In this episode of As In Heaven, hosts Jim Davis and Mike Aitcheson welcome Mark Vroegop to discuss the role of lament in the conversation on race and justice. Mark shares his experience with exploring lament in the Bible and the Christian life, including how empathy and sympathy serve the conversation on race. Mark shares a helpful framework on how he thinks about racial reconciliation—love, listen, learn, lament, and leverage. Together, they address:
- An introduction to Mark Vroegop (1:16)
- Catalytic moments that drove Mark’s faith journey (4:18)
- Why write about lament (5:53)
- Leading others to lament as a pastor (8:54)
- Preparing your soul for lament (12:42)
- Defining empathy (14:39)
- Experiences that led to Mark’s book on lament (19:55)
- Lament in community (22:11)
- Lament in minority cultures (24:23)
- Lament and racial reconciliation (32:08)
- When lament leads to reconciliation (33:45)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of race.
- Have you ever lamented? If so, when and under what circumstances? How did God use that in your life?
- How do sympathy and empathy relate to lament?
- Why is lament important in how we approach the conversation about racial reconciliation?
- What does it look like to love, listen, and learn in the conversation about racial reconciliation?
- What does it look like to lament and leverage with an aim toward racial reconciliation?
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Mark Vroegop: There are few things more glorious, more attractive, more compelling about the gospel than when people love each other and come together in the midst of categories that in the culture just tragically keep us apart. And I think it could be a beautiful thing if the church could be more inclined to have the story of the church now look like the story of the church in Heaven.
Matt Kenyon: You’re listening to As In Heaven, a Christian conversation on race and justice. In this episode, we welcome Mark Vroegop to discuss the role of lament in the conversation on race and justice. Mark shares his own experience with lament and how that set him on a journey to explore lament more in the Bible and in the Christian life. He talks about how empathy and sympathy relate to lament and how essential they are in engaging in a helpful conversation on race. Jim Davis and Mike Aitcheson are your hosts, Mike Graham is the executive producer of the show. My name is Matt and I’m the technical producer. And now, please enjoy this episode of As in Heaven with Mark Vroegop.
Jim Davis: Hi, welcome to As in Heaven, my name is Jim Davis, my co-host today is Mike Aitcheson, and I feel like I need to recognize our executive producer, Mike Graham, our technical producer, Matt Kenyon, who work very hard behind the scenes, we’re very thankful for them. And we are joined today by Mark Vroegop. Mark is the lead pastor at College Park Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. You are the author of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament which is the ECPA Book of the Year and Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation. You’re also a council member for The Gospel Coalition, and you write there, you write a number of other number of other places. You are married to your wife, Sarah, you have three sons, a daughter, and a daughter-in-law. Mark, thank you so much for joining us today.
Mark Vroegop: Guys, thanks for having me on, glad to be a part of this conversation.
Jim Davis: And just for the record, did I pronounce your name better than your good friend, Jonathan Leeman?
Mark Vroegop: Well, you pronounced it correctly. Jonathan uses a little different pronunciation that we’ll have to ask him where he gets that from. But as is often the case, my name is mispronounced nearly every day, and so that’s fine. Lots of grace for that.
Jim Davis: Well, we’re excited to have you today. We really want to talk with you about the importance of empathy, sympathy and lament, especially in a community. This is something that you’ve written a lot about, we know that you’ve exercised in your local church and your community. We’re really thankful to have you come and talk with us today, but before we dive right into that, I really just wanted to ask you to tell us a little bit more about your church background growing up.
Mark Vroegop: I was privileged to be raised in a Christian home and my parents gave me every benefit of what it means to be a person under the tutelage of Christ followers. My parents were involved in a Bible study group called Bible Study Fellowship where my mom was a teaching leader. So along with our local church influence, I grew up in a home where every Monday night, my mom was going to be teaching about 400 women, a section of the Bible.
Mark Vroegop: And so, her study method was to get the best sermons from John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, listened to those in the car and I just thought that’s how every kid in America grew up. And it was a really important part of my own formation, and when I came to faith in Christ, my call to ministry happened at the exact same time. And I grew up in a Baptist church in Southwest Michigan, where the gospel was preached faithfully, evangelism was really important. I saw the body life lived out of that church in a way that was special. Wasn’t a perfect church by any stretch, but it was a place where I was able to see Christ lived out in the lives of people and folks who are really hungry to follow Jesus faithfully. And so, I’m thankful for that heritage, and it’s one that I try and even instill in the hearts and lives of my own children today, knowing that that story of being raised in that home is a great privilege and a great blessing.
Mike Aitcheson: Thanks Jim and Mark. Mark, in your story, as you reflect, were there any catalytic moments where you found that your faith came alive in deeper ways, any moments, circumstances surrounding it that you could share with us?
Mark Vroegop: Yeah. I remember the intersection of my life with other people. My senior pastor for instance, took me underneath his wing and tutelage. And so, instead of it being a signature particular moment, it was more of a long journey of weekly messages, life on life ministry, and people also just pouring into me in a way that was really significant and special. I was given my first opportunity to preach, I think I was 17 years old and then went off to college, and it was there really where I was able to see the intersection of what the Bible says clearly through study of original languages and things of that sort, and then to see how to apply that in the context of the church ministry.
Mark Vroegop: So that was really significant. Beyond my educational experience, was given the opportunity to pastor a church in Western Michigan, and God really used that congregation to love on us, and us on them. And through that story, loss of our daughter in 2004, would be part of the reason of why I discovered lament, and that actually was a pretty seminal moment in my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in the midst of hardship and suffering.
Mike Aitcheson: Thank you for sharing that Mark. So to that end, can you share just a little bit more about the experiences that you had that led you to write Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament?
Mark Vroegop: Yeah. In God’s hard providence, 2004 we had a stillborn daughter, her name is Sylvia. She was 39 weeks in gestation and after having twin boys that were born at 39 weeks themselves, so they were six pounds, seven ounces and six pounds, 11 ounces, think of that much baby inside my wife’s womb. And then another son that was born, no complications whatsoever, this situation, this loss just hit us, blindsighted us. And with all my theological training and also still trying to pastor a church, I found this gap in terms of how we were processing grief and also how people were trying to help us process through grief. It well-meaning people who just didn’t know what to do with the hard questions that we were wrestling with and this lingering grief that just wasn’t going away. And then we had multiple miscarriages, a blighted ovum. It’s a long, long journey.
Honestly, talking to the Lord about my struggles and my difficulties, and at the time, I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was a theologically trained pastor and I didn’t have a category for this language of lament. And as I began to process that grief and teach on how to think about how we should process our sorrows and particularly some of the darker Psalms, it was then that I discovered this language, that now looking back on my life, I could say, “Oh, this is what I was doing, this is what was happening.”
And I find that that story is pretty familiar for most people. Most of us don’t seek to study lament, usually lament finds us. And the one thing that I’ve heard more than anything else is my book on lament has helped to explain to people what’s been going on in their life over the last number of years. And so, through that, I began to discover that there’s really grace that’s available to us in this biblical language of sorrow, both in the Psalms, Lamentations and other sections of the scripture, and it became a life giving prayer language for me and other people, which is why I wrote the book, I just want to help other people discover this grace.
Jim Davis: Well, I appreciate your book and what you’re saying, because I’ve realized I still count myself maybe on the younger side of pastoring, I’m probably on that line somewhere. But I’m realizing how few people really understand how to go to God when you’re scared, and confused, and angry and everything you’re saying about Psalms and Lamentations, God gives us the tools to be able to come and ask him the hard things and to say some very hard things. So I really appreciate that. I see that as a real need, maybe more now than historically, because we’re pain averse and hurt averse in a new way in the West. So thank you for saying that and for sharing a little bit about Sylvia.
Mark Vroegop: You’re welcome.
Mike Aitcheson: Mark, as you were describing that, I just quickly thought about some of the people that I know who have traveled that journey in similar. My wife was a NICU nurse for years, and so she was certainly no stranger to being on the front lines of seeing tragedy and triumph, sometimes in the same night. And what I found just as I’m learning to be a pastor, some of the most difficult times for me in pastoring has been figuring out what to say and what not to say when it comes to suffering that involves pregnancy, whether it’s miscarriage, or stillbirth, or infertility. Is there any unique things that you would say to a pastor who stumbles and bumbles into that unprepared? What are some of the unique hurts and questions people ask as it relates to that?
Mark Vroegop: Pregnancy, childbirth, fertility, all of those things are so deeply and uniquely personal. There’s all kinds of pains in life, and this happens to be one that is both deeply connected to hopes, and dreams, and what you would want to have happened, and it also relates to personal identity things, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us? Why did this happen?” So there’s so many layers, it’s not a harder pain than maybe losing a family member to cancer, or a tragic loss, or some other kind of pain in life, it’s a different set of experiences and challenges.
And I think pastorally there’s wisdom in applying the concepts of helping people with their grief uniquely in this space by being sure that we’re present, that we communicate how deeply sorry that we are, that we resist the urge to make connections between things to help bring resolution to the pain. I think it’s really important for us to be okay just to sit in the pain and to realize that lament is a journey and we’re on it as we’re walking through pain and to allow people to walk through some of their difficult and dark questions without panicking.
Because many of us who are followers of Jesus, we have this idea that really following Jesus doesn’t mean you wrestle with deep questions or dark struggles about God’s purposes. Talk about two ditches, the ditch of denial, where they come to church and like, “Hey, everything’s fine,” when it isn’t, or despair, like if I have these feelings, then I must not be a Christian. And lament gives us a language to process those, and those are really important when you’re a mom who’s lost a baby and you have to go to your first baby shower, or a friend of yours says, “We’re pregnant,” and you want to rejoice, but inside it’s a very difficult thing, or if month after month, you’re attempting to get pregnant and then find out that you’re not, that’s not something that you would just share every single month.
And so, there’s this regular ongoing grieving that’s taking place. And it’s easy to forget that behind the veil of the put together person that you see, or your friend is a person who’s really deeply struggling. And I think it’s wise, and right, and helpful to lean into that pain if we’re allowed to not lean away from it. And lament is one of the ways to think about what that might look like or how we could pray in the midst of those challenging moments.
Mike Aitcheson: Mark, those are some wise and encouraging words, brother, and you’ve taken us down that direction, that path of lament a little bit more. So I want to ask you, where do you think lament comes from? In other words, what has to happen in someone’s soul for them to arrive at a place of lament in their own soul for a person, for a group, a situation or state of affairs?
Mark Vroegop: In the book I say this, that a cry is human. So the only thing that you have to do to experience pain is just to be in the world. You think about it that when a child enters the world, the first thing he or she does is cries. It’s like a loud protest against the brokenness of the world. So I say that to cry is human, but to lament is Christian.
Mark Vroegop: Now, why is lament different? Well, because lament is one of the most theologically informed things that we do. It’s a prayer and pain that leads to trust. So instead of allowing my pain to be something that takes a hold of my soul, and I give God the silent treatment, the Psalms in particular are filled with language where the Psalms just keeps talking to God about his pain. He refuses to give up, even though he’s struggling and walks through a methodology that most lament Psalms in particular contain of turning to God, laying out our complaints, asking boldly and choosing to trust.
So that framework then can become really helpful as we’re trying to process pain. And for a Christian, we know the arc of God’s plan of creation, fall, redemption, restoration. And so, I think that of any people in the world who ought to know lament and embrace it, it ought to be Christians who understand what’s wrong with the world, who can fix it, namely Jesus, and who want him to return. And so, lament is the language and the gap between promise made and promise kept, and here we are in this world trying to figure out how do we make it? And lament is the language that’s helpful for this journey that we’re on.
Jim Davis: I want to really drill down a little bit on empathy. I like how you said, “We need to resist the urges just to make connections with these people.” We had just had our second child and we were going back to the well well-baby checkup and some of our friends were in there, having just lost their first child. I was younger than I am now by a good bit and I didn’t know what to do, and I texted an older man, and I’m embarrassed to say this, I said, “What Bible verse can I give them right now?” And this wiser older man texted me back and said, “Jim, they don’t need a Bible verse, you do.” And he said to me, “Weep with those who are weeping,” and it was just this game changer.
Jim Davis: And I’m very thankful for my seminary experience, this is not an area that was really developed in my seminary experience. So fast-forward because of that, man, I had to be a part of telling three young children, their parents had just died in a plane crash. And that man had given me categories to not just try to make connections, but just to cry, to hug and to pray. And so, you talk about lament, I know you connect this with empathy in a deep way. How would you define empathy and how is it similar or different than sympathy?
Mark Vroegop: Let’s start with sympathy because that word is often the word that’s used to translate the Greek word as it relates to Jesus’s identification with us, that we don’t have a high priest who cannot sympathize. And so, from a biblical standpoint, sympathy is the combination of two words, with and sorrow, or with suffering. So sympathy by definition means that you’re with someone in their sorrow.
In our present day culture, sympathy is thought of as, “I’m able to identify with their pain because I’ve experienced the same pain.” And that would be true at one level. At another level, empathy is often thought of as, “I’m able to understand something and I’m able to experience sorrow for my friend, my spouse, my brother, or sister, or family member, but I haven’t actually experienced that suffering.” So it’s the emotion that says I care without really saying I know by personal experience.
And so, in that way, we might think about empathy from a Biblical category, like the book of Colossians says that we’re to put on compassionate hearts, we’re to lean in with love and think, “What would that feel like if I was in their space?” The Bible says in Romans 12, to weep with those who weep. It doesn’t mean you have to have the same experience, that’s helpful, although it can be a little tricky because you want to be careful, you don’t overlay your experience on someone else’s pain, that can be very unhelpful. But by definition, empathy means that I’m going to walk with you in this pain, even if I don’t understand that I love you more than this pain would cause a separation between us. I’m not going to let you become distant because of this pain. I’m going to do what I can to be as close to you and walk with you through your sorrow and suffering.
And in that way, I think it’s one of the unique things that Christians can do, because we’ve experienced that sympathy through the person and work of Christ and thereby we ought to be the kind of people who then extend that to others in the midst of their sorrows.
Mike Aitcheson: Thank you, thank you. Mark, is it possible to lament without empathy and sympathy?
Mark Vroegop: I don’t think so. Maybe we could talk about it in terms of degrees, but by definition, if you’re lamenting for someone else, maybe we’ll start it that way. If we mean just my own prayer language of lament, then maybe. But what I’m thinking of it in terms of the application with other people is, I think that lament is one of the ways that we not only can express empathy and sympathy, we can actually grow in it. Because what’s remarkable is as I’ve seen lament used in this way as a pastoral vehicle for care, that people who enter into other people’s pain and as they lament together, they not only ended a great place of trust with the Lord, but they also ended a place of trusting one another more deeply. Because I’ve entered in and said, “I can’t fix this. I’m here to be with you because I care for you. I’m not going to let your pain cause me to walk away from you.” Because pain is scary and often it creates distance because we don’t want to deal with other people’s grief because it’s something that makes us really nervous.
And so, lament helps us to be able to lean in to relationships, and I think it is the language of empathy, it’s the language of sympathy. When Jesus is on the cross and he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He’s lamenting, but who’s he lamenting on behalf of? He’s there doing that work for us, and so his lament becomes a means by which he’s not only talking to God, but also he’s sympathizing with our very weaknesses by becoming our great high priest. So those are absolutely linked together. I don’t think that you can have a lament in terms of caring for somebody else without some level of sympathy or empathy.
Jim Davis: Well, I had a similar question to Mike’s a few minutes ago. You shared about the experiences that led you to write the first book. Can you share a little bit about your experiences that led you to write your other book, Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation?
Mark Vroegop: Yeah, I’d love to, because it’s a crazy thing that in God’s providence, who am I to write a book on racial reconciliation? What happened is that as I was writing my book on lament, a movement of reconciliation and ethnic harmony was starting in our church. And as I grew in deeper relationship with brothers and sisters in our church, it didn’t look like me, as I began to hear their stories as they began to be more and more honest about their experience in a predominantly white church or what their experience was growing up, and some of the challenges that they dealing with. And then when they would see something or have another triggering experience, if you will, it dawned on me one day, “Wait a minute, my brothers and sisters are lamenting.” What they’re walking through in terms of their struggle is not dissimilar from what my wife and I were walking through. Now, it’s not the same thing, but the emotions, and the struggle, and dealing with the difficulties had parallel paths with them.
And so, I began to think, “What if we could take lament and apply it in the context of racial reconciliation, such that the conversation instead of going this direction could maybe start to tilt toward one another?” Lament doesn’t solve racial reconciliation challenges, it’s not a silver bullet, but it does help, it’s a tool that can be used. And I’ve seen the way that it helps to bridge gaps between people to then create further conversations, further relationship depth, to be able to probe at a significantly deeper level, because you’ve taken time to lament together before the Lord of saying, “Our world is broken, this thing is broken. I love my brother, his pain is my pain, and let’s talk to God. We’re in this together.” And that can be a game changer for the conversation about what it means to love one another in Christ, despite our differences ethnically, culturally, and the things that would so traditionally have divided us.
Jim Davis: Well, you may have already answered this next question. You’ve already driven into it, but just to make sure that we exhaust this, because I’m really interested in this. We have a very unique, intense cultural moment, and there is a lot of private lamentation going on. I get to talk with a lot of people about their private laments, but what does it look like to do this in the context of community, especially in a church community, and I’ll add, especially in a church community that may not very easily understand the laments on both sides?
Mark Vroegop: I think lament can help by giving people a common language to either A, express their grief personally, or also in terms of a time of corporate lament together, and whether that’s a pastoral prayer or the way in which a particular moment in our nation’s history is spoken about and talked about. In dealing with friends in the last five years, they’ve told me stories where they’ve come to church and they’re just like, “Do you see what’s happening?” And the failure to even acknowledge in any way of what’s taken place is deeply painful.
I remember having a brother, and I had talked about this in my first book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, African-American brother came up to me after one of our services and he just said, “Hey, when are we going to pray about Ferguson?” And at the time, I didn’t see Ferguson through the right lens and our lament was delayed, and that sent a message, a hurtful one.
And so, I think you need pastoral wisdom to know what that lament sounds like and how to be able to use lament in a way that is redemptive and helpful, but it is a very helpful language that God’s people have used when the brokenness of the world is very evident. And my goodness, talk about brokenness of the world where racial tension and injustice is, this is an issue that needs lament, and I think lament actually serves to help us start to make progress in this conversation. So again, it’s a starting point, it’s not an end point.
Mike Aitcheson: So Mark, I’m going to ask basically a twofold question relating to that. As far as the barriers to lament are concerned, in your experience, did you find, as you traveled down this road, that political persuasion or media consumption prevented people from taking this journey down the road to recall and to enter into the pain of minorities? And then secondly, how did you handle barriers or obstacles to people not wanting to go down this path? How did you shepard people who fought against ideas of sympathy, empathy, and lament when you traveled down this road towards racial reconciliation?
Mark Vroegop: It’s a good question about how we process an event that we see and one the first things that come to mind. I’ll give you an illustration first of all to set the framework. When I see a news program about the number of stillborn babies in the United States, when that thing comes into my living room, my first thought is not statistics, it’s not about healthcare policy, it’s not about background to that medical issue, it’s about my wife who seated next to me, and my first thought is, “Ooh, I wonder how that lands on her?” And the challenges as it relates to the racial injustice, or racial reconciliation, or ethnic harmony question is that for many of us, we hear that topic antiseptically, we don’t hear that in the context of relationship, we don’t hear that as, “How’s that going to land on my brother or sister in my church?”
And so the tragedy is that oftentimes our first thought is cultural, our first thought is political, it’s not relational and it’s not theological. And sometimes we don’t even know that we’re doing that, and instead, what we need to think through is, “What is my first step, what’s my first inclination? And that could be a substantial barrier that someone doesn’t even know that they should lament. Instead, they want to argue the point or to discuss the various dynamics that are involved. And I want to be clear that those kinds of conversations aren’t off the table, but there are certain types of topics that I think are better handled when we start from a sympathetic or empathetic position that then opens a door for additional meaningful conversations.
I’ve made huge mistakes in my journey in racial reconciliation of asking questions at the wrong time. And thankful for brothers and sisters who have given me a lot of grace, but sometimes those nagging questions are there, they need to be set aside so that I can first enter in with the relationship context, the love that binds everything together from Colossians chapter two and three, and then those types of questions can be answered in a way that are far more helpful.
Those barriers, they’re everywhere, they’re in relationships that are in close proximity to me, they’re in those barriers rather than the context of our church and they’re hard to navigate. Because of the passion that we feel for those other categories, whether they’re cultural, or political, or theological questions, it’s hard to know what order to put those questions in.
And as a result, it makes the conversation really difficult, really challenging. And additionally, pastorally, sometimes I’ve not anticipated the kinds of questions that people would have, and so discipling them in advance to know how to navigate this, they’re in the conversations before they were even ready, or had the relational equity, or even knew how to think about it.
And so, quite honestly, the more that I step into the space, the more I realize, man, there’s a lot of opportunity for God’s grace to be applied here, but there’s also a huge discipleship need in the context of the church for all of us to learn, how do we talk about this in a way that’s helpful. And lament is one language that could help, but it’s not the only thing that helps get us from point A to point B.
Mike Aitcheson: Okay. And so Mark, you’re getting very close to the followup here, and that is for some of us, when we look at the continuum of people, being just kindly, innocently oblivious to certain things all the way to maybe aware, but just hostile and fighting against these ideas of lament, sympathy and empathy for people in this racial reconciliation space, how do you pass to them? Maybe you could share some stories of ways that you might’ve missed, Mark, the ways that you’ve overcome or move people along, that would be very helpful.
Mark Vroegop: The one thing that we’ve seen that’s worked, and been really helpful and effective amidst of a bunch of things that have it. So I want to be clear, we’ve taken what we call a civil rights vision trip together. It’s like 50 leaders on a bus and experienced together, similar to a vision trip that we would do overseas. And in the context of that trip together, where we’re exploring the history of Montgomery, and Birmingham, and Selma, and Memphis, and in the context of that, we’re eating together, we’re experiencing sites together, we’re praying together, we’re lamenting together. And on the bus ride, we would study a lament Psalm, then write our own laments, share those. In the context of that relationship and experiential framework, we’ve seen some amazing things happen where real reconciliation has been able to take place.
What doesn’t work well is that people just study it like it’s an academic issue, or they come at it like it’s merely a political issue and there are political and cultural issues in play, but if it’s just those dynamics, if that’s the only thing that you see it as, it makes the conversation really, really difficult.
And so, the brothers and sisters that are willing to step in to the messy space of the relationship and say, “I don’t understand this, but I want love to be the leading way that I lean into this. I’ve seen some really amazing things happen.” And then some folks it’s just not the right time for the conversation for them, and some folks just candidly are not interested in the conversation for whatever reason.
And so, I think that the relationship piece combined with this vision of what it means for the church to be one in the context of the gospel is why the church could actually be the one organization on the planet where racial reconciliation could actually happen. And I argue in the book, if it doesn’t happen in the church, then where in the world could it happen? Because I think gospel unity creates ethnic harmony, and I think that’s what Jesus did for us. And we ought to continue to work to see that reality more realized in the context of our everyday life experience in the framework of the church.
Jim Davis: You’re a hard interview because I’m just listening so much, I’m not even thinking about the next question. I really appreciate the ways, as you’re talking, thinking about things that I could have done better, situations I could have been more empathetic or lead people towards empathy. And I just so specifically appreciate the analogy of the babies on the TV and why for some people it’s not just statistics and how we as church leaders can be thinking about, in what ways do these statistics raise real wounds and people and love them in that moment.
So your subtitle to your second book, How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation, you’ve been touching on this all over and I hear that, but if you could really, in one paragraph or so, or a couple, in what sense does lament open a door for racial reconciliation? Just to be very specific there.
Mark Vroegop: It gives us something to do that’s empathetic. In my space, what can I do to fix this? And so many of us who look like me, that’s some of the mistakes that we make, is that we come in so quickly with a fix or we want to change what’s been wrong without fully understanding what it is that happened, or the implications for our minority brothers and sisters. And so in the book I unpack a five fold model of love, listen, lament, learn and leverage.
So love, we’re one in Christ, Jesus did that. Listen, I want my posture to be James 1:19, quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to get irritated. Third lament, and this is key, by jumping into lament early, it helps us to then learn because our ears are tuned to the pain of our brothers and sisters, and then we can leverage. So we don’t just want to lament, we also want to be able to say, “What can I do now to make a difference, whether it’s relationally or in my church, how can this change us?” So love, listen, lament, learn and leverage. And I find that lament is the turning point that helps to create further momentum for really good conversations that then lead to reconciliation.
Mike Aitcheson: Thanks, that was very good. All right, you’ve alluded to this already about how taking certain approaches turns out for the better. Can you give me some specific wins, some specific stories of where you’ve seen, man, praise God, the gospel does have a positive impact in this area, you’ve been able to experience it within your congregation and maybe even in your personal relationships?
Mark Vroegop: On the personal side, growing up in Western Michigan, my father was born in The Netherlands and so I have a Dutch-American heritage and there’s a particular narrative that’s connected to that great story, it’s an American dream story, but also coming to terms with the fact that that’s my story and that my brothers and sisters who don’t look like me, minority brothers and sisters, they have a different story. And the fact of the matter is that my grandfather’s experience in Western Michigan in the 1940s would be really different if he was a black man in the 1940s. And just wrestling with that and then processing that with my fellow minority brothers and sisters, and then the implications of that in terms of how much of our own experience, our cultural background, we bring to the table all the time.
So just trying to see life through their eyes and instead of just seeing it through mine. So quite frankly, trying to be a little less proud, a little less naive, a little less self-centered in how I see the world, that’s been an important step, and usually unfortunately that comes through some painful experience [inaudible 00:35:26] we love you, but here’s a different way to look at this.
We’ve also seen it happen in the context of the civil rights vision trip, where a guy who was the bus, one of our staff guys grew up in the South and as we’re visiting particular sites, he’s like, “I just have to tell you all on the bus this story about racism was me,” and he just acknowledged, called it out, told us about some of the things that he thought and the ways that he talked and he just confessed that in front of the whole group. And it was amazing, you could hear tears on the bus as black brothers and sisters are saying, “Brother, we love you, we forgive you,” and it was a powerful cleansing moment as people are united in the relationship with Christ, informed by the gospel, understand what sin of all kinds is, and then extending grace to this brother as he’s honest before the Lord.
I’ve seen black brothers and sisters begin to trust white brothers and sisters in a way that they hadn’t before because of the willingness to love each other and to enter into this bond of fellowship together. And I’ve also seen the way in which black brothers and sisters have served white brothers and sisters who have experienced another kind of prejudice directed towards them because of the white hue of their skin.
I tell a story in the book of a guy who stood up in one of our reconciliation huddle groups that we have and he just said, “Look, I’ve experienced this coming the other direction.” And a black brother said to him, “It wasn’t right, come up here and let us pray for you.” And so he came up and black brothers laid their hands on him and prayed for him, and he said it was a transformative moment for him, true reconciliation that was happening as black brothers and sisters acknowledged that even his experience wasn’t right, that prejudice and partiality is something that God condemns at every level.
And so, we just seen it happen from so many different angles, it’s so beautiful. I tell you, one of the reasons that I’m in this as hard as it is, is there are few things more glorious, more attractive, more compelling about the gospel than when people love each other and come together in the midst of categories that in the culture just tragically keep us apart. And I think it could be a beautiful thing if the church could be more inclined to have the story of the church now look like the story of the church in Heaven.
Jim Davis: Well, Mark, I really appreciate what you’re doing. I appreciate you bringing us into your laments and teaching us through them. For all the listeners, if you’re in the Indianapolis area, you can check him out at College Park Church. And again, just by reminder, the books we’ve been talking about are Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament and Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation. Mark, thank you so much for your time, and we will certainly be praying for you and your ministry, God bless you.
Mark Vroegop: Thanks for your interest guys and all you’re doing to help advance the conversation in the kingdom.