When Lives Are Lost, What Do We Sing? (by Dr. David Manner)

by Guest Blogger on December 17, 2012 · 15 comments

 Dr. David W. Manner is the Associate Executive Director for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. He blogs at  http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner . You can follow him on Twitter:  @dwmanner. 

When we are at a loss for words we must be reminded that a text has been prepared for us in the Psalms. When disaster threatens to consume us, the psalmist gives words to express our most profound despair. When our hymns and songs fall short with clichéd platitudes, the psalms provide hope beyond unexpressed emotions. John Witvliet reminds us that, “when faced with an utter loss of words and an oversupply of volatile emotions, we best rely not on our own stuttering speech, but on the reliable and profoundly relevant laments of the Hebrew Scriptures.”1 Walter Brueggemann writes that, “By not using these psalms, we have communicated two messages to people: either you must not feel that way (angry with God, for example) or, if you feel that way, you must do something about it somewhere else – but not here.”2

We have been conditioned to believe that it is more spiritual to avoid expressing grief or despair in worship. Our public questioning of God is often considered irreverent or maybe even blasphemous. Our song selections and sermon topics have conveyed that church must always be a happy place and that a positive appearance is less threatening.

If authenticity is a goal of our worship we must honestly and publicly admit that circumstances of life can contribute to hopelessness, cause us to cry out to God in despair, and even demand answers. We must persistently remind one another that God expects our language of lament and is not threatened by it.

In An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters, Brian McLaren offers the following commentary, “Pain should find its way into song, and these songs should find their way into our churches. The bitter will make the sweet all the sweeter; without the bitter, the sweet can become cloying, and too many of our churches feel, I think, like Candyland. Is it too much to ask that we be more honest? Since doubt is part of our lives, since pain and waiting and as-yet unresolved disappointments are part of our lives, can’t these things be reflected in the songs of our communities? Doesn’t endless singing about celebration lose its vitality (and even its credibility) if we don’t also sing about the struggle?”

Authenticity grants us permission to admit that events can shake our faith. Catharsis begins when we understand that asking and even singing our difficult questions is acceptable and that God can handle our anger and despair. Freedom to cry out to God in worship will only be realized when a community becomes more comfortable with the belief that a transparent life is not narcissistic or self-absorbing. In fact, this honest transparency is a life of humility enabling worshipers to realize they are not struggling on their own in the resolution of this despair. Martha Freeman reminds us that, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us. There is comfort in those tears. They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”3

_____________

1. John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1977): 22.
2. Walter Brueggemann, “The Friday Voice of Faith,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 15.
3. Martha Freeman, “Has God Forsaken Us?” The Covenant Companion (November 2001): 8.

1 Truth Unites... and Divides December 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm

When Lives Are Lost, What Do We Sing?

It Is Well with My Soul by Horatio Spafford.

2 Dave Miller December 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Yep.

3 cb scott December 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

Yes, like the Christ followers in Somalia and Nigeria whose children, for years, have been slaughtered, chopped up with machetes, by monsters disguised in cloaks of false religion, we sing as they sing.

We sing: It Is Well With My Soul. We sing: Amazing Grace. We sing the Songs of Zion from the Scripture and the hymns and gospel songs of our faith.

We also cling to the biblical gospel, recognizing that no matter how wonderful Brian McLaren words may seem, he is still a heretic, not adhering to the foundations of our faith.

We also continue to tell L’s (Christiane) that no matter how many poems and Scripture passages she may put in print on a Baptist Blog, the only way to peace with God is by repentance and faith in the biblical gospel and not by following a dead religion. It is in Christ alone according to the Scripture and not by the works of a false religion whose adherents have slaughtered countless multitudes of children, blasphemously in the name of God for centuries.

We also weep for the lostness of our world, knowing that the only hope for any man, woman, boy, or girl is the gospel of Christ and that alone.

We weep and repent of our own failures to die daily to ourselves and take up the cross follow Jesus, fulfilling His mandate to make disciples. And then we sing again!

We sing:

“Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ, the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
See his banners go!
Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

At the sign of triumph
Satan’s host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers,
On to victory.
Hell’s foundations quiver
At the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices,
Loud your anthems raise.
Onward, Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before. . .”

4 David Manner December 18, 2012 at 11:17 am

CB,

Although I might not agree with everything Brian McLaren writes, I found his Open Letter to Worship Songwriters right on target. Isn’t it possible to agree with a statement of a writer without adhering to everything that writer writes and without personally attacking the writer? For instance, I didn’t agree with everything you wrote in your response but don’t find it necessary to attack you personally. In fact, I love these two paragraphs you wrote even though I might not agree with your entire post:

“We also weep for the lostness of our world, knowing that the only hope for any man, woman, boy, or girl is the gospel of Christ and that alone.”

“We weep and repent of our own failures to die daily to ourselves and take up the cross follow Jesus, fulfilling His mandate to make disciples. And then we sing again!”

And since I don’t know Christiane and to my knowledge have never read anything she has written I am comfortable affirming what she wrote as a response to my original post without feeling the need to comment on her personally or her faith culture.

Being able to learn even from those with which we disagree may be naive’ but I am comfortable in my naivete’ and the foundational understanding to filter through those things that have value.

5 cb scott December 18, 2012 at 11:30 am

David Manner,

That’s fine. Actually, if you notice, I stated:

“We also cling to the biblical gospel, recognizing that no matter how wonderful Brian McLaren words may seem, he is still a heretic, not adhering to the foundations of our faith.”

I did acknowledge his statement was good. Yet, he is a heretic. I state such because he is and he will be such no matter what he states that is or seems good.

Maybe, the foundation of my comment is from having watched and listened to the Interfaith Vigil wherein the POTUS spoke. There were many good intentions during the vigil, I am sure, but most all of what was spoken was the doctrine of demons. And it was truly a sad commentary on the true spiritual condition of this nation.

6 Frank L. December 18, 2012 at 2:02 pm

CB. Right on target. I prefer my water pure not mixed with poison.

7 David Manner December 18, 2012 at 4:33 pm

So Frank L.,

Just for clarification…are you saying you don’t agree with the quote in the original article; are disregarding the quote because of the author; or might agree with the quote if written by a different author?

8 Frank L. December 18, 2012 at 5:35 pm

David,

I’m saying that a little error mixed with a little truth is worse than a lot of error isolated by itself.

The Bible is very clear about how to deal with a heretic: “Have nothing to do with them.”

If you want to promote a heretic, that is your right. I do not feel I have the option to deny the direct admonition of God to have “nothing” to do with a heretic.

I hope that answered your question.

9 David Manner December 18, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Frank,

Please understand that I am not trying to be contentious. I would not or have not advocated or promoted the support of heresy or a heretic. There is nothing heretical in the quote as it stands alone. In fact, if the authors name had not been included I wonder if we would be having this conversation? I included the authors name to give proper credit to his quote. I am comfortable with finding truth even in the unlikely places and if those truths have value for my spiritual walk then I digest them, if not, I disregard them. I often read authors I don’t always agree with and can sometimes gain valuable insight (not always, though). And sometimes that insight is just the opposite of what the author is attempting to convey. It is obvious that you differ in this opinion. I am equally comfortable and respectful of your stand and will not question your conviction to that stand.

10 Frank L. December 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm

“””if the authors name had not been included I wonder if we would be having this conversation?”””

That’s my point.

By the way it is a bit different to talk about “reading and learning from,” as if it is the same as “quoting that person on a public blog.” You could have passed on the quote by giving an anonymous attribution. That is perfectly acceptable as you would not be taking the quote as your own.

Throwing a heretic’s hat in the ring is quite different from “finding truth where ever it lies.” I know how to eat fish and throw away the bones, but I personally stay away from fish that is more bones than meat.

Or, in the case of BM, it is like eating Puffer Fish.

11 Dave Miller December 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

“If authenticity is a goal of our worship we must honestly and publicly admit that circumstances of life can contribute to hopelessness, cause us to cry out to God in despair, and even demand answers. We must persistently remind one another that God expects our language of lament and is not threatened by it.”

Absolutely!

It is one of the things that I tried to address recently in my post about Positive Thinking – our tendency to ignore the hard times and provide a kind of cheesy, “its all okay” approach to life.

Excellent post!

12 Jim Pemberton December 18, 2012 at 11:57 am

I think there has been a dangerous trend in our patter of church fellowship to disparage those who hurt for not being spiritually mature enough to handle it on their own. Cold-blooded love is precisely what God intended church fellowship to be – where we understand our obligation to help each other along in difficult times whether we feel like it or not. Practicing that kind of fellowship usually ends up warming our hearts by the end of it.

13 David Manner December 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Good word, Jim. Congregations will never achieve their best until they offer God their worst…together.

14 Christiane December 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

“How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land? ”
(Psalm 137:4)

We live ‘in exile’, and sometimes we would drown in the sadness of it, if it were not for the grace of God.
But when our voice fails us, we are not left alone in silence, with no way to call to Our Father:
“In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, since we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words . . . ” (from Romans 8:26)

for the little ones now in God’s loving embrace,
And, for all among us with hearts too sad to sing,
this lullaby from Rudyard Kipling, known to soothe parents who mourn::
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltxiHNcGfZM
“Oh! Hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us,
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
Oh weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow swinging seas”

15 David Manner December 18, 2012 at 7:47 am

Timely words, Christiane. Love the lullaby.

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