I’ve noticed an obnoxious religious expression gaining popularity among my colleagues and other religious types. I hear it every time we gather, so much so that it’s now a cliché. I’m not fond of trite, theological sayings. I loathe them. Phrases that mask our emotions and gussy up our true feelings in a fancy-sounding liturgical language only make it harder for regular people to come to terms with the trauma they’re experiencing. What do I mean? 

“Season of Lament” is a saying that combines the word “season” with (lament) or another pretentious religious or Biblical word. It sounds polite, discrete, and refined. Above all, it is detached from reality. It’s word salad, indicative of my denomination’s ongoing inability to be authentic and honest about its divisions and why many (on both sides of the theological spectrum) are angry with mainline Protestantism. We hide behind our language. Friendly, well-educated people say nice, comforting things. I agree, in principle. However, when your world is going to hell in a handbasket, it’s okay to acknowledge it in something other than a quiet, respectful monotone. It’s okay to scream and say something other than scripted lines designed never to offend the failing status quo.

I’ve read the Diary of Anne Frank, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Each of these works describes living through hell on earth. None of them ever use the phrase “season of lament” or “season” of anything. But, they do tell the reader, in no uncertain terms, how bad it sucks to live and die in a concentration camp or Stalinist purge. I find their honesty refreshing. We’re afraid to say how lousy life is and it sometimes sucks, that we’re in crummy situations, and there’s not a damn thing most of us can do about it. We can acknowledge the present while admitting hope for the future, however feeble those calls for hope might be. Isn’t that the point of the minor prophets? I think so.

I don’t trust the overzealous merchants of hope who give “seasonal” lipservice to the realities of the present. We’ve got to get through today, tonight, and tomorrow. The present sucks. People have cancer today. They will die tomorrow. It’s not a season. It’s now.

–Richard Bryant

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