This week I had the privilege of working with some partners from the Christian Reformed Church to edit the script for the blanket exercise, a participatory exercise to expose churches and congregations to the history of injustice and racism against Native Americans. One crucial item we added to the exercise this week is a component on lament.
In the book of Nehemiah, when he learns that Jerusalem is in ruins and the remnant is scattered, Nehemiah breaks down and weeps for several days, crying and fasting over the ruin of his people. Next he prays and reminds himself of God’s promises and his character. Then he confesses, both his sin, and the sins of his nation. Again, he reminds himself of God’s character and his promises. Finally he asks God to give him success by granting him favor in the presence of “this man.”
…for Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king.
Over the years I have learned that the topic of the history of injustice and racism, from both the church and the United States of America, against Native Americans is a difficult history for people to swallow and digest. By and large, people don’t know how to talk about it, nor do they want to talk about it. It is a dark history. One that demonstrates that at a foundational level our nation is incredibly unjust and systemically racist.
Because this history is so uncomfortable, people want to deny it, gloss over it, or offer some symbolic words of apology and quickly move past it. But none of those options provides any real healing or deep reconciliation. So this week I suggested that after we present the blanket exercise and allow people to initially respond to this history, we invite them into a process of corporate lament.
First we would provide a list of books and articles that offer a more detailed and accurate account of our countries history with Native Americans. The wars. The broken treaties. The Indian Removal Act. The boarding schools. The forced assimilation. And the present day marginalization. And we ask people to take a month read some of these books. Having no other response than to weep, to mourn and to lament.
Next we give several weeks for people to read scripture and be reminded of God’s goodness, his promises and his character.
Then we take another month and ask God to convict us of the sins of our church, our people and our nation, as well as our personal complicity in this history and the fruits of these injustices. And we confess them.
Then we take a few more weeks to once again remind ourselves of God’s goodness, his character and his promises.
After all that is done we go before the LORD for the final month and ask him to show us how to act. What position has he given us? Who are we the cupbearer to? What must we do to begin the rebuilding of these relationships? And we ask God for his favor as we take steps toward repentance and reconciliation.
I know this process is long, incredibly uncomfortable and no promises can be made as to what exactly end result will be. But I truly believe that if we can lead our churches into a deep process of lament over our history, then there is hope that indigenous peoples, the church, and our nation will be able to begin the long journey towards wholeness and healing.
I am extremely excited about adding this component of lament to the blanket exercise and am planning to spend the next several weeks working on refining this component. I welcome your thoughts, feedback and reflections on this corporate process of lament.
P.S. It was be involved in to like this that 5 Small Loaves was started. We do not receive any compensation for our work on these project. If you are interested in supporting our efforts and our organization, I invite you to visit our crowdfunding page at GoFundMe and support out campaign: 5 Small Bucks and 2 Little Shares