How Lament Quells the Terrorist in Each of Us

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“No, no, no. Praying . . . “

This simple, human post by a friend on Facebook was how I first learned about the Orlando shooting.

As I scrolled to see the reactions of other friends, I was strangely encouraged.

“My heart is breaking.”

“Lord, heal our brokenness.”

“Grieving . . .”

“Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy.”

I was surprised, in a forum like Facebook, to find a place to mourn among friends. (Usually on days like this I avoid the finger pointing and political tirades of social media.)

Here’s why I found this outpouring of emotion especially meaningful:

Yes, there are things to talk about—gun policy, the LGBTQ community, terrorism, religious hate—and there is work to be done.

But first: lament. Before this is about Muslims or gay people or gun rights, this is about human beings—the shooter and the victims.

Here’s why lament is vitally important: lament strips us back to our human selves. Underneath all our vitriol and desperate efforts to explain and fix the crisis, there are human hearts that are saying “I’m sad” or “I’m scared” or “I’m confused.” When we jump straight to fixing and explaining, we miss the opportunity to be human. We continue the violence.

When we jump straight to fixing and explaining, we miss the opportunity to be human. Click To Tweet

Lament feels like a waste of time but it’s directly connected to the problem we’re lamenting. Because underneath all the violence and anger that drives people to commit such atrocities there are human hearts that are saying “I’m sad” or “I’m scared” or “I’m confused.” When they jump straight to fixing, they also miss the opportunity to be human.

Although it’s odd, I’m rejoicing to hear lament. Because it’s a common thing for privileged westerners to jump to explaining and fixing. But when we, in the most powerful nation in the world, can lament, then at last we begin to remember what it is to be human.

We remember our need for a power beyond our own. So that when we do turn to our own intellect and action to respond to a crisis—and there is certainly a time for action—we will do so without that quick-fix mentality, that desperate effort to take matters into our own hands. And as we do, we’ll learn how lament overcomes our own terrorism.

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38 responses to “Me and Mr (Tony) Jones: We Got A Thing Goin On

  1. Does anyone else sense that this whole debate has just ended? Gee-whiz. I do think one thing has become clear after the dust settles: there is still a self-conscious element within emergence Christianity that wants to be more associated with evangelicalism than mainline Protestantism. Which is an interesting thing that should be explored, I think.

  2. It’s interesting to watch you all finesse each other across theological lines… as a sociologist, its exactly what groups do to create insiders and outsiders-and Dave seems to want to normalize this, as this is good for the Christian community; Tony, not so much. I’ve done it in the past, Evangelicals vs. Liberals (my book), and that was based more on informant feedback, clearly 2 camps… but in time, having studied Bell, I’ve grown to think that this boundary keeping is what the world does, in and out, and maybe, Christ did not do this, always saying, I have come for the sick not the well, always frisking boundaries or crossing them, or queering them… boundary keeping like cats marking territory is in large what people hate about religion… so, hm… what to do? As a sociologist, I would say keep doing it Dave, it keeps your groups identity more clear and many people want that, they want to know who is right and who is wrong; as a Christian, I’m starting to think that the labeling, in whatever way you do it, is sad. Maybe, as Tony has said before, ‘incarnational’ makes the most sense, God enfleshed thought and action in the world, otherwise, its just parsing for the sake of identity of groups, which is intrinsically a political act, and a movement to control and maintain power…. we all do it… but maybe we should try not to….

    1. This makes the most sense of anything I’ve read. However, I might push back against the notion that Dave wants to keep groups labeled to consolidate and organize power… It seems he’s advocating it more for ease of observation and conversation.

    2. Jim, do you think that Bell, in sort of a ‘post-church’ kind of way, is specifically called to draw out common ground among evangelical/emergence/mainline groups? That he has that particular gift? It seems to me that we won’t ever escape the need for defining our diversity (with labels!), but that, yes, it is just as important for those gifted to bring us together in a degree of unity/civility/love/mutual celebration. So, diversity is not sad; only diversity without any possibility of unity.
      Is that a possible scenario?

  3. This is pretty clarifying, but here is my question then: what if someone is soteriologically inclusive and at the same time has a high Christology/eschatology (basically “Love Wins”), wants to be open and affirming on LGBT but doesn’t need to make a big deal out of it, and then also agrees with basically everything you say on this blog about ecclesiology and church leadership (i.e., is not at all comfortable with mainline church structure and polity)? Kinda makes that person homeless, doesn’t it 🙂 I actually think this description fits a sizeable, up-and-coming evangelical group, and I don’t see where they’re supposed to fit.

    1. My feeling is, that’s a welcome conversation, probably in both the radical middle evangelical stream and the emergence stream. It could even be catalytic for bringing out some of the nuances in each stream, such as they are. I hope that conversation would lead to a ‘home.’

  4. Zach, you and I agree on one thing: this debate is over. On any plain reading, Fitch and Holsclaw use that label of us pejoratively; their inability to admit that is simply stunning.
    I have no desire to be considered an evangelical. Doug is a card-carrying member, however. Literally. I wonder if Dave is.

  5. I think Zach is entirely correct on this one.
    The denial of the bodily resurrection by mainline protestant leaders and the subsequent nose-dive decline of their movements is no secret. It makes complete sense for emergents like Tony to want to distance themselves from that association. At the same time, people from other streams, like David, see enough similarities in their theology or ideas that grouping them together is sometimes convenient for the sake of discussion.

    So here Tony seems to be saying, “Hey, You are grouping me in with THOSE guys, but I’m definitely not one of them!” and David is saying, “Hey, I know man, but to an outside observer there ARE some similarities. I can’t split hairs in every paragraph or I’d never get my book out the door.”

  6. Here’s a fun little story of a moment the two movements bumped against each other and many of these named players was involved. I was part of a Tim Keller church plant in Manhattan and as I began to emerge, I was excommunicated from that church while Keller held the coats of those who stoned, I mean excommunicated, me (ie. literally sending me to hell).
    Later, once I took over Geoff Holsclaws work in organizing the cohorts for Emergent Village, Tony Jones refused to enter the room at an event where my main excommunicator was speaking in order to be in solidarity with me. One of many reasons why I’ll always love him.

    My long experience with the PCA, one of the main groups of the Neo-Reformed movement, has spoken over and over that it is mainly an A-hole production facility. Of course salivating over a theology that says rich white people get to go to heaven via deistic fiat while all the poor brown people of the world get to go to hell would of course explain that trend.

    And when people send you to hell personally, it gives you the right to call them A-holes…I hope that seems just to most readers.

  7. But, Matt, the problem is that David still has yet to show any evidence of posts or books in which I make position clear that are resonant with mainline Protestantism. All Dave does its ask more questions. That very evangelical of him: to ask more questions as though he’s a theological border guard. As you might guess, I have no interest in passing Dave’s theological exam.
    . Further, I defy you to name prominent mainline Protestant pastors who deny the physical resurrection. People talk about them, but they don’t exist. I’m not talking about them and Eric bastard, I’m talking about Pastor.

      1. Ryan, I have also had that experience with several TEC priests. They taught an understanding of the resurrection along the lines of Marcus Borg, who, incidentally, Tony has written strongly against in the past.

        1. Oh I didn’t meant to imply that TONY didn’t believe in a physical resurrection! I saw his recent video where he absolutely affirms it. I was just responding to his call to be shown one prominent, mainline Protestant pastor who doesn’t believe in a physical resurrection.
          I apologize if it appeared I was trying to challenge Tony’s belief in a physical resurrection. Certainly not my intent!

  8. All nouns and most adjectives are labels, so it is impossible to have a theological discussion without using labels.
    Labels like words can be used for good and evil.

    I hate it when people respond to something I have written by saying “you are and xx” in a tone which implies that no one intelligent takes that view seriously now. The label is an excuse for ignoring my thoughts, rather than engaging.

    I think we need to be careful about putting labels on people they are not comfortable with. It is tricky in a book, because the person labelled doe not have a direct right of reply. On the other hand, published authors can expect to be labelled when they are discussed by other authors. That is okay provided the author defines the label clearly, and quotes the person they are labelling to justify the label.

    Publishing is opening yourself up for discussion and labelling, so published authors cannot be to prissy about how the discussions about them go, as long as they are done with grace.

    In summary, use labels wisely, but handle with care.

  9. My sense is that it would have been more accurate to say in the book: “their answers have often lacked substance on which we [wanted to] live.”
    To say they lacked substance on which we *could* live is obviously false. You could live on their answers, and many, many folks do, and I’d include myself in that category. You simply have some differences, and apparently articulate them in the book. But please be honest that you just didn’t like their answers, not that there wasn’t anything there of profound depth, thought, and engagement upon which one could live a robust Christian life that, in fact, does envision and enact the Kingdom (just not your preferred understanding of it).

    1. Well said, Bryan.
      Similarly, a more tempered way of getting across what David and Geoff seem to intend in describing the emerging church as having “settled into another version of mainline Christianity” might be to say the emerging church has drifted toward progressive (liberal?) theology more akin to mainline protestantism than its post-evangelical origins. I, personally, would have much less issue with such framing.

      Still, the biggest problem in all this, for me, is the refusal to allow theological space for those who may have come to more progressive/liberal beliefs and understandings outside of mainline traditions, and who have no interest in certain other aspects of said traditions, to be their own group. Saying emerging has become a new form of mainline is roughly equivalent to saying the label of emergent/emerging is now meaningless because it’s really just mainline theology rebranded. Which is certainly how it’s sometimes portrayed, with inaccurately broad strokes in my opinion.

      So basically, it’s not the labeling or making distinctions that’s a problem, David, because as you have said it’s important to be able to do so for discourse to progress. The problem lies with using a label that has the potential to offend (especially to those actively trying to define themselves as something other than the label) and in its particular use is vague to the point of meaninglessness, other than to associate emerging with the undesirable “other” of mainline.

  10. I am on record as saying that labels belong on jam jars and not on people. To be clear what I meant was pejorative labelling: ‘parsing’ employed to damn by assocation and a shortcut to genuine communication. In most ways I see pejorative labelling in terms of the use of language in argumentation. In that sense the restoration of proper communication is an aspect of peacemaking.

  11. The way I would articulate the issue is that Emergent had some really interesting and fresh theological dialogue in the early years. But when it started landing in the ministry realm it looked and felt like liberal Protestantism to me. It has to be ok for someone to say “this is what it felt like to me. This is how I have defined it for myself.” Students I teach often get distracted by small things in the introduction to books. I’m never impressed by that. So you disagree with the intro. Read the whole book and choose what is substantive to engage with first. Tony, you missed a chance to gain some big boy cred by ignoring what Fitch may have implied about you. I wish he had simply apologized that it offended you. That’s disappointing. But I too started having trouble finding enough substance in the last few Emergent trends on which to conduct my actual ministry. I decided this was more useful to people in grad school or very unique ministry settings. And I couldn’t get my head around what the center of authority was for Emergent. Seemed to not be the Bible, not tradition, not evangelical theology, but a certain sensibility about LGBT issues and peacemaking with Islam, and a highly selective eclectic theology. I started to not recognize Jesus or see a need for the church as gathered worshipping community. I didn’t see much positive on preaching, the sacraments, or evangelism (since about 2003). Perhaps this was my shortcoming or that I was missing pieces. But since about 2009 I felt unwelcome and uncomfortable with Emergent. I still think McLaren is a Christ-like example in attitude. I love a Generous Orthodoxy and A New Kind of Christian. But a new kind of Christianity seemed, to me, an awkward leap into liberal stuff. I still don’t get Tony’s atonement book. It’s not comprehensive enough to replace historic atonement theories. But it could join them as helpful. But it seemed Tony had to reject them all in a very old school argumentative way. I think i saw some labels in there, too. Again, my perspective.I certainly didn’t agree with the neo-Reformed overreaction. So I kind of found a home in Fitch’s intro. Guys like me probably don’t post here much so I just wanted to check in and explain how Fitch was more practical and accessible to me, even though I liked the early Emergent conversation. He does have an audience not just of overly biased people. Unless you’re gonna say that’s what I am and that’s fine, too. Thanks for starting the conversation a long time ago..,

  12. David and Tony,
    Thanks for hashing this out. Thanks for stirring it up again, David – I mean that sincerely. This is a terrific and authentic space. Tony, I live your passion – it’s damn powerful.

    Not many place like this blog site – great posts by great engaging posters. Thanks for keeping it real.

  13. […] Much virtual ink has already been spilled about this particular framing, by Tony Jones and David Fitch, among others, and I won’t go any further into this than to say that as someone who has […]

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