Learning the Language of Lament (Ashley Hales)

Learning the Language of Lament (Ashley Hales) June 16, 2020

Isn’t it funny how writers who signed up six months ago are all of the sudden, divinely filling this space now? Like last week’s guest writer, I’m delighted to host my dear friend, queen of the suburbs, Ashley Hales. She’s got a way with words, and perhaps like many of us, she’s learning a new language of lament in this season. Proceeds from today’s post go toward Preemptive Love

The world has been torn to pieces. COVID-19. Wars about wearing a mask. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Protests. Looting. Tear gas for a presidential photo op.

What does one white woman from the suburbs do? How do I fight for justice? How can I first listen and learn and lament in a culture that has no words for such things? How, instead, we have wars on social media about who is right and who is wrong.

I wonder if our fighting is just a mask for our deep guttural cry that the world is not as it should be. It’s easier to fight than to be sad. It’s easier to do, do, do than listen. It’s easier to be loud than quiet. But learning the language of lament as a white mother begins in a humble spot.

I brought my children to a neighborhood vigil after George Floyd was killed. We wore our masks. We kneeled on the ground. We wore black. We tried to keep our candles lit, but the wind kept putting them out. It seemed altogether too small an offering and too small of an event. We felt untethered. Were we doing this all wrong? Perhaps.

I’ve muted my social media, not gotten into it with those who want to parse words on Facebook. I’ve supported my husband through hard conversations around how the gospel means we care about our hurting brothers and sisters, and we’ve had our fair share of challenging conversations around words like privilege, justice, and gospel. It does not feel enough to anchor us in a tumultuous world.

I’ve handed out books to white friends. I’m reading new ones. Words, the currency writers and revolutionaries traffic in, feel too small and too big – like we cannot get our common humanity inside of them to converse together anymore.

We do our small things with love. I take out the book of Psalms and pray the words. In my minivan, we talk about racism and what it means that my boys will grow up to be white men. I do not have the same conversations as the mother of a black boy. But I cannot ignore these conversations every time a black man or woman is killed anymore.

I think about how, Brandon Washington, an African American pastor in Denver, Colorado, talked on a recent podcast about not having the luxury to wear a hoodie or a homemade mask. How no one would see the pastor, the academic — they’d simply see a threat.

My sons do not have to worry about the color of their skin making them a threat. My boys will grow up with privilege. Doors will open to them with their blue eyes and blonde hair. And yet the call of the gospel is always to move in the direction that Jesus moves.

Jesus moves from privilege to poverty. He moves from heavenly riches to human limits. He moves towards the lepers, the outcast, the extortionists, the prostitutes, the demon-possessed, the uneducated, the haughty. To all of us he comes.

He does not wait to make sure we are doing this holy living thing alright.

So what does one white woman in the suburbs do with the rent fabric of our social and national lives? She offers them up, one-by-one, to a God who sees. She gets out of the way. She has the conversation. She reads. She repents. She prays for those who do not see justice and mercy as the lived reality of the kingdom of God. She seeks to learn and listen. She prays for her own hard heart that wants to curl into comfort instead of speaking up.

These are small things. The problems are too big and we are too small. But as we do them together, may they unite like the mighty streams of justice that roll down and down. Jesus, after all, can do this. Come, Lord Jesus.

Ashley Hales holds a PhD in English, is wife to a pastor, mom to 4, and host of the Finding Holy Podcast. She’s the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and A Spacious Life (forthcoming from IVP in 2021). Connect on IG or Twitter at @aahales. 

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