As I began to read the history of Lindy Hop I was blown away at Lindy’s roots within the African American community in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance Era. This is my attempt to make sense of ways in which this community can teach us to think and act in theologically innovative ways. This is part one of three. I think.
Even more futile than explaining pastoral theology is explaining the difficulties of theodicy to an individual or group of people experiencing crisis. I think specifically of a father at Duke Hospital, tears streaming down his face, unable to see his daughter as she bled profusely following the birth of a healthy son. He looked me square in the face and asked, “Why can’t I go back and see her? Why is this happening? Where is God?” In these moments there are no correct answers. One thing we can do is join in the other’s experience, legitimizing it as we join in a lament as old as human history: “Why is this happening? God where are you?” These painfully disorienting moments are ripe with opportunity for discourse with God, as the acknowledgement of negative realities are catalysts for the most profound professions of faith.
Despite our deepest yearnings, our world is hopelessly disoriented; children are slaughtered in their schools, parents are faced with an empty seat before the tree on Christmas morning. Tragedy is part of human experience; no wonder Jewish Scripture devotes an entire literary genre to lament. As Walter Brueggemann notes in the Message of the Psalms, psalms of lament claim all things, even the gravest tragedy, belong in conversation with God. Speaking the truth to God about ones situation is not an unfaithful act, but a bold professions of faith. Speaking about life as it is demands humanity experience life as it is (joy and crisis alike) amidst a conversation with the divine. This act of inviting conversation about life’s tragedies with God and community offers opportunities for healing in a communal sharing of the human experience.
One reason it remains difficult for the Christian community to absorb the suffering of tragedies such as Sandy Hook is because we have yet to learn the skills of faithful lament from suffering communities who have gone before us. There is a conversation between Israel and Adonai, slaves and God, Indians and the Great Spirit but this conversation is not ours, neither is it our experience. No, we must learn to listen in on a conversation not our own. Hearing the stories of a particular community’s’ faithful lament offers us the opportunity to live faithfully in the midst of our own crisis. One such community is the African American population within the United States. With the first caravel stealing Africans as property, centuries of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and the state of implicit racism today, African Americans have bore the brunt of American hostility, their marks of oppression outwardly visible. The African American community has much to teach us in the ways of faithful lament and protest, if we bring ourselves to listen to the story. So gather ’round and listen well to the story of Lindy Hop’s beginnings amidst the cultural revolution known as the Harlem Renaissance.