October 24, 2014

Can A Christian Sing The Blues?

***sigh***

When someone says I’ve written something I shouldn’t have written, you can be almost certain that I’ve written something using the language of lament. L-A-M-E-N-T.

All of you that just said “huh?” please step into the side room. If you came in a bus, they’ll wait. It’s time for a lesson on some of the most important parts of the Bible that you won’t be hearing in church.

Lament is a form of language used THROUGHOUT THE BIBLE (excuse the shouting) when human beings respond to their experience of God seeming to not keep his covenant promises to them. Lament is “Where are you Lord? What are you doing? Why are you against me? How could you let this happen? I did what you commanded, and now this? My life is miserable. Where is God?” If you’re like most Christians, you know this stuff is in the Bible, but your pastor never gets near it at the risk of a deacons meeting to ask why he’s lost his faith.

Lament is a kind of mourning, and it’s a very legitimate and common Biblical form of prayer. It’s part of how the Bible teaches us to pray and worship. It sounds radical in the Bible, and it sounds downright dangerous in contemporary usage.

For example, read Jeremiah 20:7-18. Here are some some highlights, rephrased into the vernacular by me:

God, you’ve conned me. You’ve made me into a laughingstock. Your word is a cause of derision and rejection. I’d love to stop talking about you, but unfortunately I can’t. Cursed be the day I was born. It would have been better if I’d died in the womb, or my mother murdered, than to live this life.

Or try Jeremiah 15:15-21.

God, I did everything you asked me to, but it now appears you have just given me unceasing pain, refused to take it away and proven yourself to be deceitful.

Yes, he said deceitful. Lamenters don’t always get their theology right. In the midst of pain, our prayers and complaints are covered up in emotion, and that emotion often isn’t the kind of “everything in its place” theology smiley happy religious people need.

Similar material can be found throughout the Bible, from whole chapters in Job to long sections of the Psalms to statements by Jesus that we all know, like “Why have you forsaken me?” As I said, we all know it’s there, but we don’t like to think about what it means. We’re trained to stick with what won’t make anyone blink and wince.

Lament can be direct and blunt, full of anger, depression and bitterness, directed at God in direct address. It can be subdued and quiet, barely detectable. It can be complaints to other persons of faith, or it can simply be the lamenter talking to him/herself.

Abraham lamented. So did Moses. So did David. So did Job. So did most of the prophets and yes, even Jesus on occasion.

Communal laments are common in the Psalms, reflecting Israel’s experience of questioning the covenant and experiencing the dark side of their faith. You’ll never read the Psalms in a disciplined way without having to deal with the implications of lamentation and the goodness/sovereignty of God.

An entire book of the older testament laments the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and covenant certainties.

So, how does this get a writer or preacher in trouble again?

When contemporary Christians, especially preachers and teachers, use the language of lament, it’s Biblical context is lost on some hearers, and all they hear is doubt and denial. (Trust me on that one. I have much experience.) In fact, what they are actually hearing is faith; faith finding its voice and regaining its foundation after distressing life experiences and disappointments.

The language of lament is not welcome in most contemporary Christianity. Evangelicals in particular must be held responsible for creating an atmosphere where a person in pain and loss cannot speak in the SAME LANGUAGE THE BIBLE USES (excuse the caps. Sorry.) without running the risk of controversy and heresy.

How many churches have people who need to have their own unspoken laments affirmed by the Biblical language of lament and the experiences of God’s people in lamentation, but are denied the opportunity to feel human because Christians are so invested in maintaining illusions.

Ironically, Christians specialize in the language of glory and triumph, gullibly believing any report of miracles and healings must be true in order to prove that God is still doing what they’ve been told he should always do, but it is the experience and language of lament- disappointment and sorrow- that would tell honest unbelievers that we live in the same world as they do, yet still believe in God. Our proficiency in triumphalism backfires with the genuine souls who want to know if God is still there when he seems so absent.

Calvin Seerveld has penned a contemporary congregational lament. Ask yourself if this reading could find a place in your church? Does it have a place in the faith journey of a Christian? Or are we destined to be a happy, clappy people despite the truths of our lives?

Why, Lord, must evil seem to get its way?
We do confess our sin is deeply shameful;
but now the wicked openly are scornful—
they mock your name and laugh at our dismay.
We know your providential love holds true:
nothing can curse us endlessly with sorrow.
Transform, dear Lord, this damage into good;
show us your glory, hidden by this evil.

Why, Lord must he be sentenced, locked away?
True, he has wronged his neighbor and has failed you.
Yet none of us is innocent and sinless;
only by grace we follow in your way.
We plead: Repair the brokenness we share.
Chastise no more lest it destroy your creatures.
Hear this lament as intercessory prayer,
and speak your powerful word to make us hopeful.

Why, Lord, must she be left to waste away?
Do you not see how painfully she suffers?
Could you not change the curse of this disaster?
Amaze us by your mighty sovereignty.
We plead: Repair the brokenness we share.
Chastise no more lest it destroy your creatures.
Hear this lament as intercessory prayer,
and speak your powerful word to make us hopeful.

Why, Lord, must broken vows cut like a knife?
How can one wedded body break in pieces?
We all have failed at being pure and faithful;
only by grace we keep our solemn vows.
We plead: Repair the brokenness we share.
Chastise no more lest it destroy your creatures.
Hear this lament as intercessory prayer,
and speak your powerful word to make us hopeful.

Why, Lord, did you abruptly take him home?
Could you not wait to summon him before you?
Why must we feel the sting of death’s old cruelty?
Come quickly, Lord, do not leave us alone.
We plead: Repair the brokenness we share.
Chastise no more lest it destroy your creatures.
Hear this lament as intercessory prayer,
and speak your powerful word to make us hopeful.

Why, Lord, must any child of yours be hurt?
Does all our pain and sorrow somehow please you?
You are a God so jealous for our praises
hear this lament as prayer that fills the earth.
We plead: Repair the brokenness we share.
Chastise no more lest it destroy your creatures.
Hear this lament as intercessory prayer,
and speak your powerful word to make us hopeful.

Text Calvin Seerveld, I986. c 7 986, Calvin Seerveld. Used by permission.

There are many excellent resources on lament. Evangelicals can learn much from the writings and music of Michael Card who has two books on lament- both excellent- and is now doing teaching on the subject. Here are two mp3s of Card teaching on lament, and particularly how lament changes our thinking about God.

Some excellent articles on lament are available on the web. Check out this one at Reformed Worship. Then do a search of back issues under the search term “lament.”

One of the ways the church makes itself expendable, even intolerable, to some serious Jesus followers is the rejection and devaluing of the language of lament. We are human beings and our experience of God is sometimes one of sorrow and pain. Such an experience becomes part of our prayer, our affirmation of faith and our corporate witness.

Michael Horton says the evangelical church has decided no one can sing or play the blues in church.

That’s a very bad, and dishonest, decision. Singing the blues to God is honest, and the ailing evangelicalism around us is dying for lack of honesty.

Comments

  1. JoanieD says:

    “Singing the blues to God is honest, and the ailing evangelicalism around us is dying for lack of honesty.”

    Yes, Michael, I believe this to be true. Most of my experience of people who call themselves evangelical comes from my reading them online. But I do see numbers of them trying to be honest. But then others will raise their heads and call them heretics for even thinking about the things they are thinking about. It does squelch open, honest discussion at times.

    Joanie D.

  2. Wolf N. Paul says:

    Thank you, Michael. That is an important reminder, a corrective sorely needed in Evangelical circles. Somehow I am not at all surprised that that your openness prompted the comments that occasioned this post.

  3. u2wesley says:

    “Abandonment, displacement, is the stuff of my favourite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s in his despair that the psalmist really reveals the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. ‘How long, Lord? Wilt thou hide thy face forever?’ (Psalm 89) or ‘Answer me when I call’ (Psalm 5) … That’s what a lot of the Psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God – ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?'”

    Bono, Introduction to The Psalms.

  4. Thanks Michael. You are correct, most likely we won’t hear much of this on Sundays. In fact many of us will hear this:

    At the Cross At the Cross where I first saw the light
    And the burden of my heart rolled away
    It was there by faith I received my sight
    And now I am HAPPY ALL THE DAY.

    People will sing that, and if they pay attention to the last line of the chorus, they will think something must be wrong with them.

    Here’s another scripture to consider:

    It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart. Grief is better than laughter, for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad. The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.

    Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 HCSB

    I told some people a few years ago that I would rather listen to a lot of the secular music than much of the Christian music because it is more real. A lot of it deals with the tough issues of life that Christians don’t want to struggle with.

    Very timely. Thanks again.

  5. Scott Miller says:

    Michael, thank you again for your voice of honesty and reality in the wilderness of “feel good” American Christianity.
    Life is full of pain, especially as we get older. And you correctly point out that lamentations are not allowed in most churches. I have actually had pastors and peers imply “don’t you have enough faith, brother?” in such circumstances.
    Real faith comes from real suffering. I think that only when Christianity returns to the reality of pain will we be able to extend the message of justification to a hurt and dying world.
    Thanks again.

  6. Once again, I find myself in waters that are likely too deep for me.
    However.
    It seems to me that one of the overriding themes of the bible is,”why?”.
    Jesus had such anxiety and doubt that he sweat blood.
    As you pointed out He asked”why have you forsaken Me?”. Hearing that phrase in Aramaic is truly chilling.”Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”
    We’re supposed to believe that positive thinking changes our world? BS.
    The Son of God had doubts and pain and allowed the expression to be written in Holy writ.
    David, the great author of praise, often begged God for relief and answers.
    The “we’re all happy and there’s something wrong with you” crowd may know something I don’t and may be more enlightened.
    I doubt it. Possible, but I doubt it.

  7. Wow, Michael, this post may have made me put two thoughts together in my head that I never realized went together. I spent a total of eight or so years in the Christian music industry, first on the promotion side, then on the radio side. I thought what I struggled with was the “musical integrity” of what the CCM industry was churning out. Most of it fell flat with me. But when I read this post, I remembered a conversation with a musician. He had a few albums out that I loved. They weren’t selling. He told me the record label said his music was too dark, and maybe he should try to “lighten up”. It would sell better. I begged him not to. Lonely pilgrim’s comment put it together as well. Much of the music that resounded with me was the “dark stuff”. It didn’t sell well, and the CCM industry wasn’t really interested in marketing it. A good number of those artists no longer work in the industry and many are rather bruised and battered by the experience. They were singing the “blues” and the “church” didn’t want to hear it. Radicals!

  8. My pastor (Lutheran) plays blues guitar (he used to be a pro) in a couple of night clubs and bars around town with his 2 sons who are also terrific musicians.

  9. If I had stumbled on this posting, and its message, 18 years ago, it may have saved me three years in the pit of despair. But in those days, if there was a place for lamenting within the Christendom that I knew, it was obscure, because I couldn’t find it.

    We were missionaries in the Middle East at the time. We had just gone through two hellish years alone (with some very sick children). I had just sent out a newsletter asking for our donor/prayer team to pray that we “could cope with the situation.” It was the first time I had ever shown any chink in my armor. A few weeks later I had a letter of rebuke from one of our “prayer warriors.” I will never forget his words, “Christians don’t just ‘cope’ . . . they are always victorious! You apparently don’t have your eyes on Jesus.”

    At that moment, my entire Christian world (built over 15 years) collapsed, like bringing down a skyscraper with a feather from a hummingbird.

    Returning the states, there was absolutely no place for lamenting Christians . . . except with some LAbri folks or within a couple of Philip Yancey books. But otherwise, I felt like we were totally lost—bivouacked—on the back side of the moon.

    For Christians in pain and uncertainty, there were only the options of; 1)faking it in a state of numbness, 2)leaving the Church and God forever and living in a nihilistic state . . . or 3)hanging yourself. I considered all three.

    My whole downward spiral was finally halted through an experience with a stranger I met at a Burger King in Duluth, MN. I will never forget his name, Dave Peterson. He was a Christian and shared a meal with me.

    Our conversation led to our missionary experience. I was brutally honest, yet, my honesty didn’t disturb Dave like it had other Christians. He had no one-liner crappy-cliques like, “You may doubt God but He’ll never doubt you.” Dave just listened, quietly . . . until he began to weep like a baby. He sobbed and I did too until we had the whole restaurant looking in our direction. Here were two grown men, who barely knew each other, crying like two school girls, for an hour we cried until our whoppers were soggy with saline tears.

    There HAS to be a safe place for lamenting Christians. There just has to be. Thanks Michael

  10. I like to compare it to a close relationship we have with another person. If someone was mad at me, would I want them to be honest about their anger with me, or would I prefer they pretended and said all the right things?
    Yet, we have the audacity to think that God can’t handle it?
    A lament or complaint is a sign of wrestling, that we actually care and are working through it rather than pretending. It takes courage to be honest, it takes work, and if we don’t put ourselves out there and speak our heart, it doesn’t give God much to work with, it doesn’t give God and others anything to give feedback or encouragement on.

    My Bible professor in college said that the individual lament is the most common type of Psalm. Apparently we just sing the happy ones.

  11. Hi,
    I’ve never written to you, but today I want to say something.

    Yes, life is hard, we get hurt, we get dissapointed, we are human and we are loved by a living, loving God. when I was in grade 4, many, many years ago, we had a minister at our local Dutch Reformed Church (South Africa) in a very small town with a farm community. I cannot remember this remarkable man’s name or surname, only one of his sermon’s. This in itself is quite remarkable as I was only 10 years old.

    In any case, this minister said that it is okay to sometimes doubt, and it is okay to sometimes become upset with God, and it is okay to say it to God. I don’t know if this message was his intention, but it is what I heard and lived since then.

    Have you ever tried lamenting to God. It is absolutely amazing, for me my anger and argueing and fighting with God always end more or less where Job did. I am always reminded of all the wonderfull things that do go right, all the amazing things He did do for me, and most importantly, that He has an eternal view of my tiny, time “chained” life (sorry, lack of English, I’m a Afrikaans speaking girl). In the end, after I’ve spent my anger on Him, He always manage to make me feel loved and secure, despite all the horrible hurting things in my life!

  12. Heteroclite says:

    Possibly part of the problem is cultural: Jewish culture vs. (bourgeois) gentile culture (using “bourgeois” here in its denotative sense, not in the contemptuous Marxist sense). For the latter, historically, it is not “couth,” “suave” or “polite” to express one’s naked doubts—or for that matter, to embrace a leader and smother him with kisses (as I remember once seeing a Middle Easterner do). Factor in the Peale and Schuller influence (not to mention the Eastern idea [via folks like Copeland, Hagin & Cho] that any sort of illness, etc. is all illusory) and you’ve got the perfect recipe for the toxic brew denial-cum-condemnation (condemnation for not being upbeat enough). A missionary I know wrote, “The key to [spiritual] progress is ruthlessly killing off the thoughts of unbelief and doubt.”

    Right. Make sure your spiritual machetes are sharp and numerous.

    GAG.

  13. Jon Bartlett says:

    Perhaps that’s why I love the Blues but can’t stand most CCM….

  14. At the risk of becoming boring, yet again I find a poem by Scott Cairns coming to mind, in this case “Pain”.

    Particularly his reference to how our attempts at apology for suffering collapse in the face of:

    …that innocent whose torn
    face or weeping burns

    or ravenous disease says simply no,
    not good enough.

  15. What a beautiful post and what wonderful comments. I’m here singing the blues with you.

    Michael, like you, it often confuses me when I lament and people QUESTION my faith. To me lamenting is the most true and honest expression of my faith. I really appreciate your honesty (some of my very first posts when I began blogging were on lament, and they were highly influenced by things you had said. I’m so thankful for how you tackle this subject).

    One of my favorite chapters is one you referred to, Jeremiah 15. I think I’d probably be excommunicated and branded a heretic if I stood up in testimony meeting and quoted Jeremiah, saying, “God’s help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook. It is like a spring that has gone dry.”

    Anette, what an incredible pastor and sermon! What a blessing that you got to hear it so young. I’m with you on my freedom to cry out to God ultimately leading me to where Job ended up. Not a bad place to end up, even though the road there stinks…

  16. I have actually had well meaning brothers and sisters in Christ accuse me of having bad self-esteem for talking about lament, or actually lamenting.

    no joke. The ultimate insult in our day, bad self esteem.

  17. Excellent.

    In some circles we get a bum rap for negativity, but being a Catholic means that you’re surrounded by the acknowlegement that life here on earth is, indeed, hard. A vale of tears, actually. In which we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping. Or so the ‘Salve Regina’ tells us.
    So hard that we need special channels of grace, the sacraments, to help us persevere to the end.
    And so hard that we find it useful to keep the reminder of the passion of Our Lord in front of our faces- if He could do that, then I can do this.

  18. Excellent post.

    Just once I would like for an evangelical, charismatic church to sing a song of lament and not have the worship leader say, “everyone look happy, stand on your feet, and lift your hands to God”

  19. Michael,

    I couldn’t agree more! Modern Christians, and evangelicals and fundamentalists in particular, are so much in to the happy-clappy approach to life that there is no place for grief, doubt, pain, anger, or less-than-rejoicing feelings at all. No place at all to be human, to weep, rage, or grieve as Jesus Himself did on a number of occasions.

    I have a fundamentalist friend who is dear to me, yet if I’m feeling unhappy I have learned not to mention it to her. She *tries* to be sympathetic, but it’s obvious she’s biting her tongue till she can “remind” me that the Lord has a plan and it’s going to be wonderful and I mustn’t let the devil get me in his grip.

    This is a *very* modern, new-fangled idea of Chritianity. People before the 20th century — before modern medicine and communications — knew perfectly well that life was tough and painful. For several centuries, the most popular book in the English-speaking world, after the Bible, was The Pilgrim’s Progress, which shows the Christian life as a constant struggle.

    If you don’t mind rather unusual word combinations, here’s a couple poems by Victorian-era poet Gerard Manley Hopkins that were often a “comfort” to me in my bleaker times:

    NO worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
    More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
    Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
    Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
    My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
    Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
    Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
    ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
    Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
    May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
    Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
    Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
    Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

    NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
    Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
    In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
    Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
    But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
    Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
    With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
    O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

    Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
    Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
    Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
    Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
    Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
    Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

  20. But, hey, forget the laments. Haven’t you heard that a huge revival has broken out in Lakeland, Florida? Better head down there right away to get hands laid on you so you can smile again and sing “Jesus is my boyfriend songs.” Drop whatever you’re doing and hit the road. Laments are so “down.” (Okay, I’ve pulled my tongue out of my cheek.) :)

  21. Michael,

    I tried to post this earlier, but I don’t think it liked my links, so I am trying again without links.

    When it comes to lamenting, a lot of Christians that I know up here in Canada have been listening to the music of Bruce Cockburn who serves as a sort of alter-ego for many of us. I have heard him lament how his marriage fell apart as a result of his journey towards becoming a Christian. Here are some of his thoughts on his 1980 album “Humans” which he wrote during this time of distress.

    “Three songs – You Get Bigger as You Go, What About the Bond and Fascist Architecture – deal specifically with the separation. But I think enough people go through stuff like that, so the songs have a fairly universal application. The whole album deals with a lot of pain and death – a lot of the ugliness that I’ve encountered around me. But I hope it comes across that even in the face of it, there’s still ground for hope. Songs like Rumours of Glory and The Rose Above the Sky are about moving from downness into something that opens up, although what that something is is not really spelled out.”

    Fourteen years later he wrote: “I started losing some of my hardcore fundamentalist fans around the Humans album, which had a couple of cuss-words on it. I got some angry and disappointed letters asking, ‘How can a Christian say that?’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There’s no response to that.”

    Here are some sample lyrics from the album.

    You get bigger as you go.

    So I find out what the luxury of hate is
    As exciting maybe as doing the dishes
    Face toward window — light received
    You walk away to see a film
    See some people see a man
    Stab in throat twist in gut all too clear
    Not too new — all been done before
    Planet breathes exhaustion
    Staggers on
    Enemy anger impotent gun grease
    Too many thoughts
    Too dogshit tired
    One small step for freedom
    From foregone conclusion

    You get bigger as you go
    No one told me — I just know
    Bales of memory like boats in tow
    You get bigger as you go

    You get bigger as you go
    Spent all day afraid to talk
    Redneck children laugh out loud
    I being target live and walk

    You get bigger as you go
    Telephone snarls “don’t touch me”
    You move in waves like the midnight blues
    You vector of this weird dis-ease

    You get bigger as you go
    News reruns — dawn comes rainbow
    Pain takes shape of grimy window
    You get bigger as you go

    If you feel the need to lament, I encourage you to check him out.

  22. However much the Evangelical church tries to pretend that their brand of faith can make it go away, Job got the perspective right: “Man is born into trouble as the sparks fly upward.”

    At the risk of levity on a serious subject, there’s a not-quite-a-joke recited around our house in those miserable, painful times that all humans share:

    “A man staggering under the burdens of his life fell to his knees, raised his hands to Heaven, and demanded of God, “Why me, Lord?”

    And a Voice from the Heavens replied, asking, “Why not you?”

  23. I immediately thought of ‘the slough of despond’ in ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’.

  24. A friend of mine made the point once that she felt God was big enough to handle all the parts of her…the happy smiley ones as well as the angry, sad, and cussing ones.

    Beautiful post. Thanks.

  25. Interesting timing. Just yesterday I was thumbing a copy of Newsweek at the doctor’s office, and found an article on happiness, and negative emotions, and how important the negative ones are to our mental health. It said a lot of things on the subject, for instance that people who are somewhat less happy are more successful because they are challenged to re-examine things, and question their preconceptions. All from a secular viewpoint, but it dovetails with what I am reading here (which reflects what the scripture says).

    All of which is encouraging to me, since I’ve had a considerable season of darker emotions. Sometimes when I get the guilt trip for not being happy enough (“It’s a bad witness!”), I just want to smack somebody… which would probably make me really happy! :-)

    -JIm Bob

  26. Last week, I read a long post on another site about the epidemic of people “de-converting” and leaving the church. (Nice segue to your post!) Much of the post centered on the fact that many ex-Christians at some point feel that they’ve bought into a sham that doesn’t hold up to reality. Several months ago, I heard an interview with Bart Ehrman, the author of “God’s Problem”, in which he said that when he got saved, he was sure that his life would be a happily ever after. When it wasn’t, and he saw suffering everywhere in the world, he questioned his beliefs and eventually discounted God altogether. I think both of these examples show what happens when the church fails to recognize that even Christians sing the blues, and that it’s ok to do so. Life sometimes stinks, even for Christians, and to act otherwise is just plain silly, IMO.

  27. Lamentation and Blues is just a fancy way of saying “Sh*t happens!” (Which it does; remember that tower in Siloam?)

    But Evangelicals are too committed to Shiny Happy Christians (TM) and will turn anyone who doesn’t have their Stimpy Happy Helmet singing “Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!” into a pile of rocks.

    One of my contacts (in Louisville, KY) told me of an experience where someone asked him “Could depression be your Spiritual Gift?” As a just-starting-out writer who’s prone to bouts of depression, I can attest that the strongest fiction and art is often powered by the stronger, darker emotions. Without these strong emotions, you get cotton candy — “Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!”

  28. Yes!! My wife and I have come out of period in our journey that was pure lament. We pastored in a church where if you weren’t happy, you were had some sin in your life.

    I’ve thought along the same lines as your post for awhile now. Things aren’t always rosey and we have to admit that the lamenting times are sometimes just as important as mountain top experiences.

    To me, lamenting is Biblical, but we shouldn’t allow the lament to take over our lives either. God gave us emotions, why do we always have to be happy?! We learn/grow through all experiences of life, not just the easy times.

  29. an old Wesley blues:

    1 WRETCHED, helpless, and distrest,
    Ah! whither shall I fly?
    Ever gasping after rest,
    I cannot find it nigh:
    Naked, sick, and poor, and blind,
    Fast bound in sin and misery,
    Friend of sinners, let me find
    My help, my all, in thee!

    2 I am all unclean, unclean,
    Thy purity I want;
    My whole heart is sick of sin,
    And my whole head is faint;
    Full of putrefying sores,
    Of bruises, and of wounds, my soul
    Looks to Jesus, help implores,
    And gasps to be made whole.

    3 In the wilderness I stray,
    My foolish heart is blind,
    Nothing do I know; the way
    Of peace I cannot find:
    Jesu, Lord, restore my sight,
    And take, O take, the veil away!
    Turn my darkness into light,
    My midnight into day.

    4 Naked of thine image, Lord,
    Forsaken, and alone,
    Unrenewed, and unrestored,
    I have not thee put on;
    Over me thy mantle spread,
    Send down thy likeness from above,
    Let thy goodness be displayed,
    And wrap me in thy love.

    5 Poor, alas! thou know’st I am,
    And would be poorer still,
    See my nakedness and shame,
    And all my vileness feel;
    No good thing in me resides,
    My soul is all an aching void
    Till thy Spirit here abides,
    And I am filled with God.

    6 Jesus, full of truth and grace,
    In thee is all I want;
    Be the wanderer’s resting-place,
    A cordial to the faint;
    Make me rich, for I am poor;
    In thee may I my Eden find;
    To the dying health restore.
    And eye-sight to the blind.

    7 Clothe me with thy holiness,
    Thy meek humility;
    Put on me my glorious dress,
    Endue my soul with thee;
    Let thine image be restored,
    Thy name and nature let me prove,
    With thy fulness fill me, Lord.
    And perfect me in love.

  30. Thank You. As a christian who plays in a blues band I found this blog quite by accident. But you’ve expressed a frustration I’ve felt many times. The christian thought police! Everything must be uniformly positive, nevermind that it reflects only a part of the actual human condition.

    Can I link to this blog?

  31. P.S. it also comes off as phony to non-believers. They don’t believe anyone can be happy all the time. And they’re right.

  32. Thank you for this. I’m quite familar with the attitude. Recently, I mentioned that I was in agony during my prayer time, and got back, “You must not be praying enough”. Not to mention, most of the prayers are praise types, not the situations where there are no good answers.

  33. Wolf Paul says:

    Heteroclite writes, “the Eastern idea [via folks like Copeland, Hagin & Cho] that any sort of illness, etc. is all illusory”.

    I am not so sure that the NameItClaimIt folks view illnes as illusory as much as they view it as a result of unbelief and thus disobedience.

    In my mind this is worse than viewing it as illusory, because of the guilt it induces: not only do you have to bear the illness, but on top of that the guilt of your disobedience and unbelief.

  34. bob pinto says:

    Interesting how Mr. Lee found comfort in non-biblical poetry. I found some “comfort” in Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”. ( That ought to freak out a few people.)

    How strange Gibran DOESN’T lament.

    This weirdo poet thinks suffering is intertwined with joy, and pain is found among the pinions of love.

    He doesn’t explain or include everything pertinent to suffering, but neither does the bible.

    I’ve said too much…..

  35. eric stephens says:

    Like you had to ask? Ecclesiastes and some of the Psalms should only be read with a blues track running in the background :-) Try that in church…I double dog dare ya!!!

  36. Michael,
    I have no idea who you are. I don’t think I’ve ever visited your blog before. However, a brother sent a link to this article via email, and I’m glad he did.

    What a reality check!

    I could say heaps, but it’s all been said already. I just want to say “thanks”. Thank you for saying what few will bother to recognise as ‘truth’.

  37. “At the Cross At the Cross where I first saw the light
    And the burden of my heart rolled away
    It was there by faith I received my sight
    And now I am HAPPY ALL THE DAY.”

    I believe Isacc Watts would have thrown up in his mouth if he heard this refrain sung along with his “Alas and Did my Saviour Bleed?” like it has been for years. No offense to anyone who sings it like that at their church though. ::cough::hack::

    I am a musician. I love hymns, especially those of lament and sorrow but still speak of redemption like “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul”
    http://www.igracemusic.com/hymnbook/hymns/d02.html

  38. The Bible is way less uptight than the average American church; or to use the theological term: full of crap.

  39. Perhaps one reason lament gets ignored and people think they have to be happy all the time to be Christians is because they hear that Christ will give us joy, and they equate joy with happiness, which it is not.

  40. Bravo, Michael. During and some months after my divorce, I often asked God “Why?” There were more than a few times I was screaming at him. But, when I needed the support of fellow Christians more than at any other time in my life, I was afraid to ask for it, because I felt that they’d tell me that I wasn’t trusting Him enough, wasn’t praying enough, or wasn’t doing something else enough. I already felt the whole situation was my fault (it wasn’t, totally), and I didn’t want to hear it from anyone else.

    It’s sad, but I got more support from my non-believing friends.

  41. To illustrate my point above about ssecular music being better than Christian music in this regard, consider these lyrics:

    When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
    When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on.
    Don’t let yourself go,
    Everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes.

    That’s from “Everybody Hurts” by REM. Let’s just say I’m probably not going to hear a whole lot that is similar to that on Christian Radio or in church this Sunday.

  42. I like it lonelypilgrim! I’ve noticed the same, how real, true to real, human life these “secular” lyrics are.

    I led the HS class last year (briefly . . . before I got booted) and the thing I had kids do was to bring in their favorite lyrics. We discussed them, what the poet/lyricist was trying to say etc.

    Wouldn’t it be great to go to a church service where there was at least one song that was, “Hey God . . . where the hell are you?! I’m dying down here and the Heavens seem empty to me. Where the hell are you God … are you in Vegas?” Then the song ends without resolution (where life suddenly works out perfectly because I suddenly trusted God correctly).

    I don’t feel in despair in my life right now, but I have in the past and will probably again in the future . . . we need to know how to lament.

  43. tanegeel says:

    On this score, I’ve been grateful to be a recovering alcoholic. People who have destroyed their lives with addictions and desperately want to try another path are not given to bullsh*t. While some recovery groups in churches are run by the Smilin’ Jesus crew, many people I’ve met had enough of the stuffing knocked out of them to be honest.
    The ignorance of the lament reminds me of the psychologist’s concept of validation. The Psalmist feels that God has abandoned him. That is a valid feeling that any honest believer has shared and should be acknowledged as such. It may not be actually true, but a feeling is real and God is not afraid of our feelings (like some other Christians are).
    Jacob the patriarch wrestled with God. He WRESTLED with him. I’ve seen a few matches and they aren’t about happy thoughts, they’re about fighting…

  44. jmj – Thank you. Kerry Livgren once said that more people came to Christ from the songs he wrote prior to becoming a Christian (Dust in the Wind, Carry on Wayward Son, Miracles out of Nowhere) than the ones he wrote after becoming a Christian.

    On a related subject I heard a lady who taught literature at a Christian college say that she tells her students not to read Christian fiction because Christians don’t write fiction all that well. She said that they were better off reading the classics by unbelievers.

    As to having a song of despair that doesn’t have a happy ending, try Psalm 88.

  45. SottoVoce says:

    “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” –The Princess Bride

    Makes one think.

  46. On a related subject I heard a lady who taught literature at a Christian college say that she tells her students not to read Christian fiction because Christians don’t write fiction all that well. — Lonely Pilgrim

    Heard something similar on a radio interview inthe Eighties; a writing instructor at Biola claimed that he used Christian fiction mostly as examples of “How NOT to write.”

    As somebody who’s been in SF fandom since 1975 and has become either dumb or crazy enough to make a go at writing the stuff, I concur. After cutting my teeth on the likes of Cordwainer Smith (acknowledged as a Christian SF great by everybody except Christians), the only way I can describe CBA-approved Christian (TM) fiction is LAME. Lame as in “failure of imagination” and “thinking small”.

    When the only science allowed in your SF is Young Earth Creation Science; when the only future permitted is the one from Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind; don’t expect Hugo-level material.

  47. If we didn’t have sorrow or pain, then we wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the moments of joy. We don’t go asking for the sorrow or the pain; it just comes.