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  • Pastor Nancy Switzler

Age of Grievance Post 2


I hope and pray you all are doing well this first weekend of summer!

Some of my favorite nonfiction books are books that I chose to read after listening to the author on a podcast. I hear what is important to the author and I am intrigued enough to buy and then read the book. This is also the case with the book I am currently sharing with you, “The Age of Grievance” by Frank Bruni.

I must confess that this is the first such book that has made me uncomfortable while reading it. I can read his words and simultaneously think, “this is going to anger that person… and this person… and these people… and me.” As uncomfortable as I am reading it, I think that sitting in the discomfort of the role of grievance within an extremely polarized country is important work.

This week I’ve read chapters two, “A Good Word Spoiled,” and three, “Grievance Now versus Grievance Then.”

The “good word spoiled” obviously is the word grievance. Did you know the word is in the first amendment to the Constitution? I did not. Here is an enlightening quote from this chapter:

I’m treating grievance as a dirty word, and it isn’t. Or wasn’t. Or needn’t be. Grievance has been the precursor of justice, the prelude to enlightenment. The United States is a nation born of grievance, in the revolt of royal subject unwilling to accept a bad deal, and we’re hardly the only democracy brought into being by rightly aggrieved people recognizing and refusing to accept inequality and exploitation. In the last words of the First Amendment, Congress is prohibited from making any law that would abridge people’s right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievance.”

This is the good use of grievance…the ability to say “things aren’t right, and we need to fix them.”

But what happens when grievance becomes the lens through which we see most everything? What happens when grievance is taken to extreme lengths? What happens when grievance prevents our seeing the humanity in our neighbors? These are questions I am pondering as I continue to reflect on this chapter. I think they are good questions for us to ponder as people of faith.

When I began reading chapter three, “Grievance Now versus Grievance Then,” I was expecting a lesson in ancient history… but the author mostly talked about the 1990s…boy does this make me feel old! Here the author traces the roots of today’s polarization, or grievance directed against the other. Here is a quote from this chapter:

What the left sees in the right and what the right sees in the left are almost the same: a bullying force intent on imposing its out-of-touch, out-of-whack values on unbelievers and on crushing them if they persist in their heresy. What the left feels and what the right feels are identical: oppressed. There’s a perverse mirror-image tidiness to it, a nasty reciprocity, even a strange symbiosis.

The temptation is to read these words and self-righteously place the blame on the other. That is what I want to do! But then I am taken back to a comment I heard from a speaker at a conference last October. This person is psychologist Dr. Walter Smith, expert in systems, and his life work is to identify, train, and in any other way possible, combat systemic racism in the Pittsburgh PA children’s court system.

He is also African American, and at this conference he was talking to a group of white ELCA pastors about racism…and systems. He shared lots of pertinent information but the sentence that continues to reverberate through my mind is, “Don’t let the issue become more important than the relationship.” I think that Dr. Smith’s words speak strongly to people of faith.

My invitation to you is to think about this issue of grievance. Maybe ponder whether you’ve lost family or friends due to our political climate. I have! But then ask the question, “how has ending the relationship helped?” It might make me feel good in the moment to refuse to interact with someone I so vehemently disagree with…but how do that help us as a people?

What might Jesus, who invites us to love one another and love our neighbors and identifies our neighbors as those we see as enemies…what might this Jesus be telling us to do? I think that we, as people of faith, have an invitation to offer an alternative to grievance. I am not saying that we excuse things, but rather that we learn how to not let the issue be more important than the relationship. I am not saying this is easy…in fact it is HARD!

Is it possible? With God all things are possible.

Want to talk about this some more? I invite you to get the book (or not) and join me on Tuesday, June 25 at 7pm on Zoom for a discussion. If I lived closer, I’d call the discussion “Over a Beer,” as in let’s share a drink and talk. Since we are on Zoom feel free to drink a beer or glass of wine or water or soda or whatever…and let’s talk about how God might be inviting us to be a different people.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Nancy

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Age of Grievance Post 1

Greetings, This week I began reading, “Age of Grievance” by Frank Bruni. He is a columnist for the New York Times, so if you read his...


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