When Abnormal Normalizes
October 13, 2022 | Jim Angehr
Let’s double click on something that I mentioned during last Sunday’s sermon, namely that there have been a couple particular instances recently that have been points of lament for me.
For one, I happened to be in Atlanta (because church meetings) on the day that Hurricane Ian touched down in Florida. As they should have, all of the pastors at that gathering began saying that we should “pray for the hurricane.”
The rub for me, however, was that I didn’t want to. Not because I’m actually in favor of widespread natural disasters and devastation. Simply put, I’m feeling beleaguered by the accumulated weight and sadness caused by the seeming acceleration of the rate ecological crisis. Do I have to pray for something like this again?
One gets numb, doesn’t one? Every time I pray for people and regions rocked by floods, by earthquakes, by wildfires, by heat waves, by flash freezes, by tornadoes, by tropical storms, by hurricanes, by tsunamis, by landslides, by thunderstorms, by volcanoes, by famines, and by droughts, it’s harder to pray for the next one.
Nevertheless, in that Atlanta conference room, I prayed for the hurricane. Again.
Skip back up north, to Casa Angehr. At different points this fall, all three of my at-home children have asked Emily or me at various times, “How’s Ukraine going?,” and that while they’re doing homework, texting a friend, folding laundry.
I recognize that throughout history, children have been subjected to hardship far beyond what they deserve and light years past what they can be expected to process, but still, “How’s Ukraine?” is a heartbreaking question for me to field from my kids––not only due to the war itself but because I’m witnessing in real time my son and daughters becoming normalized to what they should never have to be. When “How’s Ukraine going?” is sandwiched between “What’s for dinner?” and “Can I have $5 for Wawa?”, you know that the world has turned.
Consider this a two part blog post. For today, I’ll merely raise the question, What do we do when tragedy normalizes?, and offer an initial thought about potential ways forward.
Not fun for us to need to do, but we can recognize the need for a bigger “tragedy toolbox,” because crises aren’t going away anytime soon. Jesus famously quoted from the ancient book of Deuteronomy when he remarked, “The poor you will always have with you.” Ruefully, we now welcome the increased pace of crisis to the same, sad shindig.
In light of the current state of our world, I encourage you to consider the biblical concept of lament. Lament has lots of similar-looking cousins, but it’s not reactionary anger, fast-flaming finger pointing, or hot take takedowns. Instead, lament is an intentional and deeply felt internal registration of tragedy that decries what’s happened both in view of standards of justice and also before the face of God. Lament holds off on reaching for quick fixes or immediate revenge but waits solemnly for a greater reckoning and renewal. It gives voice to grief while at the same time refusing to grant it last word.
Jesus, our Man of Sorrows, was a frequent lamentor. Seek him, also, in your lament.
And pray for the hurricane. Pray for Ukraine.