A lament for lack of sad songs

Albany Times Union - - FAITH & VALUES - By Marty Duren ▶

Hur­ri­canes, fires and floods leave dozens dead. Mass shoot­ings dev­as­tate schools, churches and pub­lic spa­ces. Lead­ers reel un­der ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion and mis­con­duct.

And con­gre­ga­tions sing songs of joy.

Though Ec­cle­si­astes re­minds us there is a time to mourn, many Protes­tant churches to­day ex­pe­ri­ence few songs of lament, a tra­di­tion from the Psalms of ex­iled Is­raelites to the spir­i­tu­als of African-amer­i­can slaves.

Songs of praise of­ten cel­e­brate God tak­ing us from our hurts; songs of lament rec­og­nize God with us in our hurts. Yet, at least in my part of the Protes­tant world, songs of lament seem to have van­ished.

The cur­rent top 100 songs listed by the Chris­tian song-li­cens­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion CCLI in­clude scores of praise and wor­ship songs. Just a hand­ful that ex­plore the hurt­ing side of the hu­man con­di­tion, the lamen­ta­tions of the faith­ful.

Many Protes­tant churches have lost the habit of singing songs of lament. So when some­thing goes wrong, they don‘t have fa­mil­iar songs to ex­press emo­tions of grief, sor­row and re­gret.

“Chris­tians sel­dom sing in the mi­nor key. We fear the somber; we seem to hold sor­row in low es­teem,” wrote Dan Al­len­der, founder of a trauma and abuse ther­apy min­istry.

A fast-paced cul­ture with no much op­por­tu­nity for re­flec­tion is one rea­son, song­writer/wor­ship leader San­dra Mc­cracken said at the Sing! 2018 con­fer­ence in Nashville, Tenn., which drew hun­dreds of pas­tors and wor­ship lead­ers, many of them evan­gel­i­cals like me. Mc­cracken said many Amer­i­cans live dis­tracted lives, where there’s lit­tle room for si­lence or con­tem­pla­tion.

With 26 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults on­line al­most con­stantly and more than 75 per­cent on­line daily, dis­con­nect­ing and slow­ing down is a chal­lenge. Con­gre­gants tweet through the ser­mon and post pic­tures of the choir spe­cial dur­ing the ser­vice, of­ten switch­ing be­tween a Bible app and so­cial me­dia through the ser­mon.

“One of the first ways we pass through this en­try­way into lament is si­lence,” Mc­cracken said. “In si­lence, we find that things are ex­posed we’d rather have pressed down. We‘d rather keep the ra­dio on or some noise.”

George Robin­son, who teaches at South­east­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, is also a mu­si­cian. He sees in­dus­try trends as a re­sult of un­healthy church li­turgy among Protes­tants.

“The ne­ces­sity of lamen­ta­tion is nearly ab­sent from church li­turgy,” Robin­son said. “That is ref lected in the wor­ship mu­sic that has been pop­u­lar­ized by the in­dus­try. Iron­i­cally, lament is a cru­cial el­e­ment in our ap­proach to God pre­cisely be­cause we are cry­ing out to him about sor­rows be­yond our abil­i­ties to rec­tify.”

“Mourn­ing is ex­tremely per­sonal, re­quir­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity from the singer rarely seen in Western wor­ship,” he said. “Lament is just too per­sonal to be ex­pressed in a con­gre­ga­tional set­ting.”

Marty Duren is a writer, bivo­ca­tional pas­tor who lives out­side Nashville, Tenn.

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