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The power of ‘prophetic’ grief

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 9/19/2015, 9:52 a.m.
Recently, Rev. Otis Moss Jr., pastor emeritus at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, and former co-pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer ...

(NNPA) – Recently, Rev. Otis Moss Jr., pastor emeritus at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, and former co-pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and his son, Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, preached together at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.

The terroristic murders of nine Black worshipers during Bible study at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church had broken everyone’s hearts, and father and son spoke on how all of us could use this moment to move forward together through “prophetic” grief.

Rev. Otis Moss Jr. explained this is different from being overcome by “pathetic” grief in the face of such a tragedy.

“Pathetic grief is that kind of grief that causes you to be blinded by bitterness, hate, despair – the kind of grief that puts you in the class of the one who caused the grief,” he explained. “Pathetic grief sends you into a scale of darkness where Langston Hughes says ‘there ain’t been no light.’ It leaves you diminished, degraded and in cooperation with the one who diminishes and the one who degrades.”

He said we are called to something else. Prophetic grief can spur action and change, and Rev. Moss Jr. urged that instead of focusing on the murderer we need to focus on the larger culture that fosters hatred and violence.

“It’s easier to deal with the ‘who’ and singularize, if you will, the vastness of the crime and make one person responsible and thereby excuse ourselves. We like to deal with the ‘who,’ but we are not ready to deal with the ‘what’ … I think we have to lift up the fact that we live in a culture that has made guns our god. We have to deal with the ‘what.’”

Rev. Moss Jr. continued, “Let me hurry on to say I believe the 21-year-old alleged killer was born not out of a creative process controlled by God, but born into a destructive process and culture created by human beings. What kind of lessons are we going to give to our children? What are we feeding them? What is the diet we are giving them? What is it that makes guns objects of worship where people will kill you about a gun? What is it that creates this kind of climate for children?”

Rev. Moss III added that this kind of prophetic grief that turns pain into power has always been a hallmark of the Black faith-experience.

“The very nature of our faith is carved from the splintered wood of an unfinished democracy . . . This is a faith where miracles are not anomalies, redemption is not a fairy tale, and deliverance is more than a descriptive adjective, but an active verb permeating the soul of every believer. This is a faith where [Harriet] Tubman learned her freedom, [Sojourner Truth] discovered abolition, [W.E.B.] DuBois discovered intellect, Zora [Neale Hurston] found her literary power, Langston [Hughes] crafted poems, and Ida B. Wells discovered her journalistic integrity.”