27 Mar 2012

The Author

I have just completed an MA in Theology at London School of Theology, where I have focussed on Christianity in contemporary culture and philosophy. I believe this is a transformative conversation that can really help us explore how our faith works in the 21st Century. I have worked as a teacher of 11-18 year olds, mainly in IT and computing. I continue to have a strong interest in technology and education and I blog and tweet on all these things.

I live in the West Midlands in England with my wife and son and I'm also part of the leadership of a local church.

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Worship in a Minor Key
Detail of 'Lamentation' by Giotto

Last weekend I attended a Christian event which began with sung worship. This was nothing unusual – a young guy with a guitar, songs I had heard before and sung along with  joyful songs, praising God’s power and our salvation, songs full of encouragement and truth. Yet something felt wrong – the songs were in the wrong key for me.

Lent is traditionally a time when we remember two things: the forty days of temptation that Jesus faced in the desert at the start of his ministry and also the run up to holy week, the crucifixion on Good Friday. In preparation for the Good Friday service that I’m planning, I’ve really been living in the feeling of that day, exploring the imagery of the stations of the cross and music that reflects the minor key, the lament of Lent.

That’s why the music in that church at the weekend was a jarring shock – I’d been living in a different world, singing a different tune, one that seems to be rare in our churches right now. Our worship music is, as I experienced at the weekend, overwhelmingly up-beat, positive, happy. But that’s not how I feel every Sunday morning, let alone Monday morning or even Friday afternoon! Sometimes I feel I hardly have the heart to sing along or stand up with everyone else, sometimes there’s just too much weighing me down.

We can deal with that feeling in different ways and each church probably has its own suggestions. It’s not always my sin that makes me not want to worship, we should not be made to feel guilty for lack of energy. I should not be left questioning myself, looking for a problem or a barrier, sometimes it’s obvious that there’s a lot going on, painful and difficult experiences in my life. Those issues are not coming between me and God, I can’t repent of bereavement or pain. What I need is music that reflects the key my life is playing in.

Fortunately, when we turn to the Bible, there are responses modelled there that are far more helpful than a lot of what our churches are saying. Though you might not realise it from the song books we use, the book of worship songs and prayers in the middle of our Bibles does not have that same overwhelmingly up-beat tone. So often, what we read there is the Psalmist struggling with some issue or another, wondering why God hasn’t done something and then not coming up with a trite, easy answer, but letting the pain and disappointment sit there while affirming the greatness and goodness of God. Jeremiah writes a whole book (just a short one, but still…) of Lamentations over the destruction of his home, his whole world; pleading with God not to forget his people and promises, yet finishing with praise of the God who reigns forever.

Lament is not just saying how awful things are and wallowing in self-pity. It’s a ‘holy discontent’, always in the context of trust in God when it hurts. Job is another great example of this – though everything he loves and owns is destroyed, even his health, he still trusts God. He goes from super-rich to diseased and living on the town tip, with ‘friends’ who taunt and blame him, yet all he wants is to see God and understand why.

At another conference recently, a speaker who has a fairly high profile here in the UK made a throwaway comment on the reasons that many young people are leaving the church. One (among many) that he suggested was that there was no place for lament in our evangelical and charismatic churches. Feeling cut off from worship at times unsurprisingly leads to disconnection from church and other Christians who seem to have it ‘all together’.

Perhaps Lent can be a time for us to reconnect with this ancient way of worshipping in pain while staying real and vulnerable. Perhaps doing this will help us to be closer to the Christian communities we are a part of, help us to more genuinely understand and walk alongside others who are suffering in some way.

Maybe that healing won’t come, maybe she won’t come back, maybe it will take a long time to ever find work again. Maybe it’s not all ok, maybe it really hurts right now, maybe there are no easy answers. Maybe trusting God doesn’t look like jumping up and down with my hands in the air right now. Actually, maybe all that is ok if we can just lament over it together before God.

The blues come to all of us. Pretending that they don’t is dangerous to us personally and is already damaging our faith communities. The blues come to all of us. The challenge is in being able to sing them in a Christian way.

What music do you sing or listen to which helps you to lament? What practices happen in your community to help you be alongside those who are in pain?

5 Comments
5 Comments
  1. Earlier in the year, during a sermon series on God, one week focussed on ‘our suffering God’ and we explored his own suffering and how he walks with us in our suffering.
    I have found the hijacking of Lent making it a time ‘to give something up’ very unhelpful. I have often found, too, that Christians jump straight from the pain of Good Friday to the joy of Resurrection Sunday without the suspense, pain, anguish, confusion and disappointment of Holy Saturday. As church we seem incapable of spending even a day in a state some people live in for weeks, months or years. What do we have to offer them?
    We must learn not to stick a plaster over our wounds, disappointments and pain. In a fallen world, stuff happens; stuff we would not invite or desire. And God is with us in all of it, but we don’t seem to be able to say or acknowledge that.
    Helpful songs for such times might include ‘we have sung our songs of victory’ and music from the Northumbria Community like ‘kyrie eleison’ and ‘broken I stand’. Maybe it would be good to ask Spring Harvest, New Wine and other big conferences to have at least a ‘Lament strand’ within their programme, or to really bite the bullet and have a whole conference focussed on the times of sorrow, suffering and mourning, rather than of celebration, cheer and rejoicing?

    • Practically, do you have any suggestions on what that Holy Saturday service would sound and look like? Fancy writing us an article on it?!

      • Happy to have a go…
        probably don’t have time until Saturday, if I’m honest.
        Would you like an outline, with suggestions for materials – music, images, actions, poems, readings, or a more descriptive thing about tone and/or feel?

        • Both! I think it would be a great thing to write now (and re-publish during lent 2013!) You can fill in the form on this page: http://provoketive.com/writing-for-provoketive/ to become a regular author or we could work out the best way to put up a guest post if you only want to do a one-off.

          • hi Jon.
            I’ve done a piece, but don’t really have time to be a regular blogger – ministerial training and leading a congregation over-fill my time already – so what’s the best way to send it as a one-off responsive piece for now? It’s just under 900 words, but includes two service outlines as well as the thought provoking article!

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