Editor’s Note: We sat down with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, editor of the new book Voices of Lament, and Missio Alliance national director, Lisa Rodriguez-Watson, a contributor to the book, to gain understanding on the importance for both truth-telling and lament. Enjoy their dialogue.
Why did you write Voices of Lament now? How can this book be a needed balm in our land?
Lisa: Lament is so critical in the process of healing. As we live in a quasi-postpandemic moment, we need to grapple with the essential nature of lament in healing. There is no shortcut to healing when living through injustice, harm, and ongoing grief. Certainly, there are ways to suppress or deny our pain, but that doesn’t bring about our healing. Failure to lament only leads to apathy and the perpetuation of injustice. The gift of lament is that it allows us to name the truth, to grieve, to hope, and then to heal.
Why are women of color uniquely gifted/burdened with the ability to lament? What can people of privilege and power—in particular, white Christian men—learn from women of color?
Natasha: What I have found amongst women of color—and I am a Black woman, specifically an African-American woman who is a descendant of the trans-Atlantic slave trade—is that faith has been an anchor for us. The lived theology of Black women in our country is one that leans toward: “Trust the Lord in spite of our suffering. God is the anchor for our soul, a very present help in time of trouble.” The church misses out when our theology is centered on how well we can debate. Women of color remind us of the reality that our theology ultimately includes what we do—how well we love and treat our neighbors.
The church misses out when our theology is centered on how well we can debate. Women of color remind us of the reality that our theology ultimately includes what we do—how well we love and treat our neighbors. Click To Tweet
Women of color have shown that we have a deep and rich faith that has been refined because of our perseverance, our suffering, and our character, which has grown in light of those things. We are able to lead particularly when times are hard because it is not foreign to us. We don’t overlook suffering or run from it. We know we can’t escape it—we are vulnerable simply because of our gender and, of course, due to our ethnic identity. Thus, there are ways we can uniquely lead people who are experiencing darkness, vulnerability, or death for the first time. This is just a part of our existence.
Women of color have shown that they have a deep and rich faith that has been refined because of their perseverance, their suffering, and their character, which has grown in light of those things. Click To Tweet
Latasha Morrison, founder of Be the Bridge and author of the New York Times best-selling book of the same name, writes the following in her forward to Voices of Lament:
“From first contact to the current racial climate in the United States, Women of Color have been victims of suppression and oppression. As a result, we have been long-suffering. Through the generations, our existence has been the source of disdain. Our bodies and our minds have suffered through the centuries, but despite generational suffering, we have held onto hope and belief that we are more than our oppressors’ opinion of us.”
Why is it it that holding onto hope and the belief that you are more than the opinion of oppressors is so critical for survival?
Natasha: The historical reality is, that in the United States of America, white men with power, position, and wealth (landowners originally) had the power to name and to define where, how, and if one belongs. We are then socialized into thinking about how to define other people (women, people of color, immigrants) by how the people with power, money, privilege, and land have named them. The naming happens first, and then the narratives are crafted. Out of those narratives we get myths, and we get stereotyped. A lot of these narratives are lies, but because they are told so explicitly, intentionally, and consistently, we all start to believe them. The narratives become the norm in how we see others.
The historical reality is, that in the United States of America, white men with power, position, and wealth (landowners originally) had the power to name and to define where, how, and if one belongs. Click To Tweet
The flip side is to raise the bar. In this book we are defining the terms, telling the truth, naming the realities, and speaking out against these narratives because we are using our own voices—voices of lament—to tell the truth about ourselves and our own people. We are doing that with dignity, honor, and respect. We are saying, “This is the truth I am going to tell you about myself.”
Lisa: My journey is very different than yours, Natasha. I am biracial and “White-passing.” And so, as a woman often mistaken as White, I want to note that my experience is different than my African American sisters, and I stand in awe of the strength of the African American women in my life who have endured the worst of the oppression and suppression.
Though our ethnicities are different, we have in common that we are women. The oppression (suppression) for women comes at times in being overlooked in the context of men. For example, on numerous occasions I’ve not been introduced or greeted when in a circle of men. Other times, being overlooked is experienced as being seen as helpers to our male colleagues rather than the leaders of projects, churches, or organizations. When we are overlooked whether literally or figuratively, the end result is loss. What could serve as building up the body of faith instead becomes a barrier to flourishing.
Holding onto hope is our form of resistance. We resist the oppression and suppression by believing the truth about ourselves, by holding out hope and belief that we are women made in God’s image and that God has a uniquely designed, powerful future—and present—for us that we are courageous enough to live into. The role of hope and belief reminds me of Resurrection—this is part and parcel for us as women of faith.
Holding onto hope is our form of resistance. We resist by believing the truth about ourselves, holding out hope and belief that we are women made in God’s image and that God has a uniquely designed, powerful future—and present—for us. Click To Tweet
What was the genesis of this project’s inception? What provoked you to gather a community of women of color to contribute to a shared, communal lament? How has this community impacted you?
Lisa: The unique thing about this project is that it is not just a compilation of content; it is a community of women that you, Natasha, have cultivated so that we can together experience the sisterhood that sustains us. This has happened through a global pandemic; the summer of 2020 with the murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery; and everything that followed.
Natasha: Add into this the continued hatred of and violence against Asian Americans, the immigration crisis at our border, the historical reality of countless Indigenous children buried under boarding schools, and the debate over CRT—we have a lot to lament!
Lisa: There can be a disconnectedness that happens between women of color as a result of power and patriarchy. I can feel like I don’t know where to belong in primarily male, white spaces. The gift of this book has been re-engaging community with women of color who are in very similar circumstances to the ones I am in. The spiritual community that you, Natasha, have cultivated over the last two years is a sustaining force.
Natasha: Let the church say “Amen!”
How has the white American evangelical church contributed to the violence and oppression that women of color feel in their own land?
Lisa: Our stories are often not believed. We will tell the truth about our stories and many times they will be dismissed. From a more theological perspective, the White Evangelical church for decades taught and lived a partial gospel that bifurcated the spiritual from the social dimensions of faith. I’ve witnessed a shifting in more recent years, and there is now a greater understanding in some spaces that the spiritual and the social are not separate, but integrated deeply.
When we are marching and protesting, we are praying. When we are advocating in the halls of Congress, we are praying. This is as much of a spiritual practice as when we are on our faces before the Lord or in the Word of God. One is as formative spiritually as the other if we are surrendered to Christ in the process. But believing that what I do out in the public square for the common good is not Christian or spiritual has done women of color wrong, contributing to our oppression.
When we are marching and protesting, we are praying. When we are advocating in the halls of Congress, we are praying. This is as much of a spiritual practice as when we are on our faces before the Lord or in the Word of God. Click To Tweet
What did you learn personally while editing this project?
Natasha: There is a lot of hard content in this book. I am learning that people are not a monolith. I learned about the historical reality of things like the continued exploitation of the Hmong people of Vietnam as a result of our government’s and military’s wicked actions. As an American who has served in the Marine Corps, this is grievous to me—I found myself repenting to our author, Ka Richards, in my editorial comments to her work. I had no idea of this exploitation. The justification given to our nation when we exploit others is that this is for the “benefit of all Americans,” but people have sacrificed their lives in ways that we don’t even know! People in other countries—toward whom we are violent when they immigrate to our land—those same people have sacrificed and fought for our nation’s behalf, and we don’t even know this truth! This makes me sad and angry.
Lisa: That is the right response.
People in other countries—toward whom we are violent when they immigrate to our land—those same people have sacrificed and fought for our nation’s behalf, and we don’t even know this truth! Click To Tweet
In your introduction, you write:
“I know what it feels like when the thief of death uninvitedly climbs in through my window. I am a Black woman who is the daughter of a Black man, the wife of a Black man, the sister to my mother’s Black son. From poor education to mass incarceration, Black women know what it is like for our men to be taken out of the public square. When a Black man is shot in the streets, I don’t care who pulled the trigger—that is cause for our wailing. As a collective, Women of Color know that we are vulnerable, and the people whom we love are vulnerable too. We know that there is no fortress, no police, no policy, no president, no government that fights for us. God is our Strong Tower!”
How can we listen, internalize, and bear witness to the generational pain and systemic injustice that have suppressed/oppressed women of color since America’s inception?
Natasha: This project is not only a multiethnic, multicultural work—it is an intergenerational work. Particularly for the elders among us, I asked for them to speak from a position of authority and certainty, because of the life they have lived. God is our refuge and strength—our very present help in times of trouble. This is a central way I want to anchor people.
Listening and acting are both important, in particular, regarding systemic injustices. But some people in their privilege can choose to remain ignorant. We, as women of color, do not have that luxury—that is dangerous for us. As Christians, we have to take action to respond to systemic injustice as righteous truth-tellers. As women of color, we have born witness to what it means to be blameless (but not perfect!), living in the truth that can set us free. Truth-telling is an important Christian ethic that we have lost. We must recover it.
 Latasha Morrison, forward of Voices of Lament (Natasha Sistrunk-Robinson, editor), p. 9
 “White-passing is when someone perceives a BIPOC person (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) as a white person, for whatever reason.” (PureWow, “What Is White-Passing (and Is It Actually An Offensive Term?)” Chelsea Candelario, Dec 4, 2020)
 Natasha Sistrunk-Robinson, Voices of Lament, p. 17