Apart from wartime, it may be difficult for some in a majority culture to grasp the concept of corporate lament. In American, for instance, many—if not most—Anglos will probably not feel deep-seated grief when tragedy befalls another Anglo, as bad as they might feel for that person. It tends not to be internal, personal grief.
Outside the Olympics (when we all celebrate as Americans) those in a majority culture rarely celebrate based on shared race, ethnicity, and other cultural definers. As I’ve heard, “Why would I feel good or bad for someone just because they’re white? I don’t see another person’s color.” Accordingly, then, expressing this kind of deep empathy, or celebration, is usually reserved for family and close friends.
In my experience and observation, many minorities in America feel an affinity with those who share their cultural background whether they have ever met in person or not. There is something about being part of a minority community where not much explanation needs to be given as to why you laugh, smile, or shake your head over shared experiences. You just get it. And, there’s a shared closeness of knowing that others get it too, even if no one outside of your culture does.
This shared closeness is what produces joyful expressions like Black Twitter (which I as a Korean-American enjoy even if sometimes I need to hit Wikipedia or urban dictionary to fully get it). It’s what makes my attention perk up in anticipation when I hear there’s a chance of a Korean kid on the West Coast with a legit shot at making the pros in some sport other than golf.
The same shared closeness goes for weeping and lament.
It’s the sorrow of a tragic death, for whatever reason, of a young black man. The mourning of his parents who never wanted their child to grow up to be “hashtag famous.” Though there may be no actual blood relation involved, many experience the deep pain and sorrow as if it were their own. Because they understand the different levels of grief and sorrow without anyone needing to explain to them, they mourn as if it’s happening to family. That’s corporate lament.
Corporate lament is not just a conversation or debate point. It’s not the result of something trending on social media. It’s all too real for too many. It’s the stuff of nightmares keeping many up at night thinking of their own families as systems they’ve been taught to trust seem to have failed them once again. In cities like my own (Baltimore), it’s something evil happening. Our community is affected at a horrifying rate. Some would say systemic injustice has devalued the lives of an entire community of people (but that’s a conversation for another day). Regardless of the why, we mourn.
Corporate lament is pictured in the book Lamentations as Jews in exile lamented the loss of their former existence. Note the uses of we, my people, the people, and our, denoting corporate pain:
The hearts of the people cry out to the Lord. Wall of Daughter Zion, let your tears run down like a river day and night. Give yourself no relief and your eyes no rest. (2:18)
We have experienced panic and pitfall, devastation and destruction. My eyes flow with streams of tears because of the destruction of my dear people. (3:47, 48)
Joy has left our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. (5:15, all CSB)
(Lamentations records Israel being punished for sin, but punishment need not be a factor in corporate lament. Suffering apart from sin is often the basis.)
For Christians and the Church: May we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. This is the empathy Scripture calls us to. We would never tell someone who has lost a loved one to war, for instance, that the way she is mourning is wrong or needs to be better thought out. Imagine how you would want others to treat you when your mother, father, brother, sister, or close friend dies, and allow the same mourning space to others—especially those you consider your family of faith.
May our churches be places where those who grieve experience the greatest comfort of our suffering Savior. May the people of God be marked by peace and healing in a time so rife with chaos and division. In a culture where the Church can feel so shallow for some, may our demonstration of corporate lament in the Church be a cleansing and purifying sign of God’s Spirit of reconciliation at work within us.
Featured image credit, edited for size.