Strange Sounds & the Messiness in the Middle

An old saying among black folks is that we laugh to keep from crying.  We sing and dance in defiance to the dreadfulness of our days.  Our joy protests the persistent suffering and instability that has so often shaded our path.  Frustratingly, it has left many of us disappointed because we know that there are those who cannot tell the difference between our laughter and tears.  There are those who count our joy as nothing more than a mask for our hysteria at life’s futility.

In our last installment, my colleague Ryan Bonfiglio wrote to us about the difficulties in discerning the sounds of the people in the crowd.  He lifted for us the oddness of a particular occasion – the weeping and the joy expressed – as the exiles returned home to rebuild their ruined temple.

As we continue to dream of some version of a post-pandemic life, it bears wondering if the sounds we are hearing are joy or mourning?  Perhaps it is both – the odd juxtaposition of these two – grief and gratitude.

This is the irony that punctuates our humanity in these days. How do we manage our emotions and honor those of others during these trying times?  Where do we find the balance between acknowledging the sheer dread of what is going on in the world while energizing toward hope?

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, fold men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. [1]

Ezra 3:11-13

This is the challenge of pastoring in these strange times.  Do we open and gather, or do we continue virtually?  Is hybrid worth the effort – Lord knows it’s a lot of extra labor?  Will we every turn the corner on this horrible virus?

While we long to be with our people again, we are also concerned that we may not have learned well the lessons that the past year has taught us. While we celebrate the shifting paradigms, we mourn the human costs. We laud the possibility of revolution, or some reformation, as we secretly tremble at the thought of collateral damage.

We cannot separate the two, neither can we synthesize some happy medium – and maybe we should stop trying.  Maybe it’s time out for us to abandon our goals of normalcy and ease – let the myths die. Things are a mess, our churches are a mess, we are mess, and things will not improve quickly.

But we do have the hope of the Gospel, and the blessing of the Incarnation, and the presence of the Spirit to remind us that God is with us in all our messiness. God rejoices with us, but also weeps with us.  God delights in us but also mourns over us – God’s grace is enough.

Christ’s triumph, then becomes that much more meaningful, when we stop avoiding all the messiness in the middle.  I know it is brutally uncomfortable as we live in that terrible space between what was and what will be – but God is with us in the middle.  Even as Christ was crucified between two thieves, one repentant and the other not so much,  God is with us in the middle. Can we suffer with Him?

So then, in these disturbing times, I find myself in a similar place to where I was at during the onset of this pandemic and amid the political and social unrest that dotted our timelines.  Each moment is a seesawing of emotions ranging from hopeful anticipation to grave consternation.  Spinning, tumbling, reeling, pausing to rest… only to begin again – and looking ever hopefully to Jesus.

In the days to come, pastor – you will likely struggle to make sense of the noise of the crowds. Heck -you will struggle within your own heart and mind – but know this – God is with us amid our confusion and contradictions, and while we are waiting on answers and direction – we may all receive this comfort. God is with us, and grace is enough.

God bless you all and be kind to yourselves.



f Hag. 2:3

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ezr 3:11–13.

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