Pastoral Voices: Grief and communication

Retired United Church of Christ pastor Rev. Dawn Berry wrote this Letter to the Editor, printed in the October 24 Concord Monitor:

It truly grieves me to read about President Donald Trump’s call to the Gold Star widow, Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, died in the Niger ambush.

Then, Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly weighs in that President Barack Obama didn’t call his family when his son died, after President Trump had lied again saying he had called “all Gold Star families” and accused Obama and other former presidents of doing so rarely or never.

Frankly, as a retired pastor of United Church of Christ congregations, I made mistakes with grieving families. I keep learning and have learned the hard way about what to say to grieving families because of my son’s death. If you have authority as a pastor, you talk to those who felt your words didn’t comfort them. You apologize, you listen, you reach out again and again.

So, what distressed me most was that our president first lied and then couldn’t hear how his words hurt. Rather than use his power of office to call back and apologize, he and his team had to go on the bully offensive to ridicule and demean our former presidents, especially President Obama, and the congresswoman who is a friend of the Johnson family.

I had always learned that you use your power to serve, not to prove your rightness or to win.

It seems to me that the character of any man or woman is the ability to listen to the most vulnerable, and the moral courage of any person has to do with admitting when they are wrong or have hurt someone, even unintentionally. Can we also expect that in the political arena where power is wielded to the benefit or harm of constituents? Can we really look at who is in power and who is excluded and why? Is it just about winning re-election on both sides of the aisle? Do we dare dream of a country where we are all respected and have voice?

I hope so, even when it means, my voice has to listen before speaking or defending.