Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation is a helpful new book looking at this very topic, written by Mark Vroegop, lead pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the forward of this fine book, Thabiti Anyabwile asks a question that I, too, have asked as I have tried to address the need for racial reconciliation in our country: “How do we talk about these things?” How do we talk about racial justice in our country without losing friends and dividing us even further? I have struggled with how to talk about this without saying the wrong thing, or causing more division in our already divided world. And when I do talk about it, I have struggled with how to keep the conversation going. Tell someone that “black lives matter,” for example, and you very well might get the quick and decisive response, “all lives matter!” Where do you go from there? I think of these as cul-de-sac conversations, because they just seem to go around and around without getting anywhere. We need a language, Anyabwile concludes in his forward, that we can use “to create empathy, and turn us together toward God in faith.”
The premise of this book is that lament offers just such a language – a language rooted in scripture that can open a door to these needed conversations. Vroegop, who authored an earlier book on lament, “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament,” makes a compelling case for lament serving as a way to engage in conversation around racial reconciliation that does not end up going in circles. Racial reconciliation, he writes, ultimately requires action, but lament opens a door that can lead us there.
What does Vroegop mean by lament? He describes lament as “a prayer in pain that leads to trust.” He offers four steps to a traditional prayer of lament:
- Turn – choosing to talk to God about our pain
- Complain – candidly praying about the struggles, questions, and disappointments
- Ask – boldly calling upon God to be true to his promises
- Trust– reaffirming what we believe about God
Vroegop takes the reader through different psalms (and African American spirituals) to show how this process works and also features a prayer of lament at the end of every chapter. I really appreciated these lament prayers, offered by a great cloud of witnesses, which helped me to listen prayerfully to my minority brothers and sisters as they share their honest prayers of lament.
As important as lament is, Vroegop suggests that it is just one step in the fivefold path of racial reconciliation. Here are his five steps:
- Love – Christians start with love because Jesus has commanded us to love one another.
- Listen – In particular, to listen with empathy, seeking to better understand how another person feels, and to do so without judgment. “The Bible calls us to weep with those who weep; it doesn’t tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.” (H.B. Charles Jr.)
- Lament – The subject of this book.
- Learn – We make a commitment to learn from one another, and especially for white Christians like me (which he describes as the majority culture), to learn more about the history of racism in our country and to learn from the experience of my minority brothers and sisters.
- Leverage – The final step involves action and change. Racial reconciliation ultimately requires action, but the previous steps are designed to lead us to this point.
The final step, to take action, is important, and one such action is simply to speak up. I must confess that I have not always spoken up about the need for racial reconciliation. I have been afraid of saying the wrong thing or creating more conflict in our church. Or I just didn’t want to go through the trouble of doing so. But silence, Vroegop reminds us, communicates a message to our minority brothers and sisters, and it is not the message that I want to communicate. But what do we do? “Lament,” Vroegop writes, “is the biblical way to express sorrow when we don’t know what to say.” Lament is a way to acknowledge the hurt our minority brothers and sisters feel even when we are not sure what else to say or to do. It “ends our silence and opens a door for reconciliation.”
In the conclusion, Vroegop writes: “As I’ve lamented the history of racism, the complicity of the church, the division between believers, and the consequences of injustice for minority brothers and sisters, it birthed a compelling desire to advocate for racial harmony.” This book has been a helpful step for me on my journey to advocating for racial reconciliation in our world, and I think that it can be for others, too.
Weep with Me is available on Amazon.
I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Crossway Blog Review Program to facilitate my honest review of this book.