A Way Out of Burnout: Cultivating Differentiated Leadership Through Lament

This is the final paper I wrote for the class “Leading Through Lament” with Dr. Donn Morgan at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

INTRODUCTION

On August 1, 2010, New York Times published an article titled “Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work,” which began with the following statements:  “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”[1] Although these are troubling reports, some of the statistics that came out of a study conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary in the late 1980s prove more disturbing: “80 percent [of pastors] believe that pastoral ministry is affecting their families negatively, 90 percent felt they were not adequately trained to cope with the ministry demands placed upon them, 70 percent of pastors do not have someone they would consider a close friend, [and] 70 percent have a lower self-image after they have been in pastoral ministry than when they started.”[2]  Other statistics offered by the website “pastorburnout.com” claim, “The clergy has the second highest divorce rate among all professions [and] 1,500 pastors from a multitude of denominations leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.”[3] Though some might doubt and dispute the accuracy and reliability of some of the statistics, it is clear that clergy burnout is a serious issue facing the church today. [4]

As a Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, I find these statistics particularly challenging, causing me to wonder if this is really what I want to do with my life.  One clearly must be “called” to such a vocation since this career certainly does not promise health and/or capital. However, instead of throwing up our hands to the apparent reality that a call to the clergy is a call to emotional martyrdom, we must seriously explore and experiment with ways that can help prevent burnout. This paper will explore and propose one of these ways out of burnout; a way that Jesus endorses on the cross when he shouts his “cry of dereliction;” the way of lament. By acknowledging with Edwin Friedman that a great deal of emotional and spiritual burnout among leaders results from receiving and bearing blame from others, we will see how re-directing that blame onto God through prayers and cries of lament can help the leader differentiate and avoid emotional overload and burnout.

We will first engage with Edwin Friedman’s diagnosis of burnout and his remedy of self-differentiation. We will then see how pastors can cultivate self-differentiation by imitating Jesus of Nazareth who, in the Gospel of Mark, re-directs blame onto God when he laments on the cross, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

DISPLACING RESPONSIBILITY

            In Friedman’s Fables, Rabbi Edwin Friedman uses colorful tales to illustrate intrapersonal dynamics in families, communities and other organizations. Inspired by Systems Theorist Murray Bowen and Rabbinic Midrash, Friedman tells his own account of the Bible’s first family, from the perspective of an angel who is writing a “family workup,” a few decades after Creation. He explains, “Neither husband nor wife seems capable of accepting responsibility for their own destiny. Both are always claiming that their lives would be far different were it not for how the other behaved. The man tends to blame his wife, and the wife tends to blame the environment.”[5] After Friedman’s angelic author references the eating of the forbidden fruit and the inability of the husband and wife to take personal responsibility for their actions, the story concludes,

It may be this constant expectation that the other should be his keeper that prevents each from taking responsibility for himself. And as long as this attitude persists in the parents, we can hardly expect the boys to act more pleasantly toward each other, still less at times to be watchful over the other. This situation will certainly leave a ‘mark’ on one of them.

In a family like this, with no one able to tolerate his own solitariness, or, for that matter, anyone else’s, I fear the weaknesses in the children will never be corrected. Actually, my fantasies are worse. For, if the current inability each parent manifests to deal with his or her own pain continues, I fear that Cain’s view of life will never truly focus on himself and, perceiving the source of all his problems in his brother, he may one day up and kill him.[6]

By diagnosing the original human family, Friedman describes a dynamic that is inherent to all of humanity: the tendency to blame and to displace responsibility onto another. In Friedman’s commentary on this fable, he invites the reader to “suppose the human family’s original sin is blaming others,” and then asks, “How can the members of any generation modify that transmitted attitude?”[7]

The sin of blaming others is ubiquitous among and perhaps inherent to all family systems. In their works on leadership, Edwin Friedman and Peter L. Steinke write about the problem of blaming and scapegoating in congregations. “Scapegoating,” Steinke explains, “is an attempt to pinpoint a culprit or to find fault with someone. The blame throwers at first will hurl charges indiscriminately at any target. Most likely, however, anxiety will be projected onto people in the most responsible…positions in the congregation.”[8] Since the clergy are in the position of most responsibility in congregations, they ought to be fully aware and wary of such “blame throwers.” In his earlier work Generation to Generation, Friedman observes, “One of the most astounding facts about organized religious life in America is the extent to which professional clergy organizations and hierarchies permit religious institutions to get away with blaming all crashes on ‘pilot error.’”[9] In other words, whenever there is a problem in a community or congregation, the “blame throwers” tend to cast the fault on the pastor. In A Failure of Nerve, Friedman detects, “The displacement of blame on leaders may be even more salient in churches and synagogues than in the political arena. Over the last ten to fifteen years I have witnessed a tremendous increase in the collective reactivity of religious congregations to their ministers, irrespective of gender or belief.”[10] The problem of blaming and displacing responsibility appears to be on the rise within faith communities and one cannot deny a correlation between blaming and burnout.

Friedman associates clergy burnout with emotional triangles, which are three-person relationship systems that exhibit predictable dynamics. One of these dynamics involves placing the responsibility of the relationship between person A and person B onto the shoulders of person C. “The stress on leaders,” Friedman explains, “primarily has to do with the extent to which the leader has been caught in a responsible position for the relationship of two others.”[11] The leader carries the responsibility, stress and emotional baggage of the others in the triangle and, as a result, collapses under the emotional weight. Friedman speaks to this emotional burnout when he writes,

Leaders who are most likely to function poorly physically or emotionally are those who have failed to maintain a well-differentiated position. Either they have accepted the blame owing to irresponsibility and constant criticism of others, or they have gotten themselves into an overfunctioning position (that is, they tried too hard) and rushed in where angels and fools both fear to tread.[12]

Many programs often aim to cure clergy burnout by offering retreats that focus on rest and relaxation. However, Friedman asserts, “Resting and refreshment do not change triangles. Furthermore, because these programs focus on the burned-out ‘family’ member, they can actually add to his or her burden if such individuals are inclined to be soul searchers to begin with.”[13] These same soul-searching and empathetic clergy are vulnerable to seeing the overwhelming burdens that they carry for others as crosses that they ought to bear. Friedman calls this way of thinking “sheer theological camouflage for an ineffective immune system.”[14] When clergy bear other people’s burdens, they are encouraging others not to take personal responsibility. And often in bearing other people’s burdens, clergy easily tend to ignore their own “burdens” (ie. marriage issues, financial problems, etc.) and thus fail to be personally responsible for themselves.

DIFFERENTIATION

            The cure that Friedman suggests for clergy burnout is also his key to effective leadership in general: that is, self-differentiation. “Differentiation,” Friedman explains, “is the lifelong process of striving to keep one’s being in balance through the reciprocal external and internal processes of self-definition and self-regulation.”[15] In other words, differentiation is “knowing where one ends and the other begins,” or, in the context of blaming, “differentiation is taking maximum responsibility for one’s own emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others.”[16] Not only does a differentiated leader take personal responsibility and refuse to blame others, but a differentiated leader also does not carry the emotional burden of the blame that he or she receives from others. Parishioners can try to triangulate and blame a differentiated leader. However, the differentiated leader will refuse to carry the emotional baggage of the blame, thereby giving the responsibility back to those who are trying to evade it.[17]

But how does one learn to cultivate self-differentiation? And how does one deal with the very human tendency to blame and to displace responsibility? And how can we empathize with others and help carry each other’s loads while remaining differentiated? In answering these questions, we will turn to the last words of Jesus Christ on the cross, as recounted by Mark.

AD DEUM QUESTIONS IN LAMENT

According to Friedman, chronic anxiety breeds blame, which often rears its head in accusatory, ad hominem “you” statements like “Why did you have to embarrass me again last night?”[18] or “Why did you make me feel so uncomfortable?” Friedman writes, “Ad hominem retorts that displace the problem onto another’s personality are almost always an indication not only of the anxiety of the person expressing them but also of their helplessness, if not emptiness.”[19] Although there is a world of difference between feeling embarrassed at a social event and feeling threatened with certain death (as may be the case in many psalms), it is worth noting that the psalmists of lament ask similar accusatory “you” statements to God, such as, “How long will you forget me, O LORD? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1) and “O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?” (Ps. 74:1). By asking these questions, the psalmists are implying that God is doing something wrong and that God is somehow (at least partially) at fault in the current situation. Their questions do not imply ad hominem accusations because they are not directed towards any one person, but instead imply “ad deum” accusations, casting blame onto God. Friedman’s diagnosis of people who ask such accusatory ad hominem questions may still apply to the psalmists asking accusatory ad deum questions: they indicate “not only…the anxiety of the person expressing them but also…their helplessness [and] emptiness.” Many of the psalmists were in dire straits, feeling profound helplessness and emptiness.

Friedman discourages such accusatory ad hominem questions because they perpetuate one’s inability to take personal responsibility as well as one’s tendency to displace the responsibility onto someone else. He suggests using “responsible ‘I’ positions of self-definition [such as] ‘I have decided that you have the right to make a fool of yourself. But from now on, I am going in my own car.’”[20] But what would Friedman say about the psalmist’s ad deum questions of lament? Do they also perpetuate the psalmist’s inability to take personal responsibility and the psalmist’s tendency to blame? And what would a more responsible “I” position of self-definition look like in the context of prayer and lament?

One might argue that ad duem questions of lament do in fact discourage personal responsibility and that the shift in the Bible towards a more penitential approach to suffering (especially from the Old Testament to the New Testament) reflects the shift from accusatory “you” statements to more responsible “I” statements of self-definition.[21] If that is the case, then we still have to acknowledge Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross, which is an accusatory ad deum question directly from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Is Jesus unable to take personal responsibility for the punishment that he now endures on the cross? Is he displacing the responsibility onto God, the One who should now be there for him? Some might argue that only Jesus can challenge God with such a question because Jesus is the perfect and sinless (and divine) messiah. Others might try to explain Christ’s cry of dereliction in the context of the Trinity, wherein God the Father must look away from the Son who now takes on the sins of the world, a sight that the Father cannot bear to look at and must temporarily forsake. However, these suggestions are anachronistic to the Gospel of Mark, which presents a very human and pre-Trinitarian Jesus.

I assert that, in his cry of dereliction, Jesus is upholding the tradition of lament prayer, which does not refrain from asking accusatory ad deum questions. And furthermore, I claim that prayers of lament, which bring accusatory questions to God, can, in fact, help the lamenter to differentiate. In other words, one can cultivate self-differentiation through prayers of lament. Moreover, the self-differentiation cultivated through lament also allows one to empathize and help carry the burden of others in a pastoral care setting.

 

CRY OF DERELICTION AS THE CRY FOR DIFFERENTIATION

            In exploring Jesus’ cry of dereliction in Mark, we will see how Jesus bore the blame that others had cast upon him and then released it by redirecting it towards God, the only One who can really dispel and transform the blame without perpetuating more. By crying out to God, Jesus differentiates in the midst of physical and emotional torture. Jesus passes the blame that he receives from others onto God. In doing so, Jesus invites us to bring our accusatory ad deum questions in prayer, teaching us to differentiate through lament.

Cry of Dereliction: The current debate about Jesus’ reference to Psalm 22 in Mark 15:34 revolves around the question of whether his cry refers to the whole psalm, thus claiming the salvation at the end of the prayer; or to only the first line of the psalm, thus accentuating his intense feelings of hopelessness and anguish.[22] Scholars like Donahue and Harrington, arguing for the former position, think it nonsensical that Mark would intend this reference to Psalm 22 as a cry of despair since such a meaning would render the Markan text a tragedy rather than a gospel account proclaiming “good news.”[23] Scholars like Gundry and Moo, who argue for the latter position, consider Jesus’ cry to be an unfit pointer to the joyful second half of the prayer. They also warn that by stressing the salvation of Psalm 22, one can easily ignore the meaning of the verse itself, which expresses Jesus’ overwhelming pain and agony.[24]

In her endeavor to understand Mark through the lens of a first-century reader, Carey argues that “reading Jesus’ citation of [Ps. 22:1] with the rest of the psalm’s context need not subtract from the sense of Jesus’ distress, but rather can enhance it by guiding the reader to identify him with the Righteous Sufferer of the psalm.”[25] Carey argues that the cry of dereliction points to both the suffering and vindication described in Psalm 22 “and that first-century readers would have been able to recognize this” since Mark often uses the technique of placing two (apparent) opposites in tension in his narrative.[26] Carey’s assertion that Jesus’ cry suggests both the suffering and vindication of Psalm 22 shows that Jesus’ cry upholds and utilizes a prayer tradition that includes accusatory ad deum questions and expects God to listen and respond. William Stacy Johnson agrees when he writes, “Jesus, in lifting up the lament from Psalm 22, is situating himself directly within that long line of servants who have suffered unjustly for God’s sake and whom God will not abandon.”[27] Jesus situates himself in a tradition that allows him to assert his own innocence in the midst of suffering and then remind God to take care of him, even if that means making ad deum accusations.

Ellington also argues that Jesus upholds this tradition of lament in his cry of dereliction. In describing lament in the New Testament (or the lack thereof), Ellington writes, “Cries that demand to know ‘Why?’ and ‘How long?’, though a hallmark of Old Testament prayers of lament, are almost completely absent from the New Testament.”[28] In a footnote, Ellington highlights the exception, explaining “the only occurrence of ‘Why?’ directed to God is Jesus’ quotation of Ps. 22:1 on the cross in…Mark 15:34.”[29] Ellington then proceeds to elaborate on this unique occurrence when he writes, “Christ upon the cross makes a direct allusion to the lament prayers in Psalm 22… [which] tap[s] into the lament tradition of Israel in a way that cannot be accidental….Lament in the New Testament communicates in a type of shorthand that carries with it an excess of meaning.”[30] By reading the cry of dereliction through the lens of Friedman, we will uncover some of this “excess” meaning.

Cry for Differentiation: As he faces certain death, Jesus reaches into the treasure chest of his tradition and takes hold of a lament, which helps him express and vent his anguish while also connecting him with the Righteous Sufferer of the psalm. In light of Friedman’s discussion of displacing responsibility, we can also see Jesus’ cry of dereliction as a way of coping with the blame and responsibility that has been displaced upon him. We can see Jesus’ cry of dereliction as a cry for differentiation.

But what blame and responsibility has been displaced upon Jesus? Traditionally, Jesus has been understood as receiving the blame for the sins of humanity in his passion and death because the perfectly just God had to punish someone for humanity’s offense. And the only one who could really bear the punishment and blame for humanity’s offense against God was someone who was both human (so as to represent the offending party) and also divine (so as to bear the unbearable burden). This Anselmian understanding of the cross portrays God as someone who, like us, needs someone to blame. According to Anselm, God needs to displace the responsibility and does so by displacing the blame onto his only begotten Son. I would love to read the “family workup” that Friedman might have written for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. According to the traditional Anselmian understanding of atonement, the Trinity is an emotional triangle that is susceptible to the same human tendencies to blame and triangulate. The anthropomorphizing of God here has gone too far! Another perspective on the cross is needed, thus giving us new insight into the cry of dereliction.

In the Gospel of John, Caiaphas says, “It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:50). Caiaphas sees Jesus as a perfect scapegoat upon whom to displace the blame and responsibility for all of the anxiety that is surging throughout the Jewish communities, especially in regards to their relationship to the Roman authorities. The author of John describes Jesus as the one receiving the blame, not because God needs someone to blame, but because humans need someone to blame. Just as Jesus receives the hyssop in John, so he receives the human need to blame (John 19:29).

Although the Gospel of John was written decades after Mark’s Gospel and ought not be used to interpret Markan pericopes, we can still imagine that an understanding of the Cross as a space where humans displaced their blame (as indicated in John 11:50) may have been an understanding held among Christians before John’s Gospel was written, and even around the time of Mark’s authorship. Such a possibility sheds light on Mark’s understanding of the cross as a space of “ransom.” In Mark, Jesus says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In other words, Jesus did not come to displace responsibility and blame so as to be “served” by those who bear his unwanted burdens. Instead, Jesus came to “serve” others by bearing the blame and responsibility that they displace upon him. And Jesus bears the blame unto death, thus giving “his life as a ransom for many.” In reference to Mark 10:45, theologian Robert Hamerton-Kelly writes in The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark, “[Jesus] gave his life as a ransom to the powers of mimetic rivalry, and because the mimetic rivalry is ours, strictly speaking he gave himself to us…The traditional idea that Christ dies as a substitute for us retains its validity, therefore, in terms of a nonsacrificial interpretation of the metaphor of ransom. He makes himself the victim of our violence instead of us.” [31] Although Hamerton-Kelly writes from a Girardian perspective, his insight can easily translate into Friedman’s terminology. The problem at the root of Hamerton-Kelly’s “mimetic rivalry” and Friedman’s “responsibility displacement” is the need to blame someone in order to placate anxieties and tensions in a system.[32] So Jesus gave his life as a ransom to the powers of “responsibility displacement” and because the “responsibility displacement” is ours, strictly speaking he gave himself to us. Jesus makes himself the victim of our need to blame. So Jesus willingly becomes the scapegoat for us on the cross. He does this in order to reveal to us our mechanisms of violence and responsibility displacement and then invite us out of them. But how does the human Jesus bear this enormous emotional burden in the midst of physical torment? How does the human Jesus differentiate? He laments.

The human Jesus quotes Psalm 22, which begins with an accusatory ad deum question, thus passing the blame onto God. Unlike several other psalms of lament (such as psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), Psalm 22 contains no confession or penitential quality. This psalm allows Jesus to shift the blame entirely away from himself and onto God. In a sense, Jesus passes the buck. And the buck stops with God. Although many might consider it blasphemous to accuse and blame God, this is exactly what Jesus and many of the psalmists do. And does God respond to such blame and accusations with hate, anger and violence? Not at all. Donahue and Harrington highlight the ways that God responds pastorally and sympathetically to Jesus’ cry on the cross through nature and other people when they write,

Not only do nature (darkness) and God (the rending of the Temple veil) respond sympathetically to Jesus in his suffering and death, but so also do certain humans. Whether or not the intent of the person (15:35-36) who offers Jesus the vinegary wine and looks for Elijah to come and rescue Jesus is to be taken as hostile, at least at the literary level of irony this person shows some human compassion. Whatever a Roman centurion (v. 39) at the cross of Jesus might have meant in calling Jesus “ Son of God,” in the Markan theological context his testimony is an accurate confession of who Jesus really is. And the women followers (v. 40-41) who mysteriously appear as witnesses to Jesus’ death, burial and empty tomb are models of fidelity in contrast to the unbelief and cowardice shown by the Twelve. As Brown observes, Mark 15:33-41 shows that it “is not true” that “God has not intervened in the struggle and left Jesus unsupported.”[33]

God responds with sympathy to Jesus’ ad deum accusation and lament. Furthermore, one may easily interpret the empty tomb at the end of the Gospel as a sign of God’s ultimate response to Jesus’ lament: the resurrection (Mark 16:4-7). In the psalms of lament and in the cry of dereliction, we see that God does not respond with hostility but with a sympathetic openness to our struggle, our need for someone to blame and, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, our “genuine covenant interaction.”[34] God responds with sympathetic openness to Jesus’ ad duem accusation and then dispels the blame and emotional burden that no human could ever bear. Jesus receives the blame that humans cast upon him and then gives it to God who receives it, absorbs it and dispels it. Jesus let go of the blame by giving it to God. His cry of dereliction became his cry for differentiation. In this way, Jesus serves as a role model for leaders who receive blame from others and then need to differentiate in order to not take accusations personally. By practicing lament, leaders can turn the ad hominem accusations against themselves into ad deum accusations against God, who responds with sympathetic openness while receiving and dispelling the blame. Moreover, leaders can respond with empathy to the suffering of others, knowing that they will not have to bear the emotional burden that they have taken on, indefinitely. They can let go of the emotional burden by passing it on to God through the practice of lament.

This “passing of the buck” to God does not encourage irresponsibility. Rather, it gives the emotional baggage away to the only One who can truly bear it, thus freeing the other to take personal responsibility, without feeling weighed down by unbearable burdens. With this practice, a pastor can therefore receive blame and emotional baggage from parishioners in a pastoral setting because they can differentiate through lament. They can take the blame like Jesus because they, like Jesus, can also pass the buck to God through ad deum accusation. Eventually, the pastor will want to teach the parishioners to redirect their human need to blame onto God as well so as to occlude the cycle of scapegoating in the community.[35]

CONCLUSION

This paper began by addressing the issue of clergy burnout and then, with the help of Friedman and Steinke, analyzed how the human need to blame can cause and perpetuate this epidemic. In one of his fables, Friedman suggests that the original sin of humanity is “blaming others” by describing how Adam’s blaming of Eve and Eve’s blaming of the environment trained Cain to blame Abel and eventually murder him. Friedman advocates for “self-differentiation” in order to avoid the burnout that comes from carrying the blame and emotional burdens of others. Although Friedman encourages personal responsibility and discourages ad hominem accusations, we have seen how ad deum accusations can actually help one to cultivate differentiation by passing the blame and emotional burden onto God. We have seen this by exploring the ad deum accusation that Jesus makes on the cross in his cry of dereliction. A closer look at the context of the cry of dereliction has helped us to see that his cry can be understood as a cry for differentiation in which he passes the blame that he bears onto God, who responds with sympathy.

So even though blaming others can be sinful and perhaps even the original sin, bringing our need to blame to God (even if that means blaming God) serves as an effective way out of that need to blame and to carry other people’s blame. Instead of blaming one another, Adam and Eve could have directed their need to blame onto God, which may have resulted in different consequences for them.[36] By bringing our need to blame to God by sometimes blaming God, through the practice of lament, we find an effective way out of burnout. We imitate Jesus’ cry of dereliction / cry for differentiation, by passing the buck onto God, where the buck stops, with divine sympathy.

AFTERWORD

The idea of passing the buck to God through ad deum accusation may sound spiritually deleterious to many. Of course, such a practice should be done carefully and perhaps seldom. After all, Jesus utilizes this practice only once, as he bore the blame of his people and suffered a brutal death. Most of the burdens carried by clergy are not quite as tortuous (even though they might sometimes feel like it). This paper simply explores a potential way out of the cycles of scapegoating, responsibility displacement and the inevitable burnout that results. I seek to find an answer and “a way out of burnout” through Scripture and particularly through the life of Christ. At his most dire moment, Jesus taps into the tradition of lament. The particular lament he cites is one that asserts his own innocence and then (dis)places responsibility onto God through an accusatory ad deum question. God responds to the complaint of this righteous sufferer with sympathy and vindication, thus suggesting that this approach to God in prayer is not only tolerable, but perhaps beneficial.

I certainly do not advocate Christians developing a habit of always blaming God for things. I see this as a practice that God allows and might even encourage at times within the context of a loving and committed relationship to Him. I also do not see this practice as primarily individual, but also potentially most effective when practiced communally (as most of the lament psalms were read communally).

In this paper, I mostly intend to crack the door open a little bit more to the style of prayer that is not afraid to blame God because God knows we need someone to blame. In my experience with this practice, I have found that my relationship with God has deepened[37] and that I have become more grateful of his sympathetic and loving response to my complaints and laments.[38]


[2] Fred Lehr, Clergy Burnout: Recovering from the 70-Hour Work Week…and Other Self-Defeating Practices (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2006) 4.

[4] For instance, even the author of “pastorburnout.com” doubts the reliability of the statistic that 48% of pastors’ marriages end in divorce. http://www.pastorburnout.com/pastor-burnout-statistics.html, May 11, 2012

[5] Edwin Friedman, Friedman’s Fables (New York: Guilford Press, 1990), 48.

[6] Friedman, Fables, 49.

[7] Edwin Friedman, Friedman’s Fables: Discussion Questions (New York: Guilford Press, 1990), 9.

[8] Peter L. Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What (Herndon VA: Alban Institute, 2006), 13. Steinke also suggests, “The skyrocketing divorce rate…can be seen as an effect of the national tendency to displace blame.” Steinke, 80.

[9] Edwin Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: Guilford Press, 1985), 218.

[10] Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York, Seabury Books, 2007), 80.

[11] Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 220.

[12] Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 221.

[13] Friedman, Generation to Generation, 216.

[14] “There are a number of clergy of all faiths who, rather than burning out, almost seem to relish abuse, either emotionally or in their physical surroundings. If they are Christian, they might see themselves as emulating Jesus on the cross. If they are Jewish, they might justify their suffering by recalling the martyrs of Jewish history. In both cases this is sheer theological camouflage for an ineffective immune system. In any family, taking the suffering for others, or being willing to suffer because of the suffering of others, is absolutely irresponsible if it enables others to avoid facing their own suffering! Indeed, the effects of that type of self-abnegation can only increase others’ guilt!” Friedman, Generation to Generation, 218.

[15] Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 183.

[16] These definitions and more are listed in Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 183.

[17] For a colorful and suspenseful illustration of self-differentiation see pages 9-13 of Friedman’s Fables.

[18] Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 76.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Westermann points out this shift when he writes, “The lament is not a constituent part of Christian prayer, and we can say that in a certain sense the confession of sin has become the Christianized form of lament: ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!’ The result of this is that both in Christian dogmatics and in Christian worship suffering as opposed to sin has receded far into the background. Jesus Christ’s work of salvation has to do with the forgiveness of sins and with eternal life; it does not deal, however, with ending human suffering. Here we see the real reason why the lament has been dropped from Christian prayer. The believing Christian should bear suffering patiently and not complain about it to God” Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 274.

[22] Holly J. Carey lays out these two “camps” in “Chapter 1: Setting the Scene Mark 15.34 in the Current Debate” in Jesus’ Cry from the Cross: Towards a First-Century Understanding of the Intertextual Relationship between Psalm 22 and the Narrative of Mark’s Gospel (New York: T & T Clark, 2009).

[23] “That these words are intended as a cry of despair on Jesus’ part makes no sense at all. Why would Mark write a “gospel” (“good news”) about a tragic figure whose life ends in total despair? Such a work might qualify as a tragedy or a pathetic biography, but hardly as a gospel.” John R. Donahue, SJ and Daniel J. Harrington SJ The Gospel of Mark: Sacra Pagina (Collegeville MN, Liturgical Press, 2002), 450.

[24] Carey, Jesus’ Cry from the Cross, 3-4.

[25] Carey, 4.

[26] Carey, 5.

[27] William Stacy Johnson, “Jesus’ Cry, God’s Cry, and Ours” in Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square, ed. Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 84.

[28] Scott A. Ellington, Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament Princeton Theological Monograph Series 98 (Eugene OR: Pickwick, 2008), 165.

[29] See Note 5. Ellington, 165.

[30] Ellington, 167.

[31] Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 71-73.

[32] Due to the limitations of this paper, I cannot delineate the many nuanced differences and similarities between Girard’s mimetic theory and Friedman’s family systems theory. However, Hamerton-Kelly acknowledges the “link” between mimetic theory and systems theory. See Note 11. Hamerton-Kelly, 6.

[33] Donahue and Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina) Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, 2002), 452.

[34] Walter Brueggemann, The Psalms & the Life of Faith (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1995), 102.

[36] Interestingly, Adam comes fairly close to blaming and accusing God in Genesis 3:12 when he says, “The woman whom you [God] gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” But Eve still remains Adam’s object of blame.

[37] Elie Wiesel said, “I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.” Elie Wiesel, Night. Translated by Stella Rodway (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), 73.

[38] In German, the words for “complaint” (anklage) and “lament” (klage) are linguistically related.

About deforestlondon

Episcopal priest
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One Response to A Way Out of Burnout: Cultivating Differentiated Leadership Through Lament

  1. Sharon Obuchon-Staub says:

    I see lament as part of prayer; lots and lots of prayer is the key, supplication, lament, and gratitude.

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