Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hear the Soldier Groan “We’ll Go at it Alone”

In recent years the Canadian Alternative Rock band Arcade Fire have come to be one of my favorite bands (though I can only listen to them in moderation because their songs have a way sticking in my head way too long.)  While I have no idea of this band’s spirituality, there are no doubt many religious and spiritual themes woven into the fabric of their last album Neon Bible.   One of my favorite tracks on the album is a song called Intervention.  While many have speculated on the meaning of the song: some read it as a protest song against George W. Bush, some as a protest against war, while others see it as a flight from religion into atheism, I think it’s simply about a pastor whose life is falling apart while he keeps up the façade that everything is okay.   I remember hearing the following lines from the song and being arrested by how true they rang:

Working for the church
While your family dies
You take what they give you
And you keep it inside
Every spark of friendship and love
Will die without a home
Hear the soldier groan, "We'll go at it alone"
Been working for the church
While your life falls apart
Singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart
Every spark of friendship and love
Will die without a home
Hear the soldier groan, "We'll go at it alone"

Many (if not most) who make a conscious decision to become Christians, do so from a place of real brokenness.  They have hit bottom.  The illusions of happiness from money, sex, drugs, power, etc. have been shattered and there is a readiness and openness to the work of Christ.  Like the alcoholic who begins a 12 step program, there is a coming to terms with the fact that one has made his or her life into a complete mess and that there is no power to change things.  This certainly describes my conversion experience.  When I surrendered to Christ I brought everything—my lust, anger, addictions, failures, and hopelessness to the light.  While this is the starting place for many a Christian convert, somewhere along the way many learn how to fake it, to act like things are going well when in reality there are shameful struggles they feel they can share with no one (especially other Christians). 

I think that much of this has to do with misconceptions about how the Christian life is supposed to work.  There is a basic idea perpetuated by American Christian pop culture that goes like this, “Follow Jesus and everything will get better.”  With this idea is the assumption that all struggles with sin will pretty much disappear the moment one gives their life to Jesus.  The problem is that many of these struggles don’t disappear and sometimes following Jesus actually means that things get worse (or at least appears to).  This idea is so entrenched in the way we think about Christianity that a good many Christians just give up when their struggles with sin emerge again.  Those that don’t give up cover up, putting up a good front for the other folks in church or simply resign themselves to a Christianity that is nothing more than cultural. 

In my years as a Christian I have seen more than a few Christian leaders fall in a very public way.  And when they fall, as did Ted Haggart a few years back, we all gasp, wondering how such a thing could happen.  I suspect that what has happened is directly tied to this faulty theological idea – following Jesus and everything will get better.  
Hear the soldier grown we’ll go at it alone!
What if our struggles were not meant to be suffered alone?  What if the healing that God has for us is meant to come in the context of authentic relationships with other Christ-followers?  When I first heard the words to this Arcade Fire song I could so easily relate that I began to tear up.  How many years of my Christian life had I spent going it alone fighting battles with things I was ashamed to admit to those closest to me?

I am convinced that shame is the greatest barrier to Christians experiencing transformation in their spiritual life.  We are like Adam and Eve who hid from God behind fig leaves to cover their shame.  Our fig leaves may be different—our jobs, status symbols, even the way we talk and dress but, whatever the covering, we have become disconnected from God, disconnected from one another, and disconnected from our own heart. 

I think the church could learn a whole lot from Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups.  Those in recovery show up with the understanding that they are broken (one doesn’t go to AA because his life is together).  Not only that but the process of working the 12 Steps is never meant to be an individual pursuit.  It is a communal affair with a sponsor and a sponsee and others who are committed to supporting one another in the journey towards wholeness.

When Jesus gave his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, he started off by saying, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Perhaps the creators of the twelve steps had this in mind as the first step is strikingly similar to Jesus’ first beatitude - We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable.  This “poverty of Spirit” isn’t simply dealt with at the point of conversion but is a reality that we must continually keep in front of us if we are to experience the kingdom of God on a regular basis.  There is no point that one in recovery is encouraged to leave the first step behind.  It is the entry way but it is also the path.  Those who have spent years struggling with alcohol and drugs or other addictions live with a healthy understanding that they can always pick that addiction back up. This type of thinking doesn’t deny victory in the Christian life as some might think but rather creates a receptiveness for the kingdom of God in our hearts.  We are all broken and in need of healing.  My prayer is that this understanding could begin framing more of our relationships in the church, that instead of folks learning how to fake their way through Christianity, they could actually experience the transformation that comes from brokenness, openness, and vulnerability with other Christ-followers.


Pi Man said...

Awesome, Bro. For a minute I thought I was at the NSV website. It spoke instantly, right to my heart. You've got a wonderful sermon here. I hope you'll share it at NSV. Thanks again for your openness. TA

Jason The Bald Guy said...

wow! never heard of Arcade Fire... Awesome post...there is alot of "going it all alone" especially in church leadership... this song actually communicates that feeling very well.

Adam M. said...

Great post, Crispin. How great would it be if we all loved each other enough (and knew we were loved enough) to be honest about our weaknesses and failures. I suspect that what we would find is that we have a lot of faults in common - an experience that can be both liberating and challenging, but that ultimately causes us to grow closer to each other, closer to God and more reliant on our community that He has surrounded us with. We don't have to go it alone (wait, that's a different band).