The other day, while driving to some meetings a couple hours away, I was thrown back to my high school days when an early Pearl Jam song came on the radio. As I listened to the once billboard-charting tune “Jeremy,” I heard the pain of a generation ringing through the intricately woven lyrics.
Later, after a quick Google search, I learned the tragic stories behind the song, stories not only about the loss of life, but also—maybe more tragically—the loss of a generation.
Poets, Prophets, and Pain
Through this song and others from one of the pacesetting bands of the grudge scene of the ‘90s, I couldn’t help but tear up as the words of modern-day prophets spoke poetically into the pain of a generation.
As a Church Planter, the thought-provoking lyrics evoked two questions about my city and myself.
- Do I hear the weeping of my city?
- Do I allow the element of lament to take place in our church community?
If my city is weeping (and I believe it is in very real, even subtle ways), and the church is supposed to be an incarnate people living not above a place, but within a place, why do we not mourn, as well?
When was the last time you were given permission, or gave permission, to reflect on conflict, sorrow, loneliness, tempestuousness, enemies, woe, or trials? We seldom sing in the minor key. We fear that a time of lament may quickly slide into a time of despair and doubt. Instead of seeing despair and doubt as fertilizer in a soil that God can use for maturing joy and celebration, we see it as faith crushing.
Poets, Prophets, and Lament
The Psalms are packed full of lament. In Psalm 80, there is a crying out in pain for God to show up. The Psalmist calls into question why God would build his people up and care for them only to allow them to be broken down. The Psalmist ends his song (his poem) by saying, “Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” We find many other passages filled will lament. In fact, Jeremiah, also known as the “Weeping Prophet,” wrote a whole book called Lamentations.
Yet, we fear bringing people to a place of admitting their pain, grief, confusion, and doubt. We fear revealing that God stands somewhere in the midst of that chaos and mess. Why? Because if we bring people to this place, we then we feel like we have to give answers when sometimes there are no easy answers.
Maybe as worshipers, though, we don’t have to give answers. Rather, we need to grant permission. It’s within permission that we encourage presence with the Holy Spirit to heal and bring us to a place of real celebration. Humanly speaking, can we truly come to a place of celebration until we walk the path of lament? Isn’t it after conflict, sorrow, loneliness, tempestuousness, enemies, woe, and trials that we truly taste of the goodness of our God?
The Haves and Have-Nots
A recent read from the introduction of Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament, makes the distinguishing difference between lamentation, celebration, and class of people. The author states the difference between what he calls the “have” and “have-nots.” For those who have, it is easier to enter into a place of celebration because they are living from a place of plenty, while for the “have-nots,” it seems rather fraudulent to ignore the obvious pain and confusion they have experienced as the “haves” sing songs and recite poetry of celebration.
For the “haves,” it might be soul quenching to hear and recite songs and Psalms of lament—to hear the voices of the burdened and oppressed of this world. For the “have-nots,” it might help to see the landing point as a place of celebration while starting from a place of genuine sincerity.
By giving permission for both lament and celebration, I believe we can see a closer representation of God’s heart here on earth. We can begin to create an understanding in the two different worlds of the “haves” and “have-nots” while also opening up dialogue on what the future of our cities and communities might look like.
Can’t Find a Better Song
As I finish writing, I hear the words of “W.M.A.” (White Male American), another one of Pearl Jam’s prophetic pieces on racial tension. Even though it was written some twenty-five-plus years ago, the song’s content describes what we see firsthand today. My hope is that I walk away from my musical travel experience listening more closely to the weeping of my city and remembering to create space for the same in our church community. Now, maybe I’ll go read Jeremiah’s lament as I listen to the lament of Eddie Vedder.
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