Lenting and Lamenting, Part II: Hurting with God

Last week, I wrote a post (which you can find here) on why I feel it is important for Christians to embrace the season of Lent and the language of lament. In our fallen and broken world, where sin, oppression, and injustice reign, we need a way to acknowledge these things with the God that we worship. However, much of our language–much of our worship–has been sugar-coated and filtered out to the point where we have forgotten how to come to God with our struggles. Our Sunday mornings have become “Tomlin-ized”–all of our worship is upbeat, happy, and, honestly, a bit monotonous.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with joyous worship music, receiving it in excess with no lament to balance it out can prove to be detrimental to one’s faith. Christians must learn and seek to understand lament again. But finding Christian resources that address lament can be difficult, so I’ve decided to dedicate this post to providing all who are interested with a number of resources (books, blog posts, liturgies, psalms, and songs) through which they can seek to bring their struggles to God in a more holistic way. If you are interested in any of them, I included links to everything–ev.ery.thing.–here, so all you have to do is simply click. So without further ado:

 

BOOKS

Hurting With God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms–Glenn Pemberton.

Hurting With God Cover

This book might very well be one of the best resources around when it comes to approaching lament in a healthy and meaningful way. It argues that through the use of the psalms, we can approach our hardships in a way that actively includes God; instead of making our suffering something distinctly separate from God, we are choosing to hurt with him. It was written by Dr. Glenn Pemberton, who was one of my professors here at Abilene Christian University, and who is also among the leading scholars alive on the usage of lament in the Bible. He has also written a follow-up book called After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Againand he currently maintains a Facebook page on which he writes his own laments concerning present day situations.

Learning to Walk in the DarkBarbara Brown Taylor.

Learning to Walk in the Dark Cover

This book, which has been much more commercially recognized, was written by Episcopalian pastor Barbara Brown Taylor. In this book, Brown Taylor recounts the struggles she has faced in her own life and talks about all that she has learned about her faith by choosing to embrace “the darkness” of life. A quote from the book says,

When, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

Other Books (found from online searches; I have not read any of them, but I have checked to see if they are valid resources):
Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of LamentMichael Card
Spirit Speech: Lament and Celebration in PreachingLuke Powery
Psalms of LamentAnn Weems (she is a poet, and these are psalms of lament that she wrote herself)
In The House of the Lord: Inhabiting the Psalms of Lament–Michael Jinkins
Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer–Eugene Peterson
Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering–Timothy Keller
Writings on the Wall: Prayers, Psalms, and Laments of the Rising CultureBrian Heasley (this one looks incredibly interesting)
The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed–C. S. Lewis

 

PSALMS AND LECTIONARIES

Scripture Readings for each Sunday of Lent: Year C (sorry it’s late)

Lament Psalms (straight from crivoice.org)
Community: 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129
Individual: 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142

Specialized Lament Psalms (also from crivoice.org)
Penitential (i.e., psalms asking God for forgiveness): 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143
Imprecatory (i.e., curses on the writers’/God’s “enemies”): 35, 69, 83, 88, 109, 137, 140

(Also Read: Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations)

 

SONGS AND ARTISTS

Music has ways of impacting us that few other things ever could. Music that’s able to affect you in your hardest times is music that’s worth taking note of. So here are some Christian artists who have embraced the art of lament along with a few of their notable songs and even albums dedicated to it.

The Brilliance

This little-known indie band, created by John Ardnt and David Gungor and driven by the sounds of beautifully arranged piano/string quartet music, has filled a lot of voids for me in regards to songs of lament. In a music industry that’s full of mostly poorly-written and half-hearted expressions of praise, The Brilliance is not afraid to dig down deep into their souls and take their inner struggles to God. This particular song above is actually from an album they wrote specifically for the season of Lent, and is, in fact, actually called Lent. Other notable laments are “Lord, Please Save Me” from their album Cavetime: A Worship Experience (which is also a good Lent album) and “Mercy” from their self-titled album.

David Crowder*Band/Crowder:

David Crowder is among the few musicians I know who has successfully managed to be deeply embedded in the Christian music industry and yet is still innovative and distinctly unique, offering music that spans all sorts of genres such as rock, techno, folk, or even a combination of the three (see his latest album: Neon Steeple). Furthermore, he’s never been afraid of addressing the darker sides of faith (DC*B’s last album, Give Us Restis a requiem/funeral mass). Some of his/their laments include:
Deliver Me” from Illuminate;
Oh, God, Where Are You Now?” and “Rescue is Coming” in A Collision;
Never Let Go“, “Remedy“, and “Surely We Can Change” in Remedy;
Shadows“, “SMS (Shine)“, and “Can I Lie Here?” in Church Music;
Oh Great God, Give Us Rest“, “God, Have Mercy“, and “Sometimes” in Give Us Rest;
and “Come As You Are” and “My Sweet Lord” (above) in Neon Steeple.

Gungor:

This band is led by Michael Gungor (who is the brother of the aforementioned David Gungor), and his wife, Lisa. You might know their song, “Beautiful Things” (which is itself ultimately a lament) or you might know the band for other reasons that will not be discussed in this particular post. Some of their songs of lament include “Dry Bones” and “Please Be My Strength” (above), which are both on the Beautiful Things album; “The Fall” from Ghosts Upon the Earth; and “Wandering” from I Am Mountain.

Robbie Seay Band:

Among the many things he’s good at, Robbie Seay is just, pure and simple, a wonderful poet. When you listen to his songs, you just know that every word and every syllable was planned out and put there for a purpose. Fortunately, he also puts those words to good use through his music, which isn’t too shabby, itself. Some of his notable laments are “Shine Your Light On Us” from Give Yourself Away; “Lament (We Cannot Wait)” in Miracle; and “Rest” (above) in Rich and Poor (which happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time). He also has released several independent EP’s based on a few of the Psalms, and laments are included there as well (check out this instrumental interpretation of Psalm 42 and 43, after you read the chapters here).

Other Songs:

Hymns:
“Nearer, Still Nearer”–Leila N. Morris.
“It Is Well”–Horatio Spafford. Check out the story behind it here.

Contemporary Songs (Organized Alphabetically by Artist):
“Brokenness Aside”–All Sons and Daughters
“I Need You to Love Me”; “Never Alone”; “Porcelain Heart”–BarlowGirl
“Praise You In This Storm”; “If We’ve Ever Needed You”; “Jesus, Hold Me Now”–Casting Crowns
“Still”–Hillsong
“Carry Me”
–Jenny and Tyler (featuring Mac Powell of Third Day)
“How He Loves (Original)”–John Mark McMillan. Also read the story behind it here.
“I Will Trust in You, My God”–Matt Papa
“The Hurt and the Healer” and “Hungry”–MercyMe
“Sweet, Holy Spirit”–NewWorldSon
“The Light Will Come”–Phil Wickham
“Pieces”–Red
“I’m Not Alright”–Sanctus Real
“Wounded”–Shane & Shane
“Oh God, Where Are You Now? (Original)”–Sufjan Stevens
“Hold My Heart” and “Worn”–Tenth Avenue North

 

OTHER BLOG POSTS:

“Learning to Lament: Giving Voice to the Christian Winter Experience”–Dr. Richard Beck (another ACU professor): http://cct.biola.edu/blog/learning-lament-giving-voice-winter-christian-experience/

“Worship Songs Aren’t Just for God: On Lament and Old Hymn Books”–Dr. Richard Beck http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/05/worship-songs-arent-just-for-god-on.html

“What Does Lament Mean? A Biblical Definition of Lament or Lamenting.”–Jack Wellman on Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/08/20/what-does-lament-mean-a-biblical-definition-of-lament-or-lamenting/

“How to Write your own Psalm of Lament”–Ann Arbor on vineyard.org http://annarborvineyard.org/getting-connected/spiritual-formation/write-your-own-psalm-of-lament

“A Playlist of Songs of Lament”–Jordan Monge (This is more a compilation of “secular” laments rather than “Christian” laments [I hate those labels]. You might end up needing these just as much if not more than the ones I listed above.)
http://jordanmonge.com/2013/07/30/songs-of-lament/

Lenting and Lamenting, Part I: The Case for Lament

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Psalm 22:1. From http://www.lampbiblepictures.co.uk/product/crucifixion/

As you probably already know, and as I’ve already discussed here, the Church is currently going through the season of Lent. Lent takes place in the 40 days leading up to Easter (which is actually technically 46 days), starting with Ash Wednesday. Those who observe Lent, usually people from the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches (Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian), are called to acknowledge their sins and the depravity of the world while being reminded of the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Oftentimes observers are compelled to fast from something for the duration of the season. These fasts are meant to remind Christians of our humanity and, therefore, our fragility. It is in our nature to need, to be dependent on something. And when we purge ourselves of those things, we realize how much we have been reliant on them in our lives, and we strive to become more dependent on God instead.

I’ve been trying to do a “rolling fast” this season, where I fast from something different each day, and, so far, I’ve been awful at it. But perhaps that just further shows how reliant I am on these worldly things, and how much I consequently take them for granted. Maybe the Church Fathers actually knew what they were talking about when they created the liturgical calendar all those centuries ago.

Another element that is common with the season of Lent, which I will be focusing these next two blog posts on, is the use of laments in the life of the Christian. In his book, Hurting With God, ACU professor Glenn Pemberton defines lament as “a complex language of complaint, protest, and appeal directed to God.” Ultimately, it involves the heart of the Christian turning to God in all circumstances: the highs and the lows, the “happy’s” and the “crappy’s,” the peaks and the pits.

Through lament, we are able to articulate our struggles and downfalls with God in a healthy and effective way. We can confront him about the all the injustices in the world, big and little. We can confess to God and, perhaps more importantly, to ourselves, that we do not have everything together. Life is hard. Life is unfair. Despite what we were taught in Sunday School, life is not always “Blue Skies and Rainbows.”

Unfortunately, this is something that most of the Western church, specifically evangelical Protestant churches (Baptist, charismatic, more contemporary versions of the aforementioned mainline Protestant churches, etc.), have shied away from more and more over the years. Instead of singing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, which Jesus quoted on the cross in Matthew 27:46), we sing, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.” Instead of crying out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1), we sing, “You’re a good, good Father. It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are…”

But that is not life. Reality is more than just unending songs of praise to Jesus; it is divorce, poverty, domestic abuse, pride, greed, and racism. So why do we go to church each Sunday morning pretending like these things don’t exist? Why do we spend six days out of the week going out into a world that is flooded with murder, rape, and destruction, and yet on Sunday spend an hour singing seven slightly different variations of “How Great Is Our God?”

Lament offers a more holistic approach to our faith. It allows us to come to God exactly as we are. Broken. Fallen. In need of a Wonderful Savior, a Good, Good Father, Amazing Grace.

This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with these kinds of worship songs (though I could probably write a book’s worth of material on all the problems I have with most contemporary Christian music), but it is certainly a problem when Christians feel like they cannot bring everything about themselves to God. When they feel like they cannot be wholly authentic with him.

It is truly incredible once one finally realizes how different the language is between the psalms and the songs we sing in church today. According to Dr. Pemberton, the Book of Psalms is 40% lament, while everything else is a combination of songs of praise (28%), thanksgiving (18%) or something else (14%). Not to mention the complaints of the Israelites in the wilderness and in exile (Exodus-Numbers; Jeremiah, Lamentations, etc.), or the book of Job, which is basically just 42 chapters’ worth of complaints. If we line those up with the songs we find in our hymn books, or the things we hear on Christian radio stations, or with what we sing in church, we will definitely hear some nasty dissonance (Cue Jimmy Fallon yelling, “Ew!”).

The point is: the writers of the Bible were not afraid to bring their absolute worst to God. It was, in fact, those who had the most faith that turned to God in these times. They refused to give up on God, even when it seemed like he had given up on them. The same should be the case with Christians today. When we dispel ourselves of the notion that a life of faith is only acknowledging the good, while blatantly ignoring the bad, we can finally move on to a faith that we can turn to when our life is at its darkest. The “slimy pit” (Psalm 40:2) is not always something that we refer to in the past tense, but might very well be a present problem. We need to embrace the language of lament for those very times. And that is what this season of Lent helps us to do.

Thank you for reading. Until next time.

Lenting and Relenting

IMG_1433“Remember: You are dust, and to dust you shall return….”

Growing up in the Church of Christ, very little stock was put into Ash Wednesday or Lent when the season rolled around. In fact, I don’t even think I knew what it was until maybe middle school or high school, when a random classmate here and there would walk around school all day once a year with dirt on their forehead. “You’ve got a little something there,” I’d say, thinking I was clever. I wasn’t.

A few years ago, however, I was asked to help plan and lead worship at an Ash Wednesday service hosted by my church’s college ministry that would be open for anyone at my school to attend. By this time, I’d actually gotten a bit more acquainted with this ancient Christian tradition and was excited to take part in this event. It would give me the opportunity to learn more about it, and I was eager to take part in it because I would be introducing this 1,500 year old practice to people for the very first time (most of them also grew up in the Church of Christ).

Now, this past Wednesday night, my housemate, Kyle, and I took part in our third consecutive Ash Wednesday service that we’d both helped plan and lead. It looked radically different this year compared to our first: there was a grand total of 14 of us (compared to the 80+ we had two years ago), we sat at two round tables in a community room instead of in pews of a chapel, and, in typical Church of Christ fashion, we sang only acapella songs. Despite these differences, the situation remained once again that for vast majority of those in attendance, this was their first exposure to anything at all related to Lent or the liturgical calendar. And it was still just as beautiful.

I’m not sure how things are for your faith tradition or your upbringing, but in the Churches of Christ, we hold very dearly to the notion of the resurrected Jesus. What’s been done has been done. Similar to the code of the elves, in the Church of Christ we were taught to treat every day like Easter.

At first glance, that surely sounds rather appealing (and you certainly wouldn’t be the first person to think that). “Treat every day like Easter.”  What if we spent more time acknowledging the risen-ness of our Savior, Jesus, instead of wallowing in our own guilt every waking minute of the day? What if we put more stock into the grace of Christ instead of feeling the weight of our sin? Doesn’t that sound better? Doesn’t that sound like something Jesus would want for us, because we’re more comfortable and more joyful about what he did on the cross?

But then, as the old cliche goes, life happens.

While we certainly do worship a risen savior, that has not kept different elements of the world around us from hitting us hard. Thoroughly. Painfully. Simply put, life just sucks at times. At its best, we’ve kept our neck above the water long enough to catch our breath and even be comfortable with treading; at its worst, we’re drowning in a bottomless sea of saltwater and the feces of its inhabitants, dangerous predators below us, flirting with our bare, vulnerable toes.

We wreck our car. We lose our job. Our landlady threatens an eviction. We return to our old vices that we thought we’d kicked: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pornography, gluttony, anorexia, gambling, lashing out at our loved ones. Life has not gone as we’d planned.

Maybe your life looks something like this. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it did. Maybe it will. As the old proverb/song goes,

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what has been planted…
A time to weep, and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

The season of Lent that is now taking place serves as a reminder that we are still merely mortals. It recalls us to the Fall, where the Lord said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). It brings us back into the parched and barren desert, where the Israelites wandered for 40 years and where Jesus was tested for 40 days.

It is a sobering sign that brings us back to our humanity, to our fragility. We, too, are thirsty. We, too, are weary. We, too, are lost. We, too, are broken.

And that is why we need our Savior. That is why we need someone to redeem us from our sins and to provide a glimmer of hope to the world that tells us that this is not the end.

Through Lent, we can recognize that gap that lies in between us and eternity. We confront our sins and brokenness head on and strive to make ourselves to be more like Jesus. While we know that it is an unattainable goal, we acknowledge the fact that even our best attempts stand as a mere McDonald’s to Jesus’s Whataburger, and that’s okay.

And so we fast, and we pray, and we draw our souls to the ashes of reality and the miracle of the resurrection that has still yet to occur. We remember that though the sorrow lasts for a night, joy will come in the morning. And because we now know sorrow, because we now know pain, because we now know the bitterness of death, we are now in as good of a state as we’ve ever been to truly understand the joy of Easter, the power of the risen Savior.

If you have never observed Lent, or even if you have, I encourage you to learn more about it and, at the very least, give up something for these days leading up to Easter (March 27). Even though this post was two days late, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start your fast. When we planned our first Ash Wednesday service two years ago, Kyle and I created a “rolling fast” that not only provides something new to fast from each day of the week (so that you don’t have to go 40 days without something, unless you still want to), but also offers a challenge of what you can do instead. These challenges are meant to prostrate our hearts and move us closer to Jesus.

Kyle and I asked those at the service to participate in this rolling fast with us, and I would love for you to take part in this, as well. It doesn’t have to be exactly this; in fact, I’m moving a few of the days around and possibly changing some of them for myself. But above all, I believe that fasting for Lent is an incredibly powerful way to bring us to humility and to show us the heart of God, and that’s not something you’re not going to want to miss in the long run. The list is as follows:

Sunday:
A fast from comfort and isolation,
and an opportunity to spend time with someone new or someone you’ve lost acquaintance with

Monday:
A fast from unnecessary technology,
and a time to connect with God and others

Tuesday:
A fast from food,
and a time to confess our need for God

Wednesday:
A fast from caffeine and sugar,
and a time to simply rest

Thursday:
A fast from spending money on oneself,
and a time to give good gifts to others

Friday:
A fast from worry,
and a time to pray for God’s provision

Saturday:
A fast from negative speech,
and a time to speak only that which builds others up

Thank you for reading. Until next time.