If you go to this link, you can listen to a sermon of mine from September 26, 2005 called, "Learning to Lament." This was a chapel service for Denver Seminary. The texts read before the message (but not recorded, sadly) were Ecclesiastes 7:1-6; Romans 8:18-26. Please read those before you listen to the message.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Audio of Groothuis sermon, "Learning to Lament"
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That was a great, much needed message: one that I will listen to again and again.
One question: About the media not being able to help us to lament, I wanted to ask you about music (is that media? Or art?). Music has a way of exposing emotions that are otherwise burried deep in the heart. Things like loneliness, abandonment, scorn, bitterness, anger, and helplessness are sometimes beautifully articulated.
Those exposed emotions, at least for me, have always been something to deal with before God.
Oops, I forgot my question: can music help us lament?
I edited myself with that remark. I could have dilated for hours on it. In fact, I teach a class at Denver Seminary in which we address this issue (popular culture) for weeks.
What I had in mind was that most forms (note: forms!) of popular culture (TV, video games, movies, radio) cannot allow or encourage lamenting. They move too quickly and are too fragmented. We don't have time to lament.
Yes, some more thoughtful and emotionally rich music can bring our lamenting to the surface and help us navigate this territory of the soul. That excludes almost all popular music, however. Bruce Cockburn (a Canadian folk-rock composer, guitarist, and singer) wrote a performed a song years ago called "Justice" that is a powerful lament. Let me see if I can post the lyrics.
Moreover, the blues is a form of lament. Blues can be very course and raunchy, and I do not recommend that. It can, in a sense, celebrate sin as a way of coping with brokenness. But there is more to the blues than that. Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn recorded "The Sky is Crying" years ago. It is about a broken romance, but invokes and involves the very elements: "The sky is crying. Can't you see the tears running down the street"? And so on. The sky is crying and the universe groaning. See Romans, chapter eight.
Jazz, too, can express lament. John Coltrane recorded a piece called "Alabama," which is a wordless lament for the school girls murdered in Alabama at their home church as part of the reprisal for gains sought by African Americans seeking civil rights. I heard Elvin Jones (the drummer for Trane at the time and his greatest drummer) say on "Fresh Air" that Coltrane did not tell the group what inspired the song, But simply gave some basic instructions and had the group play it. Jones said that tears were streaming down his face as he played it--even though he did not know the inspiration for the song.
Much of jazz and blues are rooted in Negro spirituals, many of which are laments such as "Motherless Child" and "Were You There?" If you listen to Marian Anderson or Jesse Norman sing these songs, you will not soon forget them.
I find this facinating. I listen to a couple of groups that could be considered "pop" but are more sophisticated in their emotions. Two Christians artists: Don Chaffer (of the band Waterdeep) is probably the best. Michael Pritzl of the Violet Burning a close second. One secular group (the Eels) that I include cautiously has had an impact on me too.
Here are some sample lyrics:
friends tellin' me that maybe i need some psychiatric help
yeah they're always so quick to tell you just how to get on with it
but i look into the mirror
and all i see is age, fear
God I meant so well
I tried so hard
but failed so well
I was born to die brokenhearted
From your wounds to us
Sing to the brokenhearted
Up before the sun
Of all the things I could’ve chosen
This is not the one
Neither sad nor fun
To be chewing on my fingernails
Up before the sun
Angry with the Word
Of all the ways I could’ve listened
This is what I heard
Neither fish nor bird
To be on the earth and wrestling
Angry with the word
Trusting in Your heart
All the things that could’ve killed me
Or torn me apart
Neither end not start
To be somewhere in the middle of it
Trusting in your heart
Perhaps these are not lamenting in the right way, but I have found myself listening to these songs in silence behind closed doors away from the polished smiles of evangelicalsim.
I am really going to put the principles you talked about to work.
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