Edge of Faith May 2017 - Page 60

to our world today? How can we understand Lamentations in our unique social-cultural context?” You brought up Lamentations as the popular way to go. In the introduction of the book you write about the church that you helped get established by beginning with Lamentations. Maybe you could share that story? I teach in the area of church growth, church planting and evangelism at my seminary, North Park Seminary. I don’t know if I would actually sug- gest to people in my church- planting class to start by look- ing at the book of Lamentations as an opening-sermon series. It is a little strange because it’s not your typical sermon series. When I speak around the coun- try, I do a quick survey of those who have ever heard a ser- mon series on Lamentations. Out of a hundred you might get one or two people. So it was very much an uncon- ventional choice for a church plant, where you are trying to draw in people and not lose people, to begin with a book that by all accounts seems very depressing or a bit of a downer. I am looking back now and I am thinking, “Boy, was God in the middle of that decision- making process.” God really did point me in the right direction by opening the church plant with that series. Part of it has to do with the context of the ministry that I was doing. We were planted in the city of Cambridge which is a really interesting intersection of the ...we are influenced by Western Civilization, so we attempt to manipulate God’s word to fall into what makes us feel comfortable. ” 60 • The Art of Faith Magazine • www.aofmag.com very affluent, privileged, and accomplished students at MIT and Harvard, and yet at the same time the neighborhood in which our church was locat- ed is considered an inner-city, urban kind of neighborhood. I realized that the themes of Lamentations really spoke to both communities and that we needed to hear the stories that came out of Lamentations which are oftentimes the sto- ries of the marginalized and the suffering. Those are the stories that really need to be heard by the affluent and the privileged. Despite on the sur- face seeming like it’s a real- ly difficult passage to start a church plant, I think it ended up being a really good choice for us. In the book, you mention that the American churches mini- mized lamenting or even read- ing Lamentations, and why it is important that we should lament. Could you explain? I was noticing that the absence of lament is very noticeable in the context of worship. One of the clues for this was through the work of Denise Hopkins, who is a professor at Wesley Seminary. She went through the major liturgical traditions in the U.S. and that would be Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopalian; the kinds of communities that would follow the guidelines of the Prayer Book, or Liturgy, or the Church Calendar, etc. She was noting, as someone who is from the liturgical tradition and trying to understand that tradition, mostly that they were being left out. What she notes is that, even in the liturgical traditions where they are governed by certain readings that are supposed to be done, often the lament Psalms or Lamentations are left of the process; left out It is not the type of passages that pastors want to take on. So there seems to be an absence of lament in our worship life, in the liturgic tradi- tion in the evangelical hymnal tradition. In contemporary worship it may be even more pro- nounced. All the songs tend to be triumphalist songs. Songs about victory, songs about success and we are missing the narrative of lament and the suffering that accompanies lament. A lot of that, I think, reflects American cultural values, especially triumphalism. We want to talk about of the regular life of the church. This is true not only for the liturgical traditions, but other tradi- tions as well. If you look at the Baptist hymnals and Presbyterian hymnals, only about 15 to 20 percent of those hymnals would have songs of lament. Whereas, in the Bible, the Psalms are 60 percent praise and 40 percent lament. In the Psalms, in the worship life of Israel, you see a pretty strong representation of lament Psalms. But, they seem to underrepresented in our hym- nals. They seem to be dropped quite often in our worship life. They seem to be glossed over. victory. We want to sing about victory. We want to read about victory. In that process, we neglect the laments Psalms, the book of Lamentations that actually talk more about suffering. Why is it so important in spiritual life to not only discuss victory, but to have that lamenting that we can focus on? The absence of lament really leads to an incom- plete theology. Walter Brueggemann’s writings are very influential in the shaping of my views The Art of Faith Magazine • www.aofmag.com • 61