By Erin Betlej
A few months ago I completed a coaching cohort through The Youth Cartel with my bearded friend, Mark Oestreicher. One of the objectives of the cohort was to walk away with a set of professional vocational values. With a recent pastoral change, I’ve had cause to pull them out and look them over again. One of them caught my eye:
I hunger for the church to use her voice to bear witness to the beauty and the mess in the world. Seeing the world as a mess is not enough; there must be active reconciliation. I believe with frustration as the catalyst, the church is God’s tool to enact this reconciliation through lasting compassion and justice in the world. For the church to use her voice, it means that I must use my voice with confidence in who God created me to be.
Well, shoot. It’s no wonder I have simultaneously wanted to yell out while at the same time be silent with my grief over the violence and hatred active in the world. It’s drawing out a response in me from the very core of who I am.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a worship service to lament our brokenness, and cling to our love. The service was the result of a vision held by two local church communities — one black and one white (neither of which I serve or participate in). As the community gathered together in one space, you could feel the atmosphere change. We were on holy ground. The first steps of reconciliation were happening right before my eyes. And yet I sat weeping in my seat, watching the combined choir sing. As I saw this particular group of people, obviously not satisfied with status quo, I began to scribble questions all over my bulletin:
- Why does it take a tragedy for different races to build a bridge and come together to worship?
- Why isn’t this normal?
- We are making disciples, but what are we actually transforming with them?
- How broken are we that people have to die before we look like the Kingdom of God?
- If we are experiencing the same emotions (fear, confusion, sadness, helplessness), why can’t we talk about it with one another?
- How do I lead my youth?
- What would conversations about these issues with my youth even look like?
- What is my role in this brokenness? How have I contributed to the systemic issues?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. My heart grieves because I want to know the answers, yet also know the hard road that authentic transformation actually is for me personally and us communally.
But I do know this with confidence: simply acknowledging and grieving over the mess of the world is not enough. We must be active, with our youth, with our congregations, and with our communities, to model and seek out reconciliation. Create space for conversation even if you fumble through it. Use your rumblings of discontent to take appropriate risks and continue to develop the Kingdom of God. Hope is present in lament. Let’s be salt and light in the midst of the violence.