“What’s Up” (Guest post by Jared Lee)

This first appeared on Jared’s Theology Journey

This sermon was preached to the people of 

Word of Hope Lutheran Church in Lexington, KY on
Sunday, June 28th, 2015.
The text for the sermon was Lamentations 3:22-33
I have to begin this sermon with a confession.  I unapologetically love 90s pop music and one-hit wonders.  It’s taken me a long time to make peace with this fact, but there it is.  There’s just something about that music that speaks to me.  Often times, these catchy and usually fun songs are able to lift me up when I’m feeling down.  And yet, at other times, I find myself drawn to a song over and over again but it’s trying to tell me something or speaking to my soul.  And over the past four weeks or so, I have found myself humming or singing the 90s one-hit wonder by 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up?”

4 non blondes

Don’t know the song because you don’t share my love of 90s music? Let me help. The chorus goes something like this:

“And so I wake in the morning and I step outside, I take a deep breath and I get real high, and I scream from the top of my lungs, What’s going on?”

I think the reason that I keep humming or singing out loud this chorus is because every time I turn on my computer and scroll through my Facebook news feed, every time I  glance at the headlines in the morning paper, and every time I turn on the news, I find myself asking

“What’s going on?”

What is going on in the world today?

And so, perhaps I have another confession.  I am tired.  I am world-weary and perhaps even downright exhausted.  And while I’m tired because of a lot of things, physically, perhaps what I’m most tired, emotionally.  You see, I am tired of turning on the TV, tired of logging in to Facebook, signing on Twitter, of turning on the radio, or glancing at the headlines of the newspaper.  I am tired of these things most of all because they stir up in me more things that I am tired of.

I am tired of living into my privilege.  I’m tired of being guilty as part of  a system that I did not create.  I am tired of watching my black sister and brown brothers persecuted and oppressed.  I’m tired of people explaining away crimes of hate using words like “mental illness.”  I’m tired of the debates about the Confederate flag.  I’m tired of seeing violence against women.  I’m tired of listening to debates regarding marriages.  I’m tired of watching news stories about ISIS.  I’m tired of not knowing what to say, tired of wishing something could be said.  And at the end of the day, I think I’m tired of being tired.

And in my state of being tired, I have become angry and irritable.  I’ve snapped at my roommate more than I should and I’ve lost patience with my dog when he wants to cuddle and sleep right next to me.  I am filled with anger that started with hurt and heartache and is fueled daily by my exhaustion.  And as I’ve said before, that one-hit wonder has been speaking to my soul, and there are times when I’m not singing and I’m actually screaming

“Hey! What’s going on?”

And in these moments, I think that what I’m really doing is singing, well screaming, to God.  I demand to know from God what’s going on? Where are you, God in all of this?  Why isn’t something being done to prevent the hurt and the pain and the tragedy and the anger?

This song has helped direct my anger and frustration away from the people that I care about and can actually hurt and lets me feel angry at God.  Because a wise friend once told me that God can take it.  However, being angry at God, which I think happens from time to time for many of us, does not lend itself to any of the lessons this morning, unfortunately.  I did not want to preach on God’s faithfulness and mercy and grace.  So that wise friend reminded me gently (or perhaps not so gently) to go back and read the rest of the book of Lamentations.

This book is filled with an author’s anger and grief and frustration that is directed at God for failing to act, for failing to prevent the destruction of Jerusalem. This book is much more in tune with the feelings of many Christians in America today, I think.  This grief and frustration that our world isn’t perfect and the feeling of helplessness to change the system that has caused these imperfections.

In fact, these few verses are the only ones in the entire book that profess God’s faithfulness and the idea that God will keep God’s promises.  It would feel a little out of place, if we didn’t know that God tends to work in surprising and unsuspecting ways.  And so, because that’s how God works, I think that it’s here we need to spend time this morning.  It is this author’s declaration of God’s enduring steadfastness and faithfulness; the ideas of God’s never ending love and refusal to let suffering go on forever.  There, there is where America meets God in the Bible this morning, and every morning.  We hear, “great is your faithfulness” even though we feel that God has abandoned us.

Oh what a wonderful message to hear.  Oh what a terribly hard message to take to heart.  It is so easy to say that I will trust in the Lord, but when you’re angry and hurt it’s a very different thing to actually trust in the Lord.  We want to believe that God doesn’t cause pain or suffering and does not enjoy it when we feel hurt or betrayed.  That God suffers when we suffer.  But, there’s a voice inside us in the midst of pain and tragedy that wants to say,

“you did this, you made this happen, you brought this upon yourself because you aren’t good enough, now God is punishing you.”

So sometimes we believe that instead because that voice is loud enough and speaks long enough and we’re just tired enough that it makes sense.  It’s easier to believe that God is punishing us than acknowledge that bad things happen because the world is broken and is in the process of being healed.  So we need a reminder now and then, especially when we’re tired that God is faithful and just, God pours out love and mercy now and forever, and that God has not abandoned us.

But not even God expects us to be able to lay out our griefs and sorrows and then “get over it” just like that.  Lamentations goes on for two more chapters where the author continues to lay our grievances before God.  And then it ends.  There’s no resolution.  There’s no divine action.  There’s no immediate healing.  This author just lays out griefs, frustrations, and fears, while acknowledging that God is not going to leave things the way they are, and then it’s over.  Not because the grief and the pain has gone away, but because the words have been carried to God and there is a certain trust that things are in God’s hands now.

This text serves as a reminder that it’s ok to get angry with God, God can take it.   We too, have permission to give voice to our fears, our frustrations, our grief and our pain.  We can tell God that we’re hurting because of systemic racism, we’re hurting because of how men view women, how America views other nations, and how other nations look at America.  We can tell God that we feel angry when our loved ones die too soon.  We are allowed to take all of these things to God.  And we can know that God suffers our pain with us.  God knows our grief.  God feels angry with us in our anger.

But, as these few verses from Lamentations say to us today, we cannot stay stuck in our self-pity or anger.  We cannot allow ourselves to continue to vent and complain with no purpose or end.  It is one thing to lift up our weariness and frustrations and griefs to God, but it is another to make that all we say or think about.  Lamentations gives us permission to voice these things, yes, but the author does not give us permission to stay stuck within these feelings of helplessness or despair.  The author takes a break in the middle of his rant to remind himself and us about who we are talking to.  The author does not allow himself to stay in this place of despair, instead, the author reminds himself and us of the hope that we have in God.  That in the midst of all the darkness we feel, God is still present with us.

Yet, in all of these very real griefs and frustrations,  we still believe that God’s faithfulness is great  God continues to love us and forgive us, even as we struggle to forgive ourselves..  God continues to teach us what justice is, even as we look out into our broken world and see injustice upon injustice.  God continues to listen to our pain and suffering; God even sees us in our exhaustion and God promises that one day it will be no more.  God will continue to strengthen us and empower us to make small changes to fight unjust systems.

Because that list of things that I’m tired about?  There are things that I can do to help God in the process of bringing justice to the world.  There are things that we together as the church can do to take a stand against oppression and evil in this world.  We have been freed through the waters of baptism to stop living into this oppressive system and live into God’s system of justice that is mercy and grace.   God, through us, is there to help us as we try to stop telling and laughing at racist jokes.  God will help us as we try to stop objectifying women and men and start seeing them as sisters and brothers.  God will help us as we struggle to find the words to speak; saying yes to second chances and no to the evil that is very real in this world.  And, I believe that God will give us energy when we are tired.

For God is faithful.  Even as we struggle to believe it, we gather as one church to remind each other of God’s presence as we see God’s presence all around us here today.  And we will gather at the altar to join in the bread and wine that becomes Christ’s body and blood connecting us not just to one another but to all of those who have come before, are present across the world now, and will come after us.  And for that, even we who are tired, can give thanks to God, even as we lament.  Amen.


jared Lee

Jared Lee is a recent seminary graduate from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary who will be starting his first call at the Word of Hope Lutheran Church this year.

The day beauty was robbed…

charleston shooting

The past week has rocked the black community and people-at-large at such an unbelievable magnitude. It has penetrated the healed wounds of old and enfleshed a reality that embarks upon hatred. A mere word in the wind or passing does not ease the sullen anxiety that awakes the project called the black experience in these yet to be united states of america.

Mere words are futile in trying to comprehend what would make a person destroy such beauty in Mother Emanuel AME Church. The beauty that is housed in black essence serving a beautiful God while engaged in fellowship in a beautiful site of resistance. This day when beauty was robbed, and left to others to refashion, changed the face of nation. Black people did what we have always done…we persevered. The families of the murdered 9 beautiful people forgave and we lay to rest these saints these week.

Answers, I have none but thoughts I have plenty. Questions I have for God…. I feel like God continues to let the black folks suffer at the expense of white America. But then I am eased by the harmonious tune of grace that illuminates the beauty of the Father in spite of my confusion. As the great educator Dr. Tony Everett asks, “Where is God in all of this?” (WIGIAT) I don’t know, but he is somewhere in the midst. He has been in the midst. Maybe he is in riots of the oppressed; maybe he is in the protest in other cities; maybe in was in the hearts of those folks saying take down the confederate flag; he was in the hearts of the families who forgave the young boy; he was in Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; he was in Cynthia Hurd; he was in Rev. Clementa Pickney; he was in Susie Jackson; he was in Twanyza Sanders; he was in Myra Thompson; he was in Ethel Lee Lance; he was in Rev. Daniel Simmons; he was in Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor.

I salute those Saints who were robbed of their beauty….



When “Homeplace” Becomes Death Space

First published at Rhetoric Race and Religion

It is the great social critic, bell hooks, who uses the space of home as a site of resistance. Within that framework you can also place the church as a place of resistance.  This homeplace, as she so aptly calls it, operates as a place where we can recover from all of the bruises of the world –racism, sexism, classism, ageism. Homeplace was that place of resistance. Church was homeplace for the black Christians.  In the place of safety, the church –our homeplace, where do we find solace to build resistance and community.  bell hooks states in her essay Homeplace: Site of Resistance  that “when a people no longer have the space to construct homeplace, we cannot build a meaningful community of resistance.” The church has been a place where black folks went to simply find refuge and peace as far back as I can remember. Most black Christians took it seriously and looked for any opportunity to invite others to fellowship. Color was not a prerequisite for an invitation.

Now enters the events of June 17, 2015 where nine black people (two fellow alums; another, a classmate from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Dr. Simmons and Clementa Pickney) were murdered in an AME church by a white terrorist, Dylann Roof. This young man was at the bible study and when it was over, opened fire on the congregation in attendance.

charleston shooting

What does evangelism look like in a black world where white terrorism is the norm?

The meaning of church starts to reshape when terror is brought to bear in the lives of the church; the danger that arises from a normal invitation to discipleship avails itself to the potentiality of death.  In the case of Mother Emmanuel AME Church, we see black folks in their homeplace displaying love and fellowship only to suffer such an utter demise. An act of evangelism and fellowship is kidnapped by hate and evil.

This was not the will of God, it was a cowardice act of terrorism that is not foreign to the black church. Church burnings and bombings have taken the lives of many in menial attempts to render blacks humanity irrelevant. Our homeplace has always been on constant alert but for those of my generation we, extended the luxury of the benefit of the doubt when it came to terrorism in the church.  Now, that, our place of resistance has been infiltrated with hate, we are now left in a spin cycle grasping for hope.

As I reflect back on the life of Pastor/Senator Clementa Pickney (the essence of what church and state resembles) and how those on our seminary campus speak about him, I am stuck in a place of inexplicable tiredness. I start to wonder when the mis-valuing of black life will harness the need to make sure it is protected at all cost. As many esteemed him as a soft spoken brother of honor. I remember him as a brother that always packed a smile but stood strong on the shoulders of justice for those trapped in the margins. Just weeks ago the brother in his state senator position, stood to propose a bill that would have outlawed guns in churches…

May the Lord be with us all