word from us about appropriate ways to express our sexual selves, we may even think that they've already learned more than we ever knew existed – but don't underestimate how important you are in your child's journey toward a healthy and appropriate adult sexuality. Start the conversation – and if you can do nothing else – assure your child that your love for her or for him is unconditional and comprehensive, and that with you, they are safe and accepted.
The disciples say to Jesus, “Increase our faith”! His answer is that cryptic little statement about how just a teeny, weeny little bit of faith would be enough to uproot a mustard tree and toss it into the sea. And then he goes on to tell them that even more cryptic story about how when the slaves come in from the fields, the householder doesn't say, “Did you have a nice day? Put your feet up and have a drink and we'll worry about dinner later.” No, the householder expects that the slave will continue to do his work, without thanks or acknowledgement.
It isn't a very pretty picture. But I think one thing that Jesus may be saying – at least to us this morning – is that we already have the resources we need to be the faith community we want to be. We want to show the world that we are a safe and nurturing place for people of all ages, for people across the human sexuality spectrum. We have that mustard seed of faith and there is no reason in the world that we cannot do the work that God has given us to do – and in some small way, offer hope and reconciliation and a place at the table for people who believe they don't belong.
God is always more ready to hear than we are to pray. And ready to give more than we either desire to deserve. So I will pray this morning that God grant rest and peace to the souls of Billy, Aposher, Tyler, Seth and Raymong – that God will knit up the broken hearts of their families and friends, and that God will create in us the courage and will to be coming a congregation that truly welcomes and makes a place at the table for everyone.
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