Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Trouble in Mind, Dealing With Laments in Scripture

As one who has had the opportunity to preach/teach most weekends for almost 6 years now I decided to shake things up in the material we dig into on the weekends by using the Revised Common Lectionary for the passages in our Sunday services.  The Revised Common Lectionary is basically a collection of scripture readings that follow the church calendar and covers much of the Bible in a 3 year period. Why this shakes things up a bit for me is that it causes me to deal with passages that I would not normally choose if I was simply doing a topical series or teaching through a book of the Bible of my choice. Two of the passages for this weekend - Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Psalm 22:1-5 are definitely passages I’d rather not try to teach mainly because they seem so utterly hopeless.  As I wrestle through these laments I am reminded of a couple of things.

  1. The Psalms as a place of intercession - In Eugene Peterson’s book Answering God, The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, he notes that the practice of praying the Psalms will often move us into passages that do not speak to us as individuals at all. This is no doubt a byproduct of our way of reading the Bible which only values the way it speaks to us in our own personal relationship with God. But Peterson sees these passages as a great place to enter into the suffering of others through prayer. So, for instance, the passages I mentioned above don’t really speak to the realities in my life at the moment but they do speak to the realities of friends of mine who are facing terminal illness, unemployment, and loss of loved ones.  So one approach to these types of passages is that they can create a space for intercession when they don’t speak directly to us. So for this Sunday I may set aside a time for folks to write down prayers for others who are going through very difficult times.  
  2. Singing the blues so the blues don’t get on you - I heard an interview with an old bluesman recently where he talked about the function of blues music. He basically said that you sing the blues so that the blues don’t get on you and take you down. I think that blues music is the closest thing that we have in the modern world to the laments of the Psalms (and Job). Blues songs rarely end with any type of resolve and yet they oddly don’t seem without hope. There is something about vocalizing and naming the pain, the frustration, the sadness that actually works to push back the clouds a bit. There’s an old blues song called Trouble in Mind that has been covered countless times by the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Snooks Eaglin to Nina Simone and Sam Cooke. It very much reminds me of the types of sentiments in the passages for this week:
Trouble in mind, I'm blue
But I won't be blue always,
'cause the sun's gonna shine
In my backdoor some day.

I'm all alone at midnight
And my lamp is burnin' low
Ain't never had so much
Trouble in my life before.

Trouble in mind, that's true
I have almost lost my mind,
Life ain't worth livin,
Sometimes I feel like dyin’.

Goin' down to the river
Gonna take my ol' rockin' chair
And if the blues don't leave me
I'll rock away from there.

I'm gonna lay my head down
On some lonesome railroad line
And let the two nineteen
Pacify my mind.

Well it's trouble, oh trouble
Trouble on my worried mind,
When you see me laughin'
I'm laughin' just to keep from cryin’.

3. Laments give us permission to be honest with our feelings - For so many years of my Christian journey I would hide negative feelings and try to push past pain, grief and sadness. This was partly due to the types of churches I initially attended as a new Christian. I remember looking around at folks on Sundays and feeling like a complete failure because it seemed everybody had it all together. It wasn’t until I attended my first Vineyard Worship Leader Retreat back in 2003 (I think) that I really began to hear folks being honest about their struggles and hardships. And what that did for me was give me permission to be honest about my struggles, failures and disappointments. The passages for this weekend allow us a great place to communicate to people that “you are not alone” and it is okay to feel frustrated with your circumstances and with God right now because you stand in line of a tradition going back thousands of years of people who have felt and expressed the same feelings.

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