April 26, 2017

How CCM Sanitizes the Wilderness

Last year, I did a brief series on the seasons of spiritual experience. One of those seasons we called, “Disorientation.” This is another way of describing what it is like to be in the wilderness.

In that post I wrote about the kinds of songs we can sing as God’s people to accurately reflect our spiritual experiences of disorientation:

“The spiritual medicine indicated for seasons of disorientation is the psalm of lament. Though the Hebrew word for the Book of Psalms is “tehillim,” which means “praises,” it is obvious that these praises are hard won, for the individual lament is the most common form of psalm in the book. “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5). Ultimately, praise is the result of having found one’s way through the wilderness.”

Many segments of Jesus’ family have little or no acquaintance with singing laments. The entire idea of lamentation seems foreign to some, perhaps even contradictory to a Christian perspective. American evangelicalism in particular avoids laments. I suspect “avoids” is the wrong word. Do churches in the revivalist traditions even have a conception of this aspect of relating to God?

Contemporary “worship” music is especially weak when it comes to giving voice to the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Even when today’s songwriters make use of the Psalms they tend to transform the raw, earthy language that describes our complex, often messy relationships with God and others into easily digestible spiritual sentiments.

In fact, I can’t think of one contemporary worship song that might legitimately fall into the category of lament. I may be wrong — there is a lot of CCM I’ve never heard. My suspicion would be that, even if there are a few laments that have been penned, they aren’t common, and they certainly are not on the lists of the most popular or used worship songs. I have never been in a church that worships according to the revivalist pattern that made any prominent use of lament in its worship.

If you know of churches that are practicing lament regularly, I’d love to hear about it. It would give me great encouragement.

What I have seen personally, however, tells me that today’s church has largely embraced a theology of glory and resists the way of the cross. It shows in our worship and music.

I could use any number of up-to-date songs to make my point, but instead I will turn to an old CCM standard that provides a crystal clear example — “As the Deer,” by Martin Nystrom (© 1984 Maranatha Praise, Inc.).

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after thee
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

Refrain
You alone are my strength my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my hearts desire
And I long to worship thee

You’re my friend and You are my brother
Even though you are a king
I love you more than any other
So much more than anything

I want You more than gold or silver,
Only You can satisfy
You alone are the real joy Giver,
And the apple of my eye

• • •

Now let me first say that I have used this song more times than I can count when leading congregational worship. There’s a part of me that loves its simple devotional sentiment and pretty melody. I can testify that is well-suited to “creating a mood” of tenderness and intimacy. And I’m sure there is a place for that in our worship. So please hold any comments about musical snobbery — in an appropriate setting, I will still use this piece.

On the other hand, this winsome little song also exemplifies a big problem CCM has when it comes to using imagery from the Bible, especially the Book of Psalms. “As the Deer” draws its opening words from Psalm 42, a personal song of lament. Here are its words, from the NKJV:

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
“Where is your God?”

When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

O my God,my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my Rock,
“Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a breaking of my bones,
My enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

• • •

This is a classic example of what today’s Christianity does to the Bible. It takes one image from a rich, profound, complex and realistic description of life and latches on to it because the image evokes a simple devotional sentiment that prompts an immediate emotion. We set it to music, and voila! — people get the idea we are singing “Scripture.”

In the case of “As the Deer,” the sentiment the image evokes is desire for God. We long for God like a thirsty deer longs for water. That’s fine as far as it goes, but rather than meditating on how the Biblical author is actually using this image, we interpret it in a way that is easily grasped in our cultural milieu — in a romantic fashion. God is my heart’s desire and I find my satisfaction in worshiping him. He’s a friend, a brother, and more precious than gold or silver. I love him more than anything.

That is manifestly not what the image refers to in Psalm 42. It is not desire for God in a romantic or intimate sense that the psalmist is writing about. It is desire for God in the context of lament.

The psalmist longs for God not because he has a precious “personal relationship” with God and he wants to celebrate that. Rather, he pines for God because he can’t find him! He’s as desperate as a deer who can’t find water in the wilderness. Do a search of Google images on Psalm 42 and you will get pictures of deer drinking from streams. But that is not the image of Psalm 42:1! The deer in this psalm can’t find a stream. It is dying of thirst and desperately concerned for its very life.

The psalmist goes on to say that thinking about his close relationship with God just makes things worse. He is so far away from God that he sees little chance of being able to find him again. He can’t stop crying. Everyone and everything around him is mocking his belief in a God who loves him. His soul is cast down. His heart is disquieted within him. He fears God has forgotten him. He keeps trying to express his hope, but fears and doubts keep dragging him down into depression, hopelessness, and a pain worse than if someone had broken all his bones.

That’s why he is thirsty for God. He’s dying of thirst for an absent God.

Psalm 42 is a song about spiritual depression and dejection that is teetering on the edge of despair. When was the last time you heard a song with those themes in worship?

• • •

One advantage of being part of a liturgical church tradition is that, by one means or another, the psalms are included each week in congregational worship. The worship books of such churches integrate a psalter among the hymns and readings. Our Evangelical Lutheran Worship book, for example, contains all 150 psalms and gives instructions for chanting them. In my congregation, a cantor leads us in singing a psalm each Sunday. Thus, as God’s people we give voice to a full-bodied, earthy, realistic, and Christ-centered spirituality through singing the inspired laments, songs of trust, hymns of praise, wisdom psalms, historical psalms, and songs of thanksgiving from the Book of Psalms each time we worship.

I am also happy to say that our hymnal has an actual section for songs with a “lament” theme. I’m not sure I’ve seen that before. Here are a few samples of laments available to our congregation from those pages:

“How long, O God?” the psalmist cries, a cry we make our own
For we are lost, alone, afraid, and far away from home

Your grace, O God, seems far away; will healing ever come?
Our broken lives lie broken still; will night give way to dawn?

• Text by Ralph F. Smith (verses 1,3), © 2003 Augsburg Fortress

Once we sang and danced with gladness, once delight filled ev’ry breath;
Now we sit among the ashes, all our dreams destroyed by death.

All the willows bow in weeping, all the rivers rage and moan,
As creation joins our pleading: “God do not leave us alone.”

• Text by Susan R. Briehl, © 2003 GIA Publications

This heart of mine is in deep anguish,
I feel so far off, so far from you.
How sad our life, Lord, if you should leave us
If you should leave us without your light.

This night I follow in your footsteps
But cannot clearly behold your light.
You, Lord, must guide us throughout our lifetime,
Throughout our lifetime to that clear light.

• English text by Fred Pratt Green, © 1982 Hope Publishing Co.

Whether churches with these resources make good use of them or not is another question, but at least they are available.

In terms of worship music in evangelicalism and other non-liturgical traditions, it seems to me that the popularity of a song like Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be the Name” reveals a hunger for worship music that enables us to sing about the “wilderness” experiences of our lives. That song is not a lament, but it does at least hint that the Christian path is not all sweetness and light. People know this, but our worship doesn’t often help them know what to do with that knowledge and the feelings that go along with it.

We live in a real wilderness. We do best to acknowledge it and pray for mercy. Sanitizing it helps no one.

Comments

  1. We sang this song this morning. Maybe not a lament as much as a meditation on our complicity at the cross. Either way, not sanitized CCM.

    Title: What Have We done
    Words & music by Joe Day

    Oh my soul
    Oh my Jesus
    Judas sold you for 30,
    I’d have done it for less

    Oh my soul
    Oh my savior
    Peter denied you 3 times,
    But I have denied you more

    As the nails went in,
    I was standing right there
    As you breathed your last
    I shook my head and cried

    O my God what have we done?
    We have destroyed your son.

    And the blood ran down
    I was standing right there
    And the water poured
    I shook my head and cried

    O my God what have we done?
    We have destroyed your son.

    • I have never come across this song before. If anyone would like to join me in a private weep, it is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQlnXpqQt7g
      Thank you for sharing this.
      And thank you for another very thought-provoking and helpful post, Chaplain Mike.
      (Hope it’s ok to share a link here)

    • If evangelicals do write laments, they tend to be about sorrow for our sins that put Jesus on the cross.

    • One song we sing is called “Unfailing God”. The chorus is an affirmation of God’s faithfulness, but that affirmation comes sandwiched between verses that are full of darkness. Nowhere does the song say God will “fix” my sorrow, only that He will stay faithful to us in the midst of sorrow.

      Though my eyes may fail me
      I will follow after You
      Though Your promise seems forsaken
      I’ll remember the world’s in Your hands

      PRE-CHORUS
      You’ll find me singing

      CHORUS
      You are unfailing God
      Your love’s unending
      And Your word is eternal
      Firm in the heavens it stands
      You are unfailing God
      Your love’s unending
      And Your word is eternal
      Firm in the heavens it stands

      VERSE 2
      Though sorrow’s my condition
      And pain holds back no blow
      Though this be my darkest hour
      Your lamp is leading me home

      PRE-CHORUS
      You’ll find me singing

      CHORUS
      You are unfailing God
      Your love’s unending
      And Your word is eternal
      Firm in the heavens it stands
      You are unfailing God
      Your love’s unending
      And Your word is eternal
      Firm in the heavens it stands

      BRIDGE
      Eyes can’t see but I feel You near
      I know You’re working through my tears
      I trust You Lord, I trust You for You never walk away

      • But overall your point stands

      • Check out also Stuart Townsend’s “How Long”

        We have sung the songs of victory
        We have prayed to You for rain
        We have cried for Your compassion
        To renew the land again
        Now we’re standing in Your presence
        More hungry than before
        Now we’re on Your steps of mercy
        And we’re knocking at Your door

        CHORUS 1:
        How long
        before You drench the barren land?
        How long
        before we see Your righteous hand?
        How long
        before Your name is lifted high?
        How long
        before the weeping turns to songs of joy?

        VERSE 2:
        Lord, we know Your heart is broken
        By the evil that You see
        And You’ve stayed Your hand of judgment
        For You plan to set men free
        But the land is still in darkness
        And we’ve fled from what is right
        We have failed the silent children
        Who have never see the light

        VERSE 3:
        But I know a day is coming
        When the deaf will hear His voice
        When the blind will see their Saviour
        And the lame will leap for joy
        When the widow finds a Husband
        Who will always love His bride
        And the orphan finds a Father
        Who will never leave her side

        CHORUS 2:
        How long
        before Your glory lights the skies?
        How long
        before Your radiance lifts our eyes?
        How long
        before Your fragrance fills the air?
        How long
        before the earth resounds with songs of joy?

        • Damaris says:

          Stuart Townend is the shining exception to the modern trend of delusional hypno-pop.

          • Agree fully.

          • Except for his line “It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished” from “How Deep the Father’s Love.” Major err, imo, but an otherwise outstanding song. This guy is a gold factory. “Behold the Lamb” is communion hymn of the decade.

  2. Many of the Christian artists who have written songs of lament have not been very popular. They do exist, but you have to hunt for them.

    I’m thinking of Mark Heard and Bob Bennett, both among my favorites.

    • There are some CCM artists, including the ones you mention, who are better at reflecting the full spectrum of our human emotions. This doesn’t often translate into “praise and worship” songs for the congregation.

  3. My pastor regularly changes words here and there, and sentences, or whatever is required to bring the text of a hymn back to the theology of the cross.

    I think it would be great if a lot of folks would do the same thing.

  4. I think that we want to go to church and come out feeling uplifted so ministers and music leaders try and focus on the upbeat rather than the lament. Sometimes I use songs I’ve written in worship and the most popular one is pure lament but oddly, I think, people want to hear it sung but they don’t sing it. Lamenting together with others doesn’t seem to be part of our cultural experience in a way it is in other cultures – we seem to want to lament in private. I’d be interested in finding out whether this is a westernised experience – do our brothers and sisters in African or Asian churches that aren’t strongly liturgical have a tendency to ignore lament as well?

    • seaweed says:

      I can’t speak for a lot of Asia but I know that Chinese CCM praise and worship songs lean heavily toward the theology of glory. There’s a bit of lament, but more in the context of, “I used to be sad, but now Jesus has made me happy.”

      Interestingly, though, there is a much more widespread use of songs directed toward other believers, using the pronoun “you” instead of “me,” which when used in worship creates a sense of being in a support group. For example, you might hear, “When you are disappointed, don’t give up,” as if the members of the congregation are encouraging each other. (Stream of Praise is a Taiwanese praise and worship group that produces a lot of the popular CCM songs, if you’re interested.)

      But hard times are definitely viewed as a fluke, and I know some Chinese Christians who struggle because they’re in the wilderness, so to speak, and their churches react by telling them to pray more so God can make them happy. Evangelicalism has similar traits worldwide.

  5. Excellent article, Mike! This illustrates one of my pet peeves about CCM. I went to a singles group that sang this song all the time, and the people there wondered why I despised that song so much. So I asked permission to teach on Psalm 42, and its companion Psalm 43. The response was incredible. They had never heard about it before!

    One commented she never felt so close to God before that night. That it’s ok to lament. That the Christian life isn’t all “On Monday I am happy, on Tuesday full of joy, on Wednesday I have this silly grin that nothing can destroy…”

    This goes counter to the bumper sticker theology we hear all the time, like “If God seems far away, guess who moved.” *sigh*

    • Much of the CCM music you hear in many churches is what I might call “musical/lyrical pornograghy”. I say that because in some ways I think it does the same thing as porn. It conveys a life expereince that is unrealistic. It’s full of these happy, God is in control, majestic, lyrics that just don’t help or play out in real life.So much of the Christian music is happy, a “this is what is going to happen in my life…” .It can help set up the seeds for disillusionment. Then you go and sing your lungs out and numb yourself or get that endorfan high and you do that week after week. Plus you get ubber excited about conference or events that have extended praise and worship.

      • Wow, Eagle, I wish I had said it as well as you.

      • I might not put it in those terms, but I am in essential agreement. What I would say is that we gather for “divine pep rallies” that pump us up. But life is not a game, and mere enthusiasm can go only so far.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Like to see a “divine pep rally” help you when your wife leaves you or you’re diagnosed with cancer.

          (Happy Clappy Joy Joy! Happy Clappy Joy Joy! Happy Clappy Joy Joy! Happy Clappy Joy Joy! …)

          Whenever I have had a story burst into my mind fully-formed and demanding to be written, it’s usually been Dark. Often it IS a Lament, including the one that gave me my commenting handle. You can guess how well I’ve fit into Shiny Happy Clappy Christianese.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Then you go and sing your lungs out and numb yourself or get that endorfan high and you do that week after week. Plus you get ubber excited about conference or events that have extended praise and worship.

        And you can’t keep that up all the time, 24/7/365. What happens when you come down/crash? What happens when Tash kicks in your door and everything goes to skubalon?

        And even if you could keep it up constantly, you’re going to be getting old and losing the strength and energy to do so. What happens then? Especially when you’ve known nothing else for all those years?

        • Final Anonymous says:

          What happens is people won’t want to be around you until you “get over it,” because you are bringing down their Happy Clappy Joy Joy. And they feel like they shouldn’t even want to be around you, because if you were a Good Christian, you would have it all together and feel Happy Happy all the time despite your circumstances, because of your great romantic love for Christ.

          • Why do you think people who are in pain and suffering have no place in modern evangelicalsim? This is part of the reason why I’m grateful my sister is Catholic. Who wants to hear about the trials and difficulties of schizophrenia for 16 years? Evangelicals lack a lot of patiance.

          • My heart understands the bitterness that comes on the heels of betrayal by those in the church who are so skilled at pointing out the speck in another eye while ignoring the plank in their own… My heart understands the need to be in a safe community of people who name & own their broken mess and don’t freak out when you cannot sing happy songs. I don’t know why I stayed so long in a community/church where one is chided over & over, judged, scolded, held accountable for the same wrongs that the one disciplining you is guilty of doing… You know the drill Eagle…

            At my old church, all of us so called leaders, were supposed to always be full of JOY. After all, we were taught that we were the advertisement for Christ, and a good testimony didn’t allow for depression, despair or doubt which were my constant companions. Not many appreciated the wisdom of this proverb: “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.”

            Confession: I have been an angry women, perhaps watching my mother get the shit beat out of her when my dad was in a drunken rage through out my childhood fed the anger, perhaps being sexually abused, belittled, beat, told over & over that I didn’t have a brain in my head had something to do with all that anger simmering inside… Yet, when I was 28 years old God showed up. I didn’t have a lick of religion or any understanding of the gospel when He came & flooded me with his love. I wasn’t anywhere near a church, actually had one heck of a hangover, when He made His love visible to my heart & mind. I somehow knew that this presence was Jesus, I couldn’t see him physically, but had a crisp awareness and total understanding that I was loved and He made it clear that He wasn’t angry with me… Mere words will never capture how He captivated me thirty some years ago.

            So, I found a church, invited Jesus into my heart, and slowly learned that I better hide my true self behind good works, dressing modestly, memorizing scripture, fasting, tithing, prayer meetings, bible study’s and serving. None of those disciplines changed me at my core, I was raw inside, bleeding and felt abandoned, cut off from others, all those who had claimed they had a peace that passed all understanding, and victory over their sin nature. I wasn’t making the grade, and guilt rode me hard. Jesus wasn’t turning out to be my best friend, I couldn’t hear him above the noise of trying to get better or singing all those happy songs… I spent fourteen years in & out of therapy, working on the pain of my past, and for a time I thought I had made some progress, I thought I had kicked shame in the teeth, was on my way…
            But, life kept bringing it on. My Christian daughter was raped, my husband’s chronic illness finally reduced his height from 5′ 11 to 5’1″. He was so bent over that his lungs were compromised to the point of a slow suffocation, which took us to New York city for three major surgeries that corrected the breathing problems
            My husbands pain & suffering, all the loss that sickness brings to a marriage, broke me open, but something died in me when my daughter was raped. I became angry/enraged at the church that taught the message that God always protects, provides, heals and delivers the faithful, all that nonsense that we are living on the side of resurrection now so life is going to be fair and just. No mention of the cross or the one we might to carry.
            I remember getting into God’s face asking Him if it would be any skin off his nose to give me some peace, to quiet the panic attacks, to heal my depression… This was after my pastor spent one Sunday morning berating those of us who used anti-depressants instead of relying on the sufficiency of Christ & the scriptures, he actually spit, and said that is what so many Christian’s are doing: spitting on the authority of the scriptures. I didn’t listen to him that morning, didn’t let his words shame me or scold me into submission to trust Christ & not take my meds, I took them faithfully and I confronted my pastor again… Little good that did. I was told I needed to submit myself to authority, give God thanks for the abuse…

            So came the years, of not going to church, not being able to listen to anything Christian, including the bible and especially Christian music. Dabbled in new Age for awhile, partied some, took care of my sick man, raged at the hypocrisy of what I bought into, literally furious with evangelicals. The one thing I did do was I kept talking to Jesus, lamenting. So, Eagle I like your gut level honesty. I get it. You are a truth teller, and there are so many of us who were almost ruined by the toxic fakery that proclaims that Christ has made us better people than others, free from sin, depression, all shiny & new.

            Yuck. I am still such a wreck. Yet, my heart never forgot the tender mercy of Jesus. I have been attending the “forbidden” Catholic church for three years now, hopefully healing from some of the damage that the extreme evangelical message did in my soul, sensing His presence once & while as I sit in the pews, hearing His voice whisper every now & then when I read Internet Monk. I know this is terribly dark and might be disturbing for some, my intention (in part) for saying probably way too much here is that somehow, the Lord took my dead & furious heart and breathed life back into it… Baby steps for this old gal.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            You know the drill Eagle…

            At my old church, all of us so called leaders, were supposed to always be full of JOY.
            -_ Gayle

            In the Father Brown Mystery “Three Tools of Death”, Chesterton’s Fr Brown observes that “Hell has no torment which could be worse than Constant Forced Cheerfulness.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And they feel like they shouldn’t even want to be around you, because if you were a Good Christian, you would have it all together and feel Happy Happy all the time despite your circumstances, because of your great romantic love for Christ.

            “Great romantic love for Christ.”

            That anything like “JESUS IS MY EDWARD CULLEN! SPARKLE SPARKLE SPARKLE SQUEEEE!”?

          • Gail…

            I’m sorry… I am sorry, sorry, sorry. (HUG) (HUG) It’s stories like yours that remind me of how cancerous evangelical Christianity can be…

            Currently my Dad who I dearly love had surgery for a brain tumor. I am sitting on pins and needles and dread the first MRI scan in 3 monthes. I love my Dad so much and do not want him to suffer.

            But there has been so much else that happened….

            1. Watched a loved one deal with schizophrenia for years…
            2. Watched my Mom deal with pancreatic cancer
            3. Watch my sister be unemployed for 2 years…and while my Dad was in surgery that past Thursday my sister found out she is going to lose her job again.
            4. My career, God’s will, overwhelmed by doubt, unanswered prayers, reformed theology, fundagelicalism is all sometihng I’ve had to contend with as it backfired.

            What really gets me is how few people I can talk these issues over with. Some evangelicals have an answer for everything. No problems…no worries.

            It seems to me as long as its reformed and missional it’s fine. So as long as you rob a bank or get a blow job in a refomed missional context…that’s okay. (Curtesy of the thug in Seattle, and his sidekick in Minneapolis)

        • *cue the pogo dance from the youth group as everybody explodes: “Oh! Happy day! Happy day! You washed my sin away.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Pogo dance or Rapture Practice?

          • TIM HUGHES!!!! As I said Miguel…musical porn that gives a fundy a spiritual orgasm!! 😯

          • Dear Eagle… I have wondered what the outcome on your dad has been… I have been thinking & praying for you & your family (along with many others I’m sure here at IM) I long for your dad to have a good MRI result, but I dread what might happen… I suspect the dread I feel is for what might possibly be ahead for you & your dear father… dread based on what I have been through with my dear husbands illness…

            I don’t think my (our) prayers are a magic bullet, though I wish so very much for your dads complete remission and a clean MRI report in three months.

            You have been through enough already IMHO. You are a strong & tender man, who speaks from his heart, and yes we both (along with many other voices here) know how cancerous the evangelical rah rah name it & claim it, believe it and receive it message really is, and what damage it does to those of us who don’t receive it and believe it as we struggle with doubt & loss… You were being betrayed by those who claim to have no sin… What a farse. Anyway before I go on & on I just want to say thank-you for the HUG and your response, I long for all that you have suffered to make sense…

      • Well put. Worship has in many cases morphed into therapy, then into simply something to make us feel better.

        There are some who still get it,l who understand that worship is not about us but about God. I think Annie Dillard wrote that we would put seatbelts and airbags in the pews if we really knew what worship was about, or something to that effect. I think she has a point. We ought to approach with fear and awe. Of course, neither she nor you nor I are going to set the tone for the U.S. evangelical revivalist triumphalist culture any time soon.

    • Great idea, Marc! I’ve done the same. On Wednesday evenings, I’m offering short reflections on the psalms, in order, ahead of our usual Bible study. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions to the readings of the psalms of lament, because many of them only know the psalms as some of these CCM songs that claim to be written based on a certain psalm. Reading the psalms and teaching from them can really open the depths of spiritual life to many who have a complacent or lacking faith.

      • I have an insightful friend who told me recently he doesn’t like the book of Psalms because “it’s filled with too much complaining.” I felt good about our conversation knowing he had actually read the book. Most people I’ve known seem to think it’s all like Psalm 23. CCM tends to reinforce that perspective.

        • At least Psalm 23 brings an uplifting balance to the gloom of Psalm 22, as does Romans 8 to Romans 7. Most of the time we omit the gloom and go straight to the glory.

          Your friend may be right. I looked to see if Psalm 43 balances the gloom of Ps 42 and nope, still in the pit; but at least both of them acknowledge that we should “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

          But Psalm 44? Deeper still into the pit, and this time blaming God. How can CCM deal with that?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “On Monday I am happy, on Tuesday full of joy, on Wednesday I have this silly grin that nothing can destroy…”

      Marc, is that an actual CCM song lyric?

  6. Clay Knick says:

    Mike, Check out Michael Card’s, “A Sacred Sorrow.” He writes about lament in this book. With a MA in Biblical Studies he has a depth about him one might not find in some CCM.

  7. I lead the music at my church (CCM style) and run into much the same problem. One way I try to make sure lament is expressed in our services is to incorporate parts of the lectionary Psalms into our prayers and also when introducing songs.

    For example, a song like “Mighty to Save” can be a lot more meaningful when it’s following a prayer or reading of soulful lament. (“Oh God, my soul is cast down within me… Why have you forgotten me?… But I will place my hope and trust in you, O God, my Rock. Amen”)…… then sing the song together as a response.

    In fact, it seems like a lot of CCM songs work much, much better when they are used as a response to scripture or prayer.

    Peace, Brian

  8. Yesterday’s Gospel was the Transfiguration on the Mount….decidedly one of those mom ients of spiritual “high” and union. Our pastor noted that these times are few and far between in most lives, and it wasn’t too long after this episode that God HIMSELF as a human was suffering not only physical torment but the loss of a sense of His Father….

    “My God, My God, why have you foresaken me??”

  9. your point is valid and its tragic, but i was encouraged to find a very heartfelt lament on a contemporary worship cd recently. check out ‘do you hear me now?’ by chris moerman

  10. I disagree with the sentiment about Redman’s song: I insist that it is popular simply because it has a catchy groove and only four chords. How often do people sing this with little to no contemplation on the meaning of the text? Half the time I lead that song I have to stop in the middle of the bridge because I see people singing “you give and take away” with blank stares. And I’m not being judgmental; these are people I know, and I along with them do not always choose to praise God in my suffering, I’m more prone to whine. We’re just not as spiritual as Job, and I don’t feel right faking it.

    Evangelical Lutheran Worship may have the psalms, but they are screened a bit heavy by the PC police for my use. Though evangelicals ignore the psalms, mainliners can often ruin them through softening the imprecatory passages and gender neutering them to death. The musical aspect of the collection, however, is incredible. We have the similar instructions on chanting in our hymnal.

    Your example of Psalm 42 vs. as the Deer is spot on. This is why our congregation has begun singing metrical psalms; they include all the verses and are more of a translation than a paraphrase. I’ve gotten some strange looks for some of the lyrics we’ve sung by this method that are just downright strange. We so desperately needed to be confronted with the strangeness of the psalms.

    If we would just include the psalms in our worship, we would have all the lament we need (about 69% of the book qualifies), especially in the penitential psalms. Us Lutherans are used to using psalm 51 as the offertory “Create In Me,” but we still have much to learn from our reformed/presbyterian brethren about singing the entire book. And singing metrical psalms does not have to be like reading the NASB; they can be spiced up and modernized in the same way that hymns often are. I’m still waiting for this idea to catch on, but here’s my effort to get the ball rolling: http://cl.ly/2h2E3Y1T0E0h0H1I2S0O

    • Good insights Miguel, and I can’t wait to hear more about how this works out in your ministry!

      • People have responded quite positively to some of the awkward lyrical confrontations. We’ve only been singing the lectionary psalm as metrical using familiar tunes, but many have expressed how much they enjoy them. There’s something about singing God’s word that blesses us in ways we don’t understand. We’re looking to increase our Psalm usage through Gregorian and Anglican chant, responsorial setting, bringing back the chanted introits and graduals, and other “creative” methods.

        Those interested in experimenting with this, get “The Psalms for All Seasons” by the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship. Most valuable and comprehensive resource for all of the above on the market today, period.

    • BTW I love your sentence — “We so desperately needed to be confronted with the strangeness of the psalms.”

  11. I’m Eastern Orthodox. We sing laments, especially during this time of year! We are in the second week of Great Lent, and if you miss the weekday liturgies, you sort of miss the “lament” aspect of Lent because Sunday is about resurrection and Pascha and the joy of being in the Eighth Day.

    Anyway. Last week, we sang our way through The Canon of St Andrew (7th C). It contains nine odes, and other hymns for Monday-Thursday of the week. We sing things like:

    “A Helper and a Protector has become salvation to me.
    This is my God, Whom I will glorify.
    God of my fathers
    I will exalt Him for in glory was He glorified.

    Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me. (refrain)

    How shall I begin to mourn the deeds of my wretched life? What can I offer as first fruits of repentance? In Your compassion, O Christ, forgive my sins.

    Come, my wretched soul, and confess your sins in the flesh to the Creator of all. From this moment forsake your former foolishness and offer to God tears of repentance.

    My transgressions rival those of first created Adam, and because of my sins I find myself naked of God and of His everlasting kingdom.

    Alas, my wretched soul, why are you so like Eve? You see evil and are grievously wounded by it; you touch the tree and tasted heedlessly of its deceiving fruit.

    Instead of the person Eve, I have within my inward being an “Eve” of passionate thoughts which though seemingly sweet never lose their bitter taste.

    For failing to observe just one of Your commandments, O Savour, Adam was justly exiled from Eden. What then shall I suffer for continually ignoring Your words of life?

    Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

    O Trinity above all essence and worshiped as One God, take from me the heavy burden of sin, and since You are compassionate grant me tears of repentance.

    Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

    O Theotokos, Hope and Protection of those who sing to you, take from me the heavy burden of sin and as one pure Lady accept me as I repent.” (Monday, Ode 1)

    And so it goes, the first week…

    The purpose of the Canon is to remember our estate before a holy God; to realise we cannot “do” this without God and to run to Him, to His Grace, His mercy. The closer we are to Him…at the expense of our selves and our more selfish choices…the better off we are going to be. The choice becomes this: God or TV??? ;D

    The final Ode goes something like this:

    “Have pity on me, O Son of David, Who by Your word cured a man possessed by a demon. Let me also hear Your compassionate promise to the thief, “You will be with Me in Paradise when I return in My glory!”

    Two thieves were crucified beside You, O Christ. The one abused You while the other confessed You to be God. O most merciful Lord open to me the doors of Your glorious kingdom as You did to the believing thief.

    Creation shook beholding Your crucifixion, O Jesus. The mountains and rocks split in fear; the earth quaked and Hell surrendered its prisoners. The sky grew dark at midday seeing You nailed in the flesh to a cross.

    O only Saviour, do not require of me in my weakness fruits which will show that I have changed my ways. Grant rather that finding contrition of heart and poverty in spirit, I may offer these to You as a pleasing sacrifice.

    Since You know me, O my Judge, look on me in compassion when You come to judge the whole world. Spare and have mercy on me, though I have sinned more than any other.” (Thursday, Ode 9)

    “Do not require of me fruits…” It’s not about works but on God’s grace and mercy. So whilst we sing about our true self…not our false self, as Merton would say…we also acknowledge that what we do is simply a communal reminder to each other of the one thing needed: God’s grace, which we have and which we simultaneous look for on Pascha. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death; and to those in the tombs bestowing Life!

    • Matthäus says:

      It’s also worth mentioning that we theoretically sing through the entire psalter once a week (twice during Lent), though that requires actually doing all the services. Even so, Vespers (Evening Prayer) includes Ps. 141 and 142, which are laments.

    • Margaret Catherine says:

      The Roman Catholic ‘Reproaches of Good Friday’ are a beautiful, and heart-rending, lament…and so rarely sung now. Too hard for us perhaps.

  12. I have also seen this weakness in Christian music, the lack of music to help someone when they are in the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”. This is the blessing of having Psalms and Lamentations in the Bible, because I know that there are times when I will be in the pit and it is okay to be there. Even in the pit, God is there; it would be nice if more music talked about this. It’s one of the reasons that I have always like Caedmon’s Call, it was music about real life not just “Christian” music.

  13. Singer / guitarist / evangelist Blind Willie Johnson sang laments, combining spirituals with delta blues, and basically invented slack key and slide guitar techniques that were later reinterpreted by grateful blues-rock musicians.
    His songs have been extensively covered by Led Zeppelin (Nobody’s Fault But Mine), Eric Clapton (Motherless Children), BruceCockburn, Jack White, and scores of others.

    • petrushka1611 says:

      Johnson is my favorite of all the early blues singers. I like Josh White for his smooth voice, and Skip James for his haunting weirdness (the music editor for one of the magazines I write for saw Skip in concert in the 60s, and I’m insanely jealous), but I always come back to Johnson, and I think it’s because of his mixture of gospel and lament.

  14. I’m not so sure that CCM is not just a case of Christians getting what they ask for. I have a friend who works at a CCM radio station and he tells me that listener feedback, and the donations they live on, drive their music choices in ways that can frustrate them. Even on their PSAs the listeners tell them they like stuff that makes them happy or, even better, how their small check can “make a difference” but don’t like the ones that point out the need to pray for heartbreaking things around the world.

  15. The Previous Dan says:

    I have to disagree with this post. Maybe my interaction with CCM is not the norm, or maybe it is yours, I’m not sure. But from my experience I have heard a lot of CCM that has spoken to the desert I have been in these last few years. I have heard these songs both on the radio and from the worship leader at our church. They have really ministered to me. Not all are written for corporate worship (i.e. Better Than a Hallelujah) but here are some that are: Desert Song by Brooke Fraser, When The Tears Fall by Tim Hughes, Blessed Be Your Name by Matt Redman, I Will Rise Chris Tomlin, Forever Reign by Jason Ingram, I Lift My Hands by Chris Tomlin, etc.

  16. I don’t know that this is CCM, and it’s not really congregational worship music either, but Andrew Peterson’ song The Silence of God seems like a pretty good lament. It was picked up by Michael Card on one of his albums. In fact, if you just want to listen to some songs that are well written and full of biblical imagery, Andrew Peterson is a pretty good person to listen to.

  17. Final Anonymous says:

    Chaplain Mike, I was all ready to jump to the defense of CCM music, which I generally much prefer to the traditional selections… but unfortunately I can’t disagree with a word you’ve written here.

    I played hundreds and hundreds of CCM songs every Sunday for years — venturing well out of the “worship” genre even. Rarely did one stray from the twin themes of “God is Super Freaky Awesome” and “Even Though I’m a Sinner, God is Super Freaky Awesome.”

    It’s hard to find a comtemporary worship song that is even written in a minor key — I can think of two total, that I played.

    I guess that’s why in my times of “lament,” Christian music never did it for me. Pink Floyd hit it much better. Sad.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      You forgot the third theme: “God Is Also Super Freaky Awesome!”

      And the first time I read Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair, I wanted to score the opening and closing frame scenes with something from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.

  18. We wrote a song specifically about this called “Praise in the Wilderness”. It is at times of wilderness that praise is most difficult and most important. Feel free to check it out here if interested:

    http://thereforenow.com/2011/04/praise-in-the-wilderness/

    • Thank you. The song makes a good point, but not the one I’m making here. Lament is when I cannot “praise him in the wilderness.” this is not just a problem for CCM but for all Cristian hymnody. We think if a song doesn’t give the full “Christian” perspective and speak of the ultimate victory it is sub-Christian. But getting there is a long and painful process and some never get full assurance. Who is writing songs for them?

      • Thanks Chaplain Mike! I think it does make this point, I wrote this because there were very long-standing hopeless (and as yet, after decades, unsolved) problems in my life. This is the prayer. From the Psalm you quoted, which has been huge for me, it says:

        11 Why are you cast down, O my soul?
        And why are you disquieted within me?
        Hope in God;
        For I shall yet praise Him,
        The help of my countenance and my God.

        Right? Jesus endured the cross, surely the very apex of lament, for the joy that was set before him. The point is to honestly lament, but to have faith that even though you don’t see the end in sight, you still hope in God. Otherwise, we could just lay around and hopelessly moan and curse God and die. We are looking for songs of faith, right?

        • Well yes, but you will note that in Ps 42/43 the “hope” is not proclaimed. The psalmist is trying to convince himself hope is there when there are no evidences of God’s presence. The very act of lament is an act of faith, because the mourner is addressing God with questions, doubts, complaints, etc. The words themselves may sound like the very opposite of faith but by bringing them to God we are enacting a form of faith. So in one sense the words don’t need to reflect the “answer” — the question is enough in lament.

          • I would also add that when lament is practiced in the context of the Word and Table, it is already surrounded by the Gospel and its promises in Christ.

          • Sometimes, with the hyper-criticism constantly leveled at “Christian Music”, it just makes you want to throw your hands up and walk away. I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. Bach is Christian music. I don’t recall a whole lot of lament music – certainly not all of it. Is the chromatic fantasy and fugue lament music? Should Bach’s oeuvre be criticized because it doesn’t have enough lament music? After all, he is not only the greatest musician who ever lived, but a reformation Lutheran musician in the grandest sense.

            Not everything is stellar, but I cannot even begin to understand how praise in the wilderness isn’t about … being in the wilderness and still expressing faith.

            2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2

            1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:1-4

            This is not “sanitizing the wilderness.” It is Bb normal Christian living. Even our chronic laments are not the end of the story.

            • Jim, I did not mean to provoke an argument, just have a discussion. Not criticizing here, just trying to think through this together with you.

          • I love that CM. C.S. Lewis had words with the Lord if I recall, when his wife died. Stated a few things in no uncertain terms and found out that God could not only handle his honesty but still loved him. I know exactly what you are saying about stating the question and not the answer. Allow God to state the answer.

          • It’s a good discussion, don’t worry. I like the article and the idea, that we should not shy away from the reality of life in our songs. It does strike a chord with me though when people paint their dislike of “Christian” music with a very broad brush. Speculation is allowed, but there is interesting stuff happening in some places. I’m not even saying I’m the great stuff. I’m just saying that if we’re going to judge aesthetic works, which is a dicey proposition, we have to do it carefully or we paint ourselves into such a box that one can hardly pursue creative endeavors at all.

            I studied music composition and music theory in college. I am going to confess my true feelings about it now. Frankly, it’s all been downhill since Bach, and maybe Beethoven. The entire 20th century was largely crap. There’s no counterpoint, no form, no dramatic arc. It’s all repetition and immediate appeal. My songs are crap too. I do have some contrapuntal works, but no one understands them. It’s impossible to do anything EXCEPT crap in this cultural wasteland. I left music and went into programming, it’s more interesting and there’s more demand and I like to eat. My musicianship now consists of pawing along with campfire songs for church worship. Music as an art form is so dead, especially in the church, there’s no use even talking about it any more. How’s that for a lament?!

            • Thanks, Jim. And by the way, as I’m sure you know, Bach’s cantatas contain a lot of heart-wrenching laments and expressions that are completely foreign to our superficial culture today. Not only was the music sublime, the texts he chose were superb.

          • Mike, do you think there may be a difference in perspective in reading the Psalms AFTER Jesus’ resurrection? Knowing how the story will end?
            I agree that there is a place for lament, but the wilderness does not have the last word, and the full range of human experience does not conclude with vanity.
            This may be a “road to Emmaus” thing, where ALL of scripture speaks to us in our pain and loss. We have to be open to the joy that awaits our hearts. That is not a happy-clappy denial of pain, but it is a fully formed perspective that in these last days, God has given us His Son.

            • That is why I suggest that lament should be voiced — as it was in the Psalms — in the context of worship. The Word and the Table provide a Gospel context for all our prayers to God.

    • Just listened. Good song, Well recorded.

      In addition to Chaplain Mike’s comment, I’m not sure how it fits into the CCM/Modern Worship discussion here, though, simply because I tend to define certain songs as to whether or not they could have existed before 1970 (the time the whole Jesus Music and Maranatha Music thing kicked us into a new era musically). But as Mike says, this is a problem for the entire compendium of ‘sacred music;’ not just more recent compositions.

  19. No one has mentioned incorporating spirituals into your worship music. Many are forms of lament and they can be found in various arrangements. They speak to many of us and connect us to a different but still valid faith tradition while somehow not sounding as dated as hymns, for those who dislike traditional music. If your church has only a few black members, as ours does, I think it is also a way of welcoming them.

    • Excellent!

    • David Cornwell says:

      Thanks for talking about spirituals. The church I attend does use them in worship at times, in various ways. We have several black members and in fact one of my best friends at the church is black and is moderator of the congregation.

      • David Cornwell says:

        In addition to this, I was thinking a few days ago that hearing something about the black Christian experience of “wilderness” would be interesting and informative.

    • I agree with one caveat. Our church sings a couple of old ‘negroe spirituals’ but boy do we sing them so white. I don’t know if it makes my black bretheren feel welcome or amused. Man are we white.

  20. I spent Shrove Monday this year cleaning the house while listening to what’s by far the best collection of “lament” music I know of: the “Divine Liturgy of the Wretched Exiles” by the Psalters. We sing some of their music at my church – our liturgist refers to their rendition of Psalm 6 as “the closest thing I’ve ever heard to weeping and gnashing of teeth set to music.” Although they accept donations, their music is also made available (legally) for free:

    http://www.archive.org/details/Psalters-TheDivineLiturgyOfTheWretchedExiles

  21. cermak_rd says:

    I don’t know if the root of the problem is really found in the church. I think the problem is American culture (can’t speak to the non-US folk) is odd in that one is expected to generally be (or at least act) happy. Many people just can’t manage that. They’ve got work problems or family problems or health problems or … They’re not clinically depressed (there are therapy/treatments for that), just unhappy. Many people I know talk about their weekly religious experience as an emotional booster that makes them happy for just a short while. And CCM can help out during the week to ameliorate the general unhappiness that so many feel.

    My own mother, when she was dying, would watch Osteen because he made her happy. She didn’t care that his theology was on the shallow side. He had that pretty smile and that pretty tone of voice and the words that don’t require too much thought. And she liked CCM for the same reason. It made her happy without too much thought being required.

  22. Being in the midst of some eye-opening therapy to treat some pretty serious depression, I am now mindful of a personal habit of mine to listen to music that matches my mood, and equally aware that those songs can prolong or worsen the situation for me. The proverbial Pity Party I suppose. I actually had an iTunes playlist called “Depression”. That was messed up.

    I’m reminded of a verbal exchange from the beginning of the movie “The Jerk” –
    “Hey, you wanna come out and sing some blues?”
    “No thanks Taj, there’s something about those songs… they depress me.”

  23. Danielle says:

    Rich Mullins, author of some very popular upbeat choruses, also wrote some sadder pieces. “The Howling” isn’t quite a lament, but it gets close:

    “I can see the iron horses’ tracks
    Pressed in the mud from the weight of all that steam and steel
    But the wind don’t blow where you want it to go
    No the wind just goes where it will and you follow
    I can feel the breath of winter
    Driving this snow across these newly-whited plains
    Takes my breath from me and it leaves me falling
    Then it picks me up again in its own strength

    And I can hear the wild wind howling
    And I can feel it in my bones
    And I know that the howling will take me home

    I can see some traveller’s footprints
    There’s a little bit of blood in every step he made
    I wonder what kind of burden he’s bearing
    That has cut him so deeply every step along the long long way
    In the west I see an evening
    This scarlet thread stretched beneath the gathering dark
    Red as the blood on the hands of the Savior
    And rich as the mercy that flowed from His broken heart

    And I can hear the wild wind howling
    And I can feel it in my bones
    And I know that the howling will take me home

    These men of violence they have made this a world full of wars
    Oh God break Your silence and let Your justice shine forth
    Show some mercy Oh Lord

    ‘Cause I can see a people dispossessed
    Broken and brave in the face of so much fear
    Driven from their homes by the greed of a nation
    Whose treaties were as good as litter
    Along the trail of their tears
    I can see the Covenant colors
    The sun and the rain have woven against the blue of the sky
    And I know if we live we will live by His promise
    I know He who made it and
    And I’m sure that He would not lie

    And I can hear the wild wind howling
    And I can feel it in my bones
    And I know that the howling will take me home.”

    You wouldn’t guess it from “Shine Jesus Shine,” but you can tell that Rich was the CCM artist who kept going back to the Res, rather than buying a giant house in Nashville.

    • Margaret Catherine says:

      His songs ‘Growing Young’ (about the Prodigal Son) and ‘Somewhere’ remain among the best CCM songs out there. The songs of a man who’s been through Hell and come back again.

      • Danielle79 says:

        That is a good one!

        Another good one (again, not quite a lament, but somewhere along that tone) is: “This is the world as best I remember it”:

        “Jacob, he loved Rachel and Rachel, she loved him
        And Leah was just there for dramatic effect
        Well it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin
        But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick
        And her sky is just a petal pressed in a book of a memory
        Of the time he thought he loved her and they kissed
        And her friends say, “Ah, he’s a devil”
        But she says, “No, he is a dream”
        This is the world as best as I can remember it

        Now Jacob got two women and a whole house full of kids
        And he schemed his way back to the promised land
        And he finds it’s one thing to win ’em
        And it’s another to keep ’em content
        When he knows that he is only just one man
        And his sky’s an empty bottle and when he’s drunk the ocean dry
        Well he sails off three sheets to some reckless wind
        And his friends say, “Ain’t it awful”
        And he says, “No, I think it’s fine”
        And this is the world as best as I can remember it

        Now Rachel’s weeping for the children
        That she thought she could not bear
        And she bears a sorrow that she cannot hide
        And she wishes she was with them
        But she just looks and they’re not there
        Seems that love comes for just a moment
        And then it passes on by

        And her sky is just a bandit
        Swinging at the end of a hangman’s noose
        ‘Cause he stole the moon and must be made to pay for it
        And her friends say, “My, that’s tragic”
        She says, “Especially for the moon”
        And this is the world as best as I can remember it
        And this is the world as best as I can remember it .”

        It’s not a lament, more like the aftermath to one. But I love “Communion in St. Joseph’s Square” as well.

    • I’m pretty sure Shine Jesus Shine is Kendrick. Mullins wrote Awesome God.

  24. I like your connection with Psalm 42 and that popular song. I used to sing it quite a bit too when I was a worship leader years ago.

    I am not sure why CCM is so high on the whole sentimentality stuff. I think part of it is the preaching tradition that uses music to “warm listeners hearts” prior to a sermon. I think another part of it is the tendency to for church to be a place to feel warm, loved, and affirmed. All of those are good things, but I think love goes beyond just helping someone have a good feeling. There have been times in church when I really, really, needed someone’s genuine sympathy because of a rough patch I was in. Some people responded well, but I also got a lot of superficial, fake, smiles and vain sounding assurances of “God’s plan” or whatever.

    This lack of lament also means that I will never, ever, go to an evangelical church on Good Friday.

  25. dumb ox says:

    John Michael Talbot’s rendition of Psalm 42 is practically word-for-word with scripture. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone following in his footsteps.

  26. Seems like the classic hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” would likewise meet Chaplain Mike’s definition of sanitizing Lamentations.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Only if it were ALL there was to hear. All Up, no Down, nothing to contrast the Up against, and Up becomes Ho-Hum.

      Pinkie Pie can live on a diet of 100% sugar, but she’s a cartoon party pony.

  27. I can relate to this posting. I’m a Christian who deals with depression, and I also have some very challenging life circumstances. My teenage son has autism and I have no idea what will happen when he is grown. I don’t know if he will be able to live on his own. I deal with several health problems–a chronic bladder disorder, possible fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and back problems. I’m a survivor of childhood bullying, and I have dealt with two very unhealthy church situations; one where the church believed they were the only ones saved, the other that went straight in the opposite direction and said, “believe what you want to and it won’t be challenged”. Even though it’s been a very long time since I’ve been in both churches, I can’t shake their impact on me.

    I am also very, very worried about the state of this country (USA), so much so that I have seriously looked into packing up and leaving. I am so tired of the bickering and the fighting here, and I feel powerless to do anything about it.

    My husband just began a challenging work shift (he’s a government employee who just got put on major duty answering phones) and I fear it will wear him out. He’s already been drained by the demands of his work and he and his co workers are continually being asked to do more with less.

    I posted on Facebook that I felt totally defeated, and one response I got was to claim a particular Bible verse. To be honest, that didn’t help me all that much. I really resent the cheesy, simplistic answers I get from some Christians. I feel as if I am losing every battle in this life lately, and I may wring the neck of anyone who tells me, “But you’re a ‘winner’ in Christ!” Yes, we win in the end, but I don’t really feel like I’m getting that much help in how to live this life while we’re waiting for the ultimate victory.

  28. “Lament is when I cannot “praise him in the wilderness.”

    Wow, that sentence of yours, chaplain Mike, imho, says it all. Real life following in the footsteps of Jesus is not a party. The more the desire of my heart was to be Jesus for others, to reflect who Jesus is, His compassion, His love, His heart for the world, the more I would find myself being embraced with pain and suffering in which my only source of strength was Jesus Crucified. At times no words were available to give comfort, lamentations became “my dwelling place” , not words, all I could do is literally cling tightly to Jesus Crucified by holding my crucifix tightly in my hands and against my heart, crying out to God from the depths of my being where no words could be found. It was the hard reality of Jesus Crucified, The Suffering Servant, that gave me strength to face each new day, each moment, with an “un-felt” courage. This “theology of glory” is so foreign to my life experience and, imho, foreign to the life of our Incarnate God, who, in Jesus, experienced everything we experience except sin.

    Gail, there wasn’t a link for me to respond to your post…my heart goes out to you and embraces you with love. I am glad you had the courage to share and will keep you in my heart and prayers….

  29. Daisy,

    What your write here is so precious & lovely… I especially love this: The more the desire of my heart was to be Jesus for others, to reflect who Jesus is, His compassion, His love, His heart for the world, the more I would find myself being embraced with pain and suffering in which my only source of strength was Jesus Crucified.
    Your words just opened a new vein of understanding, not sure what all I understand, but this hit my heart in a tender way. I pray that I can remember & ponder this… Thank-You, Daisey
    Prayers for you Tina… Depression is horrid.

  30. We use David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” pretty regularly, which hits on this idea of “I can’t praise, but wish I could” sort of thing rather well.

    Via Youtube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmPT8Z0QiJk

    We also use Bill Mallonee’s “Double Cure” which is much more repentance than lament, I guess, but is still a lot more honest than you normally get w/ a worship song, opening, as it does, with “Today, I’m sick of all I am/ today is my setback…”

  31. Flannery O’Connor wrote of American Christians, “They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross…”

    I’ve been doing a teaching series on Henri Nouwen’s “With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life”, and he makes the point repeatedly that great sorrow often accompanies great joy, and though he doesn’t actually verbalize the thought, the logical conclusion is that it’s foolish to believe you can have one without the other. We want the joy, the good feelings, without the suffering. Without the crucifixion, though, there is no resurrection…

  32. This song by Bruce Cockburn was one I liked to listen to when times were difficult.

    Isn’t it hard.

    Isn’t it hard
    To be the one who has to give advice?
    Isn’t it hard
    To be the strong one?

    I see the skyline blurred through the plastic on your back screen door
    Not unlike the faces of the people who keep turning up in the places we go
    The ones we’d never see if things weren’t going so well
    When I was a torn jacket hanging on the barbed wire
    You cut me free
    And sewed me up and here I am

    Isn’t it hard
    To be the one whose phone rings all day everyday?
    Isn’t it hard
    To be the strong one?

    Mouths move without vision — without regard for consequences
    Eyes fill with memories poisoned by intimate knowledge of failure to love
    Sometimes, sometimes, doesn’t the light seem to move so far away?
    You help your sisters, you help your old lovers,
    you help me but who do you cry to?

    ‘Cause isn’t it hard
    To be the one who gathers everybody’s tears?
    Isn’t it hard
    To be the strong one?

  33. Chaplain Mike, in the last 5 years or so, one CCM album had a large concentration of lament songs: “The Songs Inside The Sound Of Breaking Down” by John Mark Macmillan. This album included the song you detest: “How He Loves”. Kinda proves your point – – not only do laments from scripture get sanitized, but even CCM laments get pulled out of context and sanitized to the point where they seem odd and meaningless.

  34. Crooked Bird says:

    I live in a rural Christian intentional community where we also gather to worship as a small church. A couple of years ago, one of the houses in the community burned down.

    No one was hurt, but it burned to the ground. It happened on a Saturday evening and almost all of us, sooner or later, were there watching. It was a disaster and a profound shock to all of us. There was no insurance. There was no getting back what was lost.

    The next morning was Sunday morning, of course. The worship schedule for the day was canceled, and we had “open worship”, where we sit in our circle of chairs and spontaneously suggest songs to sing, or scriptures. We sang “Blessed Be Your Name.” Naturally. We leafed through our songbooks and found, and sang, every single song of its type–all those “hope in the wilderness” songs. All those “Life sucks but I still praise you, God, look how much I praise you!” Seriously, that’s what it started to feel like. Like we were bragging–and lying too.

    We sure needed a lament.

  35. VanPastorMan says:

    I’ve been a pastor for 10 yrs and have seen the good and bad from CCM. There are incredible writers today who are hearing from God. I love, “earthy” writers like Twila Paris. Her song Nothing But Love always moves me because the proud,lonely, and hurting can all call upon Jesus. One thought I’ve had is that many times we sing songs, but we must look at how the church reacts to those in the church who are wayward for whatever reason. Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Notice that truly spiritual people will seek the restore. It doesn’t matter what kind of songs you sing, if this isn’t happening, the continual restoration of God’s people, then we must have our hearts broken before God. If we ask Him. He will do it. Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

  36. This one I wrote a while back may fit.
    You can listen to part of it here:
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/chosen/id262959353

    Psalm 86
    © Kevin Bueltmann

    Capo 5
    G Em C G
    Listen, Lord, and answer me for I am miserable and poor.
    C G A D
    Protect me for I am someone You love.
    G Em C G
    Save Your servant who is trusting You; have mercy on me Lord,
    C G A D
    Because I call on You. Give me joy from above.

    G Em
    You are kind and forgiving, too,
    C D
    Full of love for all who call to You.
    G Em
    Listen to my cry and hear my plea,
    C D G-Gsus4 G-Gsus4 G-Gsus4 G
    I call on You because You’ll answer me.

    There’s no other like You, Lord, and no accomplishment like Yours.
    All the nations will come and honor Your Name.
    You alone are my God teach me to walk in Your way.
    I want to hear Your Truth and love it, just the same.

    I thank You, Lord with all my heart, You’ve shown great love to me.
    You picked me up and said, “Come follow Me.”
    Though many oppose and disagree, You help and comfort me.
    You’ve saved me from the deepest grave, You’ve set this captive free!

  37. Rick Bayley says:

    There is a wonderful series of podcasts on Kindling Muse done as devotionals by Michael Card. I can’t recommend them enough.