Weep With Me [a review]
Discussions about statistics, social movements like Black Lives Matter, or policing aren't off the table. But part of the problem is that we often come to the topic of race without empathy. And that's not just a racial problem. That's a human problem.
— Mark Vroegop
One of the blessings of Covid season is that it has forced many white people, myself included, to pay attention to the racial injustices that occur in our country without looking away. Some white folks look on, shocked and horrified that this is real, that George Floyd really was suffocated to death in front of a camera for the whole world to see. Others look on, also disturbed, but angrily point out, "This man is no saint! He wrote a bad check! Let's not make him out to be some kind of martyr!" Still others are so determined to look away that they would rather drown themselves in the endless deluge of worse-than-B-grade movies on Amazon Prime as a last-ditch effort to keep their attention occupied with something else—anything else.
The conversations I've had since Floyd's death have basically fallen into two categories: people in agreement with one another that it was yet another example of a black man being killed unjustly, or else people trying to convince you that you're a cultural marxist for even considering the thought of marching for black lives. These conversations can quickly devolve into sparring matches over whether Critical Race Theory is a great and obvious evil or whether it can be used to effectively highlight oppression in our society. They can get off track because someone will bring up that you can't repent of a sin you didn't commit and you never owned slaves so stop trying to layer on the white guilt already. Sometimes the conversations go to Oprah Winfrey and Al Sharpton and good grief we had a black man in the white house—Obama!
But you want to know where those conversations don't go? Lament. Sorrow. Weeping. And that's exactly where we should go, argues Mark Vroegop in his new book, Weep With Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation. There's a time and a place for having a conversation about which presidential candidate is best for this moment, or which policies will most effectively work against racism. But first and foremost, our responsibility as majority culture Christians—as human beings—is not to try to solve the problem or explain it away, but to empathize. Not to try to find some justification for someone's death, but to try to respond the way God does in Psalm 116:15: "The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die" (NLT). To try to bias toward the attitude of Psalm 72:14: "He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him" (NLT).
If you're looking for a book examining whether Critical Race Theory is the anti-American threat that the Trump Administration claims it is, this is not the book you're looking for. If you're looking for a book that will tell you that you're really not a racist and that you're actually doing pretty good and all this is kind of overblown, this isn't it. This isn't even the book for you if you're trying to educate yourself about the issues and the history and present-day conflicts. If, however, you're feeling this overwhelming weight of sadness and grief and anger and confusion and horror and you don't know what to do with it all, this is the book for you. Each chapter ends with a lament that puts helpful words to the emotions and the tensions and the challenges of all this, but out of the lament rises hope. Vroegop writes as a pastor to Christians who feel lost in how to respond.
The book is broken into three parts, each having just three chapters: Lament in the Bible and History, Lament and Majority Christians, and Lament and Minority Christians. As a side note, if I have one criticism of the book, it's that these two latter sections feel a little awkwardly lumped together. Lament is a vital part of the Christian life for all of us, but frankly it feels a little weird to hear a white pastor teaching black congregants how to lament (he acknowledges the dicy nature of that and in my opinion does a reasonably good and humble job of it, but my opinion matters very little here). It also kind of feels like you're reading someone else's mail when you're reading the section not written for you. I don't know that it diminishes my overall perspective of the book, but it just was a bit strange.
All that said, I came away from this book with the impression that this is the resource I have been looking for. It would have been fantastic if it had come out earlier this summer when I was leading a racial justice book club, because it includes thought-provoking questions in each chapter as well as the laments mentioned above. Overall, his humble tone is simply a refreshment in what is often a very heated, angry conversation. It was exactly the voice I needed to hear right now. It's solid, and I would encourage you to pick up a copy and read it with folks in your community.
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.