When life began shuttering for all of us back in March, I found myself once again on the run and beginning to feel as if I couldn’t breathe. If you read back to the blogs I posted back in March, the sense of darkness was surfacing, tossing and turning at night, overwhelmed by once again the feeling of drowning. It was the sense of loss, feeling homeless, a looming pandemic, and admittedly, the humility it takes to move home, even if temporarily, after more than twenty years away. I could literally feel it on my chest, like I couldn’t breathe.
If you’re a regular reader, you know it’s nothing new for me, the sense of having my breath taken away. One of the most pivotal moments in my life was nearly drowning while whitewater rafting on the Ohiopyle River in Western Pennsylvania. It was not only the weight of a raft atop me, but the weight of the handful of men in the raft, and even the weight of a life flashing before my eyes, my life as it seemed to be coming to an abrupt end in a matter of seconds although feeling like minutes. I couldn’t breathe.
If we can ever admit, or take the time to become aware, most of us at one time or another know that feeling of drowning or being unable to breathe. We’ve witnessed the story of George Floyd this past week, a man pinned to the ground for what we now know to be nearly 9 minutes with a knee to his throat. I’ll never admit to understanding I know what it feels like, but I do know the feeling of oppression and the weight of the world and all powers plopped down on top of me, unable to move, breathe, or even live life fully. It’s the point which often goes unspoken, but believe it has more to do with the fact most don’t know their drowning because it’s often in their own grief.
It takes a great deal of humility to admit something is wrong and needing help, especially for men. It’s not a surprise to anyone, men are more prone to suppress and repress how they feel and takes a lot of pushing before it begins to spill over. We’re much better at taking it out on others than we are on allowing the pain to be transformed within us. If we compound years of anger, hurt, and resentment, with now nearly three months of quarantine and lock-downs, it shouldn’t shock us when it begins to reach a boil and no one willing to turn back the heat. It becomes, sadly, a political game with each of us as pawns, pushed to stand against so-called beliefs rather than with a hurting people.
We have before us many failing institutions. It doesn’t mean their surmise; however, it does mean change is necessary, now more than ever. We find ourselves surrounded by institutions which have become self-serving, which naturally take an oppressive approach because they become about power, and inevitably, an abuse of power. We certainly see it in our political system, crumbling infrastructures, waffling cities, irrelevant religious institutions driven more by politics, money, and keeping the natives intact. Is it any wonder we find ourselves now at a boiling point with the fear of only getting worse as this political season heats up?
I, of course, can only speak of my own experience. There is even a part of me lamenting the rush of churches reopening. As someone who’s been on the inside, there is great value and still have a resounding faith, but like most institutions, we refuse to look at the whole. Now more than ever, churches need to move beyond the walls and out into the streets. The thought of closing church into the confines of a wall gives the sense of suffocation, unable to breathe. Over time we gradually are lulled into believing the world is bad, dark, evil, or any word you choose to describe. However, it’s no different than an individual closing in on him or her-self.
Over time, we become isolated, self-consumed, and breakdown communication. It doesn’t mean we can’t function in the world; we still work, gather around people, and do what we need to do, but all in anticipation of locking ourselves back up again, feeling like we can once again breathe as we “leave” the world. Before we quickly return to get our “fix” of comfort, we need to take a look at the world and what’s happening. Again, I must say, I’m not against any of it; however, more needs to be expected of such an institution claiming transformation at its heart. It’s also not simply my own faith background; it’s religion in America which fears the world and change and yet paradoxically choosing death over life by not changing systemically.
There is much to lament these days. There are the countless people killed, hundreds of thousands dying of disease and viruses, at times looking like we don’t care, inequalities we prefer to make judgment of than deal with, failing institutions, increasing debt, anxiety through the roof, thousands upon thousands on prescription drugs for depression and other mental health issues, people yelling at one another unable to listen, pain boiling over, lack of care or concern for the other, selfishness, survival over living, transactional mindsets, empty words and speeches, generational trauma, and the list goes on an on. Who are the people benefiting from this “normal”? Is it “normal”? Why is there a rush to return to “normal”? Do you see why we shouldn’t rush to once again close off from the world? It’s understandable why we make it “normal”; who wants to confront the pain of others when we can’t deal with our own!
When we break it down, we’ve lost our ability to dialogue as humans. We’ve disconnected from our heart and try to understand through an ego which will always try to defend and protect. Our greatest lament is the loss of our humanity in our institutions and beyond. People are suffering on levels requiring self-aware leaders, free of the confines of institutional boundaries of cufflinks, dress and three-piece suits, a willingness, as Pope Francis says, “to smell like the sheep”. The more we allow ourselves to be immersed in the pain and suffering of the world, we find ourselves unable to breathe by our own hypocrisy as a fellow human on the journey. I know; I’ve been there. Even writing about it brings up the feeling within me, reminding me of a life once lived not my own. We lament the institutional freedom for true freedom.
As Americans we must lament. We must grieve in these days. We must learn to let go of our expectations, dreams unlived, our resentments and anger. We must go out among the ones we deemed “profane” and listen to their story as well. It’s not only our story which we find crumbling; it’s everyone’s story. We need to write a new story for future generations, weaving together the great parts of our tradition with their own vision for tomorrow. It’s not going to be the same. It can’t be the same. It mustn’t be the same. We need to lament, most of all, a return to “normal”. If one does not benefit from a return, then none of us do. We must understand the one who’s been pushed from the top, being held underwater. They have a perspective and a voice which must be heard, whether we agree or not. For lamenting is not about agreeing or disagreeing. It’s about grieving a heart which has hurt, a heart which will continue to scream out from underneath the raft until it’s given its voice to speak. As Americans, it’s time to lament…