Today's leaders are nearly spent. Many of our priests, parents, teachers, healthcare workers, and business leaders are pushed to do more with fewer resources. When will it end?
While it may be tempting to turn to a book like Lamentations for a dose of consolation, if we listen carefully to the entire text, the scripture warns us through poetry crafted to break our hearts of stone. Rather than lamenting the destruction of that which is temporary and built by our own hands, the biblical writer laments Israel's disobedience. Lamentations is merciful in its warning and is followed by Ezekiel's hope that God would grant a heart of flesh so that we might walk according to His commandments.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm pleased to be speaking again with Fr. Marc Boulos, who co-hosts the Bible as Literature podcast. You know, Fr. Marc, we've been hearing a lot of people lament the state of the world, the pandemic still has a grip on this world. Supply chains can't keep up with demand, our children are dealing with more anxiety and other mental health issues. Teachers are expected to do more with fewer resources. We're facing a shortage of health care workers, and many aren't getting the medical attention they need. And meanwhile, our families, churches and communities are still struggling with political divisions. And this simple act of coming together in the ways we used to seems to require a huge push against inertia with a lot of mental and emotional effort that people can barely squeeze out in short supply. It's a difficult time for leaders to rally their teams at work, for priests to engage their parishioners, sometimes for teachers to pull their students to the appropriate level of learning. I've just been hearing so much about people in leadership wanting to quit because it's just so hard. There's a lot to lament these days people are spent they're tired after these many, many difficult months, and with a sense of loss this lamenting. I'm inclined to turn to the book of Lamentations with remembrance of this poetic verse. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.
Fr. Marc Boulos 1:45
Well, Lamentations, honestly, is not at all about mercy. It's a warning and a reminder that cities and temples are made of stone. And sooner or later, everything that is made of stone crumbles. So the quote about mercy does not sound beautiful to my ears. And the quote doesn't function for me as the word of God. In the first place. The majority of five chapters of Lamentations need to be reheard. Even in chapter three, most of the poetry focuses on the breaking of the heart. And when it does shift briefly, it presents the possibility of an alternative before returning to dark places and literally piling on the anxiety. I'm certain no school teacher wants to hear this book right now. I'm certain of it. And I've said this before, you can't treat scripture like a vending machine for mercy and consolation even in the current situation in the world. Is there consolation? The end of the book leaves that as an open question.
Hollie Benton 3:05
Like you said, the book of Lamentations is a collection of poems that focuses on a lot of grief, destruction, pain, suffering, as the city of Jerusalem is plundered by the armies of Babylon. While it may be natural to see Israel as the victim oppressed by the hand of Babylon, the biblical author positions Israel's status as a lamentation for violating the commandments of the Lord. The poetic writing suggest Israel's predicament is a consequence of generations of kings and priests giving allegiance to other gods and neglecting the poor in their midst. The state of ruin is indicative of their own moral ruin. It's a bitter pill to swallow as they have become the laughingstock of people, filled with bitterness, grinding their teeth on gravel and made to cower in the ashes which is vividly described right before this passage I'd like to read now from Lamentations 3, "My soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is. So I say gone is my glory and my expectation for the Lord. Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall. My soul continually thinks of it, and is bowed down within me, but this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion says my soul, therefore, I will hope in Him." So this line from Lamentations about the affliction and the gall reminds me of Christ who endured true affliction on the cross and was offered only a sponge of gall or vinegar, when he called out and cried out with thirst. I don't want to be dismissive of the sufferings of others. But for those of us who are turning to Facebook in our lament, we must admit that at least we're not afflicted by the cross. I would encourage our listeners if they are feeling hopeless, afflicted, angry, or anxious to turn not to social media, but to Lamentations. I think these poetic verses bring way more honesty than the trite messages we see on social media. Lamentations channels those raw feelings that come from suffering, but it won't allow us to wallow in despair, reminding us that our only hope is in the Lord.
Fr. Marc Boulos 5:26
Fr. Paul points out in his commentary on Lamentations that the writer uses a special poetic form that is rhythmically structured in Hebrew, to literally agitate the addressee. So normally, in Semitic poetry is structured a two, two, or three, three pattern. It's typical of Arabic poetry to have similar rhythmic structures intended to please the ear. I mean, you mentioned Facebook, people go on Facebook to please the eye and sometimes to please the ear. But in the form used in Lamentations, qinah, we have a three-two beat, intended to invoke brokenness, leaving a gap at the end of each verse. So this brokenness is the intent of the book. It is literally breaking your churches, your parish councils, your strategies, your plans, your buildings, and everything else you mentioned, your teachers, your teams, your leaders who are lamenting how difficult things are right now. I mean, whatever you can come up with in your intro that comes turnkey, with Jerusalem, all of it. So that after it all falls away with the broken stones of Jerusalem, if you've invested your heart in those things, then Lamentations will also break your heart, which Facebook won't do, it'll just poison your heart. And that is where you are left. In his commentary, Lamentations, which I mentioned, and I encourage your listeners to if you have the opportunity to listen to the Orthodox Audio Bible Commentary available through OCABS. Fr. Paul notes, the interplay here with Ezekiel. That is the interplay between Lamentations and Ezekiel. He talks about the interplay with Esther also. And it's interesting in Esther because God isn't mentioned. And you only have mentioned of the throne as though God is hiding and you just see the throne, which is very interesting at the end of Lamentations that you end with mention of God's throne. Those books aren't butted up against each other. But it's interesting to me. Anyways, in the commentary, Lamentations, Fr. Paul mentions Ezekiel and this very important point where you hear the Prophet proclaim the Word of the Lord, "I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh, I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes. And you will be careful to observe my ordinances." So we're back to square one. That's why I don't like talking about mercy and consolation in the way that we like to talk about it when we reduce the work of hearing scripture, to patting each other on the back and saying, it's going to be okay, don't feel bad, because this book is saying feel bad, and it's written to make you feel bad. Exactly the opposite of our marketing culture, and our engagement culture and our Facebook culture and our whatever culture. And I like to keep reminding people that in the Orthodox tradition, Satan always appears to you in a form that Madison Avenue could never concoct. He appears to you in a form that's very attractive and appealing and engaging. And it leads to destruction, the opposite of what we hear here.
Hollie Benton 9:07
So Fr. Marc, for servant leaders, anybody with any kind of leadership responsibility, endeavoring to serve in the Lord's household, what encouragement or consolation would you have for those who are responsible to care for their teams at work, or the priests for his flock? Or the teacher for her classroom? When people feel spent and they struggle to serve and lead? How does Scripture help give them that source of strength? Not as a vending machine?
Fr. Marc Boulos 9:36
I mean, let me just pause for a moment and see if anyone can guess what I'm going to say. Read Scripture and do what it says. And if your follow up question is, What do you mean, you're not being honest with yourself. Don't say you don't know what I'm asking you to do when I say read scripture and do what it says. And the Lord is coming. And he is the one who sees what we do with our time. And he has Lamentations memorized because he wrote it. And he can write new poetry that we haven't heard, believe me. And it can be happy poetry, which is what Hollie was alluding to in her introduction, or it can be sad poetry along the lines of Lamentations. That chapter hasn't been written, but it's coming. Chapter Three of Lamentations is the possibility of one possible ending. And what's happening now in the United States, and in the world, is the possibility of another ending. And we have only to read Scripture and do what it says and trust in the Lord.
Hollie Benton 10:57
Thank you, Father.
Fr. Marc Boulos 10:58
Take care. God bless.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai